Feature photo shows Arthur and his roadster leading John Boyce at Brisbane Ekka. (Gordon Hogarth photo).
By Barry Lane
Brisbane’s Arthur Sollitt, the man who raced bikes, speedboats and cars, died on Friday, August 20.
He was 91.
Arthur Sollitt was known as a man of many talents and during his life was successful in a number of sports.
It all started back in 1947 when as a young bloke he raced push bikes on the Exhibition track. The races were held on speedway nights prior to the speedway section of the program and it was during this time that he nurtured an ambition to one day race a speedway motorcycle.
He competed off the 220 yard mark in a two lap 25 rider cycle race and had his fair share of success. He raced against top riders of the time Col and Ken Caves and a young John French. The same John French who was quite successful in car racing including a victory in the Bathurst 1000 with Dick Johnson. He also contested two 250 mile races from Brisbane to Warwick via Cunningham’s Gap and return by Toowoomba. Remembering the roads in those days were quite poor, it would have been a real test of physical endurance. Sollitt wanted to progress to speedway bikes but marriage put that plan on hold.
He was an original member of the Ipswich-West Moreton Auto Club and involved in club activities including rallies when he participated as a navigator. This included a couple of 24 hour rallies which were run through south east Queensland.
In the mid 50s the next challenge for our intrepid speedster was speedboats. Sollitt had a couple of boats including ‘Tomahawk’, initially fitted with a Plymouth engine which was changed to a 3.8 litre Jaguar motor, in a 12 foot hull. He raced at a number of places including Lake Kurwongbah, Somerset Dam, the Goodna and Long Pocket reaches of the Brisbane River and at Bundaberg and Maryborough. ‘Tomahawk’ was pensioned off when ‘Tom Tom’ was purchased fitted with a potent Repco-Holden engine. ‘Tom Tom’ was flipped one day when Sollitt was pushing hard trying against the bigger V8 boats. During another race at the river end of Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise ‘Tom Tom’ was stood on its sponson but did not turn over. Later that night at the Exhibition Arthur rolled the Hillman Speedcar when a wheel caught the edge of the gate opening near the start line. The last meeting in the boats was at Laidley when Sollitt gave the field a lap start in three lap races and won the trophy for the day.
Something that Sollitt had always wanted to do since his cycling days was to get involved in speedway and in 1964 this is what he did combining both racing Speedcars and boats for a time. Sollitt wanted something different for a car and purchased a Hillman roadster from Blair Shepherd. The car had been built in Sydney and wasn’t a basic Hillman. It was a 1600cc Hillman block with a Sunbeam Alpine head and a special cam. The Alpine head had different ports to the Hillman which allowed it to breathe better. Sollitt soon discovered it was difficult to drive as it was prone to spinning out. Further investigation revealed that the cam was to blame for the problem and once a new one was sourced from Ivan Tighe, the problem was fixed.
A need for more horsepower saw the purchase of the Bert Marwood Repco-Holden that had been driven for him by Gary Sacre. It was a good car that had been built by Roy Didlock. Sollitt removed the existing engine and replaced it with the Repco out of ‘Tom Tom’ then sold the hull. One night the car and its driver survived a huge roll over in pit corner after jumping a wheel. The car went as high as the grandstand seats and came crashing down on its tail. The back of the car was badly damaged but repaired in time for the following week but they arrived at the track without enough time to set the car set up correctly. Bill Goode test drove
Arthur in action at the Ekka 2008 Speedway Spectacular (John Stanley Image)
Sollitt’s next car (1969) was the beautiful Kurtis-Kraft Offy roadster that Kym Bonython had brought into Australia and was now owned by Blair Shepherd. The Repco was traded in and the Ipswich driver was back in a roadster. However it was too long and had to be shortened 2’6”. This was achieved by squaring the tail and shortening the nose. These were put back to original when the car was restored. Also the car would not steer well due to suspension problems but after some alterations it was fine. When the car suffered a crankshaft failure initially a Cortina engine was fitted and then a Toyota 2 litre SOHC engine, both fitted with home built fuel injection, was used until the Offy was fixed. This car was only raced for a couple of years as non conventional cars such as ‘The Roadster’ and ‘The Wedge’ were later outlawed.
The next Sollitt Midget was the ex Joe James Fiat/Offy purchased from Gus McClure without an engine. The engine was transplanted from the roadster along with some other bits to the Kurtis copy frame and Qld 6 was ready to race. Sollitt won quite a few races in the car but his biggest win was undoubtedly the World Cup at the Exhibition on February 23, 1980 when he led home John Bell and American ‘Sleepy’ Tripp in the 30 lap event.
The last Sollitt car was a Gardner frame with the Offy engine. Unfortunately the Offy was not well suited to the Archerfield track so a Mitsubishi Magna engine was built. It had good pistons and cam, with Sollitt built fuel injection and cost $4000 all up. Arthur drove the car for a while and then handed the driving chores to his son Shane. This car has also been restored with the Magna engine.
Arthur recently said he enjoyed every minute of his racing years and would do it all again. He was a self employed plumber and did not have a big budget to go racing but remained competitive by doing most of his own work.