Pantless Dance at the Australian Grand Prix
Sometimes here at The Race Torque, when we are researching stories, we fall into rabbit holes that unearth some absolutely cracking yarns.
Recently while delving into the 1954 Australian Grand Prix at Southport in Queensland, we stumbled upon a story regarding one of the greatest legends of Australian motorsport – “Gelignite” Jack Murray, and frankly, it’s too good not to be retold.
As far as characters in Australian motorsport go, Jack Murray is platinum certified top of the pops for the rest of time, never to be beaten.
His exploits from the circuits of Australia, and indeed from the backroads of every corner of the land, have gone down in folklore.
An inaugural inductee into the Australian Motorsport Hall of Fame, the Sydney garage proprietor first entered a rally in 1928, with his larrikin antics the subject of multiple books.
Synonymous with the round Australia Redex Trials of the 1950s – he took sticks of gelignite with him to clear the path of any impediments encountered – however, when the route was found to be navigable, the crew took great delight in disposing of the superfluous cargo at opportune times!
Perhaps his biggest achievement was winning the 1954 Redex with a clean sheet, with his gorilla mask, above, making headlines nationwide en route.
In that dominant performance, Murray and his ex-AGP winning co-driver Bill Murray, no relation, saved weight by keeping spares to a minimum, however, they did find space to carry three cases of gelignite “purely for legitimate reasons”…
Hijinks in the 1950s were all a part of the game.
He was a true sportsman, a wrestling champ that nearly went to the 1936 Olympics, a pioneer of water skiing Downunder, a skilled hunter, cyclist, footballer and more.
From long-distance marathon rallies, such as the London to Sydney, Jack was also a mainstay on the circuit racing scene, taking in the major events of the day.
The 1954 Australian Grand Prix was contested on a primitive road course at Southport, a stone’s throw from the modern-day Surfers Paradise street circuit.
Back in the earlier days of Indycar races at that venue, trackside nudity was all a part of the spectacle… but in the conservative ‘50s, times were somewhat different.
Could you imagine going to the effort of winning the AGP, only to be upstaged by a naked fellow competitor?
In Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Monday, November 8th, Jack Murray’s exploits headlined, overshadowing the efforts of the race winner, Lex Davison.
Redex Trail winner Jack Murray danced around without pants during the Australian Grand Prix car race near Southport today.
Murray gave his “performance” in the pit enclosure.
He did not know some women were near by.
Murray’s car, a Cadillac-Allard, burst a fuel pipe in the first lap.
Fuel was pumped into the cockpit.
Murray found himself sitting in a pool of high octane racing petrol.
Chemicals in the fuel burned him.
When Murray stopped at the pit to have the fuel line repaired he tore off his trousers, counting the marks about his burning skin.
He thought he was still wearing his nylon underpants.
But chemicals in the fuel had dissolved them.
Murray put on another pair of pants and resumed the race.
Mechanical trouble later forced him to retire.
Secondly: it always helps to have spares handy in the pits, and apparently, this extends to wardrobe…
Interestingly, only once the story in the Telegraph covered off all of the drama of the day, was Davison’s victory mentioned in the final paragraph – race reporting has changed somewhat over the years!
The official 50 Year History of the Australian Grand Prix noted that the Allard had been fitted with a “very optimistic auxiliary fuel tank system”, which no doubt contributed to the drama.
Murray was also the focus of other headlines from the day, with the image in the header of this story carried by multiple newspapers, with Murray actually backwards to the direction of travel, just after he left the pits with the pants problem.
The Courier-Mail’s caption read:
GRAND PRIX thrill at Ferodo Bend, Southport, yesterday, when Rex Taylor, of Toowoomba (at left), crashed in his Lago Talbot through bales of hay into a gutter with the nose of his machine still on the track. Jack Murray, 1954 Redex trial winner, in his Cadillac-Allard, swept into the bend, skidded and, through skilful driving, gently brought his car alongside the crashed car. Seconds later Murray was racing again, but Taylor was left behind.
Capable of a top speed of 185km/h, the Cadillac-Allard was a serious piece of kit, and the biggest car in the race with its 5,250cc powerplant, although it retired after eight of the race’s 27 laps.
Away from the track during the race weekend, Murray used his Redex-winning 1948 Ford V8 to cruise around the Gold Coast.
There was good reason why Murray and the other stars of the day were attracted to Southport for the event, with the prize pool the biggest ever offered in Australian motorsport – £2,145 ($84,000 in today’s money), with an additional £550 ($21,500 now) worth of trophies.
As was standard for the time, the event drew a massive crowd, with one report stating that the Queensland Motor Sporting Car Club officials estimated the crowd to be as large as 60,000 strong.
It’s probably best not to lose your pants in front of an audience that large…
Footnote: Later in 1957, Murray was involved in advertising U-Grip trousers through this photo shoot and his D-type Jaguar – we are unsure if this commercial arrangement was due to the ’54 AGP incident. Photos – National Library of Australia