Last month saw the passing of Guy Buckingham (1921-2015), the man who introduced low-cost motor sport into Australia with the Formula Vee. This was an inexpensive open-wheeled racing car for beginners using a VW engine, suspension and transmission, devised in 1959. Guy played an important role in the bespoke manufacture and maintenance of Australian sports and racing cars during the halcyon days of budget motor sport from the 1950s until the 1970s.
Born in England, motoring became Guy’s love affair after he trained in aircraft maintenance during World War II. His resolve to take up automotive engineering as a career path caused consternation within his family so he headed to Australia. Lucky for us he brought with him not only his expertise of the English racing car scene but a working knowledge of aviation technology and his training in fine precision work courtesy of the family jewellery business. With the help of an uncle, who worked at Jaguar Rover, Guy set up his first Sydney workshop at Summer Hill in 1952. The company’s curious name, Nota Engineering, was inspired by Guy’s son, Chris, who struggled to pronounce ‘motor’ as a little boy. The first Nota came out in 1955.
Nota Engineering takes off
Guy is thought to have been the first in Australia to use a triangular tubular space-frame chassis in his hand-built racing cars. This is where a chassis frame is made up of many small triangular-shaped tubes welded into a complex structure giving maximum strength with minimum weight. By 1958 the firm was building a sleek aluminium sports car called the ‘Streamliner’, later called the Nota Mazengarb, which won the 1960 Australian Sports Car Championships. One-off specialist sports and single-seater racing cars for hill climbing events were made for drivers like Barry Garner. In 1963 came a mid-engined Mini-powered sports car, Formula Junior, the first in Australia and possibly the world.
About this time most of the Nota body designs were by Jack Wiffen. He was a former Rolls-Royce coachbuilder who worked down the road from Nota’s factory which, by then, had moved to Parramatta. Wiffen did the bodywork on Donald Campbell’s land speed record-breaking Bluebirds. In 1964 Nota began making their first purpose-built road car, the Nota Sapphire, with the body designed by Guy’s son, Chris, by then a teenager and who went on to produce most of the subsequent Nota bodies.
With the establishment of the Australian Formula Vee movement in 1965, Nota built Australia’s first Vee’s for the Australian Automobile Racing Club at Warwick Farm Race Course. During the 1960s came the ‘Sportsman’, a Clubman-style sports racing car, the aluminium monocoque Nota CP3 Chimera coup, the Nota Formula III and Formula Ford open wheelers.
Guy was also largely responsible for laying out Oran Park raceway and spoke on racing car tuning and design in a weekly TV show called the Westinghouse World of Sport. In 1970 he returned to England after passing on the running of the company over to Chris, who had learnt much from his father and was well equipped to take charge.
Nota Type IV ‘Fang’
In 1971 Chris built this prototype Nota Type IV which he named the ‘Fang’. The Museum thought the local Nota Engineering firm so important that it acquired the prototype of their most successful sports racing car in 1990. The name ‘Fang’ is such an evocative name, though it doesn’t refer to big teeth. It was a 1960s slang term for driving really fast, inspired by the famous racing car driver, Juan Fangio. Printed references of the term go back to 1969 used by the Australian playwright Alex Buzo, ‘let’s hop in the [MG]B and fang up to the beach’.
Chris’ body styling for the Nota Fang was minimalist. More time was spent in search of optimum aerodynamics at the University of NSW’s Fluid Box test facility than trying to produce an aesthetically pleasing fibreglass design. Between 1971 and 1975 a total of 105 Nota Fang sports racing cars were manufactured, the firm’s largest production run.
The Nota Fang was designed to fill a niche market for inexpensive sports racing cars at a time when the traditional roadsters such as MGB or Austin Healey were increasing in cost and luxury. The aim was to produce a sports car capable of both road and competitive track work which offered racetrack performance and style for a bargain price. In 1971 it sold for $2000 had very little luggage space and few creature comforts. The Nota Fang is of design and technological significance for its positioning of a Mini Cooper ‘S’ transverse-mounted engine in the rear, which gave the car a power-to-weight ratio similar to a Ferrari or a Phase III GTHO Ford Falcon
Guy was brought back to Sydney for Nota’s 50th anniversary in 2002. It was celebrated at a special race day run by the Historic Sports and Racing Car Association at Oran Park.
Motor sport owes much to Guy and Chris Buckingham for producing a wide variety of low-budget specials, sports, and racing cars. But the Fang was their most popular road car and largest production model. Nota Engineering continues to be the longest lasting manufacturer of sports cars in Australia.
Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator, December 2015