Foley-Stewart School of Driving Technique
In the mid1960s two of this country’s top Mini racers started possibly
Australia’s first racing school, with the aim of teaching better driving.
Chances are many Australians would have learnt to drive in a Mini of some description, but few would have done an advanced course in a race-prepared Mini Cooper S.
For a brief period in the late 1960s this was possible at the grandly named Foley-Stewart School of Driving Technique – probably the first organised race school in Australia.
Regular readers will know that Brain Foley and Laurie Stewart were two of Australia’s top Mini racers at the time, with many successes on circuits across Australia in their matching pair of Minis: Brian’s 1275cc and Laurie’s 1100cc.
They are also remembered for running Brian Foley Motors, a Mini specialist centre in the Sydney suburb of Caringbah where just about anyone from Sydney who wanted a hot Mini would go in the swinging Sixties.
Foley and Stewart launched the race school early in 1968 after inspecting a similar operation run in England by BMC works driver Paddy Hopkirk.
Motoring journalist Peter Wherrett was recruited to help set up the new concept. They also convinced Kevin Bartlett to act as chief instructor. KB was then an emerging star of the open-wheeler Tasman Series, sportscar and saloon car racing, driving for the Alec Mildren Alfa-Romeo team.
The school prospectus, as formulated by Peter Wherrett, makes for interesting reading these days.
“How good a driver are you?” was the big question. “Can you be sure your passengers are at ease with you? If you drive fast – ever – can you do it safely and with absolute confidence?”
This was your chance to find out in a race-prepared Mini.
Courses were held at the Warwick Farm circuit using three levels of tuition, starting with a compulsory two hours of theoretical instruction. A further seven hours were conducted on the track with students driving their own cars and the instructors sweating it out in the passenger seat.
The more talented trainees could continue to the third and highest level, which included some hot laps in a genuine racing car.
“I decided that we would need three competition cars,” wrote Wherrett in his autobiography, The Quest for the Perfect Car, published by Hodder in 1999.
“Logically two would be the Mini Coopers, one in what was then known as Improved Production Touring form, the other fairly extensively developed, a lightweight sport sedan. As well we found a single-seater racing car, a 1.5 litre Elfin.”
Laurie Stewart, now the owner of Southern Highlands Taxis in Bowral, NSW, says he can’t recall the first Mini mentioned by Wherrett but does remember the second lightweight car. He suspects it was a basic Morris 850 borrowed from the used car lot then beefed up in the Brian Foley workshops.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 29 of The Mini Experience.