Noel Delforce was a BMC apprentice and Experimental technician, who still has an affinity with the brand and the P76 today.
“Mum was the proprietor of Delforce’s River Garage in Wyong, which also incorporated an Independent Service Station selling every brand of petrol available at the time”, Noel explains.
“Mum continued to run the dealership after my father passed away in November 1947. I was six months old and my brother Russell was four years old.”
“She kept the business going until it was sold in 1963. She raised Russell and I as a single parent and didn’t remarry until I left home to start my apprenticeship. Mum passed away several years ago aged 93.”
“I learnt to drive on brand new Morris Minors moving them in and out of the workshop when I was probably eight or nine years old”, he reveals.
Noel’s brother Russell started at BMC Australia as an apprentice fitter/machinist in January 1960, and Noel followed in 1964.
As was normal practice with the apprentices, Noel was moved around to a number of different departments, as it gave a sound training in all aspects of motor vehicle manufacture.
By 1967 management had caught on to Noel’s ability and interest in motor cars and transferred him to the Experimental Department. This was a very unusual move as apprentices rarely got the opportunity to work in this department. “Working in Experimental at Leyland was a dream come true for someone with a passion for motor racing. This allowed me access to a lot of unofficial factory help from some really clever people. I was allowed to work after hours on my race cars, or to make specialised parts”, Noel reveals.
Noel’s particular interest was in engines, so he was set to work in the engine dynamometer section, where he worked on the P76 V8 engine development.
It was also around this time that Noel began to dabble in motorsport.
“The very first car I raced was a MK1 Freeway, my road car at the time. This car was actually fitted with a Detroit locker. I managed to roll the car on the corner after pit straight after about three laps of practice. The circuit was Warwick Farm. Boy did I feel a mug. The car never made it to race day. It was repaired and I continued to use it as my tow car, after a standard 2430cc motor was fitted, with standard four-speed gear box.”
Undaunted, he decided to build a Wolseley 24/80 sports sedan, which was aided by his role in the factory, as he explains. “I built the car early in 1969. I was able to purchase the body from the spare parts division for $100 brand new.”
The Wolseley had triple 1 ¾” SU carburettors, Sonic extractors and no muffler. There were also disc brakes from a Ford Zephyr MkIII and a limited-slip differential from a Holden. “The brakes were great. The LSD was awful, only lasting about three laps before it was useless”, Noel recalls.
On a tight budget, Noel originally used old Dunlop tyres, but soon struck a deal to buy near-new but used tyres from Leo Geoghegan, whose open-wheeler used the same size rims as Noel’s Wolseley. “The car was transformed, lapping over three seconds faster than I had ever gone before. I ended up on pole position for my heat of the Division Two races. Boy did people take some notice then.”
Noel won both his races that day and was moved up into Division One. “Boy, that was where I learnt fast. From memory I don’t think I finished lower than 7th or 8th in Division One for the rest of the Wolseley races at Oran Park. There were some very spectacular car and driver combinations in Division One in those days.”
The Wolseley later had a Detroit Locker differential, a 2780cc engine and Mk 2 Freeway head. Noel even tried supercharging it at one stage – quite unsuccessfully.
After it was sold to Allen Springett, it was fitted with a P76 V8 engine and P76 disc brakes. “I will never forget the first time we turned up at Oran Park with the V8 fitted. Kevin Bartlett did a few laps before our practice…and was impressed with the straight line speed, and thought the car pointed and turned in very well. He was also impressed with the brakes. I was elected to drive the car for this meeting and qualified fastest in practice and won two races from pole position. The Wolseley raced in this form until Allen decided to strip it down and sell off all the bits.”
In 1971 Noel started building a new Sports Sedan based on a Morris Marina, which at that time had not been released to the public. He acquired from the Experimental Department an English Morris Marina Coupe body shell, which had originally been sent to Australia as a complete car for evaluation purposes. To this shell he fitted a brand new 3.5 lt Rover V8 motor from a Rover P6B, also acquired from Experimental: as were two 4.2 lt stroker single-plane crankshafts, that had come from Repco for the P76 V8 development programme.
“I was very lucky to have some extremely clever people in Experimental to call on for help. At the top of that list is Roy Cullen, whose main job was to assemble the prototype bodies by hand.”
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The BMC Experience Issue 11. Oct-Dec 2014 Magazine
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