In 1982, I saw an advertisement in the Melbourne Age newspaper for a rolling chassis of a rear engine race car. No history or information only the probability that it had been raced. This cost me $600. The car was stored in an old chicken shed in the back blocks of Werribee in Victoria. To get the car out of the shed, we had to pick it up, turn the car on its side and four of us carried the car out and placed it on a trailer and delivered it back to the workshop. I knew very little about these types of cars. Up to this point I had been working on tin-top touring cars.
I learnt very quickly that rear engine cars should be worked on by engineers. They are usually a special construction and not a mass manufactured item. This certainly suited me. I had to track down the history of the car which took a bit of doing. I managed to get good reliable information that was correct which enabled me to get CAMS historic registration and eligibility to race the car in historic races. The car was eligible for Group M Racing which is for racing cars built between 1960 and 1965.
With this in hand the rebuilding of the Essenkay commenced. The chassis needed a full rebuild and had badly damaged frame sections that I replaced and or repaired. I had to make a fuel tank, seat, radiator, steering wheel, various mounting brackets, exhaust, manifolds, the list goes on. It took 18 months of about 4 hours a day.
This sounds really crazy. The engine is a Skoda Felicia engine from approximately 1957. Boy O boy, what do you do with a Skoda engine? This is a road car that has the same factory part number for front and rear windscreens! That sort of says something? I started work on making this engine “go” and in the end I ended up with 105bhp at 8200rpm. Not too bad for something that could have quite easily ended up as a boat mooring.
That was just part of the whole ordeal and I am really only telling the short story here. I had to adapt a 36hp VW gearbox to the back of the engine. Along with Triumph Herald 8” brakes and a conglomeration of specially made parts. Even the gear shift was on the right hand side and to add insult to injury, it was reverse shift. In other words, first gear was to the back and not to the front as per normal. Throughout the project, it was a blessing to have all the facilities to make, build and work on the Essenkay and bring it back to what it was in the 1960’s. I do not think I could have done it without having a lathe and milling machine over my shoulder to turn to in times of trouble to make the parts.
Finally came the time to run the car and get involved in historic racing events. Over a period of approximately ten years, I had 128 starts with only 2 DNF’s. Do not think that was too bad for an old discarded car that had been held up in a chicken shed looking for a sympathetic owner.
I sold the car in 2002. It was bought by Tim Bishop of Connaught Engineering and was sent to UK. They raced and used the car for a few years where it was fairly competitive. They came 2nd outright in the UK historic Formula Junior championships in about 2006. They then sold the car to one of their customers and a few years later the Essenkay moved to Northern Italy and is now owned by Bruno and Nico,
I have been there to visit and even drive the car. Since selling the car it has always belonged to such nice people. The Essenkay is pretty much in the same condition as when I was racing it and I’m happy and proud to say that all the work I did in rebuilding the car is still working ok. It taught me a lot about things that go fast and expanded my knowledge.
Group M Formula Junior 1100cc. Four cylinder Skoda engine. VW Gearbox. Triumph Herald brakes. The rest was made in my workshop and a true Australian built engineer's special.