Longford: The Glory Years

By Jarah Weinreich

The National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's latest theme display Longford: The Glory Years celebrates an extremely important period in our state's motoring heritage. For sixteen years, the small Colonial town of Longford was transformed annually into a world-class motorsport hub, attracting international drivers, media attention, and thousands of spectators. Laid out over seven kilometres, the track incorporated much of the town itself, crossing the South Esk River twice via wooden bridges, passing under the railway viaduct, and taking in a long straight known as the 'Flying Mile'.

Motorcyclist Martin Coombe was the first to recognise Longford's potential as a European-style Grand Prix circuit. In the early 1950s, he persuaded the local authorities to allow road closures. The first official event was held in March 1953, with motorcars and motorcycles running together. For obvious reasons, the races were segregated thereafter, with both the motorcar and motorcycle events attracting their own followings. Longford's reputation spread far and wide as the 1960s dawned. In 1959, following extensive road works, Longford hosted the Australian Grand Prix for the first time. It was selected as the venue for the 1962 Australian Touring Car Championship, also hosting the Australian Drivers Championship each year between 1958 and 1964, the Tasman Series between 1964 and 1968, and the Australian Tourist Trophy between 1960 and 1966.

Sir Jack Brabham once described Longford as the best circuit in the southern hemisphere, while at its peak up to 45,000 spectators would descend on the town, lining the streets and roads to catch a glimpse of some of the era's biggest names in racing. Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Bruce McLaren were just some of the international legends who raced at Longford during the track's glory years.

In 1968, New Zealand driver Chris Amon set a new Australian motor racing record, lapping the Longford circuit in 2.12 minutes at the wheel of a Ferrari P4. The record remained unbroken for some twenty years. Sadly, 1968 was to be the final year for motorsport at Longford. Financial constraints made the event unviable, and today little remains of the original circuit.

However, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's Longford tribute celebrates this great event with a selection of some of the vehicles that raced there. A 1967 Brabham BT23D takes centre stage in the display. This unique vehicle, fitted with a 2.5 litre Alfa Romeo V8, was built for the Tasman Series. It debuted driven by Frank Gardner at Warwick Farm in December 1967.

A beautifully restored 1966 Ford Mustang also features in the display. The first racing Mustang in Tasmania, it was ordered directly from the U.S.A. in 1965, and competed at Longford in 1966 and 1967.

Also featured is the well-known 1959 Morris Minor. A staple of the Longford starting grid, the racing Morris made its debuet in 1966.

A superb 1964 Lotus Cortina is also exhibited. The first of its kind in the state, this much sought-after car was campaigned at Longford throughout its early years.

Meanwhile, two classic MG sports cars complete the motorcar display. The 1954 MG TF was purchased new in Hobart and has enjoyed an extensive racing career, having been entered in various time trials, including BP Endurance and RedX Trials. It also raced at Longford in 1955.

An original 1955 MG MGA Twin Cam is also presented in the display. This unique vehicle was originally ordered by an Australian farmer in striking non-standard dark green with matching leather. The MGA was campaigned at Longford in the 1960s.

The Longford circuit also played host to some of the period's most thrilling two-wheeled racing, so it's only fitting that the display includes a selection of iconic motorcycles. Two iconic Velocettes are also featured. One is the KTT 350, winner of seven Tasmanian TTs, while the other was for a period the fastest 250cc. motorcycle in the state. The 1939 Ariel Red Hunter was purchased in Hobart the day before WWII was declared. Following the war, it enjoyed a distinguished racing career in the hands of the late Max Eaves.

It is accompanied by a 1954 Manx Norton, Norton's flagship Grand Prix machine in the 1950s. The example on display often proved victorious in the hands of Geoff Duke. In addition to the iconic vehicles, the display also includes over 100 colour photographs and unique year-by-year history boards commemorating the event.

So whether it's reliving old memories or simply reflecting on the legend that was Longford, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania's latest theme display offers a unique look back at an irreplaceable piece of our motorsport heritage.