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Austin Miller
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(The land speed record holder
in 1961) L-R, Austin miller,
Bruce Burr. Geoff Smedley - 1960

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Launceston Examiner
Austin Miller with his mechanics
inspecting the 1959 Cooper Climax.
Pictures Collection, State Library of

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Austin Miller setting the Australian
land speed record at Baker's Beach,
Tasmania, in November 1961
(Victorian Historic Racing Register
Archive, State Library of Victoria.)

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Newspaper clipping of Austin Miller at Bakers Beach
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Austin Miller and Jim Patterson with
the Cooper Climax at Caversham
circa 1961

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Austin Miller with Fred Astair
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Austin Miller on the set of the movie On the Beach
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The 1959 Cooper Climax, chassis number F2-20-59, had a Chevrolet Corvette engine. It was first owned by Stan Jones, and then Austin Miller.

The car started life as an unsuspecting single seat racing car in Australia owned by Stan Jones and the engine was the usual 4 cylinder Coventry Climax FPF. Miller installed a Corvette V8 engine and created an enclosed cockpit & rear bodywork for the record attempt, after which the car was returned to standard specification and Bib Stillwell raced it for a number of years. Miller's record stood until 17th July 1964 when Donald Cambell surpassed it on his way to the new World Land Speed record set at 403mph on the dry salt Lake Eyre in southern Australia.

First Person - Geoff Smedley
1959 saw another chapter begin after being asked to prepare a car for an attack on the Australian Land Speed Record, which was then held by Mel. McEwan and the Tornado Special, being set on Lake Eyre in 1958. An old aquaintence, Austin Miller was incensed with the idea of having a crack at this record and had at that time a 1957 2.litre Cooper Climax which was to be the chosen vehicle.

A modified chassis was needed to accommodate a 400HP Chev. Corvette engine along with a special 2 speed gearbox and a windcheating canopy to cover the cockpit area, What a monster! But as it turned out Austin proved that he not only had the ability and anatomy to drive this machine but broke the record in 1960 on the sands of Bakers Beach here in Tasmania.

The Australian Land Speed Record 1961

Reflections by Geoff Smedley 2010

This is perhaps the most unlikely but successful challenge to a record ever staged and it comes with a story that is equally remarkable the story of Austin Miller, Australian Land Speed Record Holder (1961 – 1964).

I had known my friend, the late Austin Miller, for a number of years previously and we had raced cars together in earlier times. Around 1959 Austin came to live in Tasmania after recovering from a fairly major air crash in Victoria, where he had operated an aerial crop spraying business for many years. He decided at that time perhaps a slower pace of life would be better suited to his wellbeing, and so he had bought a hotel in Launceston and renovated it and renamed it 'The Monaco Hotel'. It soon became the hub of motor racing fans from far and near.

It could be argued that the array of beverages served at the Monaco may have instigated the record attempt! Not so! But it was Aussie’s infectious desire and persuasive talents that eventually won out, and the idea grew into a reality early in 1960, with myself entrusted with the task of putting together a vehicle that could better the current record. This stood to Mel McEwan in the 'Tornado Special' with a speed of 157.5mph set in South Australia a few months earlier.

Some of the difficulties soon became clear. First there was no money in the kitty. This meant that all work had to done 'in house'. The only equipment available was the 1959 Cooper F2 fitted with a 2.2 climax motor that was Austin’s current race car, but it was certainly not suitable for the job in hand. But a friend of Aussie’s in Melbourne had just set a water speed record using the Corvette engine, and this power plant had been offered on loan as a starting point to our quest.

The thought of stuffing 400 hp into a petite Cooper F2 seemed almost as ridiculous as attempting the record itself. An assessment of the work needed to adapt the chassis to take the big and brutal Corvette engine proved it would need to be a bit of a 'suck it and see' effort, or do it as she goes, with all chassis work to be undertaken before the transplant could take place. In particular, the transmission drastically needed modification from the existing citroen light 15-based box used by Cooper at that time.

To this end I was fortunate in that I had the facilities of engineering facilities with the family business (Bedford Machine Tools) at my disposal. Being a trained engineer, I was able to modify this box to a beefy 2-speed specialised unit, and with savage cross bolting of the housing, in theory, it would withstand the short lived punishment expected of it. All this along with special beefed up drive shafts to cope with the extra power were made and, as it seemed, a never ending general tweek in all the right places.

Eventually we were starting to see some result and the project began to shape the car we hoped would bring us success. The only thing I was fully confident of was the fact that Aussie Miller was one of very few blokes in the world who could steer this mish-mash of bits to success. His long career in flying, and driving at the top echelon of open wheeler racing in this country, certainly proved he had not only the courage but also the anatomy to do the job.

After the work on the car was finished there was the hassle of setting up the legalities and finding a location suited to such an attempt. We had looked at a few areas as possibilities, but each had drawbacks, and we needed a course that would give us the very best of chances. A remote beach on the North-West coast of Tasmania (Bakers Beach) looked like the ideal place, a little out of sight in case of failure and some 4.5 miles of good surface to set up a good surveyed strip to test our hopes.

It took quite a few weeks for our little band of helpers to arrange all the last minute problems, including being told that the official timing gear was in Hobart the night before we were about to make the run! This meant someone had to drive the 250 mile journey to retrieve this very important bit of gear. While this was being attended to, my friend Bruce Burr and I decided it would be prudent to take the car to the beach the evening before to eliminate any holdup on the following day.

The best laid plans were in place, we were armed with arrowed placards to be placed on trees showing the way into this well hidden beach, and the evening turned into night before we reached the last mile or so of very dense bush. Not having ever tried to visit this remote place in darkness, we became hopelessly lost and had diligently placed our signes in areas that have never been found to this day!

Our problems didn’t stop there. Eventually we arrived on the Western end of the beach and it required about a four mile drive in the Land Rover, with car and trailer on tow behind, to the Eastern end to a base site we had previously chosen. We were finding this spot hard to locate in the darkness and the search required driving in the softer sand further up the beach.

Of course the trailer and race car became bogged and things became hopeless, so we simply unhitched the trailer and moved the Land Rover to a little higher ground and turned in for the night. We were woken just after daylight by a local TV crew that had somehow found us without the aid of our signs, and to our horror we found that the tide was in and was lapping the deck of the trailer and the car looked to be sitting on the water, which presented more of a comedy act than a serious record attempt. Anyhow, with the aid of the TV crew we managed to get things into a more respectable state before Officialdom and others started arriving, none of whom had seen any of the dozen or so directional signs we had placed the night before.

The timing equipment had been brought from Hobart and set up and it was then time for the first test runs up the beach. Bearing in mind that this would be the first test of the car itself, it was a very nerve racking time for me but if Aussie felt the same way he certainly didn’t show, it climbing into the car as if heading off on a fun drive up the beach!

The first couple of runs looked well but a problem with the timing equipment held up proceedings for some time. This made all previous runs null and void, but it did give us a chance to delve into a possible gearbox problem which, turned out to be a minor adjustment. However, stripping a transmission on a beach in the open is not really recommended, but we did the job and soon all was ready for the first official run from East to West.

The car achived 172mph, well on target. We had the car geared for around 202 mph @ 6,500rpm and this first run was looking good. The reverse run was a little down, which was expected against a growing wind, and adjustments were made to the car before the next speed run. While working on the engine, it was necessary to remove the canopy I had made to try and wind cheat the car. I had rigged up a quick realease arrangement for this canopy should the need arise but somehow the mechanism got damaged in the refitting after the previous run, causing a major drama on the next attempt.

At an estimated 170mph the canopy ejected and went skywards, also releasing the whole backhalf of the body, and certainly shocked the observers and dimmed the hopes of taking the record somewhat. But the 'never say die' Aussie, the pilot, was determined to have a go without such refinements even though beach conditions had deteriorated and the wind was lifting the sand into a heavy haze. Pulling down his goggles, the intrepid Miller lad set off, disapearing into a wall of sand and into the record books by pushing the record up to 164.7mph, not what we hoped, but a record that would stand for almost four years - and all on the smell of an oily rag.

It's good to reminisce on a time when this sort of thing was possible and practical learning was still in vogue. For me, I later entered into F1 as a race engineer. In those early days your skills were required on every aspect of the car, you featured dirty hands but aquired a lot of personal satisfaction.

It was an era in time we will never see again in the name of Motor Sport. Four years later when Donald Campbell in his jet powered Bluebird officially became the fastest man on wheels, he put the record up to 403mph on Australia’s lake Eyre, but the successful Miller challenge remained for some 4 years, and certainly must always remain as a dinkum piston engined record done on a shoestring by a a man of his time……… Austin Miller, My Mate!

Source - Autosport Forum 2012/04/17

Australian Land Speed Record Set In Launceston

Tasmanian hotel proprietor Austin Miller raced across the loose sands at Baker's Beach, near Launceston late In November 1961 to set a new Australian land speed record of 163.94 mph - several mph faster than Ted Gray's previous record of 157.5 mph in a car aptly named the "Tornado". Miller's bright-yellow Cooper-Corvette flashed through the measured kilometre at 172 mph on his first run and covered the return run in stiff headwinds at 156 mph, to the jubilation of officials of the Light Car Club of Tasmania, which organised the attempt. The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, which gave full approval for the attempt, confirmed the speed as the new official record. Miller made his runs on a four-mile stretch of sand along Tasmania's East Coast complying with the regulations which stated that the rise and fall of the surface could not vary by more than one percent.

Miller had been preparing the Cooper for many months prior to the attempt, and fitted the car with a 400 bhp Corvette engine on loan from speedboat personality Keith Hooper, of Melbourne, earlier in the year. The bodywork was altered slightly and the cockpit covered with a Perspex bubble to assist streamlining. The Corvette was stripped and reassembled with American speed equipment - Iskenderian camshafts, Offenhauser manifolds, six double-choke carburettors, an aluminium flywheel and special heavy-duty clutch assembly. After the record runs, Miller said he did not exceed 6000 rpm because of the soft sand. He said he had 1000 revs in hand and that the car was geared for 200 mph, a figure which he said he hoped to reach in a future attempt.

During his first run, Miller set a Tasmanian flying quarter mile record of 154.1 mph. He and his mechanics, Geoff Smedley, Bruce Burr and Bob Ford, were delighted with the success and the potential of the Cooper-Corvette. Miller's first real trial with the car was at Symmons Plains, the racing circuit built on the Youl brothers' property 10 miles south of Launceston, during October 1960, when he reached 140 mph in third gear. However, there were several delays before everything was in complete readiness. Miller, then proprietor of Launceston's Hotel Monaco, was a former BAAF pilot and drove speedway midget cars in Sydney and Melbourne before taking up motor racing.

Source - Unique Cars and Parts

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Austin Miller’s Cooper T51 Chev during his Australian Land Speed Record setting day-163.94mph at Bakers Beach, Tasmania watched by ‘four men and a dog’ on Monday 20 November 1961


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