This Family’s Frazer Nash Is Raced Across Three Generations
Written by Stewart Parry // Photography by Ross Perry
It is a crisp winter’s morning in the Yarra Valley, Australia, and despite being only an hour out of Melbourne, the surrounding picturesque bushland couldn’t feel further from the city. I am at the Vintage Sports Car Club of Victoria’s historic hillclimb meeting, awaiting the arrival of the Donnan family and their 1931 Frazer Nash TT Replica.
Here at the Rob Roy Hillclimb, the narrow bitumen track skirts the edge of an open grassy paddock, before crossing a small bridge and rising up a steep incline, snaking its way between the trees. The course forms a perfect backdrop for the mostly pre-war entry list, having first opened in 1937 and is a place that’s hosted many historically significant races since.
Soon, the diminutive blue car appears, accompanied by a lively burble from the 1.5-litre Meadows four, proceeding to crunch its way up the gravel road and take a spot on the slippery grass hill which forms the pits.
It’s a special day, with Alice (18) competing in her first hill climb. Better still, she is racing against both her father Tony (54), and grandfather Des (77)—all driving the Frazer Nash. I asked each of them about the car and their journey with it so far—maybe it’ll give Petrolicious readers a reason to start searching for older classics.
“It was originally a TT Replica as you see it today, so named because the factory built these cars as replicas of the cars that contested the RAC Tourist Trophy. The original body was destroyed by the lifting sling when it was unloaded from the ship which carried it from the UK to Australia in 1948. It was then fitted with a single seat racer body and competed extensively, including at Bathurst in the ’50s, where it was a genuine 100 mph car on Conrod Straight.”
“When I got the car in 1981, I restored it and raced it for four years. Then, an international Frazer Nash rally event popped up, travelling from England to Italy, and I decided to go. My wife Edna wanted to come with me on the trip, so that sparked the second restoration back to the original TT Replica form.”
“I have really enjoyed this car. Together, we have been to UK and Europe three times, I have hill climbed it in the Mourne Mountains, and Tony even did Targa Tasmania in it—twice. I don’t know how many miles we have done, but a lot! Now I have passed it onto my son Tony for him and his family to enjoy.”
“I have been in and around old cars for as long as I can remember. Dad assures me that I went on my first rally in a 1924 Alvis 12/50 when I was 3 months old, sitting between him and my mum. My Sunbeam 16.9hp Tourer was my first car at 15 years old, and I still have it! I remember once saying to my daughter Alice, ‘Everyone needs to have a hobby, and old cars are mine. If you want to share it with me that would be great, and if not, that’s fine too’. I’m happy to say both Alice and her sister Emma have taken an interest.”
“The opportunity to keep the Fazer Nash down in Melbourne is fantastic, as it has resided in Queensland with Des until recently. Both Alice and Emma love the car; it’s a fun car and we all particularly like the sound it makes when the engine comes on cam.”
“Frazer Nash certainly solved engineering problems differently to other manufacturers. It’s quirky mechanically and I really enjoy working on it. It doesn’t have a gearbox or a differential; instead four parallel chains connect to the solid rear axle, and dogs engage a chain to select a ratio. The lack of a differential means when you go around a corner the back has to slide, on a dry road it drives really well. On a damp road, such as driving it up here this morning in the heavy dew, it is very twitchy and tail-happy.”
“I love that I can drive it out here, all three of us can compete in it, and then drive it home again at the end of the day.”
“When I was younger, I used to be embarrassed by all the attention these old cars get, I think the problem is you don’t see them around enough, but now that I am a bit older and know a bit more I love them.”
“I dreaded the prospect of driving a vintage car for the first time. When I first drove the Frazer Nash, Dad had the idle quite high, and I had a lot of trouble getting it into first gear. I was a little bit grumpy when he told me that was something we could easily change. Now that I have some experience and he has lowered the idle, I really enjoy driving it, though I do find the steering very heavy.”
“You get asked some funny questions driving it—on a rally recently a couple asked me, ‘Is it an Automatic?’ because there is no shifter inside the car. They were a bit shocked when I explained that the gear stick is actually on the outside of the car!”
“Having two old cars at home now will be great because now that I have a license Dad and I can go on runs and both take cars; I have informed him I will be taking this one.”
“Every now and then the car gives me a bit of a surprise, on my first run up the hill today it slipped out of second and for a moment I thought it had broken, but then I just clutched, re-selected the gear and it was fine…I was quite excited when I got my first run up the hill in less than 40 seconds.”
At the end of the day, only a couple of seconds separated the three Donnan generations. Tony was ultimately the fastest, with Des second, and Alice a close third. Des’ prediction is that with another year of practice, Alice will be challenging her father.
“We are all pretty competitive,” he assures me.