Why George Begg? Scott O'Donnell talks us through why this legend is worthy of celebration
Transport World director Scott O’Donnell doesn’t really remember a time he didn’t know the story of motorsport legend George Begg.
(O’Donnell’s father was gatekeeper at Teretonga Park, Southland’s home of motor racing and the southern-most FIA-recognised circuit in the world, and to say he has been involved in motorsport since an early age is a bit of an understatement. O’Donnell was, in fact, only six weeks old when he attended his very first international race meeting.)
So it should come as no surprise that one of his early heroes was famed Southland engineer George Begg, who played a pivotal role in Kiwi motorsport’s golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. Motorsport journalist Allan Dick, a contemporary of Begg, recently dubbed Begg the motorsport equivalent of Enzo Ferrari, and said ‘he turned Drummond into the Maranello of Southland’.
As a young boy, one of O’Donnell’s most prized possessions was a signed and framed picture of a Begg FM5.
Now, with the development of world-class collections Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca tucked firmly into the portfolio, O’Donnell has turned his attention to recognising one of Southland’s automotive greats. Set to open on 13 February 2020, the upcoming George Begg exhibit is already garnering plenty of local and international attention. The spectacular new tribute will be housed within Classic Motorcycle Mecca in a whopping 1600m2, custom-built space.
“Motor racing has always been my passion. People have said to me over the years, ‘why don’t you open a motor racing museum? We think there are three great automotive personalities who have carved their names into Southland’s history books – Bill Richardson, Burt Munro, and George Begg,” O’Donnell says.
“The Begg exhibit will pay homage to a story of Kiwi ingenuity taking on the world, and coming out on top.”
O’Donnell credits wife and Transport World executive director Joc O’Donnell with bringing the vision of a Begg tribute to life.
“I am only the ideas guy – Joc does the work,” he says.
Joc’s signature touch can be found in the smallest of details throughout Transport World’s collections, and visitors can expect nothing less when they see the upcoming George Begg display. From the design of the exhibit space itself to coordinating the finer details, such as information panels, Joc has been involved with the development of every level of the George Begg exhibit.
George Begg had an illustrious career racing motorcycles in Britain and, famously, on the Isle of Man, before he returned home to Southland to open an engineering business in 1957. At his workshop in rural Southland Begg built 18 racing cars that went on to challenge – and beat – the best marques in the world. Begg’s cars bested some of the finest automotive names in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe and he cemented his name in our nation’s automotive folklore.
“It’s amazed me how little people know about George Begg, when really, what he did was incredible. The guy truly operated on the world stage, and beat some of the biggest names in motorsport, from what was essentially a tin shed in Drummond,” Scott O’Donnell says.
The story is one worthy of celebration, he says.
The Begg display will focus on three aspects of the engineer’s life: George Begg the man, George Begg the businessman, and his race car construction glory days. As well as his motorcycle racing career and car-building days, Begg became a ‘prolific’ motorsport writer.
“It’s going to be a real overview of Begg’s incredible story, not just a collection of race cars. That’s what we have learned, having grown the collections at Bill Richardson Transport World and Classic Motorcycle Mecca. You can’t just put a display of vehicles together. You’ve got to tell the stories of the people behind them,” O’Donnell says.
“George Begg’s story transcends motorcycles and cars. It really is about ingenuity and innovation, and it’s a story that everybody in New Zealand can be proud of.”
Find out more about the event here.