Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Norman, Eldred De Bracton (1914–1971)

by Jon Chittleborough

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Eldred De Bracton Norman (1914-1971), inventor and racing-car driver, was born on 9 January 1914 in Adelaide, second of six children of Australian-born parents William Ashley Norman, solicitor, and his wife Alma Janet, daughter of Daniel Matthews. Thomas Magarey was his great-grandfather. Eldred attended Scotch College and made a token effort to study law at the University of Adelaide. In 1938 he set up an engineering workshop and motorcar-dealership in Adelaide. Rejected for military service in World War II because of asthma, he began to make garden tools and to manufacture charcoal-burning gas producers to power vehicles. At the Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, on 15 May 1941 he married with Anglican rites Nancy Fotheringham Cato, a 24-year-old journalist.

In 1946 Norman bought ex-army vehicles and sold them in Adelaide at a profit. While visiting the Territory of Papua-New Guinea, he started to construct a racing-car—the 'double bunger'. Powered by two Ford V8 engines, this large machine had water-cooled brakes which produced spectacular clouds of steam as he applied them. Between 1948 and 1951 he drove the car successfully in hill-climbs and races in three States. While leading in the 1951 Australian Grand Prix, the vehicle broke down. Norman then bought a 1936 Maserati Type 6 CM, for which he made a new engine. Stories abound of how he outpaced police as he tested cars on the road from his workshop to his Hope Valley home.

Norman and his wife pursued a wide variety of interests. With the help of income from his father-in-law, Eldred built an observatory; Nancy worked as a journalist and art critic for the Adelaide News, and became a poet and novelist. In 1954 Norman drove a Triumph sports car to Queensland, towing a trailer of racing-fuel. Winning a support race on the morning of the Australian Grand Prix gained him entry into the main race, in which he came fourth. An active member of the Sporting Car Club of South Australia, he often took his children to events, leaving Nancy free to write. During construction of the club's hill-climb at Collingrove, he used a sub-machine-gun to blast holes for explosive charges. For the 1955 Grand Prix he assembled a new car in ten weeks. The Zephyr Special incorporated proprietary parts and used the engine as a stressed chassis-member.

In 1956 Norman abandoned racing to concentrate on inventing. Many of his prototypes, including a car tow-bar and a photographic device to capture burglars, never reached the production stage. With Nancy, he made a motoring trip in 1961 which took them to the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Iran and Pakistan. Back in Adelaide, he designed and manufactured a supercharger which dramatically improved the performance of Holden engines; driving an old utility, he took potential customers on public roads and gave them terrifying demonstrations of its power. In 1967 the Normans moved to Noosa Heads, Queensland. Two years later he published Supercharge!

Tall and spare, with strong wrists and hands, Norman had dynamism, but often lost the enthusiasm to persevere with projects. While his solutions to engineering problems were frequently audacious, his mechanical work could be crude. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died of cancer on 28 June 1971 at Noosa Heads and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Blanden, Historic Racing Cars in Australia (Adel, 1979)
  • The Official 50-Race History of the Australian Grand Prix (Syd, 1986)
  • D. Harrison, With Casual Efficiency (Adel, 1994)
  • Wheelspin, Apr 1990, p 18
  • W. H. Hayes, Recollections of the Late Eldred de Bracton Norman During the Period 1939-1971 (typescript, copy held on ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jon Chittleborough, 'Norman, Eldred De Bracton (1914–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/norman-eldred-de-bracton-11253/text20053, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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