Ron Thorp AC Cobra (Speedcafe pic)

Ron Thorp AC Cobra (Speedcafe pic)

NOT only the cars have stories to tell at the Historic Leyburn Sprints. The event frequently attracts well-known drivers from yesteryears, keen to re-live their experiences, renew friendships and see cars from their era in action.

This year’s guests included Ron Thorp, a driver from the 1960s renowned for his glorious 1964 AC Shelby Cobra 289.

Based in Wollongong, Thorp and the dark green Cobra were familiar sights at circuits and hillclimbs all over Australia. Thorp won the Australian Hillclimb Championship for sports and racing cars in 1965-66-67 before he and the car retired to Inverell to allow him to follow his other passion, flying.

After a couple more owners, the Cobra was acquired by the Bowden collection on the Sunshine Coast, where it still lives in immaculate original condition.

Ron Thorp was interviewed on the Sprints public address system by commentator Will Hagon, to the fascination of many people attending. Later, after a fast ride in a modern-day Cobra, he penned this report on his visit:

The 21st Historic Leyburn Sprints were held on 20-21 August 2016 in the small township of Leyburn on the southern Darling Downs in Queensland.

Two hundred and fourteen entries were received, ranging in ages from a 1925 Austin 7 to a 2016 racing car called a Fly. There were fast cars, slow cars, cheap cars and priceless cars representing a variety which would be hard to beat anywhere.

To complement this spectacle there were over 30 beautifully presented historic caravans and a vintage and classic car display on Sunday.

The sprint course of approximately one kilometre through the streets of Leyburn provided plenty of challengers for drivers. The narrow cambered hot-mix provided a good surface but was unforgiving to some who ventured too close to the edge.

The marshalling area in front of the historic Royal Hotel provided a good opportunity to view the competitors prior to the commencement of their runs and the various grandstands were popular around other parts of the course.

The competition got under way promptly at 8 am on Saturday in showery conditions which thankfully cleared to a fine and sunny two days. Cars were flagged off at roughly half-minute intervals, which allowed two competitors on the course simultaneously, providing spectators with continuous action.

An unexpected highlight for me was a ride in one of the fastest vehicles in the form of a 1964 Ford Cobra fitted with a 670 bhp race engine and a six-speed sequential gearbox from one of Dick Johnson's V8 Supercars. Supplied with a full-face helmet and securely strapped into the passenger seat I was in for the ride of my life.

The huge sticky rubber tyres provided excellent traction both for acceleration and braking. The resultant G forces were a shock to the system as the gear changes went up and down several times between corners.

Owner-driver Mark Crespan piloted this awesome machine named “Mongrel” safely through the most exhilarating 49 seconds imaginable.

When I imported the first AC Cobra into Australia I did not imagine that it would open so many doors 50 fifty years hence. The fraternity of Cobra enthusiasts are so welcoming and keen to show me their replica versions of this iconic vehicle.

The Leyburn Sprints is a well organised event which allows spectators to mingle with drivers and cars in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. It is a great credit to the team of dedicated individuals who have developed this event into one of the best gatherings of motor racing enthusiasts anywhere in Australia.

It is a weekend which continues to attract a growing number of entrants and spectators every year for obvious reasons.

Intrepid passenger, Ron Thorp