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Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip

7 months 2 weeks ago #247667 by mammoth
Not in NSW. I believe the option is either to pay/keep full rego or pay to have the personal plate kept in 'storage'.

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7 months 2 weeks ago #247669 by Gryphon

and if you are buying a personalise plate for $50 you aren't in Victoria and you can't use it on Club Rego.


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7 months 2 weeks ago #247672 by Lang
Replied by Lang on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip
In Queensland once you buy a personal plate you own it forever. You pay $24 to remove it from a car you have sold (the car remains registered as per normal sale but the new owner must pay, I think about $20 for standard plates or put his own personal plates on)

The plates can stay in your drawer forever before you decide to put them on another car for $24.

Because you own the plates, having paid Personal Plates Queensland anything from $450 to $5000, you are able to sell them. Naturally in-demand plates bring a premium, up over $100,000 for some and just fill in a change of plate ownership form.

If you have purchased a plate with your dog's birthday or some other number letter combination nobody wants they are basically unsaleable hence my "nothing" plates only costing $50.
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6 months 1 week ago - 6 months 1 week ago #248390 by Lang
Replied by Lang on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip
I just wrote a story for Restored Cars Magazine. Some may find it interesting.


Bean Cars and Birtles  

A.Harper Sons and Bean were a long established engineering firm in UK who did exceedingly well out of WW1 production making mainly munitions. Seeing an opportunity to enter the growing car industry they obtained the rights to the existing Perry Car Company design in 1919 

With a vision to create a conglomerate along the lines of the huge General Motors Corporation the existing companies of Swift, Vulcan, Hadfield Steel and Engineering and Regent Carriage went into production of the Bean car. Such was the post-war demand for motor cars by a public who knew nothing about them, the aircraft company Handley Page were contracted to manufacture 2,000 bodies to keep up with demand for what was a fairly (very?) unimpressive motor vehicle

. Having over-extended themselves and with the disease that was to become the trademark of British car manufacture, poor management, the company quickly ran into trouble and was disbanded in 1920 after only 2,000 sales. Immediately Hadfield took control with the assistance of the banks and Sir George Bean (where was he in the first collapse?) and went back into business, this time with a more modern design

. An upgrade in 1923 saw the introduction of the successful Model 14, a 2.3 litre advanced model with build and technology in the class of say, the Vauxhalls of the era, a cut above the average British small family car of the period. They proved popular in Australia being sold by Barlow Motors. A possibly more successful truck line was also produced using the same engine and a number of these are now owned by collectors. Although not as common as some of the well-known vintage makes, restored Bean cars occasionally come up for sale in Australia.

 A look at the car immediately says engineering quality. 4 cylinders but 8 spark plugs with entirely separate magneto and coil ignition, multi plate clutch and no belts but the fan, generator and water pump all driven by huge tooth  chains in the internal front case. The brakes were mentioned in several period reviews as being “the best in the world” with huge 11 inch front and 14 inch rear rod operated. The handbrake has its own entirely independent shoes. 4,000 Model 14 were built to 1929 when they began dabbling in an under-developed 6 cylinder car which ended the line. Hadfield continued to grow as one of the British steel and engineering giants and Bean went back to their core business of engineering and remained in operation for another half century.

 The Bean 14 reached its peak of fame when Australia’s best known adventurer, Francis Birtles, was contacted by Barlow Motors to do some record-breaking drives, which were all the rage around the world in the 1920’s. The Bean was produced as a very nice up-market 4 door tourer or hard top sedan but a few very stylish “sports bodies” became available, much more impressive to be seen racing at maximum speed on the public roads of the period

.Birtles christened his car the “Sundowner” and within a year had created some almost unbelievable records for drives between Darwin and Melbourne (twice) and several other intercity sprints. 4 days across Australia on dirt horse tracks is a feat most modern drivers on modern roads would not attempt. Birtles’ huge fame as the world’s premier cross-country cyclist now reached rock-star status as a motorist with the public

.Bean shipped his car to UK for a PR tour and in 1927 commissioned Birtles and two other Australians, Ellis and Knowles, to drive their new 6 cylinder experimental model on the first drive from England to Australia. Despite all their efforts, the car was a motoring disaster. Being only the second car to drive from England to India, a huge feat in itself, it was abandoned, as Birtles describes, “scrap metal”

 Not to be thwarted, Birtles returned to England and the old “Sundowner”, which had already been flogged mercilessly across Australia, was washed and readied for his solo departure from England a few months later in 1927.

He had a great send-off in London from Miss Australia, Phyllis Von Alwyn and his good friend, aviator Bert Hinkler. Hinkler would overfly Birtles on his first solo flight from England to Australia while Birtles battled below through the jungle in Burma. His feat of being the first to drive across the world, nearly dying in the frozen desert of Iran and yet again from malaria and starvation in the Naga Hills between India and Burma is fairly well known. 10,000 people turned out to welcome him home in Melbourne

. He may not have made it without young Canadian back-packer Percy Stollery who hitched a ride in Calcutta. Stollery must have been an exceptional worker and there are several photos of him slaving to build a road in the Burma Mountains. He must have been even more exceptional to have still been with Birtles on his arrival in Melbourne with a man of steel with no time for weakness and notoriously hard on his co-drivers.

 The car was given to the Australian National Museum (which did not exist at the time) and pushed from shed to shed being stripped for souvenirs for 50 years. Finally restored, it now can now be seen in driving condition at the Australian National Museum (which now does exist in Canberra). Birtles was immediately given an almost identical BEAN 14 “Sports”, which is often mistaken for the “Sundowner” and he proceeded to explore the wildest parts of Australia, writing stories and making films particularly about the Aboriginals. He continued until his early death at 53 with many makes of vehicle, undoubtedly Australia greatest motoring pioneer.

There are two great books recently produced on Birtles and both are very good reads and although on the same subject are very different. Warren Brown’s “Francis Birtles, Australian Adventurer” is well researched and done in Warren’s usual entertaining style and gives an insight into one of the toughest Aussies in history. More recently Terry G. Birtles (he is not really sure where his family line and old Francis cross) has written “Driven. Francis Edwin Birtles, Trans-Australian overlander, cinematographer and writer”. This is also a very entertaining read with much more fine detail which will amaze every reader that one man could have crammed so much into a single lifetime.

 Fast forward half a century and we come to David Ragless of South Australia. Back in the 70’s David was already a BEAN enthusiast collecting everything Bean from all over Australia and restoring vehicles. Having been sold on the make with his standard vehicle he naturally was fully aware of the Sundowner and Birtles’ place in Australian motoring history. 

Gathering together remains of Beans from around Australia David soon had more than enough to get started on his replica Bean 14 Sundowner. The aim was to have it finished in time for the 1988 Bicentennial Rally in Canberra. Having the original car displayed near his South Australian home greatly assisted in the final production of a very accurate replica. The mechanicals were restored to the highest possible standard with everything kept as close to period as possible.

David set out from Adelaide at the last moment to drive his car to Canberra and apart from a fuel blockage and a flat tyre it completed its 4,000km maiden drive faultlessly. For the next few years he rallied the car mercilessly even on the rough roads of the Flinders Ranges “passing Landcruisers”. He estimates he did 30,000km before finally selling the car to well-known collector David Read. I suspect Read was a little larger than Ragless and Birtles and although quite a large car, the compactness of the sports body would have been challenging. Eventually the Bean 14 found a home at the Strathalbyn Motor Museum in South Australia for several years before David Read’s death.

 I had long known of the replica, having the Birtles trip recreation on my list of must do’s for 40 years. Bev and I did a survey drive through North East India to the Burma border 10 years back as preparation for the recreation drive which never came off at the time. After negotiations with the family through Ben Finnis I was allowed to purchase it. Immediately a date was set, 1 April 2024, to depart London on the recreation drive across the world. 11 months is not long to prepare and ship the car and do all the administration necessary for a drive through 16 countries.

 When the car arrived in Brisbane work began. Initially it appeared to be in museum quality condition, and it was, but sitting for many years does not do old fashioned seals and bearings any good. Slowly working to bring the car up to a standard to undertake a 26,000km drive many seals were replaced, as-new bearings were found to be pitted from sitting, brakes relined etc.

 On top of this, the stripped down version of the ‘Sundowner” was returned to the condition it was when departing London in 1927. Studying every photograph I could find soon had original spotlights, bumper bar, canvas tarp roll attachments on the car and the biggest job, the fitting of the folding roof was undertaken. Extra lights and seat belts were fitted for safety on modern roads. When Birtles had his Bean it was brand new, our Bean is now 100 years old and certainly well rallied in David Ragless’ hands.

A decision was made to fit a Laycock overdrive to reduce the expected 80kmh cruise engine speed from 2,500rpm to 2,000rpm. This is a very straight forward conversion and just requires the unit to be mounted to the chassis inserted in the tail shaft. It may well save the day! The 15 amp cut-off style generator is not up to the job running modern lighting so a pulley was fitted to the tail shaft on the overdrive universal with a belt to a chassis mounted 65 amp alternator. 

At the time of writing (October 2023) all is on track for our London April departure. The car has proven to be very nice to drive, easily reaching 100kmh but with a planned cruise of 80kmh we will knock over between 300 and 500km per day across the world. 

Already FIVA, the world governing body for historic car clubs and events, has taken us under their wing and affiliated motoring organisations are well into planning to meet and escort us along the way. Iran, Pakistan and India have daily trip sheets and stops already produced and members volunteering to help us through borders and along the way. We will be travelling entirely unsupported, just my wife, Bev and me in the Bean and it should be a great adventure.

As usual we are looking for sponsorship and can offer great returns in this area from the experience of our many previous international trips. The full story and daily blogs along the way can be found on our web site
Last edit: 6 months 1 week ago by Lang.
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6 months 1 week ago #248393 by PaulFH
Replied by PaulFH on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip
Thank you Lang for the history and trip plans.
Wish you, Bev and team every success.
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6 months 1 week ago #248400 by Mrsmackpaul
A great read Lang, thank you

I am embarrassed to say I know nothing abiut this person or trips he did except for what I have learnt in this thread


Your better to die trying than live on your knees begging

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6 months 1 week ago #248401 by Lang
Replied by Lang on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip

This is a quick look at Birtles. Great photos and story.
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5 months 4 weeks ago #248611 by Lang
Replied by Lang on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip
Just finished the overdrive and alternator set-up. I went with the expensive link belt to avoid having to drop the tailshaft just to replace a drive belt.

The original generator is only 15 amps with a cutout (all or nothing for charge). The alternator is off a little Kubota tractor 65 amps.

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5 months 4 weeks ago - 5 months 4 weeks ago #248612 by hayseed
Lang, 'm just thinking out aloud here...!!

How will mud/dust/snow/water ect. affect that alternator & drive belt..??

"Be who you are and say what you feel...
Because those that matter...
don't mind...
And those that mind....
don't matter." -
Last edit: 5 months 4 weeks ago by hayseed. Reason: typo.

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5 months 4 weeks ago #248613 by Zuffen
Replied by Zuffen on topic Francis Birtles Pioneer Trip
The drive belt would be my main concern.

I'd be running a conventional V belt as they last forever and if it did fail you could get one anywhere.

If that belt fails, falls off and gets lost you're in a tight spot.

I'd rather carry a spare new modern belt and drop the driveshaft in the unlikely event it failed.

The alternator won't mind a bit of dust.
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