Spencer Martin, Holden Monaro GTS350 and Allan Moffat, Ford Falcon GTHO, Gibson/Seton left and Roddy/Carter HO’s on row 2 (autopics.com)

The full field of Series Production cars rumbles down the hill from the rise through the kink on the plunge to Dandenong Road on the warm-up lap of the 21 September 1969 Sandown ‘Datsun Three Hour’ race…

It was a Ford rout in the tribal battle between Ford and Holden on the circuits of Australia,  the Bathurst 500 was the pinnacle each year with Sandown traditionally the warm up event.

‘Big Al’ Turner tipped Harry Firth out of the role of ‘Competition Chief’ of Ford Australia who marched across town and commenced the quasi-works ‘Holden Dealer Team’ out of his famous, cramped workshops in Queens Avenue, Auburn, a twee, inner eastern Melbourne suburb.

Firth’s first race as chief was Sandown 1969 with Spencer Martin having a ‘near death experience’ after having catastrophic brake failure at the end of Sandown’s main straight right on the 46.5 minute mark of the event.

Spencer Martin exits Peters Corner on the run up Sandown’s back straight early in the Sandown race (R Coulson)

 

Martin/Bartlett Monaro GTS350 immediately after clearing the single row of Armco at the start of Pit Straight- the car ended up just off the grass on the competitor entry/exit road (R Coulson)

 

With the fire out damage to the car is not as bad as may have been expected, machine repaired and sold as a roadie (R Coulson)

This article is not a detail one to ventilate the all the circumstances of an event of considerable importance to fans of touring car racing (not me at all) but rather to put in an accessible forum a swag of photographs posted on social media recently.

Holden won the Bathurst 500 in 1968 when the first ‘Munro’- the ‘HK’ Holden Monaro GTS327 V8 driven by Bruce McPhee/Barry Mulholland beat the XT Ford Falcon GT 302cid V8’s. Turner was not mucking around though in 1969 and built one of the fastest, finest (first in a series) of Ford Falcon GTHO 351cid homologation specials. The Falcon GT was a great road car, the ‘HO’ (high output was going to upset the insurers so handling options it was) whereas the HO was an ornery, more highly track tuned beastie- so 1969 promised to be more of a fight.

Holden engaged Firth to race the new ‘HT’ Holden Monaro GTS350 but it was less competitive car than the HO which ran away into the distance at Sandown and did the same at Mount Panorama only to lose the race because of Goodyear race tyres which were unfamiliar to the drivers with the exception of the mechanically very sympathetic Allan Moffat, who had tested the tyres comprehensively…yes, I am truncating Touring Car fans.

Firth had little input into the specifications of the HT350 but Spencer Martin said of the brake failure ‘The brakes on those cars were always very skinny. Harry never told us (Martin and co-driver Kevin Bartlett) what happened but many years later Frank Lowndes, the Chief Mechanic at the Dealer Team, told me that he had taken the standard pads off the Monaro and replaced them with harder pads for practice. But one of the mechanics accidentally put the standard pads back in the box marked ‘competition pads’. The mechanics then put them back onto the car.’

Martin continues, ‘I was chasing Moffat in the 351 Falcon and was scratching just to hang on. The front pads had already worn out and the rear pads were wearing out as well. They eventually wore right down and the backing plate hit the discs, the brake fluid flashed and the brake pedal went straight into the floor.’

‘Its amazing the strength you get at moments like those. As soon as I realised what happened I put it into third gear. I did it so hard I put a gear right through the synchro. I didn’t want to go into the Armco front-on so I grabbed the umbrella handbrake and pulled it right off the dash. I managed to flick the car around and I went backwards through the Armco. The muffler went straight through the petrol tank and they had probably the biggest fire ever at Sandown.’

‘The accident concertina’d the car together jamming the door (shut) so I jumped out of the drivers window and I landed on my hands and knees. It was so hot I was certain that I was on fire. But I was taken straight to first aid to be checked out and I had no injuries.’

Spencer added, ‘When I got back to the pits Harry asked me what happened. I told him I thought i’d blown a rear cylinder. But he went and checked the car and came back and said “That’s not the reason”, in other words he thought it was my fault.’

Frying of the brakes well underway- Spencer heading towards the Peters Corner apex- the approach to Shell in the distance is where the ace pilot turned the errant car around (unattributed)

 

Turn-in to Shell, Dunlop Bridge just in shot, to the left is a full Sandown grandstand (unattributed)

 

Immediately after impact and an emergency vehicle is already on the move on the grass (R Coulson)

Despite the accident Spencer was booked to drive the car at Bathurst but was involved in a road accident whist a passenger with his brother and therefore decided to fully retire- he had given up open-wheelers having won the second of his two Gold Star Australian Drivers Championships on the trot in Bob Jane’s Brabham BT11A Climax 2.5 in late 1967.

Bartlett’s recollection is that ‘The car was a bit fresh…Harry was still experimenting with it. I was racing open-wheel cars (Brabham BT23D Alfa Romeo) at Sandown on the day so it was convenient for me to drive to give some feedback. The drive was only ever to be a one off.’

‘The failure as explained to me was in the power brake system when Spencer was driving it on the main straight…I was told it was the booster system itself- not the brake pads.’

For Firth’s part be blamed the drivers, ruminating that he had been told (by GMH) to use ‘racing drivers’ (single-seater racers rather than touring car specialists) claiming to have been doing 3-4 seconds a lap quicker than Bartlett with less stress on the car ‘…revved the engine to 5500rpm plus disregarding the fact that the torque curve was 2000-4500rpm…”

Damage to the Armco clear- double row by the time I was racing a decade later- and hit it in my FV after becoming part of someone else’s moment (R Coulson)

 

Spencer is already out and no doubt en-route to the medicos (R Coulson)

Harry was still current as a driver in 1969, he had raced Lotus Cortina’s for Allan Moffat in the US in late 1967 but I am inclined to believe Martin and Lowndes version of events rather than Firth’s who, if Lowndes is to be believed, and I see no reason not to, involved a preparation mistake on his watch whatever else went wrong with the brake booster. Having said that Spencer would have been well aware his brakes were ‘fried’- look at the photos which show plenty of evidence of stress before the prang.

The other point to be made is that both Martin and Bartlett were highly experienced touring car racers- Martin jumped into David McKay’s Brabhams after dominance in ‘Humpy’ Holdens and Bartlett had been in and out of ‘taxis’ since first racing his mothers Morris Minor at Mount Panorama in 1959- KB was fourth at Bathurst in 1968 sharing an Alec Mildren Alfa 1750GTV with Doug Chivas, whilst Martin raced a factory Falcon GT Auto with Jim McKeown- Firth’s attempt to disregard the duo’s knowledge and experience of these types of cars is self-serving.

Hors d’ combat, The General needed to get their shit together between 21 September and Bathurst on 5 October, Firth picks up the story ‘There was consternation in the GM camp, a witch-hunt ensued. I said stuff all this, now give me the engines, come to Calder mid-week, take the dust shields off (the rotors) and put back the (1968) slotted wheels. We fitted a front spoiler with air slots and we cut away the panels behind the front bumpers for more airflow so the car would survive Bathurst…The Bathurst race is history. We came first, third and sixth’ aided and abetted by Goodyear racing tyres only Allan Moffat made last, the precautionary pitstop his team required of him cost the Big Henry’s a race they rather deserved…

Or did they!?

Tony Roberts in the winning Holden Monaro GTS350 he shared with Colin Bond to a Bathurst win in 1969- and again below (unattributed)

 

(T Hines)

 

Bathurst 500 1969- the winning Bond/Roberts Monaro chases the third placed Peter Brock/Des West sister HDT car and the Roy Griffiths/Glynn Scott GTHO (unattributed)

The Datsun 3 Hour was won by the Allan Moffat/John French works GTHO from the similar cars of Tom Roddy/Murray Carter and Fred Gibson/Barry Seton.

The barbecued Monaro Sandown car was repaired and sold and still exists, a wonderful reminder of the period and the perils of racing these ‘safer’ cars than the single-seaters from whence Spencer had mainly come…

Credits…

Robert Coulson Collection, autopics.com, Terry Hines, Unique Cars August 2016 article by David Dowsey

Tailpiece…

(D Blanch/autopics)

Allan Moffat in the winning works Ford Falcon GTHO exiting Peters Corner for the run up Sandown’s back straight during the 1969 3 Hour- these works cars were magnificent in red (Vermillion Fire?), never could understand why they went to two-tone boring white/blue in 1973.

Finito…

Comments
  1. Wayne Giles says:

    Photo 4 – I remember that incident so well. There I am standing proudly in my Fastman jacket ensuring the scene is under control. 1969 was my first year as a fully fledged official.

  2. David Andersen says:

    The factory works Falcon were finished in BRAMBLES RED.

    • markbisset says:

      Thanks David,
      What a great colour it was!
      Mark

      • prn31 says:

        Hi Mark

        My understanding of what happened at Sandown is a little different to what you have written.
        Let me quote from my profile of Spencer Martin in AMC # 104 back in 2018.

        “Martin thought that it may have popped a rear brake-cylinder, but Firth found the singed Monaro had a pedal, ruling out a leak and pinning the blame on the driver in Firth’s familiar ‘you’re a naughty schoolboy’ manner.

        It wasn’t until 20 years later that the real reason emerged. HDT mechanic at the time Frank Lowndes (father of Craig) admitted that after the race pads were bedded in during practice, road pads were fitted so that the Monaro could be driven home overnight. However Lowndes failed to swap the pads before the race and the road pads soon wore down to the metal – with catastrophic results.”

        I actually thought Lowndes fessed up more recently. Spencer also said he was teamed up with Tony Roberts for Bathurst, but the entry list said Henk Woelders. Harry Firth might have gone on about single seater racing drivers, but he employed Spencer at Ford (in 68) and then at HDT Holden in 69 – I think he knew just how good Spencer was.

        Also Spencer didn’t retired at the end of 1969. He raced the ex-Bill Turkey Boyded Monaro at Oran Park in 1970 and backed it up by racing a Boyded LC Torana GTR XU-1 at Bathurst with his cousin Bob Martin.

        I think that after 1970 the phone stopped ringing and Spencer became busier with his business and family life and forgot about racing.

        Paul

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