Images: THOMAS BENSON.
“NO PRISONERS ON THIS 0NE,” says Thomas Benson, racer extraordinaire and current CAMS WA Chairman. He is, of course referring to the Northam Flying 50, scheduled for this weekend. “I’m going for the trifecta, having just spent a week putting all of the street circuit suspension and brakes through it. And many hours fixing a few cosmetics that have crept up on me. There is a whole lot of plastic and wood on offer to the winner at Northam. Just got to keep it off the walls!
“The Comic is Holden to the bootstraps – BJ 138 grey power and 56 corvette box, with 60 lsd s like a lister.”
Here’s a column I wrote a few years back for The West, about this remarkable man. Enjoy:
IT WAS 56 years ago when the car now known Australia-wide as the Comic Book Special lined up in the Australian Grand Prix at historic Caversham, with Aubrey Victor Badger behind the wheel.
That day – March 3 1957 – Comic gained its infamous reputation after sideswiping Lex Davison’s Ferrari 625 F1, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the 3lt Maranello machine, during practice.
“We always claim our car won the AGP, as the Ferrari carried part of it over the line and won in controversial circumstances,” said owner Thomas Benson, sporting a large smile.
In the confusion and excitement of a stinking hot day, the race was first awarded to Stan Jones, father of F1 world champion Alan. Stewards quickly figured out the cock-up, and handed the spoils to a bemused Lex Davison.
Davison and Michael Schumacher each won four AGPs and remain the most successful drivers in its 85-year history. Davo had a heart attack in 1965 while driving his 2.5lt Brabham Climax at his beloved Sandown, left the track at 160km/h, somersaulted and crashed through a railing fence, dying from his injuries. He was 42.
While Benson’s pride and joy is a wonderful looking piece of intricate machinery, its cartoon character-looks suggest it wouldn’t look out of place in Loony Tunes. I think she looks decidedly elegant in her bright yellow livery.
It started out in 1950 as the brainchild of Badger, dealer principal of the Holden dealership for the Northam district. It was called the BMH Special after the businessman and his workshop managers, Bill Mariner and Neville Hammond, who set out to build a vehicle for local Flying Fifty races. His aim was to beat the other car dealers in the region.
Finished in 1952, it was Australia’s first Holden- powered racing car. It developed 125hp in its initial guise, growing to 150hp-plus by the late ’50s. Locals loved its quirky looks and the Comic Book nickname stuck, much to Aubrey’s angst.
Comic was the first to hit 110mph (177km/h) at the 3.62km Caversham Motor Racing Circuit where, with Badger in the pilot’s seat during AGP practice, it clocked 185.1km/h. The BMH competed at Bunbury, and hillclimbs at Bickley, Mundaring and Northam before it was mothballed.
After an extensive and exhaustive rebuild by Benson, Comic Book returned in 2006, first on test and tuning days then regularity events at Northam and Albany, before embarking on a new racing program to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Caversham AGP.
It has since raced at Collie Motorplex, Barbagallo Raceway and Northam.
Benson, a true aficionado, learned to drive at 14 in a 1929 Willys Whippet ute and first competed in club rally events in the popular Renault R8. “I then migrated to flying Japanese cars for a while, but that got expensive and started to hurt when I kept putting them into trees or on their roofs,” he said. “I’ve pedaled these historic cars all my life, even driven a 1936 Chevrolet for years as my daily driver, only retiring it once the clock showed one million miles!”
In March 2008 he took the Comic Book to Victoria to compete in the Phillip Island Classic, and later won the Albany Classic alongside its stablemate, the Badger, the Northam dealer’s first car. That Special Chevrolet started out life as a 1936 FC Sports, and raced in standard form for some years until a major shunt. The right hand side chassis rail was damaged and replaced at the local garage while a neighbour fabricated the body, fitting only the necessary sheet metal in an attempt to create a special.
The car was rescued from Kellerberrin in 1978 to be used as spares for a 1936 roadster then under restoration. It wasn’t until 1997 it became apparent that the car had a history of racing and was lovingly restored.
And Thomas Benson did what few have done, He won an Australian Grand Prix – albeit the commemorative jubilee AGP in 2001 at Narrogin, in the Special. It still competes, running near standard 1936 Chevrolet components, alongside a cherished collection of historic Aussie race cars.