The Buckler DD2 Mistral & Bamboo/B.B. Special in Asia
Last Update: 16 December 2021
Part 1 – HONG KONG EXPORTS
There could not have been better-looking Specials in a race than were seen in the 1960 Johore Coronation Grand Prix. Some stood out – exquisite designs that often mimicked the work of the Italian designers of the period, Sergio Scaglietti in particular. Just like these two cars featured in this article. The Grand Prix program lists one as the B.B. Special, the other as the Wyllie Special. Both looked rather well-crafted but there the thread ends. Who built them? Were they cutting edge for the time? Where were they constructed? And who were the enthusiasts behind either of these ‘Specials’?
When delving into Hong Kong’s motor racing past the name Martin Redfern keeps popping up. A Scot by birth, Redfern joined the RAF as a ground mechanic serving overseas during WW2. After the war, he started his own garage in Springburn in Glasgow. In 1951 he applied for a job at motor distributor Gilman Motors (Hong Kong) as its Service Manager.
Forecourt of Gilman Motors gas station at the eastern junction of Hennessy and Johnston Roads in Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. Gilman Motor’s main showroom was located at 132 Nathan Road in Kowloon.
Hong Kong had just as vibrant a motor sports club scene as that of Britain’s other colonies in the Far East in the 1950s and 1960s. Slaloms on airfields, sprints and hill climbs on Hong Kong Island and the New Territories and the annual Macau Grand Prix (from 1954) kept enthusiasts occupied all year round. One aspect of the sports that was mirrored in both Hong Kong and Malaya (and Singapore) was the locally-crafted “Special”. This author has written a bit about the Malayan-built Special [see also Monsters & Mavericks. Rewind Magazine Issue 007, July 2011; In Amongst The Specials. Rewind Magazine Issue 018, April 2014] but few know of what Hong Kong had to offer. The Edsbrat Formula Junior [The Edsbrat! Rewind Magazine Issue 021, January 2015], The Green Goddess (which was later flogged to someone in Singapore), the wooden-body Mercury “Boat”, the Helvia, the Femcar/Espada, Golden Dust, The Beast, and the Bamboo Specials (Mk I & II) are just a few of the interesting cars constructed in Hong Kong in the 1950s.
Martin Redfern’s Bamboo Mk1 featured in the Hong Kong Motor Sports Club’s annual yearbook of 1958.The P-in-P shows the Bamboo at one of the Sek Kong Airstrip Sprint events.
However, it is Martin Redfern’s Bamboo Mk I that is featured here. The car made its Hong Kong debut at the Jubilee Hill Climb in 1958, finishing second in class. A second appearance, at the Sek Kong airfield Slalom on 16 March 1958, resulted in the Bamboo finishing first in class against MGAs, MG TDs and TFs. The car missed the following Sek Kong Slalom held on 20 July 1958 but was readied for the 1958 Macau Grand Prix where it was entered alongside its newer sibling the Lotus Eleven-looking fibreglass-bodied Bamboo Special Mk II. Redfern and his Mk I started on row 7, with Gordon Boyce in the Mk II alongside Singapore-based Jan Bussell and Freddie Pope at the back of the grid, in front of a little Berkeley. Neither of the Bamboos finished, Redfern out on lap 4 in his Mk I. Nor did Bill Wyllie’s Buckler DD2 TR-engined Special, which lost a wheel while lying in fourth position 1. Was it in Macau that year that a deal was struck between Redfern and Wyllie for the Bamboo Mk I? What is clear however, is that it was in Macau in 1958 that both the Bamboos met the Buckler DD2, aka the Wyllie Special.
GENESIS: It all began in 1955. Conceptualised by Redfern following a “study of dozens of different designs”, the car was built around Singer 1500 components. It had a multi-tubular spaceframe built in the Gilman Motors workshop in Hong Kong. The frame weighed 125lbs (the Lotus Eleven’s spaceframe weighed just 70lbs, as did the Buckler DD2 frame). The Singer cylinder head was modified to take four Amal carburettors but this was soon replaced for ease of tuning. A four-branch exhaust extracted the exhaust gasses, ending in two neat tail pipes to the left side of the body. The brakes were converted to full hydraulic as the Singer donor chassis had hydro-mechanical drum brakes, hydraulic front and mechanical rear drums. The most attractive aspect of the car was the alloy bodywork – like something from the pen of Scaglietti. It was fashioned at Gilman Motors and a neat 1/8in thick full-width Perspex screen gave the car a purposeful look when it broke cover in late 1957 (or early in 1958). Its history in the Colony is short and it disappeared from existence following the 1958 Macau Grand Prix. Or was it loaded on board a vessel and shipped off to another colony, immunity and a new life in another colonial outpost?
BACKBONE OR BAMBOO
BACKBONE OR BAMBOO: The Malayan B.B. Special looked remarkably like the Bamboo Special Mk I. Bamboo…BB…Was there a connection between the two or was there a Buckler DD2 or Backbone BB100 involved in this mystery? After all, George Baker had his speed shop at 5 Seymour Terrace, Mid-Levels, Hong Kong, appropriately called The Speed Shop (Hong Kong) Ltd. Baker’s product list included Weber Carburettors, Judson superchargers, Nardi steering wheels, Iskenderian cams, Borrani wheels, Abarth exhausts, Marchal spark plugs, Helda lighting, Toptex helmets, Englebert tyres, Devin fibreglass bodies as well as Microplas Ltd fiberglass bodies (which made the Mistral body for the Buckler DD2 spaceframe). Microplas – keep that in mind.
Interestingly, at the same time, Bernard Arnold’s Speed Equipment shop at 19 Robinson Road in Singapore (a precursor to his Chequered Flag Engineering Works that opened for business in 1959) carried the exact same brands – including Microplas Ltd. fiberglass bodies! Interesting trivia and probably nothing to do with our two featured cars…but interesting nonetheless.
The uncanny resemblance of adverts from Hong Kong’s George Baker’s The Speed Shop and Singapore’s Bernard Arnold’s Speed Equipment Singapore in 1958.
The uncanny resemblance of adverts from Hong Kong’s George Baker’s The Speed Shop and Singapore’s Bernard Arnold’s Speed Equipment Singapore in 1958 [see JUNGLE WARRIOR – The Warrior Bristol in South East Asia].
You could not have had better-looking specials in a race than you would find in the 1960 Johore Grand Prix. The BB Special of Yap Ah Shong takes a fairly wide line round Gaol Corner with Peter Brown, Singapore Motor Club secretary chasing in an Austin Healey Sprite.
Part 2 – WYLLIE’s BUCKLER
Enter William Robert Alexander Bill Willie, an Australian from Perth who had been in Malaya since 1951, working for Wearne Brothers 2. Wyllie stayed on till 1964 when he was headhunted to work for Bob Harper’s Wallace Harper enterprise in Hong Kong. Blossom is a mild term to describe his future in Hong Kong.
A year and a half after the Bamboo’s last run in the Sek Kong Airstrip Slalom in Hong Kong New Territories, Bill, then 27, entered a similarly named Bamboo Special at the Gap Hill Climb in Singapore (dated 4 October 1959). He also had a second entry in the event – his Mistral Special. Redfern’s Bamboo had become Wyllie’s Bamboo had become Yap Ah Shong and Andrew Heng’s B.B.
The Bamboo’s engine was a 1494cc Singer Minx overhead valve pushrod with twin carbs. It put out an honest 64bhp which in 1959 would have placed it at the tail end of at the sports car grid, even one in the colonies. Quickly the car was referred to as the B.B. Special (Bamboo didn’t sound so impressive amongst the less jocular Singaporeans). Here the B,B. was regularly campaigned by Yap Ah Shong and Andrew Heng Khoon Hong, though it hasn’t been established who actually bought the car from Wyllie. Yap stuck to racing Austin Healey Sprites and Heng peddled the B.B. at club meetings. By 1961 Andrew Heng had graduated to faster cars and would later race a Sunbeam Rapier saloon and a Lotus 17 Climax (the ex-Team Lotus Engineering chassis 659 Le Mans 1959 car debuted by Peter A.G. Brown at the Gap Hill Climb in Singapore on 2 April 1961). The Wyllie connection was evident in both the Rapier and the Lotus 17.
The grid for Race 2, Sport Cars 1000cc and under and 1101cc-1500cc, Johore Grand Prix 1961. The Ban Sing Special Mk1 (1,230cc engine) with Chew Chek Leun at the wheel. Behind and to its right is the B.B. Special with Yah Ah Shong at the wheel [see MONSTERS & MAVERICKS MALAYAN/SINGAPORE POST-WAR SPECIALS].
The B.B. at the 1961 Johore Grand Prix. Many mistake this car for the Ban Sing Special Mk1 that was built by construction engineer Chew Chek Leun. There are traces of Sergio Scaglietti’s Ferrari 250 TR in both the cars.
The Ban Sing Special Mk1 – note the similarities to the B.B. Special. This was a case of crosspollination of ideas, not just outright copying of designs though the similarity to the Scaglietti 1957 Ferrari 250 Monza is uncanny.
The lack of interest in the documentation and preservation of local race car heritage means that the history of cars such as this Singapore-built Ban Sing Special Mk2 (1961 Singapore Grand Prix) might never be told.
Another of the local specials – one that looks a lot like the Ban Sing Special Mk2. Heng Sze Kiat’s Deena Mk1 was raced on at least two occasions, at the 1962 Malaysia Grand Prix in Singapore, and at the 1963 Malaysia Grand Prix in Singapore, in both instances running #21. The engine capacity is listed as 1,490cc. The car was put up for sale in May 1964, listed as a Sports-Racing car, one owner, registered November 1961. Asking price was $2,000, which dropped down to $1,800 in June 1964. It appears the car was parked at Heng’s address at 507-508 Upper Serangoon Road.
Interestingly, at the same time the Bamboo showed up in Malaya, Wyllie also had a road registered Buckler DD2 (registration SS4541), set up with a de Dion axle and Triumph TR2 motor which he started working on in late 1956 and completed before it was shipped over to Hong Kong for the 1958 Macau Grand Prix. Interestingly, the Buckler DD2’s Mistral body only went onto the car following road tests and a trip out to Bukit Timah in July 1958 for the Princess Elizabeth Estate Sprint, where the DD2 spaceframe was fully expose for all to see. The dark beige fiberglass Microplas Mistral bodywork only arrived in Singapore sometime after July 1958. A freak accident during testing in October 1958 by one of Wyllie’s mechanics (it overturned on a gravel road in testing) shortly after the Mistral body had arrived in Singapore destroyed the fibreglass and forced Wyllie to quickly commission a set of aluminium body panels so that the car could to make the deadline for shipping to Hong Kong for the Macau Grand Prix. 3
A Buckler advert for the DD2 chassis, which is exactly how Loris Goring, then editor of the Singapore Motor Club’s Gazette, recalled testing Bill Wyllie’s car. “It held the road remarkable well compared to say a TR2 or TR3. I ran it in as a chassis so it felt like a go-kart with my bum inches off the ground. Bill’s car was most definitely a Buckler chassis. Mind, the TR’s were often modified using Michelin tyres and a different spring rating to reduce the tail wagging. It was certainly a good looking car but could have done with a lighter engine than the TR block and more power. However, in its day it was certainly nice to drive and good looking.”
Bill Wyllie racing the DD2 sans Mistral bodywork.
Bill Wyllie and his Mistral Special featured on the front page of Singapore’s Sunday Times, 2 November 1958. The article never actually mentioned the Mistral by name but noted that the car had “been locally designed and assembled” in Singapore. It was also stated that the car had undergone four hours of speed trials the Sunday before at RAF Seletar’s airstrip where a top speed of 115mph was reached without the driver going flat out. As alluded to earlier, an aluminium body was hammered together, just in time to make the M.V. Glenearn for Hong Kong 4.
Bill Wyllie and his disfigured Buckler DD2 with Singapore-made bodywork in the 1958 Macau Grand Prix, prior to the car losing a rear wheel.
Ostensibly to take on the Cooper JAPs, Bill Wyllie’s Buckler Special was obtained directly from Derek Buckler’s Buckler Cars in Crowthorne, Berkshire, when he was on a summer tour of England, Scotland, Wales, France, Switzerland and Germany in 1956. The trip was timed such that he was able to attend the IOM (4-8 June), the British Grand Prix (Silverstone, 14 July) and Le Mans (28-29 July). Wyllie was back in Singapore by November 1956. During his tour in England, Wyllie visited the Standard Triumph works in Coventry and purchased a 1991cc Triumph TR3 (with overdrive and optional suspension upgrades) – which was used as his transport for this European and Australian travels, clocking several thousand miles in the car.
Upon its arrival in Singapore, the TR3 was road registered SF4096. It appears to have had its first race meeting at the Singapore Gap Hill Climb in May 1957. The first direct mention of the Buckler Special then appeared in the Straits Times of 2 June 1957 (pg. 18), the reporter swallowing Wyllie’s remarks that Derek Buckler of Buckler Engineering Company had helped him design the tube frame with a de Dion rear axle. While Buckler offered several engine options ranging from Coventry Climax to Ford 105Es, Wyllie picked an unusual option for his car’s engine, probably because he was already familiar with the 2-litre Triumph TR3 5 motor.
The car was wow resplendent in red with attractive Mistral bodywork. It was based on a Buckler DD2 chassis and ran a four-cylinder Triumph TR motor, an unusual choice amongst DD2 owners at the time. The photo shows the car in action at the RAF Sembawang Nursery Circuit in 1959.
Coincidentally, at the very same time Martin Redfern unveiled his Bamboo in Hong Kong, Australian Bill Wyllie was rushing to complete the build of his Buckler DD2 Special. One was made in Hong Kong, the other came from Derek Buckler’s works in the UK. One appears to have been scratch built, the other had evolved over the course of a decade of development and experimentation into a light tubular spaceframe offered to customers with a Coventry Climax FWA or FWE, a Ford Consul 204E, a Ford 105E, Ford 109E, Ford 120E, BMC B series or MGA 1588cc or 1622cc engine. One had attractive aluminium bodywork crafted in Hong Kong, the other equally attractive body was made in fibreglass by a company called Microplas Limited, based in Mitcham in Surrey.
The Wyllie Mistral Special appeared on the cover of the Singapore Motor Club’s September 1959 Gazette, photo taken by the Motor Club’s editor and good friend of Wyllie, Loris Goring.
Bill Wyllie in his Mistral Special at a Singapore Motor Club Sprint.
The Mistral bodywork on the Buckler was Microplas’s second body design announced in April 1955 and intended for the Ford Ten chassis. It was designed by Bill Ashton, a former RAF fighter pilot and Lotus Mk VI racer. Ashton also worked for MG in Abingdon. If the Mistral shape looked vaguely familiar, it wasn’t just Buckler’s DD1 and DD2 models that had it, Fairthorpe Electron, a post-war Frazer Nash, and the TVR Jomar all used the same.
A jubilant “Smiling Tiger” Wyllie by his Mistral Special after winning his support race to the 1960 Johore Grand Prix.
Gordon Haddock ran the Wyllie Mistral Special in the 1960 Johore Grand Prix while Bill Wyllie ran the Walter Sulke Auto Union RS1000 entry. Haddock is pursued by Ian Barnwell in an XK120.
POSTSCRIPT: Bill Wyllie continued to race his Mistral Special (often referred to as the Wyllie Special) until April 1960 when it was sold to Sri Lankan racing enthusiast M.I. Rouf. It appears that the car left Singapore’s shores shortly after. What happened to it thereafter is perhaps something for the Buckler fraternity to investigate but the local experts will surely know when exactly the car left Singapore and what became of it.
What about the B.B. Special? Could it still be languishing in some compound in Johor?
NB: To the local experts this online account of the Bamboo, B.B. and Wyllie Special will appear to be a feeble and amateurish attempt at documenting local racing history. References to either car in local/international online publications and in printed books is scarce so the best approach for the serious researcher is to consult the local vintage car club archives for a more serious and comprehensive account of the design, construction and racing history of these cars.
Words By Eli Solomon
Malin, Brian: Buckler Sports Cars, Specials And Karts. Greyhound Self-Publishing, 2009
Newsome, Philip. Colour & Noise – 40 Years of The Macau Grand Prix
Monsters & Mavericks – The Specials of Malaysia & Singapore. Private publication.
Monsters & Mavericks. Rewind Magazine Issue 007, July 2011
In Amongst The Specials. Rewind Magazine Issue 018, April 2014
Hong Kong Motor Sports Club Yearbooks – 1955-62
Singapore Motor Club Gazette – various issues
Some of the Results
Wyllie Buckler Mistral DD2 Triumph Special 1991cc/2080cc
11 May 1958 – Gap Hill Climb. Run by Bill Wyllie [first mention of the entry for the DD2 TR3 Special though unlisted in the results]
6 July 1958 – Princess Elizabeth Estate Sprint. #46 Run by Bill Wyllie (1991cc)
16 November 1958 – Macau Grand Prix. #24 Run by Bill Wyllie (1991cc). DNF
25 January 1959 – Dover Kilo. Run by Bill Wyllie sans bodywork (race # & capacity unknown)
12 April 1959 – Malacca Speed Trial. #31 Run by Bill Wyllie (2080cc)
24 May 1959 – Gap Hill Climb. #56 Run by Bill Wyllie (2080cc)
19 July 1959 – Princess Elizabeth Estate Sprint. Run by Bill Wyllie
6 September 1959 – FMC Sembawang Sprint. #40 Run by Bill Wyllie (Mistral body)
4 October 1959 – Gap Hill Climb. #17 Run by Bill Wyllie (2080cc) together with #26/41 Bamboo/B.B. Special (1498cc). Damaged by Yap Ah Shong (concrete post)
10 January 1960 – Dover Kilo. Run by Bill Wyllie (2080cc)
20-21 February 1960 Johore Grand Prix. #67 Run by Gordon Haddock (2080cc) in the Grand Prix, Run by Bill Wyllie in the support race.
3 April 1960 – FMC Sembawang Sprint. Run by Bill Wyllie (2080cc). [Wyllie’s last race in the car before the car was sold to M.I. Rouf of Sri Lanka]
Bamboo Mk1/B.B. Special
16 November 1958 – Macau Grand Prix. #3 Run by Martin Redfern. DNF
4 October 1959 – Gap Hill Climb. #26 Run by Bill Wyllie and #41 by Yap Ah Shong. Damaged when Yap clouted a concrete post. (1498cc).)
20-21 February 1960 – Johore Coronation Grand Prix. #60 Run by Yah Ah Shong, road registered JA9279
27 March 1960 – Seletar Quarter Mile Sprint. #67 Run by Yap Ah Shong and Andrew Heng Khoon Hong (1494cc)
8 May 1960 – Dunlop Gap Hill Climb. Run by Bill Wyllie. Crashed, front end damaged.
24-25 June 1961 – Johore Grand Prix. #25 Run by Andrew Heng Khoon Hong in the Grand Prix & in Sports Cars 1101-1500cc support race.
23 July 1961 – Sembawang Summer Sprint – RASC Nursery Circuit. #101 Run by Andrew Heng Khoon Hong
- The car is not listed as the Wyllie Mistral Special for the obvious reason that the Microplas’ Mistral bodywork was destroyed in an earlier accident in Singapore and a DD2 tubular spaceframe carried a very basic Singapore-made aluminium body instead.
- At the time, Wearne Brothers and its associate and subsidiaries (Universal Cars, Federated Motors, Malayan Motors, Lyons Motors etc) had the Singapore and Malaysian agencies for Ford, Sunbeam, MG, Morris Mini and numerous other brands. The Standard Triumph agency belonged to competitor Borneo Motors’ Century Motors Limited.
- Singapore’s Sunday Times, 9 November 1958, Pg 12 & 13. The Sunday Times sponsored Bill Wyllie’s entry for the Macau Grand Prix.
- Bill Wyllie and his Mistral Special featured on the front page of Singapore’s Sunday Times, 2 November 1958. The article never actually mentioned the Mistral by name but noted that the car had “been locally designed and assembled” in Singapore. It was also stated that the car had undergone four hours of speed trials the Sunday before at RAF Seletar’s airstrip where the car attained a top speed of 115mph without going flat out. The Mistral body could not be repaired following the earlier accident during a test drive and so an aluminium body was hammered together, just in time to make Glen Line’s M.V. Glenearn for Hong Kong (picture of the Wyllie Special in the Sunday Times Special Supplement, 9 November 1958, pg 12 & 13)
- Wearne Brothers were the agents for Standard Triumph in Malaya while Wearnes associate Federated Motors handled the agency in Singapore.