Part I – The Gestation Period – Pre-April 1973
In October of 1970, Michael OVENS and Lorette DAVIS married, and started saving towards a house with the thought of eventually having a family (as you do!).
So what has this got to do with the 30th Anniversary of the Sprite Car Club of Queensland Inc? – well, little did they know that the first family that they were to spawn would have hundreds of members and still be breeding thirty years later!
You see, Mike sold his white 1967 Holden HR 186 Special Station Wagon and Lorette sold her white 1968 Honda Scamp 360cc two door Sedan to pay for weddings and start deposits on houses, and bought their dream car between them – a Champion Red 1965 Austin-Healey Sprite Mark III Sports (with no room for Mothers-in-Law)!
In late 1972/early 1973, Mike was rummaging around a wrecking yard at Albion (inner-Brisbane suburb) one Saturday morning (as you do!) – I think chasing a chrome-plated luggage rack for the boot lid which thankfully didn’t happen.
So too was one Darryl Markwell, in a much modified yellow and black Sprite Mark III – how I lusted after that car with it’s flared guards, negative camber, fat wheels, modified 1100cc engine (and cracked chassis!!).
Darryl was an unruly haired bachelor from the bush (Beaudesert) working in Brisbane for the PMG (now Australia Post and Telstra for you young’uns), and he was promptly adopted, particularly by Lorette, who did her best to put some meat on his skinny bones (and my cars had much to thank the PMG workshops for, for many years to come!).
It did not take too many rum & coke sessions at our place before it was agreed that we should join the Austin-Healey Owners Club of Queensland, where we already knew John BARRAM (Lotus Super Seven), Geoff MACKLIN (MG Midget), and Kees Koppenol (big Austin-Healey raced in the name of T.R.E = Tulip Racing Enterprises). Kees was manufacturing rollbars at the time for nearly all of us, and his factory in the bush off Wecker Road, Mansfield (outer-Brisbane suburb) became a favourite place to meet and swap yarns.
I always liked his parting comment as you left with your brand new rollbar: “Come back and let me know if it works!!!” – in the case of Geoff Macklin, this proved to be very prophetic, and the engine, gearbox, front suspension, rear axle housing, wheels, and ROLLBAR all finished up in the Sprite Mark 1 built up by Laurie BARRAM (younger bro of John, who both grew up in Beaudesert – can you see the connection with Darryl?) which was subsequently owned by Bill CAMPBELL, raced by Jacob STECHER, and then owned by Joe FARMER.
Part II – Post April 1973 – A Club is Born
Part II is in fact a re-jig of some e-mails exchanged between myself and Alwyn KEEPENCE of the Austin-Healey Owners Club of Qld (I am particularly mentioning this in case it reads as if they have changed my medication since writing Part I!!!!). The e-mails were in response to a conversation we had at the All British Day in late 2002 that discussed why the SCCQ and AHOC were separate clubs in a relatively small State like Queensland, particularly as we all know each other quite well:
Thank you for responding to my comments made at the All British Day which, as you realised, were mostly light-hearted – in fact, I was having a shot at myself and Barry DARLEY who, as you will recall, was sitting under the same SCCQ tent a few feet away.
The story that I was telling was that in recent times I finished up working for Barry. He and I were bemoaning the fact at work one day that there have always been separate clubs for Sprites and Big Healeys in Qld, when I pointed out to Barry that there may have only been one club if “some bastard had not come up from Sydney and lobbied for AHOC to go purist” ie Big Healeys only; whereupon my then Boss said “I think I may have been that bastard, Michael!!” – I must check with Barry whether he was serious or having a lend of me!
I have often been told that Carl STECHER started the Sprite Club but my “Bug-Eye View” column in the July 1974 edition of the mag, states “Carl Stecher of the AHOC joined the “kiddy car” Club last month”, which I am sure we all recognise as a real Stecherism!
The Sprite Club in fact started in April 1973 when Darryl MARKWELL received a reply to a letter that he had written to the Sprite Car Club of Australia, Sydney looking to form a Queensland branch – they in turn suggested a separate Queensland club and Darryl enlisted the assistance of myself (and Lorette).
Just prior to that, and this is where AHOC come in, Darryl had gone to a meeting to request an application form for himself and moi. As per your comments, our request for an application form was at about the same time as AHOC were “thrashing out the problem of associate members”, and the rest is history (do you realise that Darryl and I were rejected by both AHOC and then SCCA Sydney within the space of a month – talk about character building!!).
So around April 1973, we ran some ads in the “Spare Parts” section of the Courier Mail on Saturdays, calling for interested parties to turn up at Darryl Markwell’s residence to discuss the formation of a Sprite (and Midget) Club.
One of the attendees at that inaugural meeting was Graham HARRIS, who is another current member of the Club, with a Champion Red Mark III – many years later (say 1989), I actually bought and restored the same car* from Graham. My own Mark III was totalled in a night run (something about “11th street on the left” with unfortunately the 10th on the left and right being a major arterial road obscured by a shop awning!), along with my left leg (severe bruising) and Darryl’s left little toe – far less amusing than it sounds! A few meetings later, Graham brought his mate who was another skinny long-haired fellow named Wayne Reid; although in a Mini at the time, Wayne later rebuilt a Mark I which he has to this day and he too is still on our mailing list. Wayne was our first ever member to go to a National Sprite Challenge, on his own to Hay NSW.
*which I soon sold to pay for wedding #2, which has a strange irony, doesn’t it! Fortunately, I still had Mark I #2, bought in 1980, which I have to this day. Graham too has a Mark I or two. (Sorry, I am having a bit of Abbott and Costello “Who’s on one; no Hoo’s on two” fun here!)
Still Circa 1973
At one of our earliest events, we met at K-Mart, Gympie Road, Chermside (now called something else) to go in convoy to the motor racing at Lakeside Raceway. An orangy Mark I pulled up and the driver announced himself as Ray EAGLES of the now defunct Mark One Owners Club – he wished us well and, although invited to join us, I never saw him again.
At the same event, your brother Andrew also joined us for the first time in the Mark I that he later sold to you and Helen. He missed the first meeting because he was busy getting married to Sharon in that month, but his dedication to the Club improved by December of that year because we held our first Christmas party at their place, and also presented the first magazine with the title “Sprite Tripe”. This was sub-titled “Please give me a decent name”, and by the next issue the name “Sprite On” was born, playing on the vernacular of the era – “Right on!”
You remember Mike DWYER (Mark 11) as being a foundation member, but I think Mike was a relatively “new boy” having joined probably because of an association with Arthur GLASBY and Carl STECHER, post 1974.
Darryl sold his beloved Mark III, and bought a BRG Mark I – he was commonly known around the Club from that day on as “Darryl MARK ONE”! A little while later, Darryl changed the surname of some young lady and drifted away from the Club – all of us run into him occasionally.
In late 1983, I was transferred to Townsville, and the incumbent President allowed the SCCQ to fall on stony ground – Carl phoned me up early 1984 and said that he would like to resurrect the Club, but wanted to change the name to the “Healey Club of Queensland” to create, in the words of DMH, “a club for all my cars” and I was pleased to give my backing.
I presume that you joined the Healey Club around that time. Actually, checking back through some old “Sprite-On” magazines for dates etc refreshed my memory as to how avid a member you were of both Clubs, and were always an activist for one club for both models (you and I did a Midnite-to-Dawn together in your Mark 1 to Ravenshoe Qld, can you remember it?).
Some years later, John ROBERTSON and Alison CLARK were enthusiastic members of the Club and were particularly busy with the magazine. Because of a lack of support from the top, their efforts were becoming increasing frustrated, as were the efforts of the rest of us committee members.
A few of us, and in particular Neville MANSFIELD, tired of never being able to attend events or meetings for Sprites/Midgets “because nobody would come” and started going for a few drives together (the best attendance to date was 13 Spridgets plus or including a Cooper S). Because of public liability insurance, it became increasingly obvious that we should incorporate and with the help of Barry DARLEY we found that the name “Sprite Car Club of Queensland Inc” was vacant. If a debate ever sprung up about our antecedents, I think that it would be like one of those arguments about “who has the original historic race car, the bloke with the body or the bloke with the chassis”! However, I figure that we have the Co-founder and the name so therefore our antecedents go back thirty years!!
Some of the newer members probably don’t know the origins of why the SCCQ and AHOC are two separate Clubs (and probably don’t give a damn, but we do!). With your permission, I will use your letter and my response in the Sprite Club of Queensland Inc magazine – “Sprite On”.