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Col Crothers
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Col Crothers and his Series B Rapide. December 1954, Australian record 144.9 mph.
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Select Image to EnlargeWagga Daily Advertiser .
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Wagga / Collingullie 1955.

World land speed record by Col Crothers on a 1000 CC Vincent, on a straight section of the Sturt highway. Record broken but not recognised .

Record 147m.p.h.By Motor Cyclist
Sudney Morning Herald Monday 20 December 1954

NARRABRI, Sunday. - ColCrothers, of Parramatta, set an Australian motor cycle speed record for a quartermile of 147.54 m.p.h. here to-day.
He rode a Vincent andthe speed was the averageover eight runs.
The record had stood at144.92 m.p.h.
In his first attempt Crothers clocked his highest speed,152.54 m.p.h.
On two occasions the electrical timing mechanismfailed to operate.
The successful attempt was made on a strip of bitumenon the Narrabri-Gunnedah Road.

The president of the AutoCycle Union of Australia andofficial steward, Mr. R. H.White, said it was the best stretch in the State.
Spectators began to arriveat 3.30 a.m. although the at-tempt was not made until 5a.m.
Crothers also covered a mile at an average speed of 146.4 m.p.h. with a top registration of 151.51 m.p.h.

Officials are checking onthis as a State record.




New Records in one, half and quarter mile

Col Crothers (Parramatta) lowered the Australian land speed record at Narrabri on Sunday by almost four miles per hour, when he brought the coveted title back to N.S.W. Crother's fastest time (recorded) was 152.54 miles per hour over one way on the quarter-mile section. In his attack on the flying mile and half-mile records his fastest time was 151.51 miles per hour.
His mean speed (recorded) over the quarter-mile section was 147.54. His mean speed for the flying mile and half-mile 146.4 miles per hour. Previous holder of the land speed record was Hugh Gibson (W.A.), with a mean speed over a quarter of a mile at 144.92. The previous best times in the flying mile and half-mile were held by Les Warton with a mean speed of 139.34.

Crother's fastest times over the flying quarter were not recorded due to breakdowns in the Auto Cycle Union's electric timing apparatus. His fastest time of the day was estimated by many authorities to be in excess of 160 mph. Unfortunately the times were not recorded. Of the eight runs over the course made by Crothers, only five were successfully electrically timed by the A.C.U. equipment.

There were also failures in the electric eye equipment which timed the one mile attempts, but these were caused by lack of staff to man the £7,000 unit. This unit was supplied for the attempt with the compliments of Farren Price, well-known Sydney watch experts, and was in the care of one of the finest electronic engineers in the Commonwealth. An "electric eye" was set up at both ends of the measured mile, but due to staff shortage and the fact that the timing head was placed in the centre of the section, it was impossible for the operator to control both ends of the mile section and be at the centre at the
same time. Once a flock of parrots set the gear off by flying through the beam just previous to Crothers coming over the line, another time an official walked in front of the ray, and on another occasion the tow car passed through the beam just previous to Crothers going through at the other end of the mile section.

Dawn Start
The township of Narrabri was awakened at 3 am on Sunday morning when members of the Narrabri MCC, officials and
workers assembled in the main street and took off for the highway over which the attempt on the Australian Land Speed record was to be made. Upon arrival the two sets of electric timing gear were unloaded and cables were run out over the mile and quarter mile sections of the course. At 4.30 am everything was in readiness for the start, but due to the poor light the Hawtrey-Vincent did not make a run until 4.55 am, when Col Crothers made a warming up tour.

At 5 am the official car closed the road and five minutes later Crothers could be heard taking off from the eastern end of the road. Hundreds of spectators who were packed behind the fences stared with amazement as the streamlined Vincent hove into sight. A few seconds later and the machine had covered the mile and was well out of sight. At the Auto Cycle Union's electric timing set the officials (Don Bain and Mr Ray White) checked the clock, which read at 5.9 seconds for the quarter mile, the fastest recorded speed of any machine and rider in Australian history. The time was relayed to Crothers and at 5.12
am the return run from east to west commenced. It was obvious to all present that this run was even faster than the first, but alas! the ACU road trip failed and the time was not recorded. Crothers' first run had given him a speed of 152.54 mph.
Everything now depended on the return run from west to east. Returning on the east-west run Crothers checked over the quarter in 6 seconds.

The next run through from west to east was again the all important run. If the timing unit operated and Crothers could repeat the time of the first run, he had the Australian Land Speed record in the bag. At 5.27 am the big Vincent again shot across the line, and again the ACU set failed to record the all important run. Don Bain, in charge of the timing head, then operated the trip gear by hand and five times out of six it operated without fault. The fifth run from east to west and the unit failed to operate from the opposite end and the time was 5.33 am. On the sixth run in the all important west-east run and the officials were very worried men indeed. They knew that Crothers had smashed the record wide open, but it meant nothing until such time as the clock registered on the particular west-east ,run. Then came the Vincent with disappointed Crothers tucked in
behind the aluminium shell. Don Bain said something about praying like you have never prayed before and as the Vincent crossed the line the clock operated and stopped as Crothers crossed the other end with a reading on 6.3 seconds, and the Australian Land Speed record smashed by almost four miles an hour. A couple of further runs were made, but riding consistently for an hour at speeds in excess of 150 mph must take its toll on the rider who had more than his share of worry during the morning, and no better times were recorded.

Conditions were not ideal due to a strong head wind and the hazard of parrots, which swarmed across the course. At the end of one run Crothers looked more like a red indian than a man attacking a land speed record. He was smothered in feathers from parrots, and one of the dead birds was jammed up into the inside of the cowl as he pulled in after the last attempt. No record has been harder won than that of Crothers, who lost his title due to faulty timing gear at Wagga early in the year, and smashed the existing figures on Sunday under very adverse conditions.
Those people who have been behind the scenes during the two years of preparation for the attempt, including Col Crothers himself, say that the ultimate results are a tribute to the patience, tuning ability and enthusiasm of Mr Wal Hawtrey. Mr Hawtrey's own story of the preparation of the Vincent will appear in the New Year issue of the N.S.W. Motor-cyclist.

Mr Crothers, in an interview, said that the Vincent handled perfectly and was a credit to Wal Hawtrey. "All I had to do," said Crothers, "was to point the machine at the end of the road and hang on." Crothers, however, has proved that he is a rider of outstanding ability and we join all Australia in offering our congratulations to the Hawtrey-Crothers-Vincent combination on the success of their efforts.



Australian Motor Cycle News, 01 November 2019

The fastest man in Australia. On two wheels or four

Watching his father compete at Penrith Speedway – said to be the fastest mile in Australia – it’s little wonder Col Crothers became fixated on speed at a very early age. Later, during WW2, he learnt the rudimentary principals of what makes a motorcycle tick while assembling Harley-Davidsons for the military, a skill that helped him as a motorcycle dealer in Parramatta.

Post war, Parramatta became one of the hubs of the population boom in Sydney’s west, with road racing in Parramatta Park and Mount Druitt, plus speedway at Cumberland Oval, Liverpool, Penrith and later – thanks to ‘Honest Col’ himself – Westmead, a venue that outlasted them all.

With Ariel, BSA and Royal Enfield in the showroom and the used bike business thriving, Col consolidated premises half the length of the main drag, becoming a local property tycoon.

At 36 years old, Honest Col had it made, and sought to expand his interests beyond speedway. The Australian Land Speed Record had long held his attention and the acquisition of a Vincent HRD Series ‘B’ Rapide was just the weapon to get the job done. At that time, the Vincent was recognised as the fastest motorcycle in the world and Les Warton held the Australian flying mile record just shy of of 140mph (225km/h).

On a machine allegedly prepped by the legendary Phil Irving, West Australian Harry Gibson had gone 5mph (8km/h) faster than Warton – but only through the quarter mile. Col, intent on bettering 150mph (241km/h), entrusted his venerable ‘B’ Series Rapide into the hands of home-grown engineering wizard – and well known AJS racer – Wal Hawtry. The bike was sorted, the problem was now finding a venue.

After the not unexpected problems with the recalcitrant constabulary, the Wagga Wagga Court ruled that the Sturt Highway between Wagga and Narrandera could be closed for precisely one hour on 28 March, 1954. Had the police let the road closure application slide through unchallenged, only a handful of local residents may have learnt about the Australian Land Speed Record attempt. But the well-publicised court case generated a massive spectator turnout. Or, at least as many cars, motorcycles, tractors, horses and carts as it took to clog a two lane road through the isolated backblocks of NSW.

Despite the flocks of galahs that favoured the bitumen warmed by the early-morning sun, Col cruised through the traps at an estimated 160mph (257km/h) on his very first run. That was as good as it got. The ACU’s timing device, consisting of trip wires linked to a recorder, repeatedly failed, except when tripped by wayward spectators. After an hour’s frustration the police took great delight in shutting down the show.

Col remained enthusiastic and set about fine tuning another road-closure application while Wal Hawtry set about slipstreaming the Rapide. After another lengthy legal battle, Col obtained the Court’s judgment allowing several miles of the Narrabri Road to be closed at dawn on 19 December, 1954.

In an attempt to void the ACU’s antiquated timing system, Col organised an ‘Electric Eye’ timing device from J. Farren Price, Australia’s most respected timing experts. Naturally, the ACU stuck to ‘official’ stopwatches linked to their electronic timer.

Col’s first run, delayed by available light, was timed at over 152mph (244km/h) and the return run appeared even faster, but the ACU timing equipment failed. And, of course, failed again on a repeat run.

By now the wind was up and the galahs were reluctant to move, despite Col completing half a dozen unsuccessful runs. The NSW Motorcyclists Newsletter later reported that “At the end of one run, Crothers looked more like a Red Indian than a man attacking a land speed record. He was smothered in feathers from parrots (sic) and one of the dead birds was jammed up into the cowl. No record has been harder won than that of Crothers’.”

And it’s a safe bet that, considering the cost of travel for both attempts, the legal fees and the hire of correct – but inadmissible – timing equipment, no previous record had been more expensive to acquire.

But Crothers and Hawtry got the record they deserved; an average of 147.54mph (233.442km/h) was more than three miles an hour faster than David McKay’s Aston Martin DB3S was able to achieve many years later.

Thanks to Hawtry’s wizardry, ‘Honest Col’ Crothers remained the fastest man in Australia for the following three years.

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