View Full Version : Eldred Norman - Eclipse Zephyr

07-15-2011, 03:05 AM
A few years ago at the Australian Grand Prix there was an amazing little car called the Eclipse Zephyr built by a fellow called Eldred Norman. For those who know nothing about the man or his 'specials ', here are some links.

ausauto News Article

Zephyr Special a breath of fresh air for lateral thinkers

After WW2 motor sport enthusiasts looked to Europe where the latest Alfa Romeo, Cooper or Alta could be had for little more than a few shekels. Most were not so fortunate and today we look back at the '50s and '60s as the glorious period of motor sport when many Australian specials were built in backyard sheds or garages. Most were conventional with road-car derived chassis, front mounted engine, 4-speed box and rear end. There were however a few enthusiasts like South Australian Eldred Norman who built highly innovative cars such as the Zephyr Special. Today we would view Eldred as a lateral thinker but during the '50s he was more an eccentric larrikin. His first competition car was a war surplus special with Dodge weapon carrier chassis and ex-aircraft bodywork. Power came from two line astern Ford side-valve V8s with twin-row sprockets in place of the flywheel of the front engine and mounted to the rear engine's crankshaft, coupled by a four-row chain. Being road registered, Eldred was frequently seen driving the Adelaide hills with number plates tied with string around his neck. After unsuccessful attempts at the Australian Grand Prix of 1950 and 1951 he bought a Maserati 6C which started a lifelong contempt for small capacity engines with multiple camshafts. Next came a Triumph TR2 that he drove, towing a trailer with two 44-gallon drums of methanol, to Southport Queensland where he came fourth in the 1954 AGP. For the following year's AGP he built his own car but found himself up against some tough competition in the likes of Reg Hunt's Maserati A6GCM and Doug Whiteford's Lago Talbot. Jack Brabham won the race in a rear-engined Cooper Bobtail but Eldred finished a credible eighth in a vehicle so unconventional that it became known as that "diabolical device". Eldred soon lost interest in racing and sold 'the device' to Keith Rilstone, who developed it further. Norman moved on to designing telescopes and sadly died in 1971. What's so Special? When it came to using a component for dual purposes Lotus's Colin Chapman was the acknowledged expert and credited with perfecting using an engine as part of the chassis. But Chapman wasn't first. Eldred Norman did just that with the Zephyr Special. With its body attached, the Zephyr Special doesn't look special at all, apart from the skywards pointing exhaust pipes. But with the top of the two-part body removed the ingenuity of Eldred's design becomes clear. The Zephyr engine is cantered 45 to the right with modified FJ Holden front suspension bolted to its timing cover. Don't look for a chassis because there isn't one, just a 6" torque tube bolted directly to the engine extending back to the clutch and gearbox. The body, fuel tank and seat are bolted to brackets welded to the tube and the 3-speed ZF transaxle is from a Tempo Matador truck with directly attached fabricated rear suspension. Is it quick? Yes, you could say that. The gear ratios have changed over time but with the engine turning out 280 to 300bhp the Zephyr Special is good for 90mph in first, 130mph in second and on a long straight just under 160mph in top. A short wheelbase makes it slightly twitchy and you have to keep your wits about you on sweeping curves or the front will want to swap places with the rear. The Standard Vanguard drum brakes are at best interesting. The Zephyr Special is now owned by Graeme and Robyn Snape of NSW, both stalwarts of historic racing.

More on the Eldred Norman Zephyr Special and on Eldred Norman
This is the car in 1955 and the photograph was taken at Port Wakefield. It was then called the Eclipse Zephyr. Eclipse came from the Adelaide Ford dealer, Eclipse Motors. Eldred had an engineering workshop and was a motor dealer from 1938. The previous name for the car was a bit of a mouthfull - the Norholfordor - because it was built from Holden, Ford and Tempo Matador parts. Before you ask, a Tempo Matador was a VW powered truck.This second photo is of Keith Rilstone competing at Caversham in WA in 1961.
Finally here is the car in its present form, a famous Australian special.
A little about Eldred De Bracton Norman. Rejected for military service in WW2 because of asthma, he began to make garden tools and to manufacture charcoal-burning gas producers to power vehicles. In 1946 he started buying ex-army vehicles left behind by the Americans, selling them in Adelaide. While in New Guinea gathering up these vehicles, he started building the 'Double Bunger' racing car, powered by 2 Ford V8 engines. Between 1948 and 1951 he drove the car successfully in hillclimbs and races in 3 states. While leading in the 1951 Australian Grand Prix, the car broke down. He then bought a 1936 Maserati type 6CM, for which he made a new engine. Stories abound of how he outpaced police as he tested cars on the road from his workshop to his Hope Valley home. In 1954 he drove a Triumph sports car to Queensland towing a trailer of racing fuel. Winning a support race on the morning of the Australian Grand Prix in the Triumph gained him an entry into the AGP itself, in which he came fourth. During construction of the SCC's hillclimb at Collingrove, he used a sub-machine-gun to blast holes for explosive charges. For the 1955 AGP he assembled a new car in 10 weeks. The Zephyr Special used propriatary parts and used the engine as a stressed chassis-member. In 1956 he abandoned racing to concentrate on inventing. Among his prototypes was a car towbar and a photographic device to capture burglars. He is most famous for designing and manufacturing a supercharger which dramatically improved the performance of Holden engines. Driving an old utility, he took potential customers on public roads and gave them terrifying demonstrations of its power. In 1969 he published his book 'Supercharge!' He died in 1971 in Noosa. His wife was Nancy Cato, the journalist, art critic, poet and novelist. Her most famous book was "All The Rivers Run" which was adapted to a television mini-series starring Sigrid Thornton. Much of this information was gleaned from an obituary written by the late John Blanden.

07-15-2011, 03:06 AM

Steve Holmes
07-16-2011, 05:21 AM
What a phenomenal car and a very clever man! The bodywork is extremely well done. The grille itself is a work of art! The addition of his initial in the centre was a popular hot rodding trend around this time too. Do you have any more info on the twin-Flathead V8 special he built? Thanks for starting this thread.

07-17-2011, 04:04 AM
Thanks Steve..here is a great link about Eldred and the double v8 written by his son http://www.mgccq.org.au/nostalgia5/Memories%20of%20Eldred%20Norman%20-%20a%20larrikin%20innovator.pdf

07-17-2011, 04:16 AM

07-17-2011, 04:17 AM
Double V8

07-17-2011, 04:27 AM
!954 Southport Australian grand Prix..Norman drove in the support races

07-17-2011, 05:42 AM

Steve Holmes
07-17-2011, 07:55 AM
This is a really interesting and informative thread. The photos are amazing! I love the twin-Flathead racer. What a monster! It looks like its wearing truck or artillery wheels. Does anyone know if this car has survived?

07-17-2011, 10:20 AM
According to his son , the
chassis and running gear was based on a Dodge weapon carrier and the two different
aluminium bodies derived from warplanes. I don't think the car survived .

07-17-2011, 10:31 AM
Graeme Snape at Seaforth 1980 . He is the current owner

07-17-2011, 10:36 AM
Here's a pic of the undressed Keith Rilstone, ex Eldred Norman Zephyr special.

07-18-2011, 12:28 AM
Ford Mercury special twin engine racing car, belonging to Eldred Norman and driven by H.(Harry?) Neale. South Australia's first post-war races were held on the public road circuit at Woodside
DATE 1949

10-05-2011, 04:58 AM
recent pic

10-06-2011, 02:47 AM
A great looking and innovative car but a pity the tyres grow in size with age - and not just restricted to this car.

10-06-2011, 03:59 AM
Yes Roger..have to agree about the tyres ..

Steve Holmes
10-16-2011, 02:25 AM
Strange really, that radials are so commonly used in historic racing when cross-plies are readily available and pretty well priced.

John Medley
12-03-2011, 01:40 PM
Clever man, clever cars.
Pity the NOISE of the supercharged Ford Zephyr cant appear on this site!

12-03-2011, 10:56 PM
Clever man, clever cars.
Pity the NOISE of the supercharged Ford Zephyr cant appear on this site!
I thought that Zephyr was the best sounding thing at the Grand Prix...F1 cars included !!!

05-30-2019, 04:57 AM

Ray Bell
05-30-2019, 11:30 AM
The centrepiece of the original grille was from an industrial fan...

When Eldred sold the car to Keith Rilstone, according to Keith, he said, "You'll make this car really go!" He acknowledged his own shortcomings and recognised Rilstone's abilities.

There were some handy helps came along through the racing-oriented people at Repco. Mention was made of Vanguard brakes, but that's not actually what it had. They were Holden drums with Vanguard internals to give two leading shoe operation. Repco had purchased a Raymond Mays head for study when they were preparing to build the Hi-Power head for Holdens and Keith was given that. Also, the tube which makes up the centre of the chassis was more than 6" in diameter, more like 8" or possibly 9".

When the car appeared at Port Wakefield for the first time there was a serious suggestion that it would break in half. So eldred pushed it under a truck and put a jack on that centre piece and lifted the truck.

It's also not true to say that the Holden crossmember was bolted on to the timing cover. A piece of solid steel, probably 1" thick, was milled out to the shape of the timing cover and a plate welded across the front of that to enclose it and to mount the crossmember. I'm sure they used bigger bolts too.

The 'Double 8' (as it was known within the Norman family) was sold after its fine performance at the AGP at Narrogin in 1951. It had two high-powered fuel pumps, by the way, to spray water over the front brakes to prevent them getting too hot. The buyer was Syd Anderson, and he raced it for several years including one trip to Singapore for the Grand Prix there. Later it deteriorated under the ownership of another Western Australian, Tony Carboni, and finished up being dismantled and destroyed.

One reason for ridding himself of this car was the mooted adoption of FIA F1 and F2. Clearly, with 7.8 litres it was not going to fit in, and those truck wheels might be a bit heavy. It was for this same reason that the supercharger was removed from the Maybach of Stan Jones, which diced for the lead with Doug Whiteford's Lago at the '51 (or was it '52?) Woodside meeting.

I don't know the fate of the double-engined Essex Norman built, but the short life of his TR2 was interesting. As noted, he took plenty of high-octane fuel to Southport for the '54 AGP, driving there on pump petrol with a decompression plate in the engine. He won a sports car race in that form, IIRC, and then removed the decompression plate and poured in the jungle juice for the best AGP performance he ever had.

Later in life he started to build a sports sedan for his son, Bill. This used a Hillman Imp shell but was space-framed and had a Rover V8. Apparently it still exists and races, though Eldred never finished it.

His money-making trips with war surplus gear were full of interest. Somewhere I have a photo of one load, 83 tons if I recall, with a low-loader carrying two Blitzes and with a trailer on behind, the whole lot packed with tyres and fuel drums, stuff not freely available in Australia at the time but not in short supply at all in New Guinea with the departure of the forces.

Nancy and their daughter, Bronnie, told me a multitude of stories about Eldred when I did a feature about him in Motor Racing Australia, Mike continued to make the superchargers at Noosa and Bill was involved with the running of Speed on Tweed, which is where the pic of Graeme Snape in the car painted yellow was taken I'm fairly sure.

05-31-2019, 02:02 AM
Great info Ray, cheers.

Ray Bell
05-31-2019, 02:03 PM
Bill, by the way, went on to build his own Clubman-type car much later...

06-02-2019, 12:32 PM

John McKechnie
06-02-2019, 07:54 PM
i like the part where he nails the tablecloth to the table and his wife uses the camshaft to break rocks....just needs a bit more lift and a bit more overlap and they will never catch me

Ray Bell
06-03-2019, 12:09 PM
However, it wasn't Steve Tillett, or at least I don't think it would have been...

The story as I got it from Bronnie was that two non-Club members addressed the Club at a meeting an announced their intention to start camshaft grinding, for which they'd acquired a machine. It was they who went to the Norman household and saw Bill walking on the piano keys, and for whom Eldred retrieved a very dirty cam from the pile of rocks.

What a wonderful subject Eldred was for a story, and how good are the extra details that 'Harv' has in that thread.

06-04-2019, 03:44 AM
However, it wasn't Steve Tillett, or at least I don't think it would have been...

The story as I got it from Bronnie was that two non-Club members addressed the Club at a meeting an announced their intention to start camshaft grinding, for which they'd acquired a machine. It was they who went to the Norman household and saw Bill walking on the piano keys, and for whom Eldred retrieved a very dirty cam from the pile of rocks.

What a wonderful subject Eldred was for a story, and how good are the extra details that 'Harv' has in that thread.

That whole 15 page thread is a great read, Harv's details priceless.
"Eldred was known to keep himself awake by butting cigarettes on the back of his hand. "

Roger Dowding
06-09-2019, 05:00 AM
From Graham Edney - Old Motor racing Photographs - Australia Fb page.