Octagon Newsletter … March 1997
By Alan Fraser
Following World War II, the recovering British auto industry was governed by the dictum "Export or Die", as steel for auto production was allotted in strict proportion to the number of cars which each company exported. For example, in 1952, forty-two MG Midgets were exported for every one that stayed behind in Britain. As a result, in the years following 1945, the products of Austin, Morris and Rootes Group became familiar sights throughout the Commonwealth. The "Big Six also included English Ford, Vauxhall and Standard-Triumph.
With its "British" atmosphere, Victoria was a popular destination for these exports and companies such as Plimley's on Yates Street sold Austin, while Louis Nelson on Johnson Street (later Horwood Motors), competed with Standard and later Morris-MG products, Victoria Super Service, later British Car Centre on Yates sold Morris products and Jamieson Motors on Blanshard Street was the Rootes dealer for Sunbeam, Hillman and Humber.
English cars were more individualistic than the hordes of Fords, Chevrolets and Dodges and their sporting pedigrees made them popular with individualistic drivers who preferred foregoing North American comfort for a closer communion with a car which, generally, handled better than anything the Big Three was producing and was generally much more economical to operate. Owners of these cars tended to band together to share their enthusiasm. In Victoria, by 1948, the British Sports Touring Club had been formed by enthusiasts who enjoyed runs, rallyes, parties and even racing events. The club had been started by one of the Rodd brothers, Jim Burbridge and a few others as a British Motorcycle Club prior to and during World War II. After the War some members got married and settled down and the focus became British cars rather than bikes.
A few prominent members of the club in the early '50s were Ed Balsom (Hillman), J.P. Burbridge (MG TC), L. Clay (MG TC), G. Ewan (MG TC), R. Fetherstonhaugh (Austin Healey), J. French (Morris 12 Series 3 / Morris Oxford), G. Reynolds (Morris 12 Series 3), John Scruton (MG YT, Riley 2 (litre), Dudley Stephens (Hillman / Jaguar Mk VII), J. Wells (MG VA saloon), Trevor Woodruff (Standard Vanguard / MG TC), G. Simpson (??) and Robin Yellowlees ( MG YA, MG YT, Riley 2 litre).
The purpose of the BSTC was to encourage the use and enjoyment of British cars and to provide social as well as driving events in company with other enthusiasts. Some club activities were drives up-island, rallyes, Christmas tree hunts (as far as Forbidden Plateau!), races at the Cassidy Airport, and always the formal Christmas Dinner at the Empress Hotel. The club maintained a number of photo albums which recorded these many occasions.
The Club was a vibrant group for many years and carried on throughout the '50s but as members aged or possibly became more sensible and interests changed, the club entered decline until by 1962 the British Sports Touring Club was dissolved as a formal group, although members have maintained informal contact to this day.
Robin Yellowlees and I spent a delightful morning perusing four of the club photo albums and as I studied the activities from 1950 to 1962, I began to see a close parallel between this veteran club and our present Victoria MG Club. Like the earlier club, we are united in the desire to enjoy our British cars on the road and in driving events and to enjoy any excuse for the sociability of good friends. Although we were drawn together in 1981 by the common link of the MG name, we have always advocated that "all British Marques are welcome" at our events and we maintain contact with the newly-organized Old English Car Club for the benefit of all British car enthusiasts. Robin recalls a Studebaker, a Dodge and a Fiat in the BSTC!
It has been suggested that VMGC is the successor to the BSTC and I am certainly inclined to agree with that assessment. In order for our club to continue long after we "old crocks" have faded away, I think it is time for the Benson, Fraser, Gatey, Grant, McLean, Passmore, Richter, Stevenson and Windrum families to give their deserving children a first MG and aim them towards the club executive! (If my son, Andrew Fraser reads this, I really don't want him to have an MG because he drives too fast and treats the car evilly!)
In sharing his valuable memories with me, Robin made the comment "… it is good for present members to know that British cars have been singled out for special enjoyment and treatment in Victoria ever since the end of W.W. II".
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