Ron Learnan completed a science degree at the University
of Auckland and shortly thereafter in 1953 he went to England with a dream
of becoming a racing driver. He was to experience the great thrills of the
sport and have a lot of fun but also endure the heartbreaking moments when
things go wrong. Soon after arriving in England he purchased a
Mk IV Cooper and began his
brief two season adventure that took him to famous tracks such as
Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Silverstone and hillclimbs such as Great
Auclum. Amazingly the first race that he entered was the first time that he
had ever been to a 500 race! According to Learnan it was during his third
racing outing that he was involved in a heavy accident and the chassis
suffered extensive damage. He took the car back to his lodgings and set
about repairing it in the garden, teaching himself to weld at the same time!
Ron recalled that at the August Bank holiday meeting at Brands Hatch a scrutineer, believed to be the famous Sammy Davis, became worried when he observed the wheel lifting antics of the Learnan ‘Cooper’ through Paddock Bend and reported this to John Cooper. Apparently, after a look at the car Cooper declared that the car had nothing to do with him and disassociated himself with it. As a result Ron re-named it the RGR after Roy, Graham and himself.
August 1955 was a busy time for Ron. Here he tackles the banking at the fast Great Auclum hillclimb in Berkshire. (Photo: Sports Car Talk)
In 1955 Ron had become chief chemist at the KLG sparking
plug company. At the end of the season he was approached by Ken Tyrell about
a project involving an experimental JAP engine that had no steel liners,
using instead the alloy cylinder wall for the bore as they were doing with
their industrial engines. As there had been a fair amount of scepticism
about this and it was felt that racing success would boost sales of the
industrial engines. But Ron decided instead to return to New Zealand. In New
Zealand he found that parts for the JAP engines were not easy to come by and
so he set about fitting Norton pistons, conrods and crankshaft in a JAP
block. The fitting and turning to enable this was carried out by a Mr
Heimgartner who was later to become much sought after by the racing
fraternity for his precision engineering skills.
As the composition of the racing fields began to change with the advent of a
more professional era Ron decided to build a one off sports car called the
Volcoupe in the late 1950s early 1960s and what was the RGR passed on to
Ron Learnan died in 1987.