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B2509 Automobile, full size, trailer and certificates, 'EAW Special' racing car, made by E.A. 'Wilbur' Watson, Waverley & Bondi, New South Wales, Australia, 1949-1957, used by E.A. 'Wilbur' Watson, New South Wales, Australia, 1957-1962. Click to enlarge.

1950s 'EAW Special' home-made racing car

The EAW Special is a light, compact, one-off, hand-built, Australian racing car with a motorcycle engine. Specials were generally hand-made cars or old ones pulled apart and rebuilt for racing. This car was designed and built in Sydney by Ernest Arthur Watson, better known as Wilbur Watson, and its name is derived from his initials. Construction was undertaken in small, rented garages in the Eastern Suburbs between 1949 and 1957. It is an excellent example of racing cars designed and made in …


Object No.


Object Statement

Automobile, full size, trailer and certificates, 'EAW Special' racing car, made by E.A. 'Wilbur' Watson, Waverley & Bondi, New South Wales, Australia, 1949-1957, used by E.A. 'Wilbur' Watson, New South Wales, Australia, 1957-1962

Physical Description

The 'EAW Special' is a one-off, hand-built, single-seat racing car with a 649 cc rear mounted Triumph motorcycle engine. The car is made from adapted components sourced from an assortment of vehicles. The chassis is made of 2 inch (5 cm) tubular steel and the side members of the frame are fabricated from 1 inch (2.5 cm) tubes. The engine and gearbox are rubber-mounted in the sub frame just forward of the rear axle, and there are fuel tanks front and rear. Both primary and final drive is by chain. The cockpit features a tachometer, hand throttle, oil sight gauge, ignition switch, toggle to carburettors, a fuel pump switch and oil tap for the return line. The hand brake is on the outer left and of the cockpit and the gear selector is on the outer right. The car is also fitted with a self-levelling suspension system, roll bar and twin exhausts. The rear vision mirrors are converted from chrome bicycle lamps, and the front nose is from a discarded aircraft belly tank. A chrome air intake just below the nose, helped to cool the oil tank immediately behind it. Wilbur's 'EAW' crest is on the steering wheel and nose of the car. The car is finished in pale blue aluminium body panels with red vinyl upholstery, and the racing number 29.

The car is not as it was when Wilbur Watson was racing it in the 1960s, but the Museum does have the car's original parts together with its hand-built trailer.


Engine: Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle
Engine manufacturer: Triumph Engineering Co. Ltd, Meriden Works, Allesley, Coventry, England
Type: OHV twin cylinder
Capacity: 649 cc
Engine No: 6T/62905 R
Bore/stroke: 71 mm x 82 mm
Drive: chain
Ignition: coil
Carburettor: single 1 inch (25.4 mm) SU
Gearbox: Triumph 59356
Handbrake: fly off type with mechanical link to back wheels
Clutch: Dry plate type, Bowden cable operated
Suspension: single transverse leaf spring on rear.
Weight: approx. 4.5 cwt (228.6 kg)
Compression ratio: 9.5:1 on pump fuel
Power: 32 bhp on pump fuel
Compression ratio: 14:1 on racing fuel
Power: 52 bhp at 6,000 rpm on racing fuel
Top speed: approx. 100 mph (160.9 kph)

Automobile and parts, racing, EAW Special, metal/rubber/paper, E A Watson, Australia, 1950-1958

-1 Car
-2 Trailer
-3 Documents (8)
-X cover
-Y Miscellaneous parts



This racing car was designed and made by Ernest (Wilbur) Arthur Watson, and the car's name is derived from the builder's initials 'EAW'. Ernest was always known as 'Wilbur' after Wilbur Wright, the early aviator. Wilbur Watson was interested in motor racing from a young age and began with speedway racing in Melbourne on a Douglas motorcycle. He was a fitter by training and an RAAF aircraft engineer both prior to, and during, the Second World War. He served as a flight engineer on Catalina flying boats and went on to be an engineering instructor at the flying boat base at Rathmines near Newcastle, NSW, until 1947. In his spare time he built a sports car on the base.

After leaving the Air Force, Wilbur became a self-taught automotive racing engineer, initially learning from books in the State Library of NSW. Later, he gained experience with friends including Ron and Austin Tauranac and Jack (later Sir Jack) Brabham, who began making names for themselves in the early 1950s for 500 cc motor racing. This was a form of racing using 500 cc single-cylinder motorcycle engines and gearboxes. Jack Brabham went on to win the Formula One World Drivers' Championship in 1959, 1960 and 1966. Both a gifted driver and a practical engineer, he opened his own racing car factory in 1961. Ron and Austin Tauranac went to England and became well known for their own RALT (Ron Austin Lawrence Tauranac) racing cars.

Designs for Wilbur Watson's EAW Special were begun in 1949 in a small rented garage in Bondi in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It was constructed under difficult conditions without electricity for lighting, necessitating work being undertaken at night with eight candles placed on a board, together with ordinary hand tools and a hand-operated blacksmith's bench drill. Wilbur began by writing all the calculations, weights and ratios for the car on the wall of the garage and chalking the layout of the car on the floor. Later he got a kerosene pressure lantern and moved to another rented garage in Waverley, where he built a trailer to transport the car to various workshops when he needed welding and other jobs to be done. The entire car was then built sitting on its own trailer.

The car was originally fitted with a Ron Tauranac-altered Manx Norton ES2 motorcycle engine. The original cylinder head was designed for overhead camshaft operation but Wilbur found it easy to modify it to push-rod operation. A cam follower return spring was fitted, linked to both rocker arms. The remainder of the engine was a composite with the piston machined by Art Senier, the connecting rod from an H.R.D. Vincent motorcycle and the flywheel being machined by Ron Tauranac. The original gear box was a straightforward Norton 4-speed unit with some modifications to the clutch withdrawal mechanism to enable the control cable to run along the chassis. The drive was by chain and the primary sprocket which could be easily changed from 16 to 22 teeth to give suitable gearing for any course. The final drive went directly to a combined brake drum and drive sprocket in the centre of the rear axle. The drum was from a Morris 12 and the sprocket was spiggoted onto it. The universal joints are from a Ford 10, and the hubs and wheels are from a Morris 8. The carburettor was an Amal unit with a remote SU bowl. The fuel was fed by a Ford Prefect pump from a two and a hallf gallon (11.4 litre) tank under the bonnet. The coil ignition was made up mostly from Lucas parts, and the distributor was housed in a Heinz soup tin.

The EAW Special featured a unique, but simple, floating rear suspension system designed to keep both rear wheels on the ground regardless of the car's angle around corners or the roughness of the track. The wheels were on swing arms, the ends of which were connected by a swaged aircraft-type cable which ran through two pulleys. Damping was by Newton shock absorbers from a Morris J van. The front suspension had a tubular axle made up from Morris 8 stub axles, together with a leaf spring and Newton shock absorbers from a Morgan Plus 4. The hydraulic brake drums were modified from Morris 8 units with aluminium fins shrunk on to improve cooling and reduce distortion from high-pressure braking. The handbrake was coupled to the rear drum with an ingenious leverage system which provided quite powerful braking when required. The cockpit had seats from an aircraft that folded forward for access to the battery and engine mounts.

Wilbur put considerable thought into the car and included many interesting details. For instance, in place of an oil gauge, twin lengths of clear plastic tubing carried the oil from the tank under the bonnet to the engine and back again via the cockpit. This enabled the driver to see at a glance that the oil pump was working.

During the 1960s, Wilbur became involved with the building and administration of Oran Park Raceway, on the outskirts of Sydney 45 km SE of the city, which operated from 1962 until 2010. He soon found little time to keep working on the car's original, single-cylinder engine. Consequently, to remain competitive, he put in a Triumph 649 cc twin-cylinder engine and gearbox from a wrecked police pursuit motorcycle, which necessitated modifications to the timing, carburettor and clutch.

Interview with Wilbur Watson, 6 May 1983.

Davis, Pedr, 'Wilbur's Wonder Wagon' in "Sports Car World", January 1958, pp. 12-15, 61



Wilbur Watson finished building his EAW Special in 1957 and the car won its class the first time it was taken out in July that year and achieved a time of 17.31 seconds in the under 750 cc NSW Sprint Championships for racing cars run by the Australian Racing Drivers Club (ARDC). Wilbur went on to win a number of events over the next five years and presented the trophies to the Museum. These include :

First place in 3 lap under 1100 cc Handicap, SCCA Race Meeting, 20 July 1958

Club Records Day, under 750 cc racing cars, 17.31 seconds, ARDC, 28 July 1958

Race Day Winner, July 1958

Point Score Winner, Records Day, August 1958

Under 850 cc Racing Car Record, 1958-9

Champion Racing Driver, SCCA, 1958-9

Winner under 750 cc racing cars, ARDC Hill Climb at Foleys Hill, Mona Vale, NSW, 15 February 1959

Record Holder 1959-1960, in under 850 cc racing cars, SCCA

Under 750 cc Racing Car Record, 43.38 seconds, Silverdale Hill Climb, VSCCA, 8 May 1960.

Standing Quarter-mile Record Holder, under 850 cc, 16.96 seconds, SCCA, 1961-1962.

During the early 1960s Wilbur was involved in the construction and operation of Oran Park Raceway, which opened in February 1962. When night racing was introduced at the Raceway, Wilbur was responsible for the design, building and installation of the lighting. For his efforts he was made a life member of the NSW Road Racing Club. Unfortunately, Wilbur soon found he had little time to either work on his car or to race it after 1962. Gradually, racing moved away from the owner/driver enthusiasts and became more professional with increased sponsorship. Drivers began to take more risks to retain their sponsorship deals, while more expensive specialist tyres and other equipment added considerably to racing costs. These changes encouraged Wilbur to leave the racing scene in the 1960s.

Wilbur Watson presented his EAW Special racing car to the Museum in 1983 together with the original single-cylinder engine, trophies, and photographs.

Interview with Wilbur Watson, 1983


Credit Line

Gift of Mr E A Watson, 1983

Acquisition Date

28 April 1983

Cite this Object


1950s 'EAW Special' home-made racing car 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 17 October 2021, <>


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