In the second of our Summer Festival competitor profiles, we sit down with Geoff Varey to learn a little more about the Elfin Mono that he will be running at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Thanks to Geoff Varey
I had always hankered to go racing, but was never really able to do it in my youth. When the situation arose that I had the time and (almost) the money, I discussed it with my wife and decided to have a go racing historics.
We had a bike shop back in the day and Rob Rowe’s sons were into push bikes. We got to know him quite well and I learned that he was involved in the early days of historic car racing in Australia.
Many years later, Rob had a workshop at the Amaroo race track. I reached out to him and he helped me find a car. It was an Aussie special built in St. Ives called a Gryphon, which had a supercharged Fiat 1500 motor.
We bought and restored the Gryphon with a lot of help from Rob, and I raced that car for 20 years.
The car’s build began half way through 1966, but it wasn’t finished until 1968, so it became a Group O car. It was used for hill climbs and some club racing, but eventually fell by the wayside when one of its two owners had to move on to concentrate on his business.
It ran in the ‘70s and changed hands a few times, but wasn’t used very much. I took it on in 1996 and restored it in ’98.
I’ve always been interested in open wheelers and I knew of the Elfin Mono as a particularly interesting and well-made Aussie car. Around 2014 or 2015 when I was thinking of making a change, Richard Carter was racing one and doing very well.
I spoke to Brian Lear, who is very knowledgeable in the field of Elfins and historic cars generally, and told him that I was looking for a Mono. He didn’t know of any off hand, but promised to keep it in mind. Just a few weeks later he rang me to tell me that he had decided to sell his Mono, which he had restored at around the same time that I’d done my Gryphon.
I’d seen the car and it was absolutely beautiful. He’d brought it out a few times to races and we would run together in M & O. I’d drooled over the car when he brought it out, so there was no question about it – I had to buy it.
It has a good history, which I didn’t know about at the time. Garry Cooper raced it in its first twelve months and piloted it to victory in the Victorian 1500cc championship. He sold it to Ian Crook, who raced it for a year, winning the same championship. It then went to Alf Costanza, who owned it for three years.
By this time competitors were running wings and slicks and, even with a Corolla engine in it, the car was getting out of date. Garry Cooper ended up buying it back in the ‘70s with a plan to restore it for historic competition. He sadly never got around to doing that, passing away in 1982. That was a huge loss to Australian motorsport.
The Mono then went to a Victorian owner, but the restoration didn’t really get moving until Brian bought the car in the late ‘90s.
When I was looking, I had dreams of a Brabham and wanted to find an Australian car. Australian motorsport history is a big part of why I got involved in historic motorsport and I want to play a role in keeping that history alive, with the cars out on track being enjoyed by people.
The Mono is a beautiful car. It’s small, low, sleek and uncluttered – the whole concept of Garry Cooper’s design.
It’s lovely behind the wheel. It’s as quick as the Gryphon, despite that having 30 horsepower more thanks to the supercharger. The Elfin has a 1500cc twin cam Lotus motor and gets its power naturally aspirated. It’s a treat.
It took me a while to get used to it, because it’s quite different to the Gryphon, but we’ve had some good runs in it.
I initially struggled with tyres. According to the regulations, we could only use Dunlop tyres when I first got the car and they were, frankly, quite dangerous. We tried all sorts of different setups to make it handle, but just could not get it working nicely.
Col Haste was having similar troubles with his Brabham and campaigned strongly with CAMS to change the tyre selection available to us. We were finally able to get regulations passed that allow us to use Avon historic Formula Ford tyres.
Our improved performance in the car is down to a combination of things, including me learning about both driving and setting up the car. I didn’t initially have much experience with suspension – I just drove the Gryphon as it was. Brian and Rob Rowe were a huge help in setting up the Mono, as were many others, and that demonstrates one of the great strengths of historic racing – its incredible community. I spoke to many people and was able to pick up clues and knowledge that helped me improve.
I also began to learn how to interpret and express what I was feeling when I was driving. Learning that and translating it into what you need to do to improve the setup is a huge talent, which I, unfortunately, don’t seem to have! I am consistently in awe of the current group of drivers in the way that they are able to gather that information and communicate with the mechanics to develop their setup on particular tracks and conditions.
We’ve not had to do a great deal to prepare the car, because Brian did such an incredible job with the restoration work and kept the car so beautifully. I consistently receive wonderful comments about how good the car looks.
The car’s been handling and going beautifully lately. The Morgan Park event earlier this year was magnificent and we’re looking forward to the Summer Festival.
There’s something particularly exciting about driving an open wheeler. It’s nothing like a road car, and I still get a thrill out of that every time I go out. I also thoroughly enjoy sharing it with fellow enthusiasts. When I’ve had issues at an event and been unable to finish, I’ll always keep the car on display and I’ve taken it to events mostly for display and to share with everyone.
The historic motorsport community is a very helpful and positive environment and I’ve had a lot of help from everyone. I’d particularly like to give thanks to Rob Rowe, who got me involved and has helped me massively with both cars.
I take part in the sport to enjoy the cars and driving, and it’s a serendipitous benefit that we have such a great group of people involved.