Posts Tagged ‘Harry Firth’

(unattributed)

The inaugural Southern Cross Rally held from October 6th to 9th 1966 brought international rallying to Australia and attracted European stars Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen both of whom ran Morris Cooper S…

The event covered 4,000 km and ran from Sydney to Melbourne and return- Roselands Shopping Centre was the end point 17 km from Sydney’s CBD.

The Barry Ferguson/Tony Denham VW Beetle 1600 took the lead on the second night and set a fast pace until an exchange with a tree ended their great run 360 km from Sydney, this allowed the works Harry Firth/Graham Hoinville Cortina GT to win from the Greg Garard/Frank Goulburn Holden HR and Ian and Roger Vaughan Cortina GT in third place.

The opening photograph was taken at Huthwaite’s Shell Service Station in Edward Street Wagga Wagga- isn’t it a beauty?, but its also a mystery as to the crew. #2 is not on the entry list below nor does it appear to be a ‘missing number’ GT but rather a poverty pack Cortina of some sort- ideas folks?! https://southerncrossrally.blogspot.com/2019/07/1966-entries.html

(SCB)

The Firth/Hoinville Cortina takes centre stage alongside the #15 Garard/Goulburn Holden HR X2 and #17 Vaughan Brothers Cortina GT at Roselands.

The HR to the left behind is the Reg Lunn/Geoff Thomas ‘Dustings of Burwood’ (Melbourne) entry and the #14 Max Winkless/A Smith Volvo 122S to the right- rear centre is the distinctive Alec Mildren entered Alfa Romeo Giulia Super run by the versatile Doug Chivas and Lindsay Adcock.

(SCB)

Rauno Aaltonen and Roy Denny during the night on day 3 north at Cooma in the New South Wales sub-Alpine country. Click here for the full story of this event on the marvellous Southern Cross Rally website; https://southerncrossrally.blogspot.com/2016/03/1966-story.html

On balance Rauno had a pretty good month in Australia, whilst ‘in town’ he took in the 2 October Bathurst 500 enduro sharing a car with Bob Holden to an historic win in front of eight other Cooper S’!- they were a lap clear of the Fred Gibson/Bill Stanley and Bruce McPhee/Barry Mulholland machines.

 

(S Charlton)

The upper photograph is Rauno on his own at Mount Panorama, the lower one is Aaltonen chasing the BMC works Cooper S #28 of Paddy Hopkirk and Brian Foley, DNF after 28 laps.

Etcetera: Firth/Hoinville works Ford Cortina Mk1 GT…

Firth’s car was one of the 110 GT500s Harry and his crew in Queens Avenue, Auburn built prior to the 1965 Bathurst 500- this run of cars was a very successful ‘homologation special’ with Bo Seton and Midge Boswell winning the classic that year.

Whilst the Melbourne pairing of good friends and great engineers were lucky to benefit from Ferguson’s misfortune in the Southern Cross, so that is almost always the case- the ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’ adage holds good.

Meritorious was that Harry had competed in the Bathurst 500 together with quite a few other ‘Cross runners the week before and immediately prior to that had returned from the US where he contested two Trans-Am rounds- on 10 September, the Green Valley 6 Hour for ninth place and 18 September Riverside 4 hours- seventh in a Lotus Cortina with Allan Moffat- Moff ran selected rounds of the series that year amongst his primary program the ‘1966 Central Division (Cendiv) Touring Car Series starting in May in the American Midwest.

Moffat said of Firth in his autobiography written with John Smailes ‘Harry Firth was fantastic. The race was half day, half night and, when darkness fell, he drove like the rally star he was. He pulled back four of the six laps i’d lost and brought us up to second in class behind Kwech’s Alfa. Then a throttle cable fell off and he dropped another six laps and had to start again. This time he got into ‘man possessed’ mode. On a track with questionable grip, in the pitch dark, he set a new under 2 litre lap record. We finished fourth in class and ninth outright. Ray Parsons with Jon Leighton was third in class and seventh outright.’

A week later the team were 2,200 km away in Riverside, again Moffat sang Harry’s praises- ‘…Harry surprised us again. He removed the cylinder heads from both our cars and took them to a local machine shop where he performed some magic. Its not that I didn’t want the details but Harry wasn’t called The Fox for nothing. All I needed to know was that the work was legal and quicker. He assured me it was. Harry came down with the flu that weekend so I dove solo. My job, if I could, was to spoil Horst Kwech. For four hours we raced like crazy for second in class, while Frank Gardner sprinted ahead to score Alan Mann’s only victory of the series’ John Smailes recorded.

The Bo Seton/Midge Bosworth Ford Cortina GT500 en-route to Bathurst victory in 1965

 

‘The Canberra Times’ 11 October 1966

The piece above is interesting- Harry was multi-talented as all you Australian enthusiasts well know.
He was a great preparer/builder of race and rally cars, an elite level rally and production-sedan driver not to forget his abilities to develop competitive performance car packages with manufacturers (Ford and Holden). After his own driving career he was a great talent spotter (mind you he nurtured talent whilst still driving too) and team manager of people, budgets, builds and race-day strategy- he schmoozed sponsors and manufacturers as well.

He really was rather an amazing hombre, consistent with Ken Blair’s thesis in the article above Harry also won the first Australian Rally Championship in 1968 in either/and/or a Lotus Cortina Mk2/Cortina Mk2 supercharged- perhaps one of you rally nutters can set me straight- he was fifty then by the way.

Credits…

‘SCB’- southerncrossrally.blogspot.com, Getty Images, Stuart Charlton, ‘Allan Moffat: Climbing The Mountain’ Allan Moffat with John Smailes

Tailpiece…

(FoMoCo)

GT500 out front of Ford’s Australian headquarters on the Hume Highway, Broadmeadows in 1965, I wonder if JFF-368 was the factory press car, and whether it still exists.

Finito…

(B Miles)

Edsel Falconer during the first race outing of a Ford Falcon in Australia- Middle Ridge, Toowoomba, Queensland, during the annual ‘Carnival of Flowers’ weekend, 17 September 1960…

This road circuit through the suburbs of Toowoomba was used in 1958, 1960 and 1961 once a year during a local carnival weekend through the beautiful rolling countryside of Queensland’s Darling Downs district.

Whilst researching his book ‘The Toowoomba Auto Club:1950-1965’ author John Evans was able to re-write history by showing that the first Falcon to race was that of Falconer- son of the Dealer Principal of the Toowoomba Ford Dealership of the same name on 17 September rather than as has hitherto been the orthodoxy- the Falcon XK raced by Bob Jane and Lou Molina to third in Class D of the 1960 Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island on 20 November 1960. Edsel placed fourth in the Saloon Car Handicap at Middle Ridge, two places ahead of Bill Pitt’s Jaguar, I wonder who won?

Whilst Edsel Falconer may seem a cute ‘Ford’ nom de guerre in fact it is all kosher- Hugh Falconer started the family business in 1919 with Ford, Fiat and Hupmobile agencies and became an official Ford dealership in 1925- Edsel, one of his sons became the Dealer Principal during the 1960s, the family sold the business circa 1980.

A cursory Trove search doesn’t tell us too much about Edsel ‘a well known Toowoomba motorist’ but there are some references in late 1953 of him rallying/trialling a Ford Customline and plenty in the Brisbane Telegraph and Courier Mail social notes of the many weddings attended and family holidays to Surfers Paradise and other such exotic places. It does not seem that Edsel was one of the regular racers in the area, all information will be gratefully received inclusive of how Edsel’s XK performed at Middle Ridge.

In an address to the Toowoomba Rotarians on 14 November 1955, reported in the St George Shire ‘Balonne Beacon’, Edsel, back from a stint at a ‘Ford Motor School’ in Detroit advised his fellow Queenslanders that ‘Australian’s standards of living, ethics and morals were higher than those of Americans…Americans were earning more and spending more than Australians but as far as getting the joy out of living was concerned, Australians were better off.’

In a note of encouragement to the assembled masses he said that ‘Australia could learn a lot from Americans. Americans would not accept anything but the best quality, and they took every measure to ensure they produced the best possible. There were many leads that could be taken from the Americans’ he said ‘One of the main being to “get up and do things”. I always get a giggle of ‘insights’ after a weeks stay in a place, but today’s smart arse prism is not the way to view things 65 years hence. Edsel was a noted and respected pillar of his local community is the point to be taken.

An immaculate period dull-green Falcon XK has moved into my street recently- it’s a young groovster’s daily driver, it lives on the street at the mercy of all of the local Braille-Parking-Mob mind you- this attractive car got me thinking about Ford Australia’s first manufacturing efforts and early Falcon competition exploits.

Ford Australia was incorporated in 1925, its operations based in the Victorian port city of Geelong, the suburb of Norlane to be precise. For the ensuing decades FoMoCo Oz assembled cars locally from CKD packs- ‘completely knocked down’ Model T’s were first, they were initially chucked together on an improvised production line in a disused wool storage warehouse before Norlane was finished. As the latest Fords were built, so local assembly followed and in many cases local bodies were fitted.

The plant was devoted to wartime production and post-war assembled UK sourced Pilots, the Prefect, Anglia, Consul, Zephyr and Zodiac.

In the mid-fifties Ford decided to build cars in Australia and acquired land at Campbellfield on Melbourne’s outskirts. In the same way that generations of Victorians drove past Ford’s Geelong plant, generations of Australians drove past Campbellfield or more colloquially Broadmeadows as the Ford factory- when built the largest automotive plant in the Southern Hemisphere, was on the Hume Highway- the main drag between Melbourne and Sydney.

The ‘contest’ between which bigger Ford would be adapted to local production was won in favour of the US Falcon rather than the UK Zephyr Mk2 when Oz Ford Chief Charlie Smith and some of his senior executives saw the proposed new Falcon on a trip through Dearborn in late 1958.

In period FoMoCo advertising art of the XK Falcon

 

Ford Broadmeadows, Oz built car #1 – VIN# folks?

Without doubt they made the right choice- the Falcon was light-years ahead in appearance over the then Holdens, whose underpinnings went back to those of the 48-215 and the Zephyr, but whilst the Falcon XK- first car built on 28 June 1960 and on sale from 11 September that year looked the goods on paper ‘The Falcon was designed without any consideration whatsoever of Australia’s demanding conditions’ wrote Dr John Wright and Dave Morley.

The call to build the Falcon was a late one and meant the US car did not have the local design input/testing to adapt it to the very tough extremes of local conditions and very quickly support from private and fleet buyers plummeted because of problems with front ball joints which failed without leaving suburbia, rust, transmission and other weaknesses.

68,413 of the XK model were sold between 1960 and 1962 with the XL, released on 4 August 1962 incorporating a new three speed manual gearbox and clutch, a better starter motor and changes to the front sheet-metal to strengthen the front suspension mounts.

Whilst objectively the durability of the Falcon was not a real issue after the XM (released 20 February 1964) nor a perceived one after the XP (released 20 February 1965) the reputational damage in 1960-1961 was such that the competition program had a big part to play in both proving the performance and strength of the big Fords and to provide the production engineers with feedback they could incorporate into future models or routine running production line changes.

In late 1960 two privately entered Falcon XK’s contested the first Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island- on 20 November, a couple of months after Falconer’s Middle Ridge race.

Bob Jane and renowned Melbourne racer/hotelier/restautanteur/raconteur Lou Molina shared one entered by Jane’s ‘Autoland’ dealership with another raced by the equally experienced and credentialed Ron Phillips and Ern Seeliger. Jane and Molina were third in Class D with 161 completed laps despite Lou rolling the car! The first in that class and ‘first outright’ was the John Roxburgh/Frank Coad crewed Vauxhall Cresta with another pair of coming stars- John French and Norm Beechey aboard a Standard Vanguard second in class D. The other XK of Phillips and Seeliger were out early in the race with an overheating engine.

 

Now back on four wheels, the boys set Lou Molina back towards the Pits whilst the restauranteur contemplates a line of patter for car owner and co-driver RF Jane Esq, waiting to greet him. P Island 500 1960, Falcon XK

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/

Whether Firth was engaged by Ford prior to the first rally contested by the new Falcon- the 1961 BP Rally centred in the Victorian Alps is unclear but four Falcons and six Anglia 105E’s entered the Light Car Club of Australia’s annual classic event. Amongst Harry’s competition activities at the time Les Powell and Max Ward approached him were race and rallying a Ford Anglia. ‘Unofficially this (’61 BP Rally) was the beginning of Ford’s participation in rallying at a factory level, a participation which was to continue spasmodically for over four decades’ Rallysport Magazine wrote.

The Falcons went very well too- Jack Ellis was second, Ken Harper thirteenth, Doug Hughes nineteenth and Jack Nalder twenty-ninth, on top of that Peter Coffey’s Anglia was third outright.

Powell then threw Firth in at the deep end- the nascent subsidiary of Ford’s Global Empire had decided to have a crack at the East African Safari with no less than five Falcons to be prepared, run and crewed out of Firth’s modest Queens Avenue, Auburn, Melbourne ‘Temple of Speed’.

The whole of the East African Safari Rally 3000 mile route was (and is) run on public roads and involved two legs separated by a 24 hour break out of Nairobi, the start and finishing point. The North Leg took in North Kenya and Uganda whilst the South bit went around South Kenya and Tanzania. The Safari took place over Easter, a time when the rainy-season gets underway with the main cause of retirement usually an abundance of Murrum mud- when dry this brown earth is hard, dusty and bumpy and incredible muddy and sticky when wet.

Given the challenge Harry didn’t think much of the equipment at all.

‘Ford wanted to get into competition to prove its car, the Falcon was capable of handling it…But that first XK Falcon – 144 cubic inch (2.4 litre 90bhp) engine, three speed gearbox was really a terrible car. You could do very little with the engine, the body flexed heavily and it had sloppy springs- all you could do was just set the Armstrong shockers rock-hard. The brakes were just adequate with race linings and the front hubs broke under race conditions. The steering had 5.5 turns lock to lock- just impossible for racing conditions.’

‘We made and tested the five Falcons and sent them off to Africa. We fixed the hubs, made stronger wheels and did some work on the axle shafts and the gearbox. Even then the cars were very fragile. It was the worst type of car you could take to an event like that. We had to virtually carry them around on our backs. We said to ourselves “we’re not going to break it”- if we think its too hard on the car then we’ll back off.’

The five cars were crewed by the following pairings; Harry Firth /Graham Hoinville, Ken Harper/Les Scott, Jack Ellis/Mal McPherson, Doug Hughes/Rex Lewis, Geoff Russell/Dick Collinwood.

Harper/Scott XK Falcon during the Safari, place unknown (unattributed)

 

Before the off at Nairobi- one of the XK Falcons in shot (unattributed)

 

Harper/Scott at roadside, whilst the styling may be pedestrian now it was edgy in period (M Tufte)

Before the rally, the complete route was surveyed using rented Ford Zephyrs, the rally cars having not yet landed from Australia.

All of the cars faced problems of course, first-timers as they were but the Firth/Hoinville combination ran as high as eighth before a rear spring broke dropping them to sixteenth with Ken Harper/Les Scott also finishers but they ran out of late time.

Firth was later quoted as saying that had the car been fitted with the optional 170cid engine and Armstrong shockers (the earlier quote implies they were fitted) ‘we’d have won’ and ‘Graham Hoinville and I were placed seventh only 300 miles from the finish when we broke a main rear spring plate in a competitive section. That dropped us back to 16th but we still finished 25 minutes ahead on the English factory Fords.’

‘The way the cars performed earned me a contract with Ford for competition. This was really the start of my association with Ford and the first step into The Big Time- although I was still doing work for others’ Firth was quoted in an Australian Muscle Car magazine piece on the East African Safari.

Winners of the tough event were the Tommy Fjastad/Bernhard Schmider VW 1200- Ford Australia were pipped in the Australian race-within-a-race in that a locally entered Holden EK driven by HS Sembi/C Mehta finished fourteenth.

In fact the Aussies blazed the trail for the Falcon as a rally machine- within six months Detroit announced that they would mount a three car campaign in the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally- Bo Ljungfeldt finished second in an American spec V8 engined two-door Falcon Futura.

Ford Australia were enthusiastic rally competitors for the ensuing early years mainly contesting events in New South Wales and Victoria, the first Australian Rally Championship was not held until 1968- Harry Firth won it in a Lotus Cortina Mk2 (or supercharged Cortina Mk2 or both cars depending upon the reference source) with Graham Hoinville alongside, as usual,

Harry Firth ‘splashing through a wet patch on the track in the Alps…on its way to the Knocker Track, a ten mile stretch of boulder-strewn track which runs down the mountain between Glen Wills and Omeo in Victoria. Used nearly a century ago as a bullock track it has never been used by cars until its inclusion on the route of the BP Rally 1-5 May 1963’

Firth’s Falcon won the May 1963 BP Rally ‘Australias toughest reliability event’ over 2000 miles and in a great weekend Ford won three of the event’s four classes. Using the same car, Frank Kilfoyle partnered by Michael Flanagan won the Melbourne University Car Club’s July 1963 Akademos Trial and a couple of weeks later the Experts Reliability Trial.

Earlier in the year- March, Ford attacked the Begonia Rally, based in the Central Victorian town of Ballarat, with a team of three Cortinas, two Falcons and a 105E Anglia. RallySport wrote in relation to the Cortinas, that ‘Ever on the ball, Firth got the jump on the rest of the world by sourcing a pair of the soon to be released 1500cc motors, six months before official release and fitted them to his own car and that of Geoff Russell’, the cars took the first two placings ‘stunning the rest of the field with their performance. Ford virtually had a car for any occasion- the Cortinas won, Falcons and Anglias filled major placings, and their were five Fords in the top ten and 10 in the first sixteen.’

In 1964 Ford were again successful in the BP Rally when the Ford Falcon driven by Ken Harper/Michael Flanagan triumphed over a big field which included the Firth driven Ford Cortina GT which won the 1963 Bathurst 500 in the hands of Bob Jane and Harry- Firth was fifth outright and second in class after a number of penalties.

At the end of 1962 Firth advised Ford that the Falcon had no hope of winning the new ‘Bathurst 500’  but that they had a ‘ready made’ winner in the Cortina GT. The race had been transferred to the great Mount Panorama track after the Phillip Island surface was destroyed to such an extent that the Phillip Island Auto Racing Club could not afford to repair it. Help arrived in the form of Len Lukey to get the Island re-opened when the club sold the place, but lets not chase that tangent and go back to look at the circuit racing of 1961-1962 where we started, before we headed off to rallying.

Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville in the winning 1964 Ampol Trial Cortina GT- looking like a couple of country squires with their flat-caps, its cold out there (unattributed)

 

Bob Jane and Harry Firth with the 1962 Phillip Island 500 winning Ford Falcon XL. ACL is ‘Automotive Components Ltd’ then a Repco subsidiary making rings, bearings etc

 

The Harper/Fisher/Raeburn Falcon XK during the 1962 Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island – great value @ 1065 pounds!

The 1961 Armstrong 500 (as in shock absorbers) was held on 19 November 1961 and was a much smaller affair- 26 cars entered rather than the 45 contestants in 1960 as a consequence of the ‘1961 Credit Squeeze’.

The Australian Government ended import licensing in February 1960 causing the balance of payments crisis predicted by Treasury, in November 1960 Prime Minister Menzies increased sales tax and imposed credit restrictions to bring the economy back into balance causing a credit squeeze and minor recession. The economy stopped abruptly, consumers reacted accordingly and popped their wallets away with plenty of consequences across our society not least in the motor industry when plenty of highly geared businesses ‘went to the wall’ as new and used car sales plummeted. Entries, back on point (!) in the 1961 500 reflected all of this- I did an Economics degree eons ago so this shit interests me. sadly…

Bob Jane had Harry Firth preparing both his Maserati 300S sportscar and Jaguar Mk2 Appendix J tourer at the time, they decided upon a Mercedes Benz 220SE as their weapon of choice for the 1961 Armstrong and with a typically fast, disciplined drive ‘won’ the race completing 167 laps- they were first in Class B and ‘first outright’. Note that the first outright notion was not officially recognised until 1965- until that point, officially at least, the first five 500 mile races at the Island and Bathurst had awards for each class winners.

Only one Falcon XK was entered that year and is described in some sources as a ‘pseudo works entry’- it was actually entered by Ken Harper and co-driven by Syd Fisher and John Raeburn all of whom were or would become ‘Ford works drivers’ in the coming years. It would be interesting to know who prepared this Falcon, presumably Firth.

There was a great class battle between the Ford and an EK Holden crewed by Ian Strachan and John Lanyon (of PIARC and Ansett Team Elfin fame) and entered by Stan Jones Motors Pty Ltd (I wonder why Stanley did not drive- maybe these dull ‘Taxis’ were not his cup of tea?!) – the Holden led until it lost a wheel and was later disqualified because the team cannibalised another car for a wheel rather than use an item from their pit supplies as required by the supplementary regulations- the XK Falcon was second in Class B and seventh ‘outright’.

Despite the depressed state of the Australian economy and the ‘own goals’ Ford Australia faced they pressed on with their motorsport program for 1962 in an ongoing effort to build the Ford brand in Australia.

Sunlight ahead included the XL Falcon due for release on August 4 which (as stated earlier) incorporated changes to the gearbox and clutch and to the front structure of the car which would make it torsionally a bit stiffer and a more powerful ‘Pursuit’ 170cid or 2.8 litre 101bhp six-cylinder OHV engine. In addition the Cortina would soon appear which remained a small car or mid-size hit on the local sales charts until Mazda, Toyota and Datsun progressively gained traction from the mid-sixties.

Whilst the rallying program continued, Ford planned to race a new XL in the 500 at the Island on 21 October and in addition decided, wisely, to contest the ‘Bathurst Six Hour Classic’ to be held only three weeks before on 30 September 1962- the catch was that Ford didn’t want to race the XL at Mount Panorama so Firth set about preparing an XK Falcon for the race which attracted 49 cars across six price based classes or ‘divisions’ ranging from under 900 pounds (Morris 850, Ford Anglia, Datsun Bluebird etc) to under 2000 pounds (Daimler SP 250, Triumph TR4 and MGA twin-cam).

Firth takes up the story in terms of car preparation ‘Having not been to Bathurst for some years, I had to rely on hearsay information like “no, it is not hard on brakes and the circuit has not changed”. I did all the usual things such as a valve grind, compression check, set the camshaft properly, gave the pistons plenty of clearance, deck-heighted the head and put the engine on the dyno.’

‘I fitted a set of heavy Armstrong shockers and some well-worn springs. I made up some Ferodo brake shoes but ended up leaving them at home, thinking they wouldn’t be needed. I drove the car to Bathurst myself. Practice proved two things: the car was the fastest sedan and the brakes were not good enough.’

Jane/Firth Falcon XK being followed by the K John/Peter Caldecoat MGA 1600 DNF- Bathurst 6 Hour 1962

 

Just needs a turret I guess…Firth’s rooted Falcon XK at Bathurst in 1962 (Shannons)

Whilst there was no outright winner of the race (consistent with the line to that effect earlier) up front the Brothers Geoghegan- Leo and Ian rumbled around in their Daimler SP250 V8 to finish first ‘outright’ with 104 laps completed, meanwhile trouble brewed for the Jane/Firth combination in the under 1250 pound Division C inhabited by a Morris Cooper, two Austin Freeways, two Holdens (model unknown), a Peugeot 403 and the works XK Falcon.

The two wily Melbourne racers led their class early, but the brakes were progressively showing plenty of signs of stress with the pedal creeping inexorably closer to the floor- Harry took over from Bob after a scheduled stop and then on lap 39 ‘As he braked for Hell Corner, the fronts suddenly over-energised and locked on, the nose dug in and the car rolled’ the roof was crushed making the machine as ‘flat as a shit-carters hat’- Harry was extremely lucky he was not badly hurt- the car had no roll bar or cage of course, the racer exited via a rear window as fuel spilt over the tarmac, but did not ignite.

‘Our race was over…I just kept thinking about the special brake linings I left at home and the lesson i’d just learned that you should never listen to “experts”. All of which, I reckon is a load of crap- Firth knew full well Bathurst hadn’t changed since he last been there and if he had the trick Ferodo brake shoes sitting in Queens Avenue in Melbourne he would have taken them with him…the mistake was his not ‘the experts’- he was the expert for chrissakes. Bob Jane had raced his Maserati 300S in the October 1961 Bathurst meeting, no doubt Harry had plenty of intell from Jane to say the Mount Panorama challenge had remained undiminished since 1938…

For the record, Division C was won by the Bruce McPhee/Barry Mulholland (the 1968 Bathurst 500 winning duo of course) Morris Cooper with 95 laps from the two Austin Freeways whilst second and third outright behind the Geoghegans were the C Lansdowne/Holt Binnie Triumph TR4 on 100 laps and Don Algie/Kingsley Hibbard Studebaker Lark with 99 completed laps.

Upon return from Bathurst Firth completed his preparation of the new XL Falcon Pursuit which was a much more competitive proposition in the price based class structure than its predecessor, the machine was ‘The model as supplied to the police- larger engine, better wheels, otherwise the same as the standard 144’ the body was a lot better ‘So it was vastly improved but still not very good.’

Bob I think- 1962 PI 500, Falcon XL heading past a copse of trees on the run towards Lukey Heights (autopics.com)

 

1962 P Is 500, Le Mans start, the Class B group from left to right- #27 Lott Falcon, #26 Callaway Falcon, the #24 Lex Davison/John Brindley/Phil Trueman Austin Freeway, # 25, #20 and #21 Falcons of Caelli, Harper and Firth respectively (unattributed)

 

Firth/Jane during the ’62 500 and going inside Doug Whiteford/Lou Molina VW1200, a couple of aces, Whiteford thrice AGP winner the -extent of damage to the track surface clear

The race turned out to be the last ‘500’ at the Island such was the state of the circuit at the end of the weekend, the poorly maintained ‘patchwork quilt’ surface took an extra battering due to the large entry of cars and private practice in the week leading up to the race.

The Oz economy had turned to the extent that 42 cars took the start including eight in Class B for cars priced under 1250 pounds including five Falcon XL’s two of which were Ford’s first official works entries crewed by Firth/Jane and Harper/Raeburn/Fisher. In addition privateer entries were raced by Alan Caelli/J Edwards/John Bodinar, John Callaway/Frank Porter/Jim Smith and Kevin Lott/Tom Roddy/Brian Devin. In a race when nothing less than victory would do, Ford also entered a Zephyr Mk3 in Class A (cars less than 2000 pounds) which was driven by Geoff Russell/David Anderson- class winners in the two previous Island 500 contests.

Drama was provided for Firth on either the Thursday or Friday (again accounts differ) when he rolled the car on the perilous surface and had to be taken back to Auburn to be re-shelled overnight! In the event, much more competitive than the two previous years, the Fords rumbled around with great speed and regularity to finish first to fourth in Class B and 1-3-4-6 outright- the Firth car won from the Harper, Caelli and Callaway Falcons.

Somewhat ironically the only spanner in the works could have been provided by the works Zephyr (different class of course) which was of a much nicer, higher specification (power, four speed ‘box, front disc brakes) and potentially the winner but for bonnet latches failing and losing that crew many laps, ultimately a combination of tape and ropes did the trick but not before vast slabs of time were lost. Perhaps Karma kicked in though as Ford needed an emphatic Falcon win so they could ‘promote the shitter out of’ which they duly achieved, and that is what transpired.

From that point Ford’s race competition focus for the next couple of years was on the Cortina GT (1964 Bathurst win to Jane/George Reynolds) and Harry’s ‘homologation special’ Mk1 GT500 (1965 Bathurst win in the hands of Bo Seton/Midge Boswell) before FoMoCo factory missed the 1966 race and returned with a Falcon vengeance from 1967 with Australia’s own first Pony-Car the V8 XR Falcon GT which won at the Mountain in the hands of, you guessed it, Harry Firth and Fred Gibson. This period are stories for other times.

Lets not forget where it all started though- the very basic 144cid, OHV, single carb straight-six, drum braked, 5.5 turns lock to lock, wheezy, floppy XK Falcon the development wrongs of which nearly beached the company before it got outta the water to muddle the metaphors…

Firth teamed up with John Raeburn in the Falcon-Mobil Reliability Run, this red XP Hardtop was fitted with 200cid six ‘Super Pursuit’ engine- car severely damaged by another driver late in the run but was patched up and was still running at the finish (FoMoCo)

Afterthought…

As you Ford buffs well and truly know the blue oval boys were not out of the financial woods in Australia until after the legendary 70,000 mile nine day late April 1965 ‘Falcon-Mobil’ Reliability Run.

This high-speed, ‘big-balls’, all or nothing endurance test idea of new Sales and Marketing Manager and later CEO Bill Bourke involving a veritable football-team of drivers and six XP Falcons (five and a spare) of varying specifications all of which was managed by Les Powell and brought together by the Firth Emporium in Auburn.

It too, is a story for another time, the scene, Ford’s You-Yangs Proving Grounds, 50 km south-west of Melbourne.

All observers noted just how tough the You Yangs course was- the 1 in 4 hill was the trickiest bit at night and at sunset in particular. The climb was started at 80mph and crested at circa 65mph turning sharpish left (FoMoCo)

Wheels magazine said an ‘…average of 72mph on a dreadfully difficult circuit which makes Lakeside look like a roller skating rink’ was a considerable achievement.

The cars were prepared, as noted, by Firth, an army of mechanics were marshalled by John Sheppard (then with the Geoghegan Brothers) and the huge roster of drivers included Harry Firth, John Raeburn, Pete Geoghegan, Kevin Bartlett, Fred Gibson, Bo Seton, Bruce McPhee, Barry Arentz, John Roxburgh, Allan Moffat, Max Volkers, Brian ‘Brique’ Reed, Bill McLachlan, Clive Millis, Max Stahl and many others- Ford called for reinforcements during the nine-day run, the challenge of the course meant driver rotations needed to be relatively short- lets see if we can create a complete list of the steerers folks…

(unattributed)

What next chief? seems to be the communal stance!

 

Etcetera…

 

Ford went into print bigtime after the April 1965 Endurance Run which grabbed heaps of media coverage for a week whilst being run (FoMoCo)

 

Western Herald, Bourke 16 February 1962

Even though this ‘Australia taking on the world’ pursuit must have been a reasonably big deal at the time there seems to have been minimal press about it- a pity as the detail about the destiny of each Falcon in the event would be interesting to know.

 

 

(unattributed)

The Ken Harper/Les Scott XK sets off on an amazing East African adventure.

 

(unattributed)

The Geoff Russell/Dick Collinwood XK and what is probably a reasonable representation of the primary colour of the Murran clay roads of East Africa- car looks ok in this shot to the extent that we can see it but was a DNF.

 

The Firth/Hoinville Falcon XK cruising through the streets of  Nairobi on the way to the serious stuff.

Bibliography…

‘Ford’s Australian Rally History’ in RallySport September 2020, Australian Muscle Car magazine, Wheels July 1965, ‘Shannons’ Falcon XK article by Mark Oastler, ‘Balonne Beacon’ 24 November 1955, various newspapers via Trove

Photo Credits…

Bill Miles via Quentin Miles, Mark Tufte, autopics.com, Bruce Wells, Ian K, Shannons

Tailpiece…

(B Wells)

Firth/Jane Falcon XK on the exit of Hell Corner for the run up Mountain Straight during the 1962 Bathurst 6 Hour Classic- the look of these Series Production cars of the period is only ruined by shitty steel wheels- handsome car.

Finito…

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…

Colin Bond in the Holden Dealer Team’s ‘new’ LC Holden Torana GTR XU1 V8 during the Easter Bathurst meeting in 1972…

New in the sense that this ‘cleverly disguised’, pensioned off 1970/71 Series Production V8 re-engined car fitted with rear wing, wide wheels was a ‘sleeper’- the prototype of the General’s (General Motors Holden) proposed ‘308 V8’ powered 160 mph 1972 Series Production Bathurst contender, make that winner.

The machine also featured widened 6X13 inch steel wheels and a full-width front spoiler incorporating brake ducts intended for the road-going variant.

During the weekend the V8 bullet was demonstrably quicker than the normal LJ 202 cid Series Production XU1’s winning the 5 lap Touring & Sports Closed Scratch Race from Ron Gillard’s XU1 and Graham Ryan’s Charger.

Bondy was a bit lucky as Bob Jane’s ‘full blown’ Torana V8 4.4 Repco ‘620’ Sports Sedan blasted away to an early lead only to slow, pit and rejoin the race back in 11th. But a win is a win, the only one for the car. Bond did a best lap of 2:39.6 to win, in comparison, he did a 2:43.9 in his Series Production LJXU1 to win the ‘Better Brakes’ Series Production Touring Car 17 lapper earlier in the day.

Its hard for me to picture my parents as ‘rampant rooters’, but they are of that generation who, free from the pressures of the war years hit the bedroom and created us ‘Baby Boomers’- that statistically big post-war rump of the populace who are still grimly hanging onto power.

Critically, we are a huge mob worldwide who drove demand for all sorts of consumer products throughout the sixties and seventies buoyed by a strong global economy and the expansion of consumer credit. The latter in essence allowed us to live beyond our means doing so as the houses we bought gained capital values of almost obscene levels (in Australia) thereby taking care of our debt/equity ratios. None of us are complaining mind you, even if our kids are!

In the US the car manufacturers noticed we youngsters, particularly our  burgeoning wallets and therefore the potential to flog us stuff. They delved into their parts bins and packaged existing hardware- engines, gearboxes and chassis underpinnings into very attractive packages. Ford’s Mustang and Chev’s Camaro being ‘Pony Car’ cases in point.

By 1966/7 those components were finding their way to their Australian subsidiaries and were packaged into yummy stuff such as the 289 cid V8 powered 1967 XR Ford Falcon GT and 1968 HK Holden Monaro GTS327. They were mighty fine racing cars compared with the Morris Cooper S and Ford Cortina GT/GT500 which had been the top guns at Bathurst till then.

The inexorable rise in Australian touring car racing gathered apace in the sixties and had morphed into three classes. ‘Series Production’ were essentially showroom stock cars, the class to which the Bathurst 500 was run. ‘Improved Production’, as the name suggests allows greater modification- was the class to which the Australian Touring Car Championship was contested. The category allowing the wildest modifications was ‘Sports Racing Closed/Sports Sedans’.

Inevitably motor racing played it’s usual part in the corporate brand building of the manufacturers and ‘moving metal’ of these new machines or rather the more modestly specified brothers of the race intended cars. The ‘win on Sunday, promote the shit out of it on Monday, flog on Tuesday’ adage has been a good, fairly accurate one down the decades.

For enthusiasts the cars modified for intended race use were what we sought and could buy if one had the readies as sufficient numbers had to be built and sold for road use to allow ‘Group E’ Series Production homologation for racing eligibility.

Holden initially raced V8 engined Monaro’s very successfully in Series Production winning a Bathurst 500 or two, 1968 and 1969 to be precise. Mount Panorama pickings were decidedly slimmer once the marketing focus changed to the six-cylinder Holden Torana in 1970.

There was nothing to stop privateer teams running the ‘Top Gun’ Holden Monaro GTS 350, some did, but the ‘factory’ Holden Dealer Team had to run the cars Holden’s marketing needs demanded. There was not the budget/resources to, say, develop, prepare and race Monaro’s on tarmac and Torana’s on dirt, that choice would have been the optimal one.

Without going into all of the detail for international readers, Ford and Chrysler competed locally with factory teams. General Motors Holden, the local GM subsidiary was a bit more ‘prim and proper’ over observance of the supposed American Automobile Association ‘no motor racing ban’, did so via the back-door ‘Holden Dealer Team’, a small outfit operated by ‘The Fox’, Harry Firth, former racer, mechanic, engineer and Bathurst 500 winner out of premises in Queens Avenue, Auburn, a twee inner-eastern Melbourne suburb.

Mason/Mason Mazda R100 and Cooke/Mason Monaro GTS350 Bathurst 1969. Digby Cooke qualified the Monaro 2nd, DNF with Trevor and Neil Mason 21st in the race won by the Colin Bond/Tony Roberts HDT GTS350 (S Jek)

Cooke/Bowden Monaro 350GTS Bathurst 1970 Q2 and DNF gearbox, Bathurst below (S Jek)

In creating the first ‘race variant’ of the Torana- the 1970 LC , ohv, 186 cid six-cylinder engined GTR XU1 Harry Firth and his small team including long time mechanic, Ian Tate, driver Peter Brock and GMH created the first in a series of the best all round competition ‘taxis’ in Australia. The LC and later 202 cid LJ 1971-73 XU1’s were supreme road cars (the LC ‘praps not so much, it was way too choppy in spring/shock rates to take your babe to the drive-in) and winners in rallies, rallycross and on the circuits.

The problem was, whilst there was an Australian Manufacturers Championship, run over rounds at Sandown, Bathurst, Surfers Paradise, Adelaide, Phillip Island (depending upon the year) the only race that mattered to the punters watching the Teev at home was the Bathurst 500- and Ford had a mortgage on that classic with their mighty, four door, 351 cid V8 engined Falcon GTHO’s.

Colin Bond’s HDT Torana LC GTR XU1 in the Bathurst pitlane 1971, 4th in the race won by Moffat’s works Falcon GTHO Phase 3 (autopics)

Whilst the Torana’s were continually developed they simply lacked the mumbo to win at the Mountain. The solution was simple, build a V8 variant of the XU1. The prototype of the car is the beastie Bondie is wheeling around Bathurst in the opening photo, it was put together in late 1971 using a cast-off HDT Series Prod LC XU1 raced by the team in 1970/71.

Fitted with a 5 litre Holden ‘308’ V8, M21 4 speed gearbox, suspension tweaks and away they went, the car was driven by Brock, Bond and Larry Perkins.

Repco Holden F5000 V8. Phil Irving designed, with assistance from Brian Heard, engine produced circa 470-520 bhp throughout its life (Repco)

Lets not forget that the Holden 308 V8 parts competition bin was deep. Repco had built and been racing the F5000 variant of the engine for about two years by the time the HDT boys started playing with the 308, inclusive of two Australian Grand Prix wins in cars driven by Frank Matich- 1970 in a McLaren M10B and 1971 in his self-built Matich A50

Bond, Hell Corner, Bathurst Easter 1972, XU1 V8

The test-bed car was registered for road use and carried the Victorian number-plate KSN-116 and was first raced by Bond as shown here at Bathurst.

Brock then raced the car at Adelaide International with Larry Perkins given the task of driving it across on the Great Western Highway and also racing in one of the support events. Firth was starting to get an idea of how their Bathurst contender would fare later in the year.

Perkins in Gary Campbell’s Elfin 600B/E Ford during the 1972 Glynn Scott Memorial Trophy at Surfers Paradise, first F2 home (G Ruckert)

Larry drove and tested for the HDT in 1972, mainly competing in Rallycross, his primary race program that season was driving Garry Campbell’s Elfin 600 B/E Ford ANF2 car to the national Australian Formula 2 title. He was off to Snetterton for the Formula Ford Festival with Garrie Cooper’s first Elfin 620FF late in the year, he won the Australian FF ‘Driver to Europe Series’ in 1971 but took his prize a year later knowing he would be better prepared, the rest is history.

Larrikins in the HDT Rallycross LC XU1 supercharged ‘Beast’ at Catalina Park in Sydney’s Blue Mountains in 1972. What a career!- FV to F1, Rallycross to Le Mans, he did, raced, built and won in everything (autopics)

Brock raced the LC V8 car at Calder on 14 May in the ‘Marlboro Trophy Series’ minus spoilers but with the widened steel wheels shown in the Bathurst shots earlier in this article, in a combined sports Sedan and improved tourer race running as a support event for the ‘Repco Birthday Series’ event for F5000 cars.

He raced mid-field amongst much faster sports sedans including Norm Beechey’s Monaro, Bob Jane’s Camaro, Alan Hamilton’s 911S and John Harvey’s Torana Repco V8 and barely rated a mention in the race reports.

That the car was ‘slipping under the radar’ was perfect from the HDT’s perspective.

Ford Falcon XA GTHO Phase 4’s come together at FoMoCo’s Oz ‘Skunkworks’ at Lot 6 Mahoneys Road, Broadmeadows on Melbourne’s north-western fringe.  Note the 36 gallon tank beside the standard item. 4 cars built (unattributed)

Whilst Holden were beavering away on their 1972 Bathurst contender, out in Mahoneys Road, Broadmeadows on the other side of Melbourne Ford were working on the new XA Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 4 whilst in Tonsley Park, Adelaide Chrysler were working on a V8 engined RT Charger, the E55.

For enthusiasts and racers these were mouth watering machines with enormous performance potential and engineering integrity.

GMH were proceeding to develop the production version of Harry’s V8 prototype ordering three GTR (not XU1) V8’s, which were sent down the Elizabeth, South Australia plant production line on 13 April 1972 for use by the Experimental Engineering team at GM’s Port Melbourne plant in inner Melbourne.

And then along came the media hysteria ‘Supercar Scare’ which was a frenzy of journalists and politicians whipping themselves into a lather over ’18 up year olds driving around the streets of our cities at 160 mph’.

This topic has been well ventilated down the decades amongst enthusiasts in Australia, their is little point adding to it here. Not that there is any doubt of the performance capability of any of these cars. Arguably a drum braked, cross-ply tyre shod, terminal understeering six-cylinder, ‘poverty pack’ Holden Belmont was a more lethal weapon than a well engineered ‘Supercar’ which was fit for purpose. A Belmont wasn’t fit for anything other than as an inner city cab operated at less than 35 mph.

So, the cars were all ‘pulled’ (or considerably softened as a luxury cruiser in Chrysler’s case) by manufacturers keen to maintain the high tariff walls the pollies provided which enabled them to produce sub-standard crap, flog it to the punters and make a poultice.

‘Let’s not piss the pollies off’ was the main aim of GMH, Ford and Chrysler management, the price of not building a few hundred high-performance machines was a cheap one to pay to keep the self serving State Governments and Canberra dickheads at bay.

(carthrottle.com)

It’s a shame really as the spec of the XU1 V8 would have been sweet- slinky, small (floppy in race terms) body, 308cid 300 bhp’ish V8, M21 4 speed box, Detroit locker diff, 6×13 inch Globe Sprintmaster wheels, long-range fuel tanks and aerodynamic aids. The car would have been a great 160 plus mph package with the slightly heavier V8 sitting back a bit in the chassis relative to the venerable Holden ‘Red’ six.

Torana racer/engineer Lee Nicholle had this to say about the prospects/charcteristics of XU1 V8’s on ‘The Nostalgia Forum’.

‘They do flex-horrid little car but they were also a great race car! I suspect though that Harry, Brock and Larry probably would have done the things that help- take all the rubber from between the front crossmember and chassis rails, that stiffens up the front no end plus of course the roll cage helps too, even the basic alloy ones in vogue then. Plus maybe some basic seam welding, though the car was road registered’.

‘That car (the HDT prototype) as an experiment seemed to work ok. I have seen no end of 308 LJ’s over the decades and they are NOT an evil monster, whatever the newspapers of the day insinuated. They are nicer to drive than a standard XU1 as the engine (V8) is far smoother than the lumpy, grumpy 6’.

‘With the right bits it (the V8) it is nearly a bolt in. There were over 30 built by a nearby country Holden Dealer here in South Australia as well as a few others by dealers interstate. They would not have been a great deal faster than a 6 cylinder XU1, unless the engine was worked’. (note the Repco parts bin comment earlier in the article)

Lee continued ‘My XU1 Chev Sports Sedan highlighted that. A 300bhp Phil Irving head Holden 6 was as quick as my then 380bhp Chev, though my engine bill was a LOT less which was the reason originally (to change from the Holden 6 to Chevy V8). Later with over 500bhp I was considerably faster than the sixes of course’.

With their V8 plans scuttled the HDT gave the specifications of the LJ six a tickle, by use of a wild ‘HX’ camshaft and with engines balanced and blueprinted they gave circa 212bhp. Globemaster Sprint alloy wheels were used and some revisions to the suspension- they evolved a good package which gave Peter Brock his first Bathurst win- the last solo win as it happens in 1972. In truth the win was as much down to Brock as the car.

The later V8 L34 and A9X Torana’s incorporating lots of Repco goodies would of course come soon but the LJ V8 is a wonderful mighta-been with KSN-116 proof positive of just what a weapon the XU1 V8 was…

Brock on his way to LJ XU1 victory, Fiat 850 Coupe behind, Bathurst 500 1972 (unattributed)

What  Happened to the Cars…

Depending upon your source there are some differences, but here we go all the same, he says with trepidation, ‘taxi’ enthusiasts are far more rabid then we open-wheeler nutbags.

1.HDT’s LC GTR-XU1 V8 Prototype

The ex 1970/71 HDT team car, KSN-116 was converted back into a 6-cylinder XU1, sold and has never been seen again, amazing given its significance

2.The three GTR V8’s were built in GM’s Elizabeth factory on 13 April 1972…

They were painted three different colours, lets identify them in that manner

Its said that Holden Experimental Engineers- Ed Taylor’s crew, fitted 308 V8’s with full spec ‘XW7′ parts with Harry Firth given the Pink and White cars to finish off, and, when completed, then handed them back to GM

.’Sebring Orange’ LGN-307

Registered by GMH on 6 September 1972 with a V8. Referred to as the ‘Lockwood Special’ due to the bonnet pin locks so fitted! Brock drove it as a loan car but the 308 V8 had been replaced with the 202 LJ 6

GM’s Administrator of Motorsport and PR also used the car as his company vehicle for a while before it was finally retired to Holden’s Engineering section.

Tendered for sale by GM in February 1975. Stolen in Melbourne’s Bundoora, Victoria in 1985 and never recovered.

.’Strike Me Pink’ LDH-255

Initially registered by GMH on 28 April 1972 with a 6 cylinder engine, a V8 was fitted later by Experimental Engineering

Tested by Brock at Calder where it was a ‘bit of a pig’ and then taken back to Queens Avenue, Auburn for attention to the suspension- spring rates, shocks and suspension bushes. When tested again at Calder by Brock on 31 May 1972, running a 2.78:1 diff and Detroit Locker it was a second a lap quicker than a normal XU1 driven by Colin Bond at the same test.

Brock recalled the car gave 271 bhp on Jack Hunnam’s dyno

.’White’

Intrigued to know the story

Photo Credits…

Dick Simpson, autopics.com, plannerpower, Sharaz Jek, Graham Ruckert

References…

Various online Holden forums, The Nostalgia Forum comments by Lee Nicholle, HDT Club of Victoria magazine, shannons.com, strikemepink on shannons.com, ‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’ John Medley

Afterthought: Bruce Hodgson in the only 1972 Australian Supercar that ‘got away’…

(plannerpower)

Bruce Hodgson with Fred Gocentas aboard their Ford Falcon GTHO Phase 4 during the Southern Cross Rally, Mount Faulk Road outside Port Macquarie in October 1973.

For all the plans by Chrysler, GMH and Ford for the Supercars of ’72 only one ever competed albeit as a rally car, hardly the function for which Howard Marsden and the boys at FoMoCo intended!

Of Ford’s four Phase 4’s constructed, the least built up racer, the spare was given to John Goss, it was sold via McLeod Ford, assembled for road use.

Hodgson and Gocentas, Phase 4, rally and date unknown (unattributed)

The first and most developed of the racers was sold to a chap in Toowoomba and is now in the Bowden Collection.

The second racer was given to Hodgson, a Ford works Escort rally exponent who rallied it for several years before the machine was involved in a head on accident with a Holden Commodore, the wreck exists.

The production model was sold, via a car yard to an astute Sydney dentist in 1978 who is believed to still own it.

Tailpiece: ‘The Beast’- HDT Sports Sedan, the ultimate V8 LJ Torana XU1, Colin Bond, Warwick Farm, May 1973…

This race meeting must have been one of the last open ones at Warwick Farm. Car built quickly by HDT with an old shell, the essential element of which was a 480bhp Lucas injected Repco Holden F5000 V8. Mawer alloy wheels clear, a crowd pleaser, the car was too basic in spec by then to be a winner even in the hands of Brock and Bond

Finito…

pi 3

This view in race direction looking down the main straight and into the daunting ‘Doohan’ Turn 1 ‘Southern Loop’ section of the track (Kevin Drage)

Kevin Drage’s wonderful aircraft shot shows packed  Phillip Island during the 1961 Armstrong 500, Australia’s growing obsession with Touring Cars underway

The race was held at the Phillip Island on 19 November 1961 over 167 laps of the 3.0 mile circuit, a total of 501 miles (807 km).

It was the second event held in the combined history of the Armstong 500/Bathurst 500/Bathurst 1000 which began in 1960 with the first Armstrong 500.

chequered

Jane/Firth take the chequered flag. Jaguar dominated the local prestige market in Oz then…but not for too much longer, the German onslaught began about here!? (autopics)

Bob Jane and Harry Firth were the only combination to complete the full race distance, earning the pair the first of their four outright race wins in Jane’s ‘Autoland’ Mercedes Benz 220SE. Mind you, the concept of an outright race win was not be officially recognised until 1965- Mercedes, Studebaker and Renault each took class wins.

pi 1

(Kevin Drage)

Fabulous Phillip Island day! Len Lukey’s airstrip in the foreground, this shot is of the cars coming out of Siberia- top shot towards Bass Straight through the flat out right handed towards ‘Lukey Heights’. And below Ms Phillip Island coping very well with the Bass Straight ‘breeze’ whilst touring car aces Harry Firth and Bob Jane look suitable pleased with their days work. Their are plenty of race wins and championships to come for these two fellows.

victors

 

pits

(Kevin Drage)

The pitlane shot shows the Class D winning Renault Gordini of Jim Gullan, Brian Sampson and John Connelly, whilst the grey car is the Class A winning Studebaker Lark of David McKay and Brian Foley.

janey

(autopics.com.au)

Harry Firth, by the look of that crouch behind the wheel of the winning Mercedes- he is just entering the left hand rise ‘Lukey Heights’ before the drop into ‘MG’, Mercedes 220SE.

mc kay

(Kevin Drage)

David McKay and Brian Foley- champions both and below the Studebaker Lark entered by York Motors they raced to second place.

studebaker

(Kevin Drage)

Credits…

Kevin Drage, autopics.com.au