Car Restoration Projects
There were many specialist wannabe car manufacturers in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. This is the story of one such hopeful, who never made it past this one prototype, because of the obstructive bureaucratic power of the registration authorities.
Peter Toohey was in his mid-70s when Jim Gibson caught up with him and reported that Peter will never forget the despicable treatment he received from government authorities.
He went through a bitter and vexatious David and Goliath battle with the bureaucracy, back when he wore a younger man’s clothes. Peter Toohey was attempting to offer the Australian motoring public an Australian-designed and manufactured alternative sports car.
But, would the NSW Government offer any help to an Australian who’d slaved since the mid-1960s, designing and manufacturing a prototype Australian-built car, which may have given other Australians employment? Not on your life!
Peter Toohey had served in the Australian army during the Korean War and was not surrendering: Illegitimi no carborundum was his credo. However, bureaucratic delaying tactics, some three and a half years of them, killed the project.
In late-1975, a phone call from a Department of Motor Transport (DMT) official saying they had finally granted authority to build 10 cars, but Toohey was exhausted, both financially and emotionally. Orders for the vehicle had been cancelled. The opportunity of the moment had long gone and the 2E automotive manufacturing business was never going to see the light of day.
Ironic as it may seem, the prototype 2E had been registered by the very same Government authority – the DMT; later the Roads and Transit Authority (RTA) and now Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) – with very little scrutiny in 1972.
In the beginning
Peter Toohey, a commercial artist and industrial designer, was also a motor sport enthusiast, having piloted racing cars around the Warwick Farm circuit before its demise in 1973. After a foray with a 105E Ford Anglia, a quick little car in its day, he progressed to Lotuses and was quite a journeyman behind the steering wheel.
He said: “I took my racing car to compete in the first motor race held at Warwick Farm, which was run by the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and the officials told me ‘You motor racing people are mad’.
“You had to cross the horse-racing track to get across to the pit area and the officials weren’t being cooperative: they wouldn’t let me cross.
“Then I mentioned that my father was Jack Toohey, the jockey who’d won the very first horserace at the Farm, so I was instantly one of them and escorted across to the pits.”
Peter had spent some time in the UK and had visited some of the smaller vehicle manufacturers over there. One had offered him a job as a designer, but he said: ‘Thanks but I’m going back to Australia to build my own car,’ to which they said: ‘Good luck!’.
So back in Australia in 1963, Peter started his car-making journey, designing a svelte body that would clothe a Volkswagen Beetle platform. This type of development had been done before on the ubiquitous Beetle floor pan, but Peter’s intention was to create the best: a car that looked, felt and handled like a real production sports car.
With the blueprint meticulously drawn, he made a quarter-size scale model and took his plans to a well-respected aluminium craftsman who’d built many a racing car, including a Jaguar XJ13 copy. However, he already had too many projects and progress on Peter’s car was much too slow.
The alternative was to sculpture the body in fibreglass, so Peter set about doing just that. Peter was punctilious in his work on a mould that had to be taken from the model. With wooden templates and plaster of Paris, he spent many days sanding and filing, finally crafting the mould that would bring his car’s body to reality.
This first 2E prototype was an open-top car and Geoff Sykes from the Australian Racing Driver’s Club (ARDC) invited Peter to display the car on the ARDC stand at the 1965 Sydney Motor Show. It created some interest, but the majority of attendees and the motoring press paid little attention, given that there were bigger fish to fry – Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, Morgans and all of the best from Europe was on display – so Peter’s little Aussie creation on a VW chassis didn’t net much interest.
The next step
Peter then decided to make the car a coupe, so he constructed gull-wing doors, marginally changing the design and this is the car in Jim’s photos.
Fit and finish in this attractive little car is a credit to Peter’s meticulous attention to detail.
This is no ordinary kit car and is far removed from that genre. The dash instruments have ‘2E’ logos embossed on the face, as has the steering wheel centre. The gull-wings glide effortlessly when opened and closed, and latches are positive in their duties.
The headlights are discretely hidden under what would be the bonnet of a front-engined car. He had to get them to the correct height from the ground for compliance and had seen many a failure of the popup variety, so he designed this simple system that is operated mechanically from the driver’s compartment.
Ride characteristics and road manners are impeccable: obviously a result of Peter’s motor racing suspension set-up days. Peter Toohey also designed the unique alloy wheels.
The upgraded VW boxer engine roars behind your head as two 46mm DCOE Weber carburettors, from a racing Porsche, ram the air/fuel cocktail into its two-litre cylinders. The considerable power flow is punctuated only by the rev limiter. The 2E is a little firecracker and a joy to ride in, with excellent flow-through ventilation.
Come on Aussie come on
There were many stumbling blocks on the road towards production and one was the glass: “I’d used the rear window from a Karmann Ghia for the 2E’s windscreen, because the people at Volkswagen in Sydney said they had plenty in stock,” said Peter Toohey.
“When I went to order a quantity for my production, they said they didn’t have any stock lef!”
Fortunately, Peter found a very helpful automotive glass company at Taren Point that was happy to manufacture and stock 60 units for him.
Peter Toohey’s experience with the registration compliance authorities was nothing less than disgraceful:
“As the authorities had registered the prototype without so much as a second glance, I thought getting their rubber stamp for production compliance wouldn’t be a problem – how wrong I was!” Peter said. “They put every possible stumbling block in front of me.
“At one point one of the bureaucrats said that the 2E was nothing special, because Karmann Ghia made a special body for the Volkswagen chassis and that’s all Mr Toohey has done, so there’s no reason to insist on compliance for his car.
“However, the transport minister of the day, who incidentally didn’t hold a driver’s licence and had never even driven a car, instructed his people to make me supply a full-sized set of drawings of the car, to be sent to each state and territory.”
Peter went to British Leyland’s plant in Zetland, which was the only place that he could find to produce full-size drawings.
“A team from the engineering department came across to the car park to looked at the prototype,’ Peter said.
“They were impressed and said they could copy the drawings for me, but there was nothing they could do to help with the compliance of the car.
“However, they did offer me a job in their design department, saying you’ll get holiday pay, sick leave and rostered days off!
“These are all the things I hate, so I said ‘no thanks’ and just as well, because it wasn’t long after that the plant closed down.”
But like all the other requests from the NSW DMT bureaucracy, nothing came of the full-size drawings episode: it was just another cost for Peter Toohey.
One of Peter’s friends, who new of his plight, said to him: “You know they have a set of balance scales on their desks with a house brick on one side and once you’ve supplied them with enough paper to tip the scales, you win!”
When he’d finally managed to unbalance that brick, Peter Toohey’s car-building dream had faded.
Peter Toohey is a proud, red-blooded Australian, who’d fought for his country at war, but he is disillusioned by the lack of support for Australians by Australians, be they governments or individuals, unless it’s in the athletics arena.
A perfect example is that great Australian, Sir Jack Brabham, who was three times world motor racing champion – once in a car bearing his own name – is thought more of and respected for his achievements overseas than in his own country.
2E sports car 1972- Specifications
Engine – Volkswagen opposed four-cylinder, two-litre, air cooled.
Twin Weber 76mm DCOE carburettors
Electronic ignition with rev-limiter
Transmission – Four-speed synchromesh
Brakes – Drums front and rear
Suspension – Front torsion bars
Rear torsion bar independent swing axles
Drive – From rear axle