Begg’s legacy a story of family

Despite the George Begg museum in Invercargill just opening to the public, one of the prime...
Despite the George Begg museum in Invercargill just opening to the public, one of the prime display race cars is rolled out of the display to go racing for the weekend. Pushing out the Begg Formula 5000 are (from left) owner Terry Rush, helper Geoff...
1931 Morgan Aero Super Sport.
1931 Morgan Aero Super Sport.
All that remains of a Begg 1500.
All that remains of a Begg 1500.
Begg Daimler V8, 1967.
Begg Daimler V8, 1967.
1968 McBegg race car.
1968 McBegg race car.
Testing the new fuel injection system on the Begg 018 at Teretonga Park, near Invercargill, in...
Testing the new fuel injection system on the Begg 018 at Teretonga Park, near Invercargill, in October 1975 are (from left) Alan McCall, Joe Wright, George Begg and Jim Murdoch.
George Begg (left) and Barry Keen with the Begg 650. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED — BEGG FAMILY
George Begg (left) and Barry Keen with the Begg 650. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED — BEGG FAMILY
George Begg looks through his book A Classic World and When the Engine Roars.
George Begg looks through his book A Classic World and When the Engine Roars.

George Begg lived in Drummond where he built world-class cars for a little more than a decade. He is now to be honoured with an exhibition at Classic Motorcycle Mecca in Invercargill. Invercargill bureau chief Karen Pasco was at the opening where she found out more about the man and the legacy he created. 

This was going to be a story about a man and 18 single-seat race cars that were built in a "toy shed" in Drummond.

But instead it is a story about family.

The man was George Begg, a South Otago-born lad who managed to engage and inspire, dream, imagine, engineer and create all from his workshop in a little Southland town, tucked away from city life.

The 18 cars he built over a span of about 14 years were remarkable.

They were raced on tracks around New Zealand and the world; some were successful, some were not, but each was built with devotion, care and ingenuity.

Not only that, they were all built while he still operated his engineering business.

They say great leaders engage with the people who surround them.

Not only did Begg engage, but he — along with wife Freda — opened their doors, fed and became like family to the many who made their way to the little township to see the inventor at work.

Maybe this is why those who gathered in Invercargill on Thursday night, at the opening of the George Begg Bunker at Classic Motorcycle Mecca in Invercargill, including Freda, three of his four daughters, ex-race drivers and business partners, had such great respect for this giant of a man.

There was talk of ingenuity, of his amazing ability to solve problems and freely sharing knowledge, but the overriding message was not just about the inventor but the man who loved people, who loved to see people succeed and who welcomed them into his home where they became part of the family.

Driver David Oxton confirmed George was a people person.

"Absolutely, but not just George — it was the whole Begg family.

"I remember going to Drummond the first time and being introduced to Freda in the kitchen. The washing machine was thundering away, the stove was busy making roast dinners and it was probably lunch time on a weekday and I just couldn’t believe it. It was like a factory inside the house."

"There were lots of girls obviously, four other girls, and George and Freda. What a neat family to be a part of."

For Jim Murdoch it was a partnership and friendship with Begg, not a master and servant relationship.

"The family were so welcoming."

Murdoch’s job description wasn’t just mechanic and driver.

"One of my tasks early in the morning was to take Gina [Begg’s daughter] to school."

The exhibition opening also allowed drivers to be reunited with the cars they not only drove but also in some cases, helped build.

For Murdoch there was one which stuck out.

"When I saw the 018 it was pretty special moment for me seeing that car again.

"The subsequent owners’ care and the condition that the cars are in today, is just unbelievable.

"I really pay tribute to all those previous owners of that because I know all the work you put into that."

He described the Begg exhibition as world class.

Begg’s first driver, Barry Keen, told the crowd how he was often called a test driver.

"Some people said I was a test driver, well we never tested a bloody car at all.

"One car we put it on its wheels at 1.30 in the morning, and it won its first race at 1.30 in the afternoon," Keen said.

It is family that has led Scott O’Donnell to honouring one of Southland’s greatest engineers through the new display.

O’Donnell’s late father, Keith, stood at the entrance to the Teretonga racing track on the outskirts of Invercargill, taking the entry money off those who wanted to see, smell and hear the fast cars bulleting around the racetrack.

There were many days when the cold polar gusts whipped through, yet despite this, when he was old enough, O’Donnell was taken on as the gatekeeper’s ‘‘apprentice’’.

Whether it was because of spending time with his father, or because he caught the motor sport bug watching those cars — or a combination of the two — it created a life-long love of motor racing and especially a devotion to Begg.

The era in Kiwi motorsport during the 1960s and ’70s, when Begg was tinkering in Drummond, was an exceptional time.

"It’s a special period of New Zealand. It’s when New Zealand was actually on the world stage competing at Formula 1 level performance, with cars that people in Drummond had built and were of world quality — and that was special," O’Donnell said.

"I still can’t get my head around that a guy who built front-end loaders, could also build world-level race cars in Drummond and go and compete on the world stage."

O’Donnell is the ideas man, he admits to the crowd, but it is his wife Joc who makes things happen.

It is her care and attention to detail which means this is just not a collection of amazing cars on show, but also an exhibition that tells the story of the man behind the cars, the family man, businessman and of course, motorcycle racer, engineer and motorsport writer.

Included is a walk-through detailing Begg’s life on large panels, then there are 13 of his cars, one owned by O’Donnell, the others on loan from private caretakers of his vehicles, as well as family photos and a replica of his workshop.

So what do Begg’s family think of it all?

"It’s just wonderful," Freda said, her twinkly blue eyes sparkling.

"Marvellous."

Most importantly, daughter Gina Tulloch believes Begg would have been a fan.

"I think dad would have really, really loved it.

"He would’ve been so proud."

Growing up in a house where you were led to believe anything was possible was just normal for Mrs Tulloch and her sisters — they thought everyone grew up in the same environment.

"He always thought he could do absolutely anything and he went on and did it," she said.

Freda is quick to reply, "and he thought you could, too".

"There were lots of motorbikes, lots of cars and lots of people coming to live," Mrs Tulloch said.

What was once a dusty old basement is now a testament to a man who lived in Southland and showed the world what could be achieved if you just set your mind to it.

This exhibition shows the remarkable way that with determination, drive and no doubt a good dollop of New Zealand sheer bloody-mindedness, you can take on the world — no matter where you live.

But it also shows how two families have come together to honour a man who has been long overdue to have his creations on show, so the world can marvel at just how clever he was.


 

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