WHEN I RECENTLY gave Bob Jane a tongue-in-cheek mention in a piece praising MkII Jaguars I had no idea that his remarkable life was about to end. His passing marks the conclusion of a fascinating, colourful, take-no-prisoners life. He contributed enormously to Australian Motorsport – as competitor, promoter, track owner, innovator and status quo challenger. His passion, strength and imagination laid the groundworks for much of the professionalism of today’s top-level competition. Those qualities also carved out a significant place for him in the wider automotive business world. All this against the odds by a self-made man who grafted for every dollar he made after growing up in a Depression-era, battlerfamily in Melbourne’s then down-at-heel Brunswick.
The MkII Jag thing came from memories of fiercely fought battles between Jane in his 4.2-litre MkII and Stormin’ Norman Beechey in his Impala in the early-1960s. No quarter was on offer from either with much panelrubbing action and nose-totail intensity that saw the Jag complete races sans the odd grille bar on occasions. It was a rich diet for young motor racing fans like me.
Another early Bob Jane car special to my memory is his 300S Maserati. As a young kid I got my first glimpse of it at the Olympic TT meeting at Albert Park in 1956. Factory fresh, it was driven by Stirling Moss. A couple of years on the young Bob Jane acquired it and I was there when he debuted it at Fishermans Bend. The combination of his aggressive driving style and the exotic Maser’s presence was fabulous.
Another Jane-Maserati moment lay in wait for me years later. On my way to Uni in Melbourne, I was shooting for a personal-best time along the winding Yarra Boulevard from Alphington to Abbotsford astride my ‘flying’ T110 Triumph Tiger motorcycle. About a mile and a half in I was on a roll, setting up to apex the left hander near Molesworth Street in Kew. Suddenly something low and red and very loud launched on to the Boulevard and rocketed away toward Abbotsford, leaving me trailing unconvincingly in its wake. Bob Jane and his 300S showed me what fast really looked like.
Beyond a few casual words with him over the years, the only real conversation I had with Jane was at Ford HQ in the 70s. I was in reception as Jane walked in. While Allan Moffat was a regular, Jane wasn’t. It turned out that he had come to see a top exec about a tyre-supply contract. We chatted as I guided him to the guy’s office, before I headed back to mine.
What unfolded then was the stuff of legend for a while. Jane and his opposite number, both hard-headed, aggressive, little blokes, apparently exchanged pleasantries before going at each other for an extended period with language that would make a bullocky blush. Interested bystanders were treated to a crash course in Robust Negotiating 101.
Bob Jane was a man who truly made his mark, with over 300 race victories to his credit, along with car businesses from New York Motors to Autoland with younger brother Bill, and then his huge eponymous tyre operation. Nothing of the well-publicised business and family controversies and legal dramas takes anything away from his considerable achievements.
It seemed kind of appropriate when I watched video last week of a car doing a recent run around the Thunderdome at Calder Park, that nature has begun to reclaim the place, with grass and thistles growing between the seats in the spectator area, as if marking the end of an era – the Bob Jane era. Dominating the landscape between the Calder Highway and the Bendigo train-line at Diggers Rest, the Thunderdome will be a difficult-to-erase monument to Bob Jane, a significant Australian.