The Art of Winning a Grand Prix
By Eli Solomon
After ceaseless campaigning by members of the Singapore Motor Club (SMC), His Highness, the Tunku Mahkota of Johore stepped forward to give the green light for what was to become the Johore Coronation Grand Prix of 1960 following a secession of street circuit racing in the state since the 1953 Grand Prix.
The 2-mile-110-yard course around the streets of the town of Johore Bahru retained the layout of the 1953 event but was still a monumental undertaking. Twelve miles and Malayan $15,000 worth of fencing wire would envelope the circuit perimeter. With the celebrations already underway for the crowning of the new Sultan, it seemed that “all the organizers had to do was to drop the flag.”
Come race weekend and it was evident that the weather would play a part in the outcome of all the races. Storm clouds had begun to appear and it was not long before the circuit was drenched with a warm shower and the main Grand Prix, the first to be held since the 1953 Grand Prix, was declared a wet race. There were 20 starters on the grid and the atmosphere was electric.
Hong Kong’s Walter Martin Sulke OBE (1923-1994) was the importer of Mercedes-Benz, the agency of which he obtained for the Hong Kong market in the early 1950s; DKWs; and other marques into the British Colony. Sulke, who participated in the very first Macau Grand Prix, was also instrumental in the establishment of that iconic race. It was Sulke who owned the Auto Union RS1000 that Australian Bill Wyllie would race in Johore that weekend.
The little sports car was a one-off special built to win its class in the 1959 German Hill Climb Championship, raced by Swiss Stefan Brugger at Freiburg-Schauinsland on 26 July 1959. It raced again in August and was later shipped off to one of the most remote outposts of motor racing to show the natives a thing of two about German two-stroke supremacy. That the three-cylinder motor was identical to what DKW and SAAB had is a moot point. Sulke had a trick or two up his sleeves, one of which was the new German Dunlop Duraband RB1 tyre, supremely surefooted in the wet, if run on the correct pressures. Assuming it rained heavily during the race.
When Freddie Pope, President of SMC, dropped the flag to signal the start of the 140-mile race, Bill Wyllie pulled out all the stops and his little front-wheel-drive Wally Zoltberger-tuned two-stroke Auto Union 1000 RS popped, banged and farted off the line like a scalded cat being chased by a pack of hounds. There was a sheet of water facing the drivers and a pair of rooster tails disappeared down Jalan Tai Hang in the direction of Seremban, chased by Chan’s Aston MartinDB3S and Bernard Arnold’s Jaguar-engined Warrior.
The strategy paid off, at least for the first third of the wet race. After that it would be up to the wily Wyllie to fend off the Peter Heath 2-litre Lotus 15 Climax, Tony Huggett’s Lotus Eleven Le Mans Climax and the Chan Aston Martin DB3S. The Lotus 15 quickly made up ground once the track started to dry up, catching Wyllie at an astonishing 12 seconds a lap! Heath had the Auto Union in his sights as the cars raced down the main straight. Heath was waved through on the approach to the tight right-hander at Jail Corner but the Lotus was carrying too much speed. Into the sandbags went the Lotus. Wyllie retook the lead and never looked back. It seems that those sandbags were reserved for Lotus owners that afternoon, because Huggett did the very same.
The wet track made for some interesting racing and the track must have been greasy in many places. Only fourteen cars finished the race with Wyllie winning ahead of Huggett in a Lotus Eleven Le Mans Climax, Chan Lye Choon in the 1958 Macau Grand Prix-winning Aston Martin DB3S, Neil Moncrieff in a Jaguar XK140, Bill ‘Chas’ Davis in a Triumph TR3A and Gordon Haddock in Wyllie’s Buckler DD2 Mistral Special.
This was one for the books as the Walter Sulke-entered Auto Union RS1000 from Hong Kong was never fancied to win, nor did it sound like a conventional race car. It took good race preparation and some rotten weather to upset the odds. But as fellow racer and avid photographer Mike Evans pointed out, Wyllie “was easily the coolest and best tactical driver I saw in my days in Singapore and Malaysia.”
Acknowledging the gargantuan efforts involved in organising Johore’s first Grand Prix after a lapse of nearly seven years, Freddy Pope ventured to say, “The 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix has gone down in the history of Far East motor racing as one of the greatest motoring events that has ever been attempted.” Indeed it was, and so was the win by an Australian in two-stroke sports car.
For the History of the 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix, see JOHORE GRAND PRIX – Part 2: 1960-1963
About Bill Wyllie: Perth born William Robert Alexander ‘Bill’ Wyllie [b. circa 1932 d. 13 March 2006, age 73] spent 13 years with Wearne Brothers in Malaya from 1951 till 1964. He relocated to Hong Kong around early 1964, offering his local collection of Mercedes-Benz 190SL, AC Aceca 100D Bristol and Lotus 17 Climax for sale through Wearne Brothers in Malacca. During his stay in South East Asia, he won numerous motor club events in this Triumph sports car and his Triumph-engined Mistral Special. His crowning glory in the sport was his win in the 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix, in Walter Sulke’s Auto Union.S
In Hong Kong he gained a solid reputation as a corporate restructurer with the magic touch when it came to restoring ailing corporations. He was dubbed the ‘Smiling Tiger’ by the Chinese media and the ‘Dollar Bill’ by the vernacular press. He successfully restructured the business of Wallace Harper, where he became the company’s Managing Director. In 1975 he was appointed CEO of Hutchinson International. He restructured Hutchinson International, acquiring Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock, where he assumed the role of Chairman and CEO till 1981.
He moved back home to Western Australia in 1992 to spend more time with his family and focus on his investment company Wyllie Group Pty Ltd.