The untold story of Australia’s speed pioneers

Fred Z. Eager with his racing car – Whitey – was a key player in the early days of motoring and competition in Australia, but his story is largley untold until now

When you think about the early days of Australian motorsport, your first thought is probably (depending on your age) Bob Jane and Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan tearing up the tracks in the 1960s.

The truth is Australian motorsport started much earlier but the story is largely untold – until now. Long-time motoring journalist Murray Hubbard has written a book – Car Wars Down Under: The Untold Story of Australia’s first Land Speed Record – that tells the fascinating story behind some of the pioneers of both motor racing and the automobile in this country.

The book centres around two drivers – Fred Z. Eager and Alec Fraser Jewell, who met on Southport Beach on Christmas Day in 1916 to duel it out for the title of Australia’s fastest driver. It’s a fitting location, given the prominent role Surfers Paradise has played in local motorsport, both at the short-lived permanent racetrack and the on-going street circuit. Not to mention the many modern racing teams that base themselves not far from the site that played host to this country’s first major motorsport showdown.

Cars Wars is available to buy now from selected bookstores

But, Hubbard doesn’t just tell the story of this encounter, it’s just the crescendo of years of work by both men and their respective businesses to grow interest in the car during the earliest days of motoring in Australia.

Eager’s father, Edward, was an American entrepreneur who saw the shift towards the then-new automobile and helped establish what is still, to this day, one of this country’s largest dealership groups. The Eagers along with Jewell and his business partner, Alexander Dodwell, didn’t just sell cars but did so much more, and Hubbard does a great job of capturing the hustling spirit of the car industry at the start of last century.

Too often books like these can be little more than a list of statistics and period accounts rehashed, but Hubbard does a great job of adding colour and life to the story and making the book a page-turner. From the first chapter – which tells the remarkable story of the Eagers driving to the Great Pyramids in 1911 – Hubbard brings to life the cast of larger-than-life characters.

Alec Jewell in his specially-prepared Studebaker Six

Early motor racing in Australia was rudimentary but exciting, with the likes of Eager and Jewell competing in a variety of events including hill climbs and the city-to-city record-breaking runs that were popular between the two world wars.

I won’t give any more of the story away because it’s worth discovering for yourself. But it’s fair to say without men like Eager and Jewell leading the way, motoring in Australia would have been slower to mature.

Motor racing in Australia before World War II is largely forgotten and that’s a great shame to the brave men and women that risked their lives during those years. So whether you’re a history buff or just love a great story, this is a book worth picking up.

Appropriately, the book is being launched on the Gold Coast today (Friday November 5), with Speedcafe founder, Brett Murray, hosting the event.

Car Wars Down Under: The Untold Story of Australia’s first Land Speed Record is available now from selected bookstores for a RRP $29.95.

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