50 Years of Nota

This is a transcript of an article by Patrick Quin, published in Australian Classic Car, February 2002.    Only the layout has been altered.    Photographs have been reduced to thumbnails, but if you click on them, you can view a larger version.    

LETS CELEBRATE   By Patrick Quin

February 2002 sees the golden anniversary of vehicle construction by Nota established way back then by Guy Buckingham.   Pat looks back over Nota's 50-year specialist car manufacturing career.

  Let's face it, a half a century is a long time.   Most of us, when we reach that occasion in our lives, like to celebrate it with some style.   It's an important juncture and worth heralding.   Such a celebration is also worthwhile in the business world as well, especially when it's a small Australian company that has been constructing specialist motor cars for all that time.

  In case you don't know Nota is still very much with us and still is a specialist Sydney based constructor of sporting and competition motor cars.   We here at ACC thought that 50 years of being in the business was so auspicious that the news should be broadcast to the classic car enthusiasts of Australia.

  We were expecting to find out that Nota had built a range of clubman style cars for use in Australia but soon came to see a company with far more depth.   A company that has constructed a wide range of different styles of cars from Austin 7 based mud-pluggers, to lithe open wheelers and V8 thumpers.

  We are not the only ones who wish to celebrate the occasion, as the Historic Sports and Racing Car Association (HSRCA) is also honouring the 50 years of Nota at their historic race meeting at Oran Park over the 2002 Australia Day weekend.   To assist with the celebration they have had well known motoring artist Brian Caldersmith do his magic with a brush and produce a full colour poster showing a range of Nota cars.   We have reproduced the poster here in ACC with permission.   The HSRCA is also bringing Guy Buckingham out from England for the event.   So we spent some time discussing the history of Nota with Chris Buckingham, the son of the company's founder who is now its proprietor.

Early days
  As we have said, Nota was founded by Guy Buckingham, an Englishman by birth.   Guy's first introduction to things mechanical was at a much smaller level.   The family business was in jewellery with a special emphasis of timepieces and clocks.   To this day Guy Buckingham remains a member of the Royal Horological Society.   Guy was suitably trained in the family business and went to work maintaining customers' clocks.   World War Two intervened, which saw him in the Royal Air Force working in aircraft maintenance.

  The RAF recognised Guy's talents and he was sent to study aeronautical engineering, a knowledge that he was to be put to very good use in the years to come.

  War's end saw Guy back in the family business, but like so many ex-servicemen he had developed a liking for motoring.   With England in such austere circumstance after the war and cars in short supply Guy became involved in the construction of a couple of cars during the 1940s.

Arnold.jpg (521968 bytes) However, Guy was determined to make his mark in the automotive industry and by early 1952 he had completed his very first car, christened the Arnold.   Like many such post WW2 cars it was Austin 7 based and styled very much on the mud-plugger type of vehicle favoured for the English style trials so popular during the era.

  Guy's determination to make his life in the automotive industry caused the inevitable friction in the family.   So to achieve his chosen path in life he moved to Australia.   Luckily there was already an uncle living in Sydney who worked as a specialist repairer of Jaguar and Rover vehicles and so the young Guy found ready employment in his new abode.   The uncle also had a Shell outlet in the Sydney suburb of Summer Hill with a large workshop attached.   So it didn't take long for Guy to set up shop and the first Australian built Nota rolled out the door in 1955.

Nota #l
  The first Nota, like its English built predecessor, was built around Austin 7 mechanicals but the chassis design incorporated everything Guy learnt during his RAF days.   This meant that its construction was a triangulated multi-tubular space-frame.

  Very passè many years later but, at that time, this sort of technology was generally just being seen in imported racing machinery.

  The very first two Australian cars were based on the time honoured clubman-style - a tubular body with cycle guards.   Like many specialist constructors, the body work was contracted out and in the case of Nota to Jack Whiffen, who had previously being involved in the construction of the body of Donald Campbell's land speed record breaking car. 

  The third car saw a break away from the Austin components into that from a Ford 10 and the rear body work was all enveloping, not unlike that of the Allard J2 range.   This style along with the traditional clubman bodied car kept the bread on the table for a couple of years until Guy moved on to something a little more adventurous.

Nota Streamliner.jpg (242679 bytes)   Cars like the Lotus 11 were setting the pace in lightweight competition cars and Nota wasn't to be left out of the fun.   Between 1958 and 1960 Nota constructed a total of eleven cars that were known in-house as 'Streamliners'.   In fact Guy ended up giving that name to any Nota that wore all enveloping bodywork.   Mechanicals were varied, including Standard 10, Ford 93A and Hillman Minx.   The Streamliners also became known as Nota Mazengarbs after the well known overhead valve conversion then available.   The majority of the front suspension for the Streamliners generally came from the donor car with the rear usually being the donor banjo and differential with Nota designed coil springs and trailing arms.

  This doesn't mean that during this time Nota was restricting itself just to vehicle construction.   Guy had developed an excellent name for himself in suspension.   He soon found himself in strong demand for making and repairing adjustable suspension for Minis and all sorts of competition vehicles.   A line of work that continues at Nota to this day.   There was also a constant stream of repair work for clubman style cars coming through the door.

Nota Consul 1957.jpg (383799 bytes)   In addition, Nota was also in demand for the construction of pure competition cars for circuit and hillclimb work.   Highly successful open-wheeler racing cars were built for the likes of Barry Garner, John Schroder and Ralph Sach.

Nota FJ.jpg (477644 bytes)   Chris Buckingham proudly told us that Nota was the first company to construct a Formula Junior in Australia - a pretty, front- engined racing car featuring a BMC 95Occ engine, Austin A30 gearbox and differential and a Lloyd steering rack.   This car is still driven with some enthusiasm by John Medley in HSRCA events in NSW. 

JWF involvement
  I tend to think that a company like Nota would have been involved purely in the construction of their own cars, but it wasn't the case.   Back in the September 1996 issue of ACC we featured the cars of local constructor JWF who, under Sam Johnson's control, made a series of open and coupè-style motor cars.   Interestingly, the HSRCA commemorated JWF at a recent Wakefield Park historic race meeting.   Besides offering alternate bodies for proprietary chassis, JWF also offered complete cars with their own chassis.   Who made some of the chassis? Nota of course.

  By the early '60s, success for Nota and Guy Buckingham was assured.   In addition to such successful cars as the Nota Major he was also building up a lucrative side business of tuning road and competition cars.   His knowledge of matters automotive was well sought after and for a time Guy even had his own Saturday morning television program on the Channel 9 Network advising viewers on tuning and modifications.

Nota Sportsman.jpg (390469 bytes)   Thankfully, Guy Buckingham kept records of all work that went through the company, including extensive notes on each of the cars produced.   Nota cars continued to leave the small factory which by this stage had moved to the Sydney suburb of Parramatta.   Cars like Sid Howard's front engine Formula junior that was equipped with a MG XPEG engine blown to 17 psi.   Then a true mid-engined FJ car with a Ford 10SE engine and VW transaxle, that was closely followed by the NotaDin complete with Holden six, Peugeot 403 gearbox and Skoda differential - car now owned by Terry Harris.   There were also a series of successful clubman-style cars for drivers like Sid Howard, Jacque Sapir, Peter Wilson, George Sonta and Neil Leffler.

  Towards the mid '60s Nota was moving into a field that was to prove the most successful for the small company.   From the outside it appeared to be another Streamliner but behind the driver was the ubiquitous Mini drive-train with its steering arms locked into position.   It was possibly the first time in the world where a Mini engine had been used in such a configuration and in the years to come the Mini drive-train was to feature heavily in future Notas.

Coupès and Formula Vees
  Nota also built a series of mid-engined coupès and open cars called CP3s that were sold here and in New Zealand.   Typical of the design was one, sold to New Zealander Neil Mulholland, which was fitted with a aluminium monocoque, Coventry Climax engine and a VW transaxle modified to take a BMC differential and two carriers either side for inboard disc brakes.   The half-shafts were each fitted with double universal joints and drove into a special, cast-alloy upright holding the bearing and hub.

  The mid to late '60s not only saw Guy's son, Chris, come into the company but also a heavy involvement in the fledgling Formula Vee scene.   Geoff Sykes, the force behind the sadly lost Australian Automobile Racing Club, saw a great future in this new US-originated formula which used VW components.   Guy and Geoff were good friends and Nota was asked to construct three vehicles for the Club, with Ted Proctor making the bodies.   These three cars were put on hire to club members by the AARC.   So popular was the new Nota Formula Vee that some thirty-four were built in the first year alone.   It also made Nota very busy indeed, for in addition to Guy and Chris there were four staff members constructing cars.

  Still, construction of clubmans continued as well as Formula 3 and Formula Ford open-wheelers.   Some clubman cars are worth noting; including three fitted with Holden engines and BMC gearboxes and one, constructed in 1968, that saw a Toyota Corolla engine being used for the first time.   Chris remembers the engine as being very tunable when balanced and fitted with twin Webers and a special camshaft.

The Fang
  The CP3 while of very limited production was a good looking car, but it had one thing going against it, the price.    Sportsman and Fang on Grid.jpg (178171 bytes) At twice the cost of an MGB the model, it wasn't destined to sell in great numbers.   Sitting in the factory at the time was a damaged Morris Cooper S and it occurred to Chris Buckingham that a car built around its components would be reasonably economical to produce and sell well.   Guy asked his son to draw up some plans to see what he came up with.   So, the Fang was born - a clubman-style car with the Mini power train behind the cockpit.   At just $1999 in 1970, a total of 117 Mini-engined Fangs were built, putting it amongst the most successful of cars from any Australian specialist automotive manufacturer.

Nota Marauder 1974.jpg (221951 bytes)   The early '70s saw Guy retiring from active work with Nota and eventually moving back to the UK to live.   However, this didn't stop Chris from moving on to other projects.   For instance, the Nota Marauder range of cars were first released in 1973.   Initially constructed with a Mini engine amidships, other engines such as Ford and Lancia were also fitted.   By the late '70s the Marauder had been transfigured somewhat and fitted with mid-engine Ford 351 cu in V8s and four-wheel drive transmission.

Nota F1.jpg (655269 bytes)   Although Mini engines were in short supply, the basic Fang design continued Nota_F1_Duttons_Rally.jpg (169674 bytes) with the fitting of engines from such diverse vehicles as the Suzuki Swift GTI, Toyota 1600cc DOHC and even motorcycles.   Nota has since built a close relationship with Toyota, with the Japanese company's 3-litre quad-cam V6 engines now fitted to a larger version of the Fang called the Fl.   However, Nota still, as they have done right through their history, continue to produce a front-engined rear-wheel drive clubman car.

The future
  I asked Chris about the future of Nota.   "We want to continue on the way the company has always been." Chris replied.   "Building specialist cars for those who want them.   The demand for front engined clubmans is still there and the DOHC Toyota four cylinder engine is in reasonable supply, however the gearboxes are becoming difficult, so I may have to look to Europe for perhaps the Ford Sierra 'box.   Although, with the world increasingly going front-wheel drive I think that rear-engined clubmans and the like are the future.   Time will tell."

  Well done to Nota, and the Buckinghams, a successful Australian company that has been making interesting cars for half a century.   We wish them luck in achieving the full century.   

What’s in a Name?
We often reflect on the origins of names and the Nota name is no different.   However, while it would be nice to say that the name has its roots in some tale of derring-do, I’m afraid it’s all rather simple.   By this time Guy’s son, Christopher, had arrived on the scene and having a father rather involved in the automotive world the term ‘motor car’ was often used around the home.   Young Chris, who features rather heavily in later years, had trouble getting his tongue around the word ‘motor’ and it kept coming out as ‘noter’.   Guy liked what he heard and shortened it a little to Nota, and so the name was launched.

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