Harry Firth, MG TC Spl, Templestowe Hillclimb, outer Melbourne in 1959…

Long before his well known period as head of the Holden Dealer Team in the late sixties/early seventies Firth was a formidable car builder/preparer/driver in sports cars and sedans on tarmac and dirt.

He won the Armstong 500 three times- twice at Phillip Island and once at Bathurst partnered with Bob Jane- in 1961 they won in a Mercedes Benz 220SE, in 1962 aboard a works Ford Falcon XL, Firth prepared the works Fords at his famous garage in Queens Avenue Auburn, out of these modest premises did some great cars emerge.

He was also victorious in 1963 in a self-prepped works Ford Cortina GT and again as the event morphed into the Bathurst (Gallaher) 500, once, partnering Fred Gibson in a works XR Falcon GT in 1967.

(B Wells)

The Bob Jane/Harry Firth Ford Falcon XK (above) DNF leading the John/Caldecoat MGA, Hell Corner, Bathurst 6 Hour, 30 September 1962. Race ‘won’ by the Geoghegan Brothers Daimler SP250, who were first across the line in a race technically of classes with no ‘outright winner’.

Firth’s Cortina GT ahead of a couple of Humpy Holdens at Lakeside in 1964 (B Williamson)

On Allan Moffat’s recommendation he was engaged to co-drive a Lotus Cortina with Moffat in endurance races at Green Valley and Riverside in 1966.

Ford were keen for him to stay but he had to return home to honour a Ford Australia rally commitment, duly winning the first Southern Cross Rally.

(J Hall)

 

(J Hall)

In 1968 he won the inaugural Australian Rally Championship driving a Lotus Cortina, another doyen of the sport, Graham Hoinville was his navigator.

Firth and Ken Harper also prepared the Ford Australia Falcon GT ‘XT’ London-Sydney Marathon entries.

These 302 CID V8 engined sedans won the teams prize with Harry behind the wheel of the eighth placed car with his usual friend and navigator, Hoinville. The Vaughan/Forsyth car was third and Hodgson/Rutherford GT sixth.

The two photos above are at the Crystal Palace, London start on 24 November.

The Firth/Gibson winning works ‘XR’ Ford Falcon GT ahead of the 4th placed Mildren Racing Alfa GTV1600 of Kevin Bartlett and Laurie Stewart. Bathurst 500 1967 (unattributed)

 

Des West, Ian Tate and Harry Firth, Bathurst 1969 i guess (D Wilson)

This unique blend of skills and experience is what bagged him, even as a ‘Ford guy’, passed over as team manager by Al Turner as ‘too old’ – the HDT job. He held this management role until 59 years of age, in 1977 when John Sheppard succeeded him.

Let’s get back to the MG, this short article does not do Harry’s career justice, I am not attempting to do so- I am getting off point!

The MG Special, chassis ‘TC4723’ commenced construction in 1951, the chassis was much modified and lightened. The engine was also heavily adapted for the demands of racing, exactly how is not disclosed in my reference sources, but included fitment of a Wade supercharger running at 22 pounds of boost which mounted in front of the radiator. If any of you have details of the full specification, ever evolving as it was, drop me a note, I will pop the details into the article.

The bodywork was ‘functional’ rather than attractive as many of the ‘single-seater’ MG specials in Australia at the time were. Its bluff nature mitigated against top speed but perhaps the cars primary purposes were hillclimbs and trials rather than top speed on Conrod Straight, Bathurst and the like.

The MG was successful on the circuits, sprints and hillclimbs only slipping down the order as more modern Coventry Climax engined cars started to appear in the second half of the fifties.

Heart of The Matter: Firth in the stripped or perhaps not yet bodied TC @ Rob Roy during the 1952 Labour Day meeting on 10 March. Fantastic photo of a hard trying Harry- by then the LCCA were paying prize money, Leon Sims wry comment is that ‘Harry on occasion drove more than one car to increase his earnings’. FTD to Reg Hunt, Hunt Spl from Charlie Dean in Maybach 1 (L Sims)

Harry eventually replaced the MG with a Triumph TR2, which was equally effective and functional until endowed with an Ausca (Maserati A6GCS) clone body but he retained the car which was stored out the back of his ‘Marne Garage’ on the corner of Burke and Toorak Roads, Camberwell.

My grandparents and uncle had the newsagent on the opposite north-east corner of that intersection in the late fifties/early sixties, Harry was famous for sipping a cup of tea and working his way through the motor magazines, never buying any of course!

Firth eventually sold the site to the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport to construct their headquarters. At that point, when he had to remove the car, it was sold to Jack Schumacher in Murray Bridge, South Australia, he didn’t use it much and resisted Harry’s regular entreaties to buy the car back until 1977.

Harry restored it and occasionally used it in Historic events, I’ve lost track of it in recent years. Firth died in 2014 aged 96.

Harry Firth and later twice Australian Touring Car Champion Norm Beechey, both driving Holden 48-215’s at Templestowe Hillclimb in Melbourne’s, then outer east, not sure when- mid fifties. Not too far from Rob Roy actually. I wonder if they are laughing about a cup or their winnings? (unattributed)

 

(autopics.com.au)

The photo above is a decade or so later than the one at Templestowe and shows Harry driving a Holden Dealer Team Holden Monaro GTS350- perhaps one of the circuit racing cars pensioned off for much tougher duties in 1969- Calder Rallycross.

I wonder if this was Firth’s last competition appearance as a driver prior to his Historic Racing period a bit later on?

(unattributed)

Harry with all of his booty in 1964.

(Castrol)

Firth with the two Holden Dealer Team LJ XU1s of Peter Brock and Colin Bond in 1972- I think it’s brake fluid he is playing with for the camera or flogging.

Bibliography…

‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Leon Sims, autopics.com.au, Stephen Dalton

Photo Credits…

State Library of South Australia, Australian Motor Sports, Leon Sims Collection, Bob Williamson, David Wilson, John ‘Archie’ Hall

Tailpiece: Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville on the way to winning the June 1964 Ampol Trial, works Ford Cortina GT…

101 cars including 5 works teams entered the event which was held over 7000 miles in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria- start and finish at Bondi Beach (unattributed)

Finito…

Comments
  1. Rob says:

    Mark,

    It is stated above that Firth “won the Armstong 500 at Phillip Island three times” but that is not quite correct. The Armstrong 500 was moved to Bathurst for 1963 so his Ford Cortina victory was not a “Phillip Island” win.

    Technically speaking, the 500 organisers did not recognize outright winners prior to 1965, only class winners. However the press were quick to “award” the outright wins in each year from 1960, so I suppose we should go with the flow rather than with the people who actually ran the show. Alternatively, we could dodge the issue by referring to Harry being “first across the line” in the three years from 1961 to 1963, as that was an often used term at the time.

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob,
      Have corrected the Bathurst error, and ‘gone with the flow’ in terms of outright results. There are some quite good photos pinging around of these early Island enduros- I just don’t have the interest to write the articles.
      Mark

  2. Rob says:

    Mark,

    If I can hold your interest in production car endurance races for just a little longer I will say that the sentence in the caption on the Bathurst 6 Hour image reading “Race won by the Algie/Hibbard Studebaker Lark” is a little misleading. Whilst the Lark won Class D (for Production Touring Cars £1251 to £1700), there was, as per the Armstrong 500 races of the time, no offical outright race winner. However the Leo & Ian Geoghegan driven Daimler SP250 was “first across the line” and is often referred to as the race winning car.

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Yer got me!
      I thought I could get away from Taxis for another couple of months before putting together another token article! I really should steer clear- I’ve no interest and no ‘residual knowledge’ in the back of my head about the friggin things. Plague that they are. And yes- have updated the caption, many thanks. Now, back to the main game- anything but Tourers!
      M

  3. Rob says:

    Mark,

    One more word on Harry’s “Taxi” history, if that’s not pushing it too far. The text above says that “he won the inaugural Australian Rally Championship driving a Ford Cortina GT”. The 1968 ARC summary at http://www.snooksmotorsport.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/1968-CAMS-AUSTRALIAN-RALLY-CHAMPIONSHIP-FIN.pdf suggests that it was won in a Ford Cortina Lotus.

    Cheers,

    Rob

  4. Rob says:

    Mark,

    The photos in my link above show it to be a Mark 2.

    Rob

  5. Graham Edney says:

    I just and belatedly enjoyed your Harry Firth article. We lived behind my mother’s shop on Burke Rd 50 metres north of the Toorak Rd corner. As a car mad boy walking home from Sth Camberwell primary school (1954- 58) I often peered through the filthy Toorak Rd side windows of the garage to watch HF and the stream of racing cars that passed through. The Coad Vauxhall, the blueTR2 Special and the MG Holden come to mind immediately. I recall that “Prop. HD Uglow” appeared above the door to the garage. Maybe he had the Shell fuel sales franchise?

    PS: I started buying car magazines from your relations’ news agency with the (I think) Jan 1955 issue of Wheels that featured Jack B at the 54 AGP on the cover as I was aware of him appearing at Tracey’s Speedway sometimes. Our across Burke Rd neighbour Joyce Deering was the shop assistant that usually served me asi bought Wheels, Modern Motor and AMS every month.

    • markbisset says:

      Ha ha!
      Wonderful stuff Graham, I spent a lot of time in that part of the world, not just with my aunt and uncle and grandmother who had the newsagency but my other grandmother lived at 3 Davis Avenue, just up the hill a bit.
      It’s nice that the corner shop is still there, I still drive past once a month or so and it always gives me a smile when I do- my aunt is still alive- we will have a cackle about me as a paper boy when we catch up at the family Xmas gig next Sunday!
      Mark

  6. […] Harry Firth was already a racer/preparer/engineer of renown by the time Ford’s Competitions Manager, Les Powell first involved him with Ford- that fruitful partnership over the ensuing years yielded countless race and rally wins not least four Bathurst 500’s, 1968 Australian Rally Championship and the prestigious Teams Prize of the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon. Click here for a background piece on Harry; https://primotipo.com/2019/01/29/harry-firths-mg-tc-spl-s-c/ […]

  7. John(Archie) Hall says:

    Hi Mark, just noticed that the unattributed photos of Harry in the London Sydney are in fact my shots.
    I have recently uploaded them to https://www.flickr.com/photos/188245599@N06/albums
    However, they have been floating around on Pinterest since early 2018.
    Regards ,
    John (Archie) Hall

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Archie for getting in touch,
      I’ve changed the attribution and added you to the credits list at the end.
      I must have a look at the rest of your archive, many thanks for allowing me to use the shots.
      Mark

  8. Rod Callaghan says:

    Hi Mark,

    Harry’s TC Special.
    as I recall – I was only a yong bloke at the time – had the blower driven diectly off the front of the crank, whereas the similar but different TC Special of John Marston had the blower driven by a chain from a sprocket on the front pulley. Thus John wsas able to change the sprockets to vary the blower pressure as required, which seems a much better idea to me.
    I raced against Harry at the last meeting, sponsored by Shannons, on the “old” Phillip Island circuit in 1982 (or was it ’81?) and has was an absolute bastard to get past. He would blast past me on the straight and then change lines everywhere to hold me out. Got him in the end but had to work for it. Which is as it should be.

    • markbisset says:

      Rod,
      Thanks for getting in touch, you are a lucky boy to have raced against the great Firth!
      When i got interested in racing Harry had been retired from the drivers seat for 5 years or so, whilst i was aware of some of his race/rally successes its only when you read in the Moffat/Smailes book just how good he was- Trans-Am in the US was as cut-throat a Pro series as possible and Harry was right up there in the couple of races he did with Moffat aboard Lotus Cortinas, with Moff singing his praises.
      Mark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s