Longford is a country town located within commuting distance of Launceston. It is hard to associate it with the flashy image of fast cars and beautiful people that we now expect at a Grand Prix. However, from 1953 to 1968 the streets of Longford were home to the fastest motor racing circuit in the Southern Hemisphere. The circuit hosted rounds of the Tasman Cup (1964-68), a round of the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1962 and was the venue for the Australian Grand Prix twice in 1959 and 1965. The circuit was also used for motorcycle racing which was it’s main focus in its early years. Some very famous names in motorsports raced at Longford. Australia’s Jack Brabham of course, Bruce McLaren, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Chris Amon, and Graham Hill to mention a few. I don’t know anything about motorcycle racing but these F1 drivers names are all familiar to me.
Motor racing was very different in those days. The sophisticated safety equipment that drivers and riders wear today did not exist then. The cars did not have computer controlled systems and communication with the pit crew was only through the pit boards. There were no fancy trailers and mobile workshops. In fact it was not unheard of for the driver or a crew member to drive a race car from the garage to the circuit before the race. As for the spectators, strategically placed hay bales were considered enough to keep them safe from any mishaps.
Motorama is an event held in Longford every year during the long weekend in March to celebrate the town’s motorsport history. Normally it is a three day event but this year due to Covid restrictions it was just one day. Naomi and I heard about it while we were visiting the swap meet at Ulverstone and decided that even though Longford is a two hour drive from home we would like to go.
It was an early start for us, especially after the big day we had at Sheffield on the Saturday but we wanted to have enough time to enjoy ourselves once we arrived. We had another pleasant drive along the Bass Highway, retracing our steps until we reached Devonport but then staying on the Bass Highway until we reached the Longford turn off. We arrived at 10am as the event was just getting started so it was easy to find somewhere to park.
I had the same trouble with ticketing as I’d had with the Steamfest tickets. I just could not persuade my printer to work other than to print endless test pages. Once again I resorted to contacting the organisers and once again they could not have been more helpful, promising to have the tickets waiting for us when we arrived. Sure enough once we had parked Wazza, Naomi’s car, next to the Village Green where the main display was we found the tickets with my name on them in a prominent position on the table where the tickets were being checked. Although everyone had to register online for contact tracing purposes just entering the Village Green to see the cars was free. However, we decided to pay the $15 to use the shuttle bus to take us around the old circuit. We thought that it would give our legs a rest after walking all over the Steamfest site. It didn’t turn out quite that way but it was excellent value for money nevertheless.
Of course the first thing we wanted to do was see the many vintage cars that were displayed on the lawns of the Village Green. Naomi had spotted some that she especially wanted to see before we’d even got through the gates. We split up to do this so that we could each follow our own interest. I wanted to photograph a bit of everything, knowing I would be writing about it later. Naomi skipped the open wheeler racing cars although we did both look at the display of motor racing photos, paintings and memorabilia in the hall before going our separate ways.
As you know Naomi has posted a lot of photos of interesting cars and other vehicles on here in the past and she took a lot of photos at Longford which she will eventually post here. She is a lot more knowledgeable about cars than I am and took photos from all angles making sure there were no random people in the way. My photos are more of an overview of what we saw that day
When we had walked around all the displays and had a bite to eat we were ready to find the shuttle buses. There were a number of these circulating all day long so you could use them as a hop on hop off service. They took us along the route of the circuit which was 7.5 kms or 4.5 miles around the outskirts of the town. At each stop there was a small display, a couple of cars, information panels or a TV screen running old film of the racing . Volunteers were stationed at each place ready to explain more about what we were seeing. A couple of the original bridges have been demolished so it is no longer possible to drive the exact same route but it is possible with backtracking to cover most of it and get a feel for what it must have been like especially after watching some of the old films.
Motorsports Are Dangerous
As we sat on the first bus we could hear two gentlemen behind us reminiscing about the old days, pointing out places where various events had occurred and then one of them started to describe a fatal accident. I’m not sure if he had witnessed it but it was quite a graphic description. They did not get off the bus when we did but while we looked at a display of motorcycle racing photos we got talking to one of the volunteers and asked him about the incident. He told us that over the years that the circuit existed there had been five or six deaths, motorcycle riders and drivers. One very sad story was the death of a young American driver, Tim Mayer, who crashed during a practice session for the Tasman Cup race in 1964. The following year an Australian driver, Rocky Tresise, was killed during the Australian Grand Prix in an accident that also took the life of a trackside photographer, Robin D’Abrera. One of these accidents took place in front of local school children who had been taken to watch the practice sessions which must have been horrific for them. On a more humorous note one of the volunteers also related the story of another driver who crashed his car into the wall of the pub, jumped out and went inside for a reviving drink!
It was hard to forget these tragic events but we have watched and attended enough motorsport events to be aware that it is a dangerous sport. Thankfully today it is a lot safer for drivers and spectators.
Round The Circuit
We continued around the route and at each stop there was the opportunity to take a short walk on an old piece of the track, to see the site of a bridge long since demolished or to visualise the last corner of the circuit adjacent to the Pits and Paddock once stood. Our favourite part of the tour though was when our bus took us down to the railway viaduct which the cars passed under. We have often passed the viaduct and the adjacent iron railway bridge and although Naomi had found a spot in Longford where the iron bridge could be photographed from a nearby park there was no way to get near the viaduct as the road was on private property. We were very happy to have the opportunity to see it close up at last. Both the brick viaduct and the iron railway bridge were built in 1870 and historic in their own right. I should add that there is a place on the circuit where the cars and bikes had to cross the railway line. Imagine doing that with one of today’s F1 cars! The railway was a bit of a sore point with the race organisers too as they refused to reschedule the trains during the race meeting meaning that events had to be planned around the running of the Tasman Limited and everything stopped while trains passed through Longford.
After finishing the bus tour we decided that we had seen enough and strolled down the main street of Longford to find a cafe for a meal before driving home. I’d like to return to Longford another time, maybe for next year’s Motorama and visit the pub on the circuit which is full of motor racing memorabilia. We both thought that it was an extremely well organised event. There was not a lot of choices for food and drinks but as the main street of Longford was nearby it would have been easy to pop out to a cafe or pub and come back in again as we were issued with wristbands as identification. Our only other tiny criticism was that there was a lack of places to sit on the village green. Our old aching feet were protesting and we’d have been glad of a place to sit down to have a cuppa or just a rest. Other than that we thought it was brilliant and we enjoyed talking to the volunteers who were all motorsport fans themselves and were friendly and quite knowledgeable about their pet subjects.
Below I have listed links to articles with information and photos of the cars and track. I think that one of them has a link in it to an excellent film called “Long Weekend at Longford” made by the Tasmanian Government Film Unit in 1964 and now available to view on YouTube. We saw bits of it playing at the circuit and the first thing we did when we sat down that evening was to find it so we could watch the whole film properly. It is about 20 minutes long.