Friday, 5 August 2016

Robyn Hamilton ("Charlie")

Robyn at Bathurst, with Frank Gardner and Ralph Radburn

Robyn Hamilton raced in saloons and Formula Ford in Australia, with some success, in the 1970s. She was famous for using the nom de course of "Charlie", after her sponsor's perfume. Her reputation on-track was an aggressive one.

She began racing on circuits in 1976, although she had been involved in the illegal street drag racing scene for some time, having started during her undergraduate studies. Apparently, “a brush with the law” caused her to enrol in Frank Gardner’s racing school.

Her first wheel-to-wheel circuit experiences came in the Formula Gemini one-make series, for Holden Gemini saloons. The championship had a reputation for crash-happy driving, and on her third-ever race, Robyn was involved in a nasty-looking shunt at Calder, in a race which had seen a six-car pile-up in the first lap. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1978, she claimed that the male drivers deliberately ran into her to scare her, and dissuade her from racing.

A second season of Formula Gemini in 1977 led to her first win, which was one of two that year, including one at Calder. She had learned from her peers in 1976, and soon developed a reputation for the sort of hard driving the series was known for. Some went as far as describing her driving style as “dirty”, so willing was she to take risks.

In 1977, she also drove in the Renault Newstar one-make series, and was regarded as one of its stars. She won three races, at Winton, Adelaide and Sandown. She came quite close to winning the title, which would have meant a trip to Europe to attend a prestigious racing school.

A one-off Ladies’ Invitational Race was held at Oran Park that year, which had a decent grid of fifteen experienced racers, mostly from touring cars. They drove Renault 12s. Robyn was the winner, and walked away with a thousand dollars, provided by Ansett Airways. In mixed competition, she was 23rd in the Phillip Island 500k, driving a Gemini.

In 1978, she took part in the Bathurst 1000 with Ralph Radburn. Their Holden Torana failed to finish, following an electrical failure, although they were classified in eleventh place. 

Never one to shy away from publicity, Robyn appeared in some quite famous images during her time at Bathurst. She had had a race suit made for her, after complaining that existing suits were dull and did not fit her feminine physique correctly. The resulting set of overalls proved very figure-enhancing, and Robyn’s back view made the papers. She claimed afterwards that this was not deliberate, and that the suit was too tight.

After 1978, she moved away from saloons and into single-seaters. It was during the 1979 season that she raced under the nom de course of “Charlie”. This was intended as a publicity stunt to promote Revlon’s Charlie perfume line. Robyn had approached Revlon with this marketing idea, but they were not keen on it immediately. She changed her name nevertheless, in a move designed to persuade them to sponsor her anyway. The final aim of this career move was to secure funds to race in Europe.

On the track, she proved a very capable driver. In her first full season she was fourth in the Formula Ford Driver To Europe series, driving an Elfin 620B. She scored one podium finish, a second place at Oran Park.

In 1980, she continued to be competitive, finishing in the top three, three times. She was fifth in the championship, and her media profile remained high.

After the 1980 season, her career tailed off sharply. She ended up leaving motorsport behind, and threw herself into business instead. She was a make-up artist, working for Revlon, then later founded her own beauty salon, and a company that runs three catamarans sailing around the Sydney bay area. As of 2016, she is still sailing catamarans.

(Image from Robyn’s Facebook page)


  1. "Robyn at Bathurst, with Frank Gardner and Ralph Radburn"

    Allan Grice on the left and Sir Jack Brabham on the right.