NORMAN, ELDRED DE BRACTON (1914-1971), inventor and racing-car driver, was born on 9 January 1914 in Adelaide, second of six children of Australian-born parents William Ashley Norman, solicitor, and his wife Alma Janet, daughter of Daniel Matthews. Thomas Magarey was his great-grandfather. Eldred attended Scotch College and made a token effort to study law at the University of Adelaide. In 1938 he set up an engineering workshop and motorcar-dealership in Adelaide. Rejected for military service in World War II because of asthma, he began to make garden tools and to manufacture charcoal-burning gas producers to power vehicles. At the Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, on 15 May 1941 he married with Anglican rites Nancy Fotheringham Cato, a 24-year-old journalist.
In 1946 Norman bought ex-army vehicles and sold them in Adelaide at a profit. While visiting the Territory of Papua-New Guinea, he started to construct a racing-car—the 'double bunger'. Powered by two Ford V8 engines, this large machine had water-cooled brakes which produced spectacular clouds of steam as he applied them. Between 1948 and 1951 he drove the car successfully in hill-climbs and races in three States. While leading in the 1951 Australian Grand Prix, the vehicle broke down. Norman then bought a 1936 Maserati Type 6 CM, for which he made a new engine. Stories abound of how he outpaced police as he tested cars on the road from his workshop to his Hope Valley home.
Norman and his wife pursued a wide variety of interests. With the help of income from his father-in-law, Eldred built an observatory; Nancy worked as a journalist and art critic for the Adelaide News, and became a poet and novelist. In 1954 Norman drove a Triumph sports car to Queensland, towing a trailer of racing-fuel. Winning a support race on the morning of the Australian Grand Prix gained him entry into the main race, in which he came fourth. An active member of the Sporting Car Club of South Australia, he often took his children to events, leaving Nancy free to write. During construction of the club's hill-climb at Collingrove, he used a sub-machine-gun to blast holes for explosive charges. For the 1955 Grand Prix he assembled a new car in ten weeks. The Zephyr Special incorporated proprietary parts and used the engine as a stressed chassis-member.
In 1956 Norman abandoned racing to concentrate on inventing. Many of his prototypes, including a car tow-bar and a photographic device to capture burglars, never reached the production stage. With Nancy, he made a motoring trip in 1961 which took them to the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Iran and Pakistan. Back in Adelaide, he designed and manufactured a supercharger which dramatically improved the performance of Holden engines; driving an old utility, he took potential customers on public roads and gave them terrifying demonstrations of its power. In 1967 the Normans moved to Noosa Heads, Queensland. Two years later he published Supercharge!
Tall and spare, with strong wrists and hands, Norman had dynamism, but often lost the enthusiasm to persevere with projects. While his solutions to engineering problems were frequently audacious, his mechanical work could be crude. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died of cancer on 28 June 1971 at Noosa Heads and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.
Ray Bell writes below ( photos to come)
One of the most determined Special builders of all time was Eldred Norman. One of his particular traits was to try things that were different, which earned him a reputation for being innovative.
In most cases, however, he was just expanding on someone else's ideas, taking them another step, as it were. Here are a couple of his cars:
This is the famous 'Double V8' - built on a Dodge chassis... Dodge Weapons Carrier chassis, that is... with truck wheels drilled for lightness (?). The two side valve Mercury V8s were coupled with a double-row chain, via a sprocket on the front of the rear engine and the rear of the front engine. It had 4-wheel independent suspension, and water cooled brakes. The latter came about via electric fuel pumps that came on when the brake pedal was depressed and showered the brake drums with aqua pura. Innovative, certainly, but he'd previously owned a car with two Essex engines joined the same way... built by someone else.
I've mentioned this one before, too. Powered by a Ford Zephyr inline 6, it has a Holden front crossmember bolted to a hollowed-out lump of steel that takes the place of the timing cover. At the rear of the engine there's a 6" steel pipe that bolts up over the clutch, and bolted to the other end of that is the Tempo Matador transaxle. Independent all round, power aided by the fat supercharger on the left, the driver hangs in a lightweight frame to the right, while a lightweight top body section lifts right off... as can be seen below:
Ray Bell comments
These two pics show some of the components, particularly the tubular 'backbone'. Again, innovative, but not original. Norman's friend, Harold Clisby built a Douglas motorcycle-powered hillclimb car that had all the same attributes except the power and size. Clisby's however, never went hunting Cooper Climaxes.