In Australia at least, there has never been anything quite like the sphincter-puckering blend of excitement and fear as a 10,000bhp grid of 20 5-litre, fuel injected, thundering V8 missiles are launched by their intrepid pilots.

Many thanks to Michael Strudwick for his photographic artistry.

Warwick Brown, Racing Team VDS Lola T430 Chev gets the jump from pole here at the Surfers Paradise, Rothmans International Series round in February 1977. Quite where Peter Gethin and Vern Schuppan – second and third on the grid – are out of shot I’m intrigued to know. John Leffler is in the white Lola T400 Chev with the partially obscured Alfredo Costanzo’s red Lola T332 Chev behind him. The white helmeted dude behind Brown is Alan Jones aboard Kevin Bartlett’s T332. The Jones boy had crashed and written-off his newish Sid Taylor-Teddy Yip Lola T332C in practice so the pair did a lease-deal to allow AJ to race KB’s car. The blue machine to the right of Jones and back is John Goss’ Matich A51/A53 Repco-Holden.

Alan Jones blasts down Surfers main straight in Kevin Bartlett’s Lola T332 Chev HU22, fifth place (M Strudwick)
Goss’ fourth placed Matich A51/A53 Repco Holden. #005 is one of the two A51s FM took to the US in 1973, and later updated by Goss and Grant O’Neill to A53 side-radiator – and the rest – specifications. This is Goss’ ’76 AGP winning chassis (M Strudwick)
Duulling T332s; great Kiwi Graeme Lawrence HU28 in blue, tenth place, and great Italian/Australian Alfie Costanzo’s ex-Bob Evans HU36 in red, DNF engine. Lola perves will note the 332C factory engine cover come air intake on Alf’s car compared with the very neat one produced by Graeme and his crew in NZ – always distinctive on this car (M Strudwick)

Brown won the race from pole, Peter Gethin’s VDS Chevron B37 Chev was second – the budget required to maintain adequate spares for two different makes within the one team doesn’t bare thinking about – then Leffler, Goss and Jones.

It was a great Rothmans International Series, the three big international Aussies at the time were Jones, Brown and Vern Schuppan, who raced a works Elfin MR8C Chev. The strongest locals were Goss, reigning Australian GP winner, the Lolas of Bartlett, Leffler, Costanzo and Max Stewart, plus John McCormack’s fast but brittle ex-F1 McLaren M23 Leyland.

Brown won two races, Surfers and the AGP at Oran Park, the opening round on February 6. Jones – on the front row alongside poleman Brown – jumped the start at Oran Park by a fortnight, so was pinged a one-minute penalty which he could not make up, so the AGP went to Brown, from Gethin, Goss, Jones and Schuppan.

Karma ruled in that WB got the AGP win he should have had in 1974 at Oran Park, and Jones got his at Calder in 1980. That day he disappeared into the distance in the Formula Libre event aboard one of his works Williams FW07 Fords.

John McCormack tips his one-of-a-kind ex-F1 McLaren M23 #2 Repco-Irving-McCormack Leyland into the harry-flatters-in-top big-balls right hander under Dunlop Bridge Last man standing in an open-face helmet at this level. The integration of the Leyland P76 aluminium V8 into the space usually occupied by a Cosworth DFV was superbly done, without butchery to the chassis. No matter what they did to that motor, new heads and all, it was always a Hail Mary jobbie by the mechanics as they waved J-Mac onto the circuit. He was 12th and last at Surfers. Still, he won the 1977 Gold Star with it (M Strudwick)
The business end of Max Stewart’s Lola T400 Chev, HU3. DNF dropped valve. MS probably won more races than anyone else on the planet in a T400, including the 1975 AGP – at Surfers – in HU2. Max got better and better as he aged, but died in this car at Calder a month later, March 16. The saddest day I’ve ever had at a race track (M Strudwick)
John Leffler in the gorgeous Grace Bros (chain of NSW department stores) liveried Lola T400 Chev HU15, third place. Won the 1976 Gold Star in it (M Strudwick)

Surfers was the second round, the circus then travelled 1,750km south to Sandown Park in Melbourne’s southern suburbs from the Gold Coast. During that week Sid Taylor brought a replacement T332 to Australia for Jones, who put it third on the grid behind Gethin and Schuppan. Brown shoved the nose of his Lola under the Dandenong Road fence during the warm-up lap, so the man in grid-slot four couldn’t take the start.

Jones jumped Gethin and Schuppan at the drop of the flag – remember those? – but one-by-one, in turn, each of Alan, Peter and Vern retired with overheating, fuel pressure and engine failure respectively. Max Stewart took a popular win from Costanzo, Garrie Cooper in the Elfin chief’s MR8C Chev, Dave Powell in the very first Matich A50 Repco-Holden and McCormack’s McLaren, seven laps adrift.

Off to Adelaide for the final round on February 27, Jones finally won the round he had been threatening to do from the off. He was awesome to watch in these cars, thrilling.

Other than those who had last seen him compete at Sandown in the 3-Hour Production Touring Car race in 1968 (second in a Holden Monaro GTS327 shared with Clive Millis), it was the first time Australian fans had the chance to see him in action. He had been paying his dues in the UK and Europe climbing the greasy-pole in the interim. As a kid, Jones was a silver-spoon-special but by the time he embarked on his racing career, father Stan’s money was long- gone. Jones did it the hard way.

Jones was on pole at Adelaide International, from Brown’s repaired Lola T430 by a half-second, and won the hot race from Brown, Goss, Gethin and Stewart.

Brown won the 1977 Rothmans International Series with 24 points from his team-mate Peter Gethin’s 15, and Alan Jones, third on 14 points.

Peter Gethin in the VDS Chevron B37 Chev #37-76-01, second place. Some of you may have seen it raced by Gethin and Pilette in the US, some by Gethin in Australia and some by Bruce Allison in Australia and in the UK in the 1977 UK Group 8 Championship. Bruce did so well that year he won the premier Grovewood Award (M Strudwick)
The one-off Jaime Gard built Gardos OR2 Repco Holden was built for Perth entrepreneur Don O’Sullivan. Here, Chev powered, it’s being fettled for Adelaide driver Chris Milton (M Strudwick)
Garrie Cooper, Elfin MR8C Chev #8761. Pretty much the equal of the best F5000s, the three MR8s were raced with success by Vern Schuppan, John Bowe, Larry Perkins and James Hunt (M Strudwick)

Formula 5000 was at a crossroads when it was shot in the head at the end of 1976 by the Americans. They wanted Can-Am type crowds, so they ditched F5000-Formula Lola and created…central-seat sportcar-Formula Lola. The Lola T332 had been the star of the show since 1974, and the T332 decked out in a less attractive frock remained the star of the show – as the T332CS/T333CS – into the late 1970’s.

Those other countries who had F5000 as a premier/key category therefore had decisions to make, car constructors would react accordingly and change their focus as the biggest market changed direction.

In our neck of the Tasman-woods the Kiwis jumped with Formula Atlantic as their national premier class, while Australia stuck with F5000 for waaaay too long. New Zealand got the very best of Formula Atlantic chassis diversity and young thruster drivers from the US and Europe, by the time Australia really committed to Formula Atlantic/Pacific, the chassis interest was gone, it had become Formula RT4 (Ralt).

Tasmanian racer David Powell aboard the very first F5000 Matich, A50 #001 Repco Holden. FM’s 1971 AGP and 1972 Gold Star winner (M Strudwick)
American racer Ed Polley’s Polley EP1 #76-13, Lola T332 copy. Polley had a background in big bore sports cars and sprint cars before graduating to F5000 in the US (M Strudwick)
Goss, A51/A53. Relatively light car, the flat plane crank Repco’s gave 520bhp without loss of their legendary flat-fat torque curve. Repco Engine Developments exited Australian motor racing in July 1974 so development of this engine, and then new Repco Leyland V8, stopped then. Phil Irving/John McCormack later evolution of the Leyland unit duly noted (M Strudwick)

Credits…

Michael Strudwick, oldracingcars.com

Tailpiece…

(M Strudwick)

Warwick Brown’s VDS Lola T430 Chev #HU2 in the Surfers Paradise pitlane.

VDS bought two new T430s for the 1976 US F5000 Championship. Brown raced this car twice in the US, then throughout the ’77 Rothmans before HU1 and HU2 were acquired by Australian Porsche importer/racer/team owner – and thoroughly great bloke – Alan Hamilton at the end of the series.

‘Hammo’ raced HU2 for the balance of 1977 and into 1978 – Derek Bell’s drive at Oran Park in the ’78 Rothmans round duly noted – until nearly killing himself in it in a high speed accident at Sandown’s Causeway during the ’78 AGP. While Hamilton survived, HU2 was broken in two.

HU1 (below) was then built up by the Porsche Cars Australia crew led by Jim Hardman, and raced by Alf Costanzo to many race wins, and one Gold Star for Hamilton (1980) in a long relationship which also achieved much success with a McLaren M26 Chev and several Tiga Formula Pacific chassis.

The Hamilton/Costanzo T430 HU1 being tended to at Calder circa 1979-80 (M Strudwick)

Lola returned to the brew which started their F5000 run of success when they married an F2 T240 chassis with a 5-litre Chev V8 and Hewland DG300 transaxle to create the T300 raced by Frank Gardner in later 1971. Gardner, then Lola’s development driver/engineer and works driver, and Lola’s Bob Marston concepted the T242 prototype, and T300 production models.

The 1976 T430 – nicknamed The Flying Bracket by VDS mechanics – was a blend of T360 Formula Atlantic chassis, 520bhp’ish 5-litre Chev and DG300.

The Americans were very attached to their T332s, even moreso after the initial lack of speed of Lola’s 1975 variable rate suspension T400, so they stuck with, or bought new T332/T332Cs rather than the T430, only three of which were sold – to VDS and Carl Haas. Lola’s T400 update kit worked, the two VDS cars were quick in Europe, as were Max Stewart’s and John Leffler’s in Australia, but the Americans weren’t convinced.

All three T430s are extant in New Zealand, where HU2 was reconstructed around its chassis plate which for many years was on the pinboard in Hamiltons’ Church Street Richmond office!

More F5000 to keep you going for an hour or so; Which was the quicker, F5000 or F1? https://primotipo.com/2020/09/15/which-was-quicker-f1-or-f5000/ the ex-Revson/Charlton John McCormack McLaren M23 Leyland https://primotipo.com/2014/07/24/macs-mclaren-peter-revson-dave-charlton-and-john-mccormacks-mclaren-m232/ Frank Matich’ A50-A53 F5000 cars https://primotipo.com/2015/09/11/frank-matich-matich-f5000-cars-etcetera/ Garrie Cooper’s Elfin MR8s https://primotipo.com/2014/10/15/james-hunt-rose-city-10000-winton-raceway-australia1978-elfin-mr8-chev/ and Vern Schuppan’s Elfin MR8 Can-Am https://primotipo.com/2018/10/02/hit-with-the-fugly-stick/ not to forget the Lola T300 https://primotipo.com/2021/05/15/angus-and-cootes-lola-t300s/. Then there is Warwick Brown https://primotipo.com/2017/03/09/wb-for-73/ and a bit on Max Stewart https://primotipo.com/2017/10/24/maxwells-silver-hammer/

Finito…

Comments
  1. Lynton Hemer says:

    I was at the Adelaide round that year.
    As the race wore on, it became very obvious just how much quicker than the rest of the field Alan Jones was.
    He began closing on WB in second place as the laps ran out, and you could feel the crowd willing him on.
    He caught him on the last lap, if I remember it correctly, and we had all seen and understood the talent he possessed.

    Cheers

    Lynton Hemer.

  2. These were such great times, cars, memories, and drivers such a shame these cars didn’t continue! The F5000’s were so good to watch but reliability was not on their side, it was always a great spectacle!

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