Get to Know the One, the Only, Begg 018 Race Car
- 20 June 2017
In the big-smoke
George Begg was one of Southland’s last iconic do-it-yourself mechanics. He grew up on a farm but always dreamed of going to the big-smoke and working with engines. That dream was realised when he began an apprenticeship at J & A P Scott Ltd in the southern city of Dunedin. Dunedin was where he also got into motorcycle racing. He found he wasn’t bad at motorcycle racing - in fact he was quite good! So good that in 1955 he and his close friend Bob Cook travelled to Britain to compete in the Isle of Man TT, one of Britain’s major motorcycle races.
In Britain things were going well for George. He met the love of his life, Freda, and married her. He and Bob were doing well at motorcycle racing. Then everything changed when Bob tragically died in a practice run. George lost his passion for motorcycle racing so he and Freda came back to New Zealand in April 1957.
George Begg at the 1955 Manx GP on an AJS 7R motorcycle
In the middle-of-nowhere
Later that year George and Freda opened an engineering business in the middle-of-nowhere: Drummond, Southland. Strolling around the nearby city of Invercargill one day, George found a book called Racing and Sports Car Chassis Design by David Phipps and Michael Costin. It was the Bible of racing car construction. Something about that book gripped George, and he decided to give racing car construction a go.
That was the spark that began 10 years and 18 models of innovative racing car design. His cars would take George all over the world, give him a job at McLaren and put the Begg name on the racing map. George sadly died in 2007, leaving a strong legacy in New Zealand motor sports.
About the 018
George’s life work culminated in the 1974 Begg 018. It was George’s 18th and last racing car: the ultimate Begg. In his autobiography George wrote:
‘It was not until February and March 1974 that I was able to begin drawing in earnest on what was a growing suspicion in my mind was telling me would be my last race car. My almost ruthless ambition was that the car would be the best designed and constructed yet. I was not going to settle for anything less than perfect. It would be called simply the Begg 018 because it was my 18th car.’
It was built by a team of local men in the tiny town of Drummond, Southland. George, Jim Murdoch (who would drive it) and Wilson Crosbie constructed it, while Ralph Knowles did the electrical wiring and Arthur Crosbie did the paint job. There must be many stories of these pioneering men out there.
George Begg and Jim Murdoch constructing the Begg 018
Under the bonnet
What a car they created. George’s simple design resulted in an attractive car that proved itself on the race track.
Body: Monocoque, twin skinned aluminium with polystyrene foam
Engine: 302 cu in, Chevrolet V8, Lucas injection
Gearbox: Hewland DG300 – 5 speed
Tyres: Front 10 x 13 Avon – slicks and wets, rear 16 x 13 Avon – slicks and wets
Suspension: Rear uprights – McLaren 10B, front uprights – McLaren M19
Its chosen components all tell the story of George’s life experience: New Zealand, motorbikes, racing cars and his time working for McLaren. The Hewland gearbox was top-of-the-line for race cars at the time and the monocoque body gave the car lightness and simplicity George was aiming for.
Gary Newman from New Zealand Motorman magazine said it best in his 1974 review:
‘If the car has to be summed up in one word, it would be McLaren. From the neat chisel nose to the oil catch-tank in the support for the aerofoil at the rear, it looks very much like a McLaren M23 and is finished to an impeccable standard.’
George had predicted this view. He wrote that the 018’s body ‘was a continuation of the original wedge shape which had been popular even in 1968. It meant that the 018 would resemble closely the M23 McLaren, but in spite of my connections with that team, it was a coincidence. I was aiming at a simplified design and obviously, the McLarens were as well.’
On the race track
That simplicity served the Begg team well. The impressive 018 began its race career between 1974 and 1976 with Jim Murdoch. Jim had his career highlights in this car. The biggest achievement was 2nd place in the New Zealand Grand Prix. George wrote:
‘The sight of the 018 in second place in the New Zealand Grand Prix was too much. I almost collapsed. … We were over the hill and away with delight. Against some of the fanciest F5000 machinery in the world, we had managed to take second place in the N.Z. Grand Prix.’
Its last run under George and Jim was at Teretonga in Invercargill, down the road from Bill Richardson Transport World. At the after-race drinks George reminisced about all his achievements. He ‘made a silent roll call of the cars … There was the 018, my “best yet” as the motoring writers said, and my last. I was proud of them all.’
1974 Begg 018 driven by Jim Murdoch at Teretonga, 1976
In the later years
So what happened to it after that? The 018 spent some time in a museum where it was eventually taken back by George and sold to his mate Gavin Bain. Gavin returned it to the track in 1985 to race in Classic Racing events for many years. It went from Gavin to Phil Mauger, Noel Atley then Calven Bonney, who all raced and looked after it. It has come to rest at Bill Richardson Transport World, still looking as modern and sleek as when it first hit the race track in 1974.
Gavin Bain racing the Begg, c. 1985