Tony on the right, chatting on the dummy grid at Wakefield Park
Historic motorsport suffered a great loss earlier this week with the passing of Tony Simmons. Tony was best known for his iconic Simmons composite wheels, and will be remembered fondly by our club for the Hustler Formula Ford and his contribution to historic motor racing. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.
We will be in touch shortly with details of Tony’s commemoration. In the meantime, Ray Bell and Paul Hamilton have shared some of their memories of Tony, and have done a wonderful job bringing his achievements and history to the community’s attention. They have very kindly offered to share their words with the club, so please do read on.
With thanks to Ray Bell
Tony left us on Sunday night after a long and very uncomfortable stint with Parkinson’s Disease and, latterly, dementia. An Australian resident since the sixties, Tony came from New Zealand originally and brought with him a flair for innovation and sound engineering.
In his earliest days he formed Competition Cars with, if I recall, Mike Champion. He started building U2 Clubmans and raced one himself, but had a bad crash at Oran Park and was seriously injured. Next came the Simmons Hustler Clubmans, very much along U2 lines but with improvements, and while developing these he decided to make his own composite wheels.
Just two of these Clubman cars were built, but many thousands of wheels issued from his workshops, which moved and grew as time went by. The Hustler Formula Ford came next, then the Seca3 Clubman built for Bob Martin, who’d taken over the first Hustler when Tony got out of it.
Later historic racing was to see both Hustlers, Tony having rebuilt his original car for himself and made the Tony Oxley car all new again after getting it back in highly modified form from Joe Ius, who had intended fitting a Fiat 128 engine and altered the frame to cope with the ever-lower tyre profiles of the late-seventies.
Tony’s efforts at increasing driver safety were notable, too. His rollover protection went higher than most, while after Tony Oxley immersed the Chevron B8 in Warwick Farm’s lake he really beefed up supports and protection around the drivers.
While all of this was going on, Tony still found time to invent, design and build a beach-cleaning machine for one of the Sydney councils. But it was the wheels which kept his name to the fore, with both road and race cars becoming home to those thousands which were produced. He ultimately passed the wheel business on to one of his colleagues.
Through all of this, Tony was pretty predictable. Friendly and humble, but ready to advise and guide, a man who’s been missed for some years and now even more badly so.
Continued with thanks to Paul Hamilton
I first met Tony in the late 1960s following the Competition Cars interest and major Oran Park crash already mentioned and I am therefore a bit hazy on his early time in Australia. During this time, however, there was certainly a major commitment to maintenance of the various Ferraris owned by the Oxley family and the Chevron B8 raced by Tony Oxley, for whom he later built the second of the Hustler SC1 clubman cars.
The Oran Park crash in an early U2 was a very serious thing and marked a significant point of change for Tony. Prior to this his performances at the wheel had brought him to the attention of David Mackay and led to several drives for Scuderia Veloce in small production touring cars. The Mackay connection may have led to a much more significant competition career for Tony, but it was not to be, as in the crash he sustained quite serious head injuries.
Following an extended recovery period he did return to competition, driving the first of the Hustler Clubman cars, but his major focus was by then on the engineering side of the sport – an area in which he demonstrated great innovative skills.
Although he remained a fast and competent driver I doubt that he ever recovered the flair which had earlier brought him to attention. Tony’s personal sporting activities were scaled back during the mid to late ‘70s because of his commitment to the very successful wheel manufacturing business he had founded, but the fire never really went out and he always retained a particular interest in the best quality Italian machinery.
With the Simmons Wheels business well established by the mid 1990s, Tony tracked down one of his original Hustler Clubman cars and returned to an active involvement in historic racing. In subsequent years he raced a variety of interesting cars including a B38 Chevron F3 car, a B23 Chevron sports car (owned by Allan Cruikshank), a Sports 2000 car, an RT4 Ralt and ultimately a BT6 Brabham Formula Junior.
In 2011 he took the Brabham to the UK and Europe to compete at the Goodwood Revival meeting and various Lurani Trophy events for Formula Junior cars, basing himself at a farm close to the Mallory Park race circuit. His efforts that year had the support of various visiting HSRCA mates and I well remember the day he used my diesel Ford Focus rental car to find his way around the Goodwood circuit at a test day in preparation for the Revival meeting.
In subsequent years his declining health forced the termination of his competitive activity and a gradual withdrawal from social contacts. His passing has now brought finality to a loss many of us have long felt during his years of decline. Tony was a very fine engineer, a competent and skillful racing driver and the very best of mates who is sadly missed by those of us who remain.