A record attempt in a Jaguar XK120 in 1955
Caption on the back of the photo read:
Butterworth to Clifford Pier, Singapore 518 miles, June 1955
Time Taken – 8hrs 31min 58.6mph or 94.31km/h]
Car provided by Cycle & Carriage, Tyres by Dunlop, Petrol by Mobil
“Crazy Idea by Peng Han”
By Eli Solomon
Joy McNaughton needed to prove a point. An alloy Jaguar XK120 provided her with the chance of a lifetime.
At a time when submachine guns may have been offered as an optional extra on a car bound for a drive up the Malay Federation, racing down the length of the Peninsula was something very few would have dared to do.
Yet, this very rare alloy-bodied Jaguar XK120 Roadster (Chassis 660058) did just that and, in the process, rewrote the record from Mitchell Pier, Butterworth, to Clifford Pier, Singapore, on 7th June 1955. No one has laid claim to breaking this record. It was one man’s idea but required two to tango.
By 1955, Lim Peng Han was already a legend in the region. Builder of his racing L.A. Specials, Malayan Champion of the half-mile, doyen of Singapore motorsports, there was nothing much left of him to win, outside of a win in a Grand Prix. His famous L.A. Specials were well known and were often weapons of choice right through to the early 1960’s, often using FIAT or Ford V8 engines on a Fiat, MG or a homebuilt chassis. In 1955 his weapon of choice was his L.A. Bugatti-MG Special. Peng Han was the leader of the ‘nuts and bolts brigade.’ Next to Prince Birabongse Bhanubandh of Siam (know simply as Prince Bira), Peng Han was THE most famous Asian racing driver of his time.
Joy Landymore, in Lim Peng Han’s Lim Special, what was once a Kieft Mk1A.
The person who drove the record breaking XK120, registration number SB6443, was one Ms. Joy McNaughton. Joy was then Secretary of the Singapore Motor Sports Club and regularly took part in events in the region from 1954 onwards, often in one of Peng Han’s cars.
Singapore and Malaysia were two of the biggest markets for the Jaguar XK120, accounting for over forty cars, of which at least five were alloy-bodied.
Joy’s Jaguar used for the run was an early Right Hand Drive alloy XK120 that belonged to Cycle & Carriage, distributors of Jaguar Cars, Mercedes Benz, and other continental and American names. This alloy XK120 was a very early issue. Jaguar only made less than 100 RHD lightweights examples. The car, according to both Joy and the late Chua Boon Unn, then Company Secretary of family-run Cycle & Carriage, had been purchased new by HM Sultan Sir Ibrahim of Johor. SB6443 had been registered in 1950 and traded in within five years, so when Joy approached Chua in 1953 (he had became Cycle’s company secretary that year), the car had already covered 25,000 miles. “Could the Jaguar be put to better use?” she inquired.
The particular stretch of road from Mitchell Pier, Butterworth, to Clifford Pier, Singapore, was a well known stretch to motor enthusiasts of the day. Freddie Pope, founding President of the Singapore Motor Club, had attempted an earlier run in his brand new Jaguar XK140, while aircraft engineer Neil Moncrieff did a similar run in a FIAT 1100, managing 9hrs 16mins, so there had been serious betting as to whether Ms. McNaughton, aged 23 years and better known for dressing in a fitting oreintal Cheongsam during the Economy Runs, could cut it in a well worn XK120 Roadster.
Peninsula Malaysia in 1955, taken from the route map of the Stanvac Economy Rally.
Peng Han had insisted on a fresh set of tyres and Mobilgas provided the necessary petrol, at no charge. Cycle & Carriage insured the driver for $100,000, a princely sum in those days, especially when, in 1954, the company had found the competition ‘fierce’ and there had been talk of retrenchments. Instead of having the car transported up the Federation by Malayan Railways, Joy was told that she had to get the car there on her own. “What? Boon Unn pay all that money?” was Joy’s answer to that.
“You’ll be a very tired little girl“
A photo from Lim Peng Han’s personal collection – Joy Landymore in a Cheongsam at an Economy Rally in the 1950s.
Preparations were made to begin the journey on Sunday, 5th June, from Singapore. The Singapore Motor Club’s Bukit Batok Hill Climb was held that same day (the Hill Climb replaced the Dunearn Kilo of same date), and naturally Joy would take part, in a Singer Special, a twin-SU carburettor, cream-coloured Special built by Yap Swee Kiat. Immediately after the event, off she would go on this crazy attempt. But things never go according to plan. To complicate matters, her timer cum navigator claimed to have had a headache and backed out of the run. “That really gave me a headache,” Joy uttered in total disbelief. Neil Moncrieff, another of those founding members of the SMC, and an avid racer (in the Kudensay and Cooper JAPS) whose record lay in jeopardy, made Joy even more determined when he said, “You’ll be a very tired little girl”. R. Chellathurai, known to friends as Chello, gallantly volunteered to accompany Joy as navigator and timekeeper. Chello had ‘run his Fiat up a tree’ at an earlier motoring event and was in a plaster cast from neck down. The Fiat, a 1098cc Special dubbed the Fiat DBM (built circa August 1954 by three army mates, Donald MacIver, Mark Spragge and Bruce Macrae-Smith…and occasionally referred to as the Flying Susah and Flying Chair) in question might have been a car he was seen sharing with Bruce MacRae-Smith at the Gap Hill Climb that year. I’m sure that was an exaggeration but there would have been some sort of a plaster cast to protect his next during the long drive up and down the Peninsula. He would thus be suitably protected for the journey.
The twin-SU carb Singer Special that Joy raced before her record attempt in 1955.
To get past Johor without delay on the run down on 7th June meant that Joy and Chello would require the cooperation of signalmen at the road works, so, on the way up, the pair negotiated a deal that would give them a clear run back into Johor when they gave three blasts of the Jaguar’s horn as they approached each set of roadworks.
The team spent Sunday night in the Federal Capital of Kuala Lumpur. By Monday they were in Penang. Joy stayed at the bungalow of the Penang Mobilegas manager while Chello went his own way, with strict instructions to rendezvous at Mitchell Pier, Butterworth, at 6.30am the following morning.
The attempt began at 6.45am on Tuesday, 7th June 1955, bang on schedule. The cool tropical air would give the performance car a bit of extra grunt and keep it from boiling over. There were obstacles in their way however. At that hour of the morning thousands of plantation workers and tappers would be on their bicycles, clogging the passage out towards Ipoh.
Joy’s first petrol stop along the route was at Ipoh. The plan was to get each Mobilgas station they stopped at to alert the next one of their progress. At Ipoh, Joy leapt out of the car to take care of some pressing business while Chello did the necessary refuelling. Turning to Chello soon after she had caught her breath and they were already barrelling out of the gas station, she casually asked if he had time to use the toilet. “Never mind, don’t worry,” came his response.
THE CAT AND BANDITS
They refuelled again south of Kuala Lumpur, preparing for the tough run into Seremban and Johor, all the time worrying about the odd communist sniper hiding behind a blade of grass. Unlike one planter whose Jaguar XK120 had twin Thompson submachine guns, mounted on turrets for visits to communist terrorist-infested countryside (“because it was fast enough to depart before the enemy could react”), their only protection was a navigator in a cast and aluminium panels on a roadster body.
At Segamat, the tanks were brimmed a final time, but this time the Mobilgas station could only supply Anchor Beer as refreshment for the pair. This last stop may have been the contributory factor for the record. Top speed of 108mph was attained round a bend soon after.
Their final destination was the RAC-Automobile Association of Malaya booth, set up at Clifford Pier. Mobilgas had sent their representative, a Mr Balch to meet them but no one expected the old record to be so convincingly shattered. The Mobilgas gent was comfortably reading the day’s papers when a screeching car blasted its horn nearly two hours ahead of schedule. The Singapore Motor Club gang who had a vested interest in the outcome and had agreed to meet at the Cellar Bar (next to Change Alley) around 5pm were no where to be seen. Joy and Chello had arrived nearly two hours ahead, at 3.18pm, without a reception to greet them.
SB6443 had covered 508 miles from Penang to Singapore, a new record of 8hrs and 31mins (there was disagreement over the RAC’s time of 8hrs and 33mins and Chello’s time of 8hrs and 31mins) smashing Neil Moncrieff’s time by 43mins. They averaged 58.60 mph, suffering only severe tyre wear, and a worn clutch. Wong Loon Cheong, who later purchased the Jaguar, told this writer that “traffic lights had been ignored, speed limits overshot…They never stopped!” Indeed, they had stopped at nothing to set this new record.
After the record run, Cycle and Carriage employed Joy in their Simca sales department. The Jaguar was subsequently sold to Kuala Lumpur mechanic Teo Kim Chun of Yuan Motors in Ampang. Teo modified the carburettors and ran the car at the Lornie Kilo in Klang, where it proved to be a very capable sprint car. Wong Loon Cheong, who himself had built a number of Specials in the early 1950s, all called Silver Arrows, saw an advertisement for the Jaguar and purchased it for S$1,350 (according to Wong himself), by which time the car had assumed the look of something of out George Barris’ Barris Kustom Industries. The XK twin cam Six was suffering from severe plug fouling, a result of Teo’s tuning of the car for sprints. Wong had the carburettors replaced. Wong revealed that his son, William Wong, later assumed ownership of the car.
On one of Joy’s visits to the region in 1988, she had a sneak preview of her favourite Jaguar, dispelling claims that the car had long since disappeared from the region. And that’s as far as this writer will dare venture.
Appendix – PENANG TO SINGAPORE RECORDS
The Penang to Singapore overland speed record was one of the more coveted records a motoring enthusiast could aspire to back in the days of the Malayan Emergency. The route took the driver occasionally over rivers by ferry.
That first attempt at blasting down from Penang to Collyer Quay in Singapore, a distance of 518miles (834km), was attempted before the Second World War. In 1930, a FIAT 514 improved on the record by 47 minutes. By 1935, Borneo Motors man Neville George “Red” Reddish, driving a Chevrolet, slashed it down to 10 hours and 42 minutes. This record stood for 19 years before it was annihilated, in March 1954, by Freddie Pope, founding Chairman of the Singapore Motor Club. Pope’s time of 9 hours and 40 minutes – set from Mitchell Pier in Butterworth to the Automobile Association’s telephone box at Collyer Quay in Singapore was accomplished in his Jaguar XK120 Roadster (see Father of the Club).
This record did not last long and was soon broken by Qantas instrument engineer Neil Moncrieff in a time of 9 hours 16 minutes, in a little Fiat. Just over a year later, in June 1955, 23-year-old Joy Landymore, encouraged by the indomitable Lim Peng Han, set out against the odds and blitzed Moncrieff’s record with a time of 8 hours 31 minutes. Her mount was a very second-hand but rare alloy Jaguar XK120.
In 1930, a FIAT 514 driven by E Mariotti and P Bird managed the feat in 12 hours and 51 minutes. By 1935, that record had been withered down to 10 hours and 42 minutes by Borneo Motors man Neville George “Red” Reddish. That time stood a further 19 years before Freddie Pope, founding Chairman of the Singapore Motor Club, shattered the record in March 1954, in his Jaguar XK120 (registration SC3425). His time from Mitchell Pier in Butterworth to the AAM Box in Collyer Quay in Singapore was 9 hours and 40 minutes. Not long after, Qantas instrument engineer Neil Moncrieff, driving a Fiat 1100, brought the time down to 9 hours 16 minutes. Until Joy Landymore had a go.
Joy McNaughton – for the photo of her by SB6443 after the record attempt
This story of this record-breaking attempt was recounted to this novice writer over a few bottles of warm Tsingtao beer on 10 March 1993, at the Jalan Remaja, home of 86-year-old Wong Loon Cheong. In the company were Wong, Lim Peng Han (who had arranged the get-together), and Joy Landymore.