Motor racing history returns to club where it all started

    Southland Sports Car Club president Ian Richardson, with some of Gordon Gregory's memorabilia from 1962 which has been given to the club. Photo: Jenet Gellatly

    Sixty years after Gordon Gregory won 27 10s racing his homemade Ford 10 Special at Teretonga Park, memorabilia of the day has been donated to the Southland Sports Car Club. Jenet Gellatly found out how a meticulous record-keeper and car builder contributed to the club’s history.

    IT is only fitting the racing history of Gordon Gregory should be given to Teretonga Park.

    A former refrigerator serviceman who retrained as a music teacher and taught at Gore High School last century, Gregory was a Southland man passionate about building and racing cars memorabilia along the way.

    Mr Gregory was raised in Invercargill before moving to Gore when he was about 21.

    “He was interested in anything mechanical, the thrill of putting things together and he liked speed,” his daughter, Allison Beckham, said.

    Building boats, which led to constructing cars, was generational.

    His grandfather Wattie Field, a sawmiller, used to build boats Gregory and his uncle Reg built boats with him.

    Mr Gregory had every edition of New Scientist and Popular Mechanicsin the 1960s and 1970s, which featured the latest technology of the day, Mrs Beckham said.

    “He was very interested in car racing, and also raced speedboats as a teenager.

    “He raced a Ford 10 Special, which he built himself, at the fifth Teretonga International meeting,” which was hosted by the Southland Sports Car Club (SSCC).

    The term “special” referred to anything home-built.

    Mr Gregory was “meticulous” at keeping an account of money spent on building the Ford. Among his papers were detailed costings of the car at 380 17 shillings and 8 pence written on the inside of a birthday card.

    “The other remarkable thing is Mr Gregory had done something most [builders of racing cars didn’t] itemising and costing everything for the car to that degree,” SSCC president Ian Richardson said.

    The items donated are like a snapshot in time of the fifth Teretonga International, which was held on January 27, 1962.

    Among the items donated were an official programme, an SSCC competitor’s folder with her father’s name typed boldly at the top; a letter of welcome from the club secretary Owen Pierce; an accommodation list detailing where the VIPs were staying, including Australian Jack Brabham, Kiwi Bruce McLaren and Englishman Stirling Moss at The Grand Hotel; an official programme, a typed copy of the official race results among other correspondence and booklets.

    Included was a letter from Mr Gregory to the SSCC asking why he was not awarded the Harold Williams Memorial Trophy and a responding letter from the club to acknowledge its mistake.

    Accepting the donation on behalf of the SSCC, promotions officer Lindsay Beer said it was wonderful to get information on a locally built car.

    Southland Sports Car Club promotions officer Lindsay Beer and Allison Beckham with some of her father, Gordon Gregory’s, racing memorabilia she gave to the club, which has its clubrooms at Teretonga Park. Photo: Jenet Gellatly

    “We must preserve our history because we are the historic motor race track in the country.

    “In that era, things weren’t as easy to do.”

    SSCC president Ian Richardson said it was fascinating to see the communication required in those days… the handwritten letters, pages long, and the language used.

    Some of the photos of the names on the accommodation lists “were sitting on our walls here”, he added.

    The beginnings
    The SSCC club was established in 1948.

    Among its early meetings were hill climbs at Wairikiki, New Zealand Beach Championships at Oreti Beach and standing speed tests on Dunns Rd, Otatara.

    The idea for the club to own a circuit was first mooted in 1953 and working bees and construction began in 1955.

    When Southland’s Centennial took place in 1956, two major events were organised by the SSCC, the South Island Reliability Trial which took competitors around the South Island,  and a large international road race at Ryal Bush, which ‘‘gave the Southland public the first taste of the flavour and excitement of big-time motor racing, with a good line-up of English and Australian drivers’’, the 1962 programme states.

    Gregory and his brother-in-law took part in the South Island trial, Mrs Beckham said.

    Peter Nield Whitehead, of England, won the 27-lap (102.2 miles, 164.3km) Ryal Bush road race in a Ferrari in 1956, with the fastest lap also, at 2min, 16.9sec, an average of 96mph.

    The success of that meeting prompted the club to stage another similar event, and with the guiding hand of club patron Jack Johnstone, another international racing series was held on the same circuit at Ryal Bush the next year.

    Whitehead, won again in 1957, again in a Ferrari, Reg Parnell, of England was second, also in a Ferrari, and Horace Gould, England, in a Maserati. Whitehead took out the fastest lap at 2min 12sec (99.53mph, or 160.17kmh).

    Enough money was raised from this event to construct Teretonga Park in 1957.

    As well as being the country’s oldest purpose-built racing circuit, it was the southern-most Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)-recognised race track in the world.

    The home of the SSCC, it had a reputation of being ‘‘one of the best and safest tracks’’ nationwide, Mr Beer said.

    Teretonga Park was opened on November 30, 1957, and hosted its first international event on February 8, 1958.

    It was extended to its current configuration in 1966.

    Gore’s Gordon Gregory
    In 1962, it was the racer from Gore, Gordon Gregory’s turn to take the wheel and compete against 15 others in race number five (morning race) and race number 8 (afternoon), racing cars (handicap) for cars not entered in the main event, in a programme of 12
    races at Teretonga Park.

    The length of the course was 1.5 miles, with a lap record on the day of 1min 6.2sec set by McLaren, in a Cooper.

    Being a handicap race, the slowest cars took off first, handicaps based on times set during official practice, the programme stated.

    Over the six laps (9 miles) of the morning race, the 1172cc green machine (number 29) took Gregory to victory, winning £20, in a time of 9min 20.2sec.

    However, his improved time of 9:10.2 in the afternoon race (number 8) was not enough to take first place and Gregory had to settle for fourth, beaten by less than seven seconds,
    winning £7 10s.

    ‘‘He went all that way [from Gore to Invercargill in 1962] to race in two races,’’ Mrs Beckham said.

    ‘‘It probably took all year to get ready for it… things such as fuel, a trailer, transport and crew had to be organised.’’

    Gordon Gregory, of Gore, in the racing car he built and raced at Teretonga Park, near Invercargill,
    on January 27, 1962. Photo: Supplied

    Bragging trophy withheld
    The bragging trophy for race five was the Harold Williams Memorial Challenge Trophy.

    However, Gregory was not awarded the coveted prize, instead it went to the fourth placegetter, a Mr A.E. Ross who competed in a A50 Special, also winning £7.10s with a time of 9:26.4.

    Gregory took umbrage at not being awarded the trophy, which according to the supplementary regulations and entry form booklet, ‘‘was to be awarded to the first Southland driver in Race 5’’, so he wrote to the SSCC and asked why.

    The letter from the club admitted there had been a mistake, as the booklet was supposed to have read ‘‘the first Southland Car Club driver in race five’’, which obviously would have
    annoyed her father, Mrs Beckham said.

    It was a printing error, the SSCC secretary wrote to Gregory.

    ‘‘The Trophy was donated by Mr V. Williams Snr on the understanding that it be competed for by members of this club [SSCC] only. Although the Supplementary Regulations state
    ‘The First Southland Driver’ the awards in the programme were amended to read ‘The first S.S.C.C. Driver’, he wrote.

    Among other notable entrants on the day were racing legends Kiwi Bruce McLaren, who came first in the 50-lap international, Stirling Moss, of the UK, who placed second, and
    Australian Jack Brabham, who came third, all racing Cooper Climaxes.

    Others who raced included Italian Lorenzo Bandini and Kiwi Chris Amon.

    ‘‘During its golden era of motor racing in New Zealand, Teretonga hosted many of the world’s greatest drivers,’’ Mr Beer said.

    McLaren and Brabham had competed in the inaugural international, placing second and
    third respectively.

    In 1959, McLaren took first place, with Brabham, once again third.

    Complete circle
    The green racing machine was not the only car Gregory built. It was one of five and three were still around, Mrs Beckham said.

    But, in a twist of fate, Number 29 has returned to Gore, after Errol Hewlett bought it last year.

    ‘‘It was sold about five years ago… then it was on the market again this year [2020].

    ‘‘This time he knew he had to have it,’’ Mrs Beckham said.

    As it turns out, Mr Hewlett was taught by Gregory at Gore High School.

    A member of the Vintage Club, Eastern Southland Car Club and also involved in Motor Sport NZ, Mr Hewlett had been tempted to buy the racing car in 2015.

    ‘‘That made him the fifth owner in Otago and Southland, including Dad.’’

    In an attempt to keep some of Gregory’s archives with his former vehicles, some of his designs were given to Mr Hewlett.