Chev Corvair V8…

Posted: January 31, 2020 in Touring Cars
Tags: , , , , , ,

(M Bishop)

Frank Gardner is so far ahead of the pack, you can see the smile upon his face, Chev Corvair Sports Sedan, Hume Weir, 1977…

Once FG got this thing sorted, which wasn’t long, he used to piss-orf into the distance which was rather a shame as even open-wheeler nutters like me loved Sports Sedans- how could you not?

I was lucky enough to see the car coming together in the garages at Calder which I used to frequent quite a lot in 1975 as a student of the ‘Bob Jane/Frank Gardner Race Driving School’ whose Elfin 620B Formula Fords were garaged next door.

Using plenty of bits from the Lola parts bin with which Gardner was so familiar it was always going to be quick- as close to an F5000 spaceframe Lola in drag as possible, limited only by 10 inch wide rims which must have made putting 500 injected Chevy-neddies to the ground tricky.

Gardner from Alan Hamilton, Porsche 934 (M Bishop)

The car made its debut at Oran Park in August 1976, coming second in the first Australian Sports Sedan title that year despite contesting only three rounds. Moffat won that year using both his Ford Capri RS3100 and new Chevy Monza- he started the season in the Chevy Monza, then put it to one side when his commercial relationship with Ford was sorted for the ensuing couple of years- the Monza ‘disappeared’ for about three years didn’t it?!

Whilst FG ran the car at Oran Park he didn’t race for points nor was he allowed to impede the progress of other cars- the machine fell foul of the scrutineers who deemed its rear-guard radiator ducting was illegal, however the car was allowed to run with a temporary logbook in order that the fans- who had come along in droves, could see it.

Gardner missed the next Wanneroo round whilst the car was changed to comply with the regulations and then won the final three rounds at Adelaide International, Symmons Plains and Calder on the trot, albeit the final two wins were with Moffat absent- he had already wrapped up the title and did not enter those meetings.

In 1977 Frank won five of seven rounds then in 1978 Allan Grice took over the Corvair’s hot-seat upon Gardner’s retirement from driving. He won four of the seven rounds and tied in the point-score with Jim Richards’ Ford Falcon XC Hardtop.

Grice made good in 1979 winning the title and three of nine rounds, but that was it- rule changes which would have forced the re-engineering of the car to place the Chev V8 behind the gearbox, as in the standard Corvair, rather than in front of it as the racer meant the machines reign as the class ‘car to beat’ was over.

Alan Hamilton delighted us all with so many yummy factory race Porkers over the years didn’t he?! Porsche 934, Hume Weir 1977 (M Bishop)

The events at Hume Weir pictured must have been some sort of Formula Libre event or match race as there is no way Alan Hamilton’s factory Group 4 Porsche 934 was Sports Sedan legal- CAMS ‘rained on Porsche’s Sports Sedan parade’ from 1976 didn’t they, banishing the cars to the Sportscar ranks?

So, who won on this particular Hume Weir weekend folks?- i’ve my money on FG.

The Corvair was an awesome car to watch, a classic example of brilliant conceptual thinking and execution, I remember it clearly at Winton in 1979 for the last time- I was trundling around in a Formula Vee at that stage and shared participation at that meeting with the beast. The 934 too was a formidable weapon, winning the Australian Sportscar Championship for Hamilton in 1977 (joint first place with John Latham’s Carrera RSR) and in Allan Moffat’s hands in 1980, with another 934 owned by Bruce Spicer taking the title and driven by John Latham in 1981.

The Corvair didn’t survive did it? All the goodies were removed when the rules were changed to effectively ban it and the rest was dumped at the tip. I do recall Melbourne’s Bruce Harris owning the Hamilton 934 and using it at club level for some years after it’s heyday, its still in Oz and is now part of the Bowden Collection.

Wodonga boy Harry Lefoe’s Hillman Imp Ford V8 was truly wild- Ford Cobra V8, ZF and later DG300 Hewland box with much of the engineering done by ‘Head Mod’s John Bennett- many will remember this Doncaster Road, Doncaster institution. The car was far from crude with wishbone front, and de Dion rear suspension but was handicapped by the short wheelbase and track of the amazing roller skate. First raced in September 1970, here with wing at Oran Park in 1971, it died at Sandown in the late seventies when rolled by Neil West who was driving it for John Bennett who by then owned it (L Hemer)

Arcane and Tangentially…

Sports Sedans went from the province of the ‘impecunious enthusiast’ building a big engined, lightweight racer ‘at home’ to the big league from 1973 when the Australian Touring Car categories were changed in the wake of the ‘Supercar Scare’, remember that press feast about high-powered ‘Bathurst cars’ in the hands of young drivers?

A new Group C Touring Cars category replaced Group C Improved Production Touring Cars and Group E Series Production Touring Cars to contest both the Australian Touring Car Championship and Manufacturers Championship respectively. As Australian enthusiasts well know, until that point the ATCC was the province of the Improved Tourers and the Manufacturers Championship- the Bathurst 500 the best known of these events, was run for showroom stock or Series Production cars.

Peter Brock and his legendary Austin A30 Holden, here at Hume Weir in late December 1968 (D Simpson)

 

One of the prettiest, cleverest and winningest earlier seventies Sports Sedans of them all was the marriage of a redundant Repco Brabham Engines RB620/720 SOHC, injected 4.4 litre V8 into an LC Holden Torana GTR-XU1 shell. The whole lot was road trimmed, a great promotional tool for Holden/Jane’s organisation. Later prostituted by Frank Gardner by fitment of a 5 litre Chev F5000 motor- shell extant but all entreaties by the original car builder John Sheppard to the current owner to sell and restore to Repco form have so far been rebuffed. John Harvey up at Oran Park in 1971 (unattributed)

Old Group C Improved Production Touring, enormously popular and the class to which the ATCC had been contested since 1965 as mentioned above was dumped- which meant a lot of seriously good gear was looking for a home in 1973 and found it in a new class.

CAMS finally gave formal recognition to ‘Sports Racing Closed’ or more colloquially ‘Sports Sedans’ creating ‘Group B Sports Sedans’. Funnily enough the origins of Sports Sedans in the sixties was an earlier CAMS rule change.

CAMS changed the ATCC eligibility regs from ‘Appendix J Touring Cars’ to ‘Group C Improved Production Touring Cars’ from 1965 which, similarly to the situation outlined above in relation to the 1973 rule change, released many then ineligible cars which were looking for a new home. Promoters of some circuits, Oran Park and Winton for example allowed these Appendix J escapees to run with Sports Cars under the name ‘Sports Racing Closed’ providing some amusing photographs of ostensibly weird combinations of cars on circuit at the same time.

I missed Pete in his Mustang heyday but I was a beliver seeing him twiddle the wheel of this thing and the Reg Mort 911. Another great bit of John Sheppard engineering, Holden Monaro GTS350 Chev, two Hewland boxes, here in 1976, the other car is Pat Crea’s Ford Cortina V8 (B Keys)

 

Leo Geoghegan from an obscured Jim McKeown, both in Porsche 911 RS 2.8 spec, Calder December 1974 (B Keys)

Back to 1973- simultaneously with the rule changes to create ‘Sports Sedans’ formally, the prize money on offer by ‘Toby Lee’ shirts at Oran Park and Marlboro at Calder for Sports Sedans meant some serious dudes with plenty of money applied their brains to this ‘almost anything goes’ form of touring car categories.

It got me thinking (as an open-wheeler and sportscar devotee mind you) of what the ‘influential or creatively clever and not necessarily successful ‘ Sports Sedans were of this period. Here goes with car, driver and builder…

1967 Austin A30 Holden, Peter Brock- car builder attribution?

1970 Hillman Imp Ford V8, Harry Lefoe- Lefoe, John Bennett Head Mod

1971 Holden Torana Repco ‘620/720 Series’ V8, Bob Jane- John Harvey (later in Chev engined form Frank Gardner) John Sheppard

1972 Alfa Romeo GTAm Tipo 33 2.5 V8, Brian Foley- Auto Delta, Foley and his team

1973 Porsche 911 2.8, various drivers, not so much clever as readily available if one had the readies

1974 Valiant Charger Repco Holden F5000 V8- John McCormack, Elfin Sportscars, McCormack, Dale Koenneke

1975 VW Fastback Chev V8, Bryan Thomson- Thomson and Peter Fowler

1975 Porsche 911- mid-engined 2.1 Turbo, Jim McKeown- Porsche Cars Australia

1975 Ford Capri RS3100, Allan Moffat- FoMoCo Europe

1975 Holden Monaro GTS 350 V8, Pete Geoghegan- John Sheppard

1976 Chev Corvair Chev V8, Frank Gardner- Gardner, John Anderson, Tom Nailard

1976 Chev Monza IMSA V8, Allan Moffat- DeKon Engineering USA

Allan Moffat’s Chev Monza IMSA spec DeKon Engineering built car at Sandown in 1976 with 4 July 200 year bi-centenary celebration signage carried that weekend (R Davies)

 

Bryan Thomson VW Chev from John McCormack Valiant Charger Repco and Bob Jane Holden Monaro Chev, Calder December 1974 (B Keys)

Its not a complete, list just an ‘influential, creatively clever and not necessarily successful’ one. I’ve thought of and discarded the Improved Tourer escapees such as Moffat’s Mustang and Jane’s Monaro (successful as a Sports Sedan), the Holden Dealer Team Torana LC/LJ and LH bolides, Goss XA GT and others but I’m interested in your thoughts, after all i’m a poncy open-wheeler guy not a meat n’ spuds Touring Car dude, so what would I know? Treat the Sports Sedan early year cut-off as circa 1976, I know there was plenty of good stuff which came later but that is outside the scope of this article.

Moffat upon his ex-works Ford Capri RS3100 debut in Australia, Sandown Tasman meeting 1975 (B Keys)

 

Jim McKeown in Porsche Cars Australia Porsche 911 2.1 turbo Group 4 mid-engined car with lots of 908 suspension bits front and rear. What became of this beastie after it’s 1 year Sports Sedan career? Hume Weir 1975 (B Keys)

 

Luscious. Brian Foley’s Alfa GTAm T33 2.5 V8 pokin’ its head out of the bonnet, Warwick Farm Causeway in 1973 (unattributed)

Photo Credits…

Mark Bishop, Bruce Keys, Lynton Hemer, Robert Davies, Dick Simpson

Tailpiece: Gardner awaits the off at Hume Weir, sinfully purposeful, it not pretty from every angle…

(M Bishop)

Finito…

Comments
  1. Lynton Hemer says:

    As usual, Mark, you have produced a very good article describing the cascade of events which followed the ‘supercar’ debacle.
    The inability of CAMS to simply police Series Production, and maintain Improved Production and Sports Sedans as the modified touring car categories, had long term ripples which we still feel today.
    We saw a few clever people reading the rule book, producing cars which were obviously not within the spirit of the rules, and chasing appearance fees from the promoters as the spectacular success of the ‘cheat’ car hit the news.
    The ordinary chums spending all their money on honest but outdated equipment got left behind, the series collapsed, and the cycle began again.
    What has always got me going, is that the rule-benders can ever get their first run.
    If it’s non-compliant, you don’t start.
    In motorsport, it has ever been so……
    The Lefoe shot, is one of mine.
    The John Harvey shot is someone else’s work, I always took mine at BP,
    Cheers, Lynton Hemer.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Lynton,
      Have changed the attributions.
      My first meeting was 1972 Sandown so I missed the Series Production heyday but I do recall as a mid-teenager the Supercar Uproar and did a bit of background research before writing a V8 XU1 piece a couple of years ago.
      Doubtless (I hope) Evan Green didn’t mean to cause the destruction he did but once the Genie was out of the bottle she couldn’t be put back.
      CAMS resources of the day – John Keefe and a couple of chicks manning the desks would have been totally unable to cope with the huge PR tidal wave which came crashing over them once State and Federal Pollies smelt easy ‘protect public safety’ wins.
      This ignores the fact that the XU1, for example, was an infinitely safer car than a Belmont ‘Poverty Pack’ on cross-plies with drums all around.
      The manufacturers were never going to align with CAMS if fleet sales to Government were likely to be hit by a strident defence from them…and they probably didn’t mind changes to racing rules which would eliminate unprofitable short production runs of homologation specials anyway- and so the wonderful party came to an end.
      Mind you Holden built the L34 and A9X…but of course by then we had new Group C.
      Interested in your thoughts as someone intimately involved at the time.
      Mark

      • Lynton Hemer says:

        The Sports Sedan conversions seemed like the waste of a good F5000 to me!!
        I can picture the volunteer scrutineer looking at the outside of the rules Corvair engine location, and thinking, ‘It’s been in all the magazines already, and now I’ve got to pass it or not…. oh, god, the promoter has it on the front cover of the programme and it’s Frank Gardner…..oh, OK then.’

        Cheers

        Lynton

  2. George says:

    What an interesting period of imaginative machinery!

  3. Rob says:

    Mark,

    The caption under the Geoghegan Monaro image mentions that it is “here in 1976 with later HZ front clip”. Aside from the fact that the Holden HZ was not introduced until October 1977, the extensive article on the car in Australian Muscle Car Issue 21 indicates that the car debuted in 1975 as a HJ and was changed to a HQ for the 1976 season. This was due to a wrangle with CAMS over the use of a “350” engine with a HJ body. The caption, I would suggest, should read “here in 1975 with it’s original HJ front clip”.

    Cheers,

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers Rob,
      Amazing car isn’t it! I’ve a feeling he debut @ Sandown 1975 Tasman meeting along with Moffat’s RS3100? Thanks. Its always dangerous me doing articles on Taxis given my level of interest…
      Mark

  4. Rob says:

    Mark,

    I checked RCN for clues on when the Geoghegan Monaro made its debut and it was the 18 January 1975 Calder Twilight Meeting, the HJ winning both of its Sports Sedan races against strong opposition including Jane in the HQ Monaro and Frank Gardner in the Jane Torana Repco.

    I wasn’t able to find a specific date for the first appearance after its “update” to HQ trim, but the AMC article which I mentioned above indicates that the facelift took place over the summer break leading into the 1976 season. I think we can safely assume that any photos of the car running as a HJ were from 1975 and any as a HQ from 1976 or later.

    Regarding that Hume Weir race involving Gardner and Hamilton, the RCN report on the 27 March 1977 meeting refers to three races which combined Sports Sedans and Production Sports Cars, Gardner winning all three, with Hamilton second twice and suffering a cut tyre in the third. And yes you race correct, CAMS moved the 911 based cars from Sports Sedan to the Production Sports Cars category for 1976, making them ineligible for the inaugural Australian Sports Sedan Championship but handing them every Australian Sports Car Championship run to Production Sports Car regulations, stretching from 1976 to 1981.

    Rob

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks Rob,
      No doubt they did Sandown shortly after that Calder meeting. I wonder what John Sheppard thought about hooking up with Pete again after that gap of 5 or so years. It was certainly a great car to watch and having missed Pete’s ‘heyday’ it was terrific to see him drive the car so well, Sports Sedans of that era were great until Frank came along and ruined things really!
      Where to put the 911 was an arbitrary decision by CAMS wasn’t it? Having just written a Trans-Am article the 911 was homologated or admitted as a Group 2 Touring car in 1966 or 1967- ‘ruining’ the under 2 litre class of the Trans-Am such was their speed. The trouble is they have always been a brilliant pit of packaging on road or track, I used a 3.2 Carrera as my roadie for 6 or 7 years and carted my 3 sons, small at the time admittedly, around in it, sporting gear and all…So, in looks they were a GT, in use as practical as a sedan and were homologated as such so CAMS had no reason to ‘flick em’ out of Sports Sedans other than ‘shaping’ the class they wanted…
      Mark

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