NIEL Allen, a leading Australian racer in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has died.
Allen, who suffered from dementia in his later years, passed away on Saturday 6 August, aged 80.
He is best remembered as the outright lap record holder on the original layout at Mount Panorama with his 2m09.7s time, set in a Formula 5000 in 1970, remaining unbeaten until the circuit was altered to include the Chase in 1987.
A Sydney property developer, Allen began competing in sports cars in the 1960s, graduating from running an Austin Healey in sprint events to campaigning a Jaguar E-Type in club races at Warwick Farm.
It was a move to a Lotus Elan that allowed Allen to start making a name for himself, using it to great effect in battles with Fred Gibson’s similar machine at Sydney race meetings.
By the late 1960s, Allen was regularly racing in multiple disciplines, campaigning big-capacity sports cars, a Ford Mustang in touring cars as well as open wheelers, and it was in the latter that he found his greatest successes.
Allen etched his permanent place in Mount Panorama’s record books at the circuit’s 1970 Easter meeting.
Running his F5000-spec McLaren M10B powered by a five-litre Chevrolet V8 engine in the Formula Libre events, Allen set what proved to be the permanent outright lap record in the four-lap preliminary Captain Cook Trophy race.
“Niel was a bloody fearless driver,” Gibson told Australian Muscle Car in 2020.
“He’d just grid his teeth and away he’d go and do it. He was unbelievably good like that. Maybe not what we’d call today a natural driver, but he was very brave and fast.
“He did everything in life at 150mph. He was very, very competitive in business, everyday life and in his motor racing. If you went fastest, he’d want to get back in the car and beat you.”
Allen piloted the McLaren to second place in the 1970 Australian Grand Prix then won the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe in 1971, and came within an ace of winning that year’s Tasman Series overall.
He finished second in the series opener at Levin and won the final Kiwi round at Teretonga, then took fourth place at Warwick Farm to hold a clear series lead with two rounds to go. He qualified on pole for the penultimate round at Sandown but retired from the lead with engine problems, then retired early from the Surfers Paradise finale with a burst water hose.
Allen retired from racing at the end of the 1971 season, although a brief return the following year ended with a broken ankle sustained in a crash caused by brake failure on his new Lola F5000 during testing at Surfers Paradise.
It was the second lucky escape of Allen’s career. In 1968, he sustained serious head and internal injuries when his McLaren M4A open wheeler crashed at Lakeside’s notorious Kink at over 220 km/h. It was hailed at the time as one of the most violent accidents in motorsport around the globe where the driver survived, Allen’s fortune attributed to his fitting of seat belts to the McLaren.
A funeral service will be held on Monday 15 August at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in North Sydney, NSW.
V8 Sleuth extends its condolences to Allen’s family and friends.