Early Days With Whippet by Richard Owen

I was born in November 1933 and by 1936 I had progressed through tricycles to bicycles in personal transportation. Dad had moved on from bicycles in early 1920s to a belt driven BSA then to a motor bike with side car but still took my mother, brother and me on our own cycle outings, the best being riding from Ramsgate to Cronulla via Taren Point punt with Mum helping my younger brother and Dad helping me.
Dad on my 2nd bicycle2
Dad (Harry Owen) and my 3rd bicycle. 1939

Dad on his 1st bike belt driven BSA2

Dad (Harry Owen) on his first motor cycle, a belt driven BSA with his friend (Laurie Curtis) who is 96 1/2 and still going. c.1929-30.

In about 1938 Dad & Mum dropped us off at our Grandparents home/shop at the lower end of Bestic St. Brighton le Sands and mysteriously drove off with motor cycle and side car towards Rockdale. They returned that afternoon with a different means of family transport, a 1928 Whippet purchased from Hollands, Rockdale.   

Two very excited pre-schoolers examined the vehicle, FZ570, and hopped in to be driven back to Ramsgate. Dad took us to many places in NSW including Albury, Cooma, Adaminaby – Mum’s birth town (there was no New Adaminaby in those days), Bathurst, Hartley and many places on the North Coast including Forster which involved crossing by ferry (One of quite a few ferries which always gave us boys much excitementWhippet 12

Front view of the Whippet at Kiandra approximately 1939 with yours truly is standing under the Kiandra sign and now “licensed” Mum (Evelyn May Owen) is behind the steering wheel. (The clothes suggest a summer visit.

Whippet 2

I am checking out the rear of the car on a colder day. c.1939. Observe the extra spare wheel and canvas water bag. I can’t remember any major breakdowns or engine problems. Perhaps Dad renewed the clutch a few times. He would have replaced bearings and also a valve grind as part of his own maintenance

During World War II we had to adopt certain requirements for the car and our first modifications to the Whippet occurred. Hoods for the old headlights, a 2″ white painted strip along the running board and mudguards and along the front and rear of the car, and at one stage some type of platform at the back to support a gas unit because fuel was rationed. On one trip to Cooma during the war Dad removed the hoods somewhere South of Canberra so that he could see the road with the inefficient headlights.

Very few of our friends had a car at this time but we had the privilege of sitting in the back seats while Dad taught Mum to drive around the streets near the Beverly Park golf course still being constructed. Dad would then take us to visit relatives anywhere between Jannali, Carlton and Maroubra. Our Uncles were in the bicycle industry as were Dad’s friends at Bankstown, Mascot, Brighton, and Petersham so we saw quite a lot of Sydney in our early years thanks to the Whippet.

As time progressed Dad decided to make a utility by removing the back seats so that he could transport bicycle frames to and from Mascot and Brighton, and not much later further modifications resulted in a covered utility with a drop-down rear door. This allowed the family to go on regular weekend trips to Garie, Wattamolla, Bundeena and Stanwell Park as well as further afield for longer holidays. Little Hartley was often visited. Whippet 621st modification of 1928 Willy’s Whippet. L.to R. My brother (Graham Owen), Uncle Harold Smith rabbit trapper of Hartley, Dad (Harry Owen) and me with two of Harold’s children in back of ute. 1945

Whippet 722nd modification and Jim Fox with a few rabbits. c.1945-46


Whippet 82Rear view of tent for camping in ute.

 Later Dad decided to make it into a closed panel van. This was done with a frame of metal square section giving a 6ft by 6ft floor. He made the curves on all sides using a series of quarter circles from 28″ bicycle rims. The frame reached the front windshield and was the width of the whole car including the running boards. To this welded frame was attached by welding sheet metal. The two front doors were replaced with “modern” full length doors with wind up windows. A 6ft bench seat was made to fit between the doors. Glass was added between the wind shield and the extension. Now, at last we could travel without cold winds coming in and parents could stretch out in a comfortable bed while we could sleep on the front seat.

whippett  Sketch of our modified FZ570 late 1940’s – early 1950’s

Royal Enfield 1st motorcycle2

Dad (Harry Owen) and cat on my Royal Enfield with Dad’s painting of the fuel tank.1950

As a teenager I progressed to motor cycles including solid bar front forks of an early Royal Enfield to Matchless telescopic forks until Dad bought different bigger vehicles including Chevrolet 6 cyl panel van and an approx. 1930 Talbot with fluid drive and automatic type gearbox. Dad loved to tinker with this car. He gave me the modified Whippet about 1950. I used this vehicle for my transport needs for about 3 Years including transporting 15 to 20 children to various Christian children’s meetings around Somersby, Spencer, Mooney Mooney, Maroota, Glenorie and Berowra.

The old 4 cylinder engine seemed to cope fairly well with all this extra weight. There were however some draw-backs which Dad usually fixed with replacements. (1) Headlights. Replaced with off the shelf bullet shaped lights with sealed beams. Now we could see the road at night including hordes of rabbits. (2) Fuel Supply. The vacuum operated system on the firewall was replaced with an electric driven 6 volt petrol pump. (3) Windscreen Wipers. Also operated by vacuum causing lack of reasonable wiper speed going up hills and mountains on our trips to Kiandra, Cooma and Adaminaby. It was replaced with an electric wiper motor. (4) Brakes. Mechanical not Hydraulic but at least they were (I think) on all wheels and inside drums. The handbrake was inefficient especially if a backward roll was occurring. I had recurring nightmares twice a year about bad brakes on cars until 10 years ago. (5) Vapour Lock in Fuel System. Some water poured over the pipes usually allowed us to complete the mountain climb. (6) Side Curtins not Airtight. It was fairly cool especially in the Snowy Mountains.

 About 1953 I bought a 1938 Ford Prefect and sadly said “Goodbye” to our faithful old Whippet. I last saw it in the mid-fifties going along Princes Highway near Kogarah. I have no idea how many miles were on the speedo but we saw a lot of N.S.W. in those 15 yrs.

Whippet 32Whippet 4Whippet 5

Photo’s of a 1927 Willy’s Whippet at Longreach Hotel in 2009 taken to show relatives what our Whippet looked like as the original photos of ours were small and sepia. I note modifications including indicator lights and switch, stop lights, side view mirrors and some “creature comforts” such as platform at the back, an oil pressure gauge and a radio under the dash. The starter foot switch is still on the floor as is the old type accelerator pedal under the steering column. It is still going and carrying a bag of spuds, a box, 20 litres of petrol and a large pair of horns 82 years after it was originally purchased!!!

After the Prefect we had a couple of Chrysler Royals one turning over 100,000 miles, an early Falcon, a Vanguard, a HD Holden, a Toyota Corolla Station Wagon which took my wife and I around Australia anti-clockwise with just a 2 man tent in 1989, a 1988 Toyota Winnebago which took us around Australia clockwise in 2007 and lately a second hand 1998 Hyundai Excel with103,000kms on the clock and now reading over 275,000kms.Toyota Hilux 1985 Winnebago

The Winnebago is similar to the Whippet but a longer rear extension, fibre glass, and does not include the doors and the top curves are not as pronounced in the roof. The Whippet did not have side windows at the back of the modification. Full doors with fixed glass were fitted to the rear.

Thank You, Richard Owen.

Richard Owen is a retired mechanic living in the local area. He will be celebrating his 80th Birthday this month.

Many Happy returns Richard and thanks for your fantastic article on the Whippet.


1 Comment

  1. Its nostalgic to know about the time when the people moved from bicycles to motorcycles to cars. It was a revolutionary era, and how a car is transformed from a classic model to a new age vehicle.

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