The 9 – 12th March sees the 2023 Phillip Island Classic – Festival of Motorsport. The largest historical motor race in the southern hemisphere, attracting some of the finest racing cars in the world.
Hidden amongst the nostalgia, excitement and non-stop action of this cool motorcar racing event, there will be a motor racing legend from the Illawarra.
Thirroul's very own Graeme Rutledge.
Commencing his career in 1971 he is now celebrating his fifth decade of racing. All of the cars Graeme races are from his own personally modified Triumph car collection, which is a moto museum in itself. Graeme is the unsung sporting hero of Thirroul and the Illawarra, along with all of his much admired cars.
The list of wins, the lost yet memorable racing tracks and the cars involved is a long one. And that, in itself, is of local, if not national and international significance. Becoming the NSW champion in 1992 and 1996 in his yellow TR8 is the one he is most proud of as a driver.
Based out of the iconic Thirroul Servo, which has been in his family since 1946, his talent and need for speed was inherited from his father, Fred. A man who left school at twelve years old, learned his trade fixing machinery on the family farm and transferring those talents to create an Illawarra legacy of moto history.
The Thirroul Servo has become part of a rich moto patina of a disappearing Australian architecture, one that complements the uniqueness of Thirroul.
Every weekend, legions of classic cars and motorbikes head down Grand Pacific Drive to embrace ocean views and the freedom of the Illawarra. The Thirroul Servo is a well-known icon of this route and a great place to pull in, fill up and grab a slice of Australian motoring history.
This picturesque charm is something the community of Thirroul is fighting to hold on to. The village has a passionate refusal not to become just another forgettable suburb of the encroaching metro sprawl and to hold on to its uniqueness. This is mainly thanks to the commitment demonstrated in the successful Save Thirroul Village campaign and the pioneering spirit of the people who live along the northern villages of the Illawarra.
Thirroul Servo had been a multi-brand fuel stop with half a dozen fuel pumps from different petrol brands in the 1940s, which is mind blowing to us now, but now remains as one of the few traditional style Ampol stations in the state. As a Triumph dealership commencing in the 1950s, selling Mayflowers, Heralds, Spitfires, TR5s, Vanguards and the impish Standard 8, is when the Triumph love affair began. The gallery of images on the office wall speaks of a century of non-stop change, yet the building itself has remained firmly immune to the restless nature of progress by remaining in the custody of the family-owned and run business.
The legacy of this Triumph passion resides in his museum-like garage. Behind the No.666 and customer's cars sit a squadron of 1970s heroic Triumph Stags, which wait patiently for his knowledge and time. It is a classic car lovers dream scenario.
Every day people pull into the Servo to amp up on their Ampol, and grab a few moments with Graeme, possibly to the frustration of the other mechanics in the garage, working intently on decades-loyal village customers' cars. Yet everyone appreciates what little time they get with a man of many stories and half a century of moto wisdom. The mechanics wait patiently with Graeme's sister, Toni overseeing the day-to-day office, as she has done since the early 1990s. A true family affair and a well-respected centre of motoring passions.
The racing cars have been many.
No.54, the green Spitfire raced at the now lost Warwick Farm race track in 1971.
No.76, the TR6 he raced in 2013.
No.46, the classic yellow TR8 v8 championship winner.
But his pride and joy race car for many years, and for 2023 racing season, is the handsome pacific blue No.666 TR6. This is the car that will be heading down to Phillips Island Circuit for the Group SB for racing classics that were built between 1961 - 1968.
No.666 may be fifty years old now but the car has such glamour one could easily imagine a grinning Steve McQueen driving this beautiful machine across the Seacliff Bridge at sunset. Who wouldn't want to be Graeme, right?
The garage office is a gallery of racing mementos, which would not be out of place at the Dapto based Motorlife Museum.
Framed photographs from the early 20th century demonstrate how little the building has changed. Racing and moto memorabilia come with a myriad of stories, when Graeme has the time to tell them.
One great image is of a past Pit Crew, made up of passionate friends from the surrounding villages. These guys knew very little about racing or classic car mechanics, and yet they just lived to run what they brung at the weekend. After a long hard week working at the steel works or the Clifton Hotel, now The Imperial,, we can witness the sheer joy of spending precious hours with Graeme on this epic racing adventure.
As a local hero and a racing icon himself, Graeme has no heroes. Probably because he has no time. It is all spent under the hood.
" I just do what I want to do and love what I do".
Rutledge is almost oblivious to his status as a racing driver and of the respect from the garage's many loyal customers.
A true son of the Illawarra, with the spirit of being where you want to be and doing what you want to do.
We created our Address moto tee, as a homage to the historical signage of Thirroul Servo and the cool charisma of this racing legend. Using the same lettering and the same shade of grey that has been there since the 1940s. Around the world moto lifestyle brands often try and recreate the spirit of such a space, yet we have it here, for real. It is a precious thing.
Never change, Graeme. Never change.
And bring another trophy home to the Illawarra. We will be waiting to celebrate with you, brother. Good luck.