Dick Wilkinson, a young motoring enthusiast in his twenties, was twice struck by tragedy, all in the space of five years. First in 1932, in the guise of a supercharged front-wheel drive Alvis and then in 1937, at the wheel of his 1934 Rolls-Royce 20/25 h.p. “Car Out of Control at 70 M.P.H. – Leaps 25 Ft. In Race; Severs Man’s Leg”, was the startling newspaper headline on 17 March 1932, “A sensational accident occurred soon after the start of the Grand Prix 200-mile motor race at Cowes today. Skidding off the road one of the contesting cars struck R. H. Wilkinson, 22, of Dandenong road, East St. Kilda, severing his leg immediately above the knee. On his second lap, A. Edwards, driving a supercharged front-wheel drive Alvis, was passing the pits near the starting point, when his car began to swerve. Edwards was successful in checking the first skid but immediately afterwards the machine appeared to get completely out of control, and, at a speed of 70 miles an hour, skidded to the left of the road, struck a heap of loose metal and leapt through the air for 25 ft. In turning over, the car struck Mr. Wilkinson.” Edwards and his mechanic were thrown clear and suffered minor injuries. Wilkinson was there as an official of the Light Car Club of Australia and the Alvis ended up in a restricted area where he was standing. The impact virtually severed Wilkinson’s left leg, which was amputated by medical staff on the side of the track. Wilkinson’s companion, Raynes Dickson junior, was also caught up in the accident but escaped with a lacerated chin. Wilkinson later established a Ford agency with Dickson’s father.
“Triple Road Fatality. Early Morning Crash at Frankston. Car’s Three Occupants Killed Outright.” This was the disturbing headline that readers of the Melbourne newspaper, ‘The Age’, would have seen on Monday 29 March 1937, “A triple tragedy, in which the victims included two young men well known in Melbourne business and social circles, occurred early yesterday morning on Oliver’s Hill, in Pt Nepean-road, overlooking Frankston. The third member of the ill-fated party was a recent arrival from England on a holiday trip [later identified as an architect from Sydney]. Those involved were: Richard Heath Wilkinson, 27 years, 266 Toorak-road, South Yarra. Ian Mowbray Heath, 31 years, 25 Montalto-avenue, Toorak, son of the late Alfred Heath of Adelaide, and cousin of Richard Wilkinson. Alastair S. W. Hughes, Kensington-street, South Yarra.” The report continued, “News of the tragedy was brought to the Frankston police at 5.15 a.m. yesterday by Henry Clarke, hire-car driver of Frankston. Clarke was returning home from Mornington, and at the first bend in Oliver’s Hill sighted a wrecked Rolls-Royce saloon car facing up the hill. Lying near the wrecked car were the bodies of two men. Seeing that the men were both dead, Clarke drove on to the Frankston police station and reported the matter. On arrival at the scene of the accident the police found a third body lying across the guard fence cutting off the road from the beach cliff. The two bodies lying on the roadway were those of Ian Heath and Alastair Hughes. All three were shockingly mutilated, and Wilkinson’s body had apparently been thrown from the driving seat to where it was found impaled on the fence. The whole of the left-hand side of the car and its roof had been torn off bodily and it had apparently turned over twice landing on its wheels and facing in the direction from which it had come.” The three had been attending an engagement party at ‘Bilgoa’, Towers road, Mount Eliza and had left at 3:30 am. In mid 1934 Wilkinson wanted a saloon and an open car so he chose a RollsRoyce 20/25 h.p., chassis GED30, and one of the recently-launched new Bentleys, chassis B107BL. He chose Park Ward to build the bodies and then went to England in September that year to take delivery. The Bentley was shipped home in early 1935 but he took the 20/25 h.p. via South Africa. Photographs of the cars appeared in the 6 November 1934 issue of ‘The Motor’ magazine with the caption, “Open or closed? One solution of the problem is, of course, to buy two cars. The 20/25 h.p. Rolls-Royce and the 3½ litre Bentley illustrated were recently supplied to an Australian purchaser by Ollington Bros., Ltd., of 74, Gt. Portland Street, London W.1. The coachwork is by Park Ward and the two cars are designed to look as much alike as possible, the same treatment being given to the mouldings, wings, sidelamps and luggage trunks.” The other thing the cars had in common was that the clutch pedal, hand control for the throttle and the steering on both chassis were adapted to Wilkinson’s specifications.
Wilkinson was a director with Raynes Dickson, city solicitor and business man, and John McCutcheon, racing car driver, in Riverside Motors Pty Ltd, South Melbourne. In 1935 they established an agency for Ford cars. Considering Wilkinson’s disability, this piece in the Melbourne newspaper, ‘The Argus’, on 16 February 1937 is of interest, “Car Operated Entirely by Hand. A Ford 10-horse power sedan, controlled entirely by hand, has been supplied by Riverside Motors, South Melbourne, to a client. Clutch, brake and accelerator are operated by a single lever on the steering column. The clutch and accelerator, which are synchronized, are worked by depressing the lever, while the brakes are applied by raising the same lever. The turn of a switch on the dashboard converts the car to normal control. The Police Department has given full approval to the alteration.” Wilkinson bequeathed his four motor cars and his collection of stamps and other personal effects to his mother, and gave her a life interest in his residuary estate. His estate was worth £106,894, about $11 million in 2020.
Author: David Neely is an Honorary Life Member of the RROCA, George Sevenoaks Medal (NSW), SHRF Historical Consultant, co-author with Tom Clarke of ‘Rolls-Royce and Bentley in the Sunburnt Country’, author of ‘In the Rear-View Mirror – a History of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club, former editor of PRÆCLARVM and regular contributor of articles. He has owned a 1926 Phantom I, 1929 Phantom II, 1957 Bentley S1, 1963 Silver Cloud III and currently has a 1985 Silver Spirit .