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The Autosport Special


This Car was built by Bob Hanna and Jack Wheeler of Auto Sport Equipment Ltd of Cooksville, Ontario Canada in 1954/55.
A Mk XV frame designed to accept Morris Minor parts. fitted with an Alta OHIV conversion and twin SU's. The body was built by Bill Steadman.
The car was raced very successfully from '55 to '57 where in the hands of Bob and Jack she claimed two consecutive Canada Class Championships. She was sold and then had various owners until the 1960's Including Phil Christiano.
Then it disappeared - until it was rediscovered by the late Dick Baker in 1990. Dick's sons are continuing the restoration started by their father and Al Pease.

This article appeared in the Canadian Publication 'Old Autos' 2004

It is reproduced here with the kind permission of John Wright and Old Autos.

by John R. Wright

I wonder if Bob Hanna ever thought he would be reunited with the Canada Class special he built forty-eight years ago? Well on the weekend of June 28th and 29th the VARAC weekend at Mosport, that's exactly what happened. After a four and a half year long restoration, by former racer Al Pease, the venerable Autosport Special reappeared.

In order to put the story of the car into the context of the Canada Class Special, perhaps a short history lesson of the type of car that a significant number of early racer builders created is apropos.

Back in the early 1950s, members of the Canadian Autosports Club of CASC thought it would be a good idea to take a hand in the facilitation of an entry-level race car. Thus, they reasoned potential Eric Broadleys, Enzo Ferraris and Colin Chapmans would find their niche in race car building. To make a long story shorter, here are the bare bones of the specifications of the class, which was named the Canada Class.

Cost: No more than $2500 could be spent on the car.

Parts: Had to be from production automobiles.

Engine: If an L-head or flathead engine were used as the motive power for the race car, the displacement could be 1500 cc. If the engine had overhead valves, then the displacement could only be 1000 cc. If the builder specified overhead cams, then he or she was limited to 750 cc. The rest of the car was free. It could have an envelope body covering the wheels or torpedo shaped body with cycle fenders. There could be two seats or only one. That was pretty much it.

As a result, there were grids for Canada Class cars only with as many as 35 cars, judging from an old Edenvale program. People were creating a variety of small bore Canada Class Specials using just about any kind of engine which powered the small imports of the day; Renault engines, Austin engines, Morris engines - some with stock heads, some with Alta conversion heads, as well as two stroke DKW engines.

Then the interest in Canada Class Specials seemed to die out. Perhaps the interest died as the result of the advent of Formula Junior race cars. Perhaps another nail was added to the death of the special through the coming of the Formula Vee and Formula Ford classes. With these cars, the owners had to do very little other than maintain the car. He or she did not have to design the car from scratch and then iron out the problems, which inevitably arise in the creation of a homebuilt race car. Whatever the reason, the Canada Class specials, which had thronged grids around Ontario, gradually disappeared.

In my research into Canadian built race cars, I came across many people who assisted me in digging into the past of Canadian road racing, the people and the cars. Foremost among these people was the late Dick Baker, a long time vintage race enthusiast and a motivator of people. I first received the first clue of information in a letter sent me by Dick a number of years ago. At that time, he told me he had located, and purchased, the bits and pieces of the original Autosport Special built by Bob Hanna in 1955, and he told me he had a project underway to recreate the old sports car. Then a few years ago, I received an email from Bob Hanna and he gave me some of the history of the car he built and raced: "There were actually a number of them. The first Canada Class car is now being restored by Dick Baker (author's note: as mentioned above by Dick Baker, and now the car has been completely restored). It had a Buckler frame, Morris Minor running gear and an Alta overhead valve conversion on Minor flathead engine. The aluminum body was built by Autosport . . ."

"There was also a second Canada Class Special and here are the specifications for that race car: it had a front engine, with a modified Standard 10; close ratio Austin A30 gearbox. The frame and independent rear suspension were built by Bob Hanna. The car had an aluminum body designed by Frank Duda and built at Autosport. The car was completed in 1962 and we had some problems with the transfer case at the rear axle. This was later removed, but by this time it was outclassed by the rear engine Formula Juniors. The car appeared later when the vintage class was started and was owned by Bob Attrell (a Toyota dealer in Brampton). Now the car is owned by Mike McLaughlin of McLaughlin Motorworks, Kingston, Ontario. The car is still original, with the original engine, body, etc. I have some photos taken in McLaughlin's shop."

"The third car was called the Autosport Junior. It was also called the Bill MacDonald Special. To create this car we modified a Cooper Formula 3 chassis and fitted a Mitter tuned DKW two stroke engine and gearbox. An aluminum body was designed and built at Autosport. It was a surprisingly fast car. In fact, I am ashamed to say that Bill beat me at Mosport one day when I was driving a Lotus 20. The bare frame is all that exits today and is owned by Phil Lamont. I have photos of this car as well."

"Finally, there was the Autosport Sports car, a Fiat Special built for Lew Franco who opened the first Porsche dealership in Canada on University Avenue. It had a Buckler frame, and a Fiat 1100 engine and gearbox. The aluminum sports car body was built at Autosport. I don't know what became of this car."

Well, here is the story of the restoration or should I say, the recreation of the original Autosport Special. Al Pease undertook the project of the creation of the old Autosport and in the restoration created pretty much a brand new car. He built a new frame as well as a new body in addition to new bits and pieces here and there so the car would be safe to drive at speed. As is usual in the creation of an old car, he ran into a number of problems, culminating in one final problem a few days before he was to leave for the VARAC weekend at Mosport. He started the car and ran it up his driveway only to hear clanking and breaking sounds inside the bellhousing of the Morris engine. He immediately shut off the engine and discovered that something had come adrift inside the bellhousing, and that the clutch was pooched. He didn't want to disassemble the entire engine and so he repaired the drivetrain problem with the engine in place. Another problem arose as he worked within the tight confines of the engine and chassis. He kept getting his wrists and hands pinched by the various springs and other nasty objects whose only excuse for existing is to bruise and otherwise damage human tissue. Thus, when Al showed up at Mosport, his wrists and hands bore evidence of the veritable mortal struggle he had had with the inanimate objects of the driveline.

Al felt all the pain was worth it to see the look on Bob Hanna's face. Bob walked around the old car and looked and looked at it. He sat in it and looked at it. He took the engine cover off the Autosport Special and looked at the Alta modified engine. And, he talked to anyone who should come near, and he talked to Al, but he kept on getting interrupted by people who wanted to talk to him and who wanted to ask, "Is that the car?" Finally, Al and Bob trooped off to find a place where they could talk without being interrupted.

On Sunday, Al started up the car, and my, was it noisy! It sounded as if it wanted to compete on the track against the other racers right then and there. However, there were a few details which had to be put right before it could do a demonstration lap let alone a lap in full anger.

We will see more of the Autosport Special in future vintage events no doubt. And in case anyone would like to see the car compete, check off in your calendars right now the end of June 2004. On that date, VARAC, or the Vintage Racing Association of Canada, will host a race meeting featuring Canadian race cars. No doubt that Brad Baker, the current owner of the Autosport Special, will have the car there in racing trim, and who knows? Maybe Bob Hanna will drive the car again as he did at Green Acre, Harewood and Mosport.

John R. Wright

Date: 01 March 2001 14:56
Subject: Buckerling

Ken: Just to bring you up to date. Our MK 15 Buckler, known as the Autosports Special in Canada, is moving along slowly. Our panel beater, Mike Lewis, was off work with some health problems and is just now getting back at the project; however, we hope to have the body finished by the end of April. Right now, the chassis is all complete, other than wiring and plumbing, and the engine has been built up ready to go into the chassis. We have a dummy engine in the car in order to help Mike shape the hood and the carburettor duct. Al Pease [who is doing the restoration] mocked up the shape of the body with 3/16" rods so Mike would have a good idea of the shape since we have nothing but photos to work from. In April the car will go back to Al for engine installation and chassis finishing and be painted in British racing green with a white stripe a la Canada colours. With any luck, we hope to debut the car at Mosport with the VARAC Vintage Festival on June 30/July 1st.

Dick Baker


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