Story by Chris Ralph. Pics by SD Pics, Damian Petrie and supplied.
Sixty-one years have passed since the first Great Race, the touring car enduro that became Australia’s Le Mans. Frank Coad and John Roxburgh in a Vauxhall Cresta won the 1960 Armstrong 500 at Phillip Island and the next 40 years were classic Pro-Am with amateurs also having a red hot go. Brake failures, prangs and run-ins with officials – there were huge adventures and wild moments. HTCAV racers look back…
For the 1962 Armstrong 500 at a dusty, potholed Phillip Island a young Ted Brewster was signed on as relief driver in George Reynolds and Jim McKeown in a VW. He never got to turn a wheel.
But 12 years later he partnered Nick Louis in a Mazda RX-3 in the 1974 Hardie Ferodo 1000 at Mount Panorama. “I’d never seen the place before,” recalls Ted, “luckily (the late) Bruce Hindhaugh drove me around the first night saying things like “when you go through The Cutting, aim straight for that tree”.
Faster? Can’t go any faster!
“I was circulating well in the middle stint. But then it rained up top. The pit crew didn’t know and hung out a lap board with ‘Faster!’ I couldn’t go any flamin’ faster! Once the rain settled in they twigged, but with a limited budget we had no wets. They ripped the wheels off our spare RX-4 road car and back out we went, finishing 13th, fourteen laps down on Goss and Bartlett”.
1975 was a DNF – a bottom radiator hose came adrift and cooked the engine, but two years later they were back again with the RX-3.
No brakes. Clutch, gearbox stuffed – it’s all yours!
Those were Ted’s cheery words, handing over to Nick Louis to finish the ’77 Great Race. Second in class they only had a few laps to go when a front brake caliper piston popped as Nick entered The Dipper. “His foot went to the floor,” said Ted. “He yanked the handbrake and crouched down waiting for the impact. Then Nick looked up – hang on, we’re still going!” He finished using engine and gearbox to slow down. Amazingly the pair came in second in class and again 13th, behind the Moffat and Bond form finish…
A few years earlier former HTCAV President, Club Champion and Chairman of the CAMS Historic Commission, Bob Cracknell, had braved The Mount in ’71 and ’72 when it was still the Hardie Ferodo 500 (the change to kilometres came a year later).
How do you drive one of these jiggers?
For 1971 his mount was an ex-NSW Police Morris Cooper S, bought at the auctions for $1700. But the rapid Anglia Sports Sedan driver had never raced a FWD car “I scared myself witless practising,” said Bob, “I tipped into a corner too fast and lifted off, the back snapped out, I put the boot in and it shot off like a rabbit.” He’d accidentally discovered the quick trick and team mate Bob Wedd nominated him to qualify the car. They ended up fastest 1300cc car in Class D.
Two weeks out, no engine…
The next year they ran the ex-Bob Forbes Holden Torana GTR – the 2600cc model was a good choice for Class B. A shakedown in the Sun-7 Series at Amaroo sees Bob just 0.4 sec shy of Bob Forbes’ class record – but the engine blows. “Don Holland did the blueprinting on a new engine in double quick time. Then Bob (Wedd) put on some big rear tyres and drove it to Canberra to run it in – every night for a week!” Bob recalls. “A beautiful engine – spun like a top and did 126 mph down ConRod. It was wet, we ran near the head of the class but a full brake change put us down a lap and we finished 23rd.”
Also debuting at Bathurst in 1971 was now Victorian resident Wayne Rogerson, heading the Mazda Dealer Team. The Sydney Sports Sedan star and good mate Alan Mayne’s four door Capella was in a class winning position. But five laps from the end the curse of Series Production cars – brake failure – happened in a big way.
Crossing the line in a wreck
“At the end of ConRod the brake pedal went to the floor,” recalls Wayne. “Heavy hit, nose first. Somehow I got it back to the pits for some urgent hammer and tin snip work. Amazingly, no official stopped us going out again.” With no bonnet or mudguard and bent struts they still finished fifth in class in 32nd (one place in front of Bob Cracknell’s Cooper S).
Robbed by the checker (1)
The officials may have helped Wayne in ’71 but they cruelled him in ’72. “Near the end I was leading Class B by a lap and crossing the finish line I’m just in front of Peter Brock’s winning Torana as the flag falls – disaster! The officials flag me into the paddock with the winner, I lose a lap and get recorded as finishing second.”
A class placing didn’t cut it. In 1973 with Bernie Haehnle now as co-driver he has no prangs and no arguments with officials. He not only wins the class by 1.4 seconds but comes home tenth outright. No wonder the RX-2 became a favourite for Wayne – he’s still driving one at the front of the field in historic races today.
Yet another HTCAV member to contest the 1971 event was the legendary John Mann. He and fellow Shepparton legend, Bryan Thomson, entered an Alfa Romeo 1600 Giulia Super after an engine reco from Repco. “I drove it from Melbourne to Bathurst to run it in”, says John, “and when we turned up they told us the exhaust was too noisy!”
Ringside seat for a famous moment
Passed by Bill Brown in the Falcon GT HO through McPhillamy Park, John arrives on the scene of ‘Rollover Brown’s monster barrel roll along the Armco. “There were bits everywhere, looked liked he might come back on to the track right in front of me. It stayed hanging on the fence, in the end we were almost going underneath it.” But a head gasket blew… they may have driven it up there, but they weren’t driving it home.
First (and only) Falcon home in 79
In the only finish in his four attempts, he and Jim Keogh brought the sole remaining Falcon XC Coupe home in 14th after the embarrassing retirement of ten XC Coupes, including that of Alan Moffat. But practice wasn’t without incident. “You always want a hard brake pedal,” says John, “but this was rock hard. They’d put the pads in back to front!” In another practice a gearbox broke, locking the rear and destroying two tyres, and during the race a top wishbone broke, losing them 10 minutes in the change.
But hey, at least the privateers had finished, saving a tiny bit of honour for FoMoCo. “They gave us two and a half grand and a Citizen watch each!” laughs John.
The 80s were not a success
In 1984 the Shep boys Thommo and Manny again teamed up for another assault, this time in a Camaro. Deep into the race they were running a solid 10th when the diff let go and that was that.
Five years later John’s back with Murray Carter in a Ford Sierra for the ’89 Tooheys event. Several Sierra teams had experienced wheel issues and soon after Murray rounded Hell Corner on Lap 1 a front left wheel broke.
The Sierra was parked just after the paddock return gate. John and a pit crew member raced up to change it trackside before Murray did a quiet lap back to the pits. Too late! It had been picked up on TV and Clerk of Course Tim Schenken disqualified them on the spot. “To the bar!” cried Team Manager Graham Hunt. Which is where they spent the rest of the day.
Darce was in John Mann’s ’89 crew propping up the bar that day. Nine years later he’s there in a VS Commodore during the last days of privateer racing at Bathurst. The self-confessed ‘bad boy’ had sponsorship from Playboy magazine. On the day they arrived Pamela Anderson went all over the car, courtesy of one of the first race car wrap jobs. With Playboy merchandise being sold by Playboy girls his pit was one big party – complete with a chef for ‘the 25 freeloaders’.
You’ve got three hurdles
“First hurdle,” says Darce, “Tuesday: get it to the track after months of hard work. Second one: Sunday 10 am – start. Third: Sunday 5 pm – finish.” He made those hurdles both years, in 1998 with Rod Wilson and ’99 with Grant Johnson. Both years 60% of the field failed to finish but D’Arcy’s motto “stay out of trouble” (unusual!) worked, with a 15th and 19th. Third in the Privateers Cup the first year, he was on track to repeat that, but…
Robbed by the checker (2)
At the end of the ’99 event no Last Lap board was shown and the radio had stopped working. He’s on the pit straight when he sees the Richards/Murphy Commodore coming up fast behind him…
“This bird waves the checker at me! What? They flag me into the paddock in front of the winner. I’d just lost a lap!” The guest lady flag waver had indeed not kept the flag furled and waved it too early – but ‘rules is rules’ and he was logged as fourth privateer home…
It would be remiss not to include late Paul Trevethan, the first Club president who launched two assaults on the mountain, the first being with Clive Smith in 1989 where they finished 22nd in a Nissan Skyline DR 30. But the following year was HTCAV history was made with three Club members in the team.
HTCAV driver, co-driver and Crew Chief
Fellow HTCAV club member Andrew McDowell was the co-driver and co-owner of the Commodore VL, while Life Member and gearbox guru Ken Zinner was Crew Chief, he had built two engines and a gearbox for the car.
Surrounded by Sierras, BMWs, Nissans and factory Commodores, the amateur team were never going to be front runners, so the focus was on getting to the finish.
“People were saying to me ‘Gee, those Sierras go past you so quick’,” Andy McDowell remembers, “but I’d say to them, when they’re stopped at the side of the track we go past twice as quick!’”
A blown alternator and a failed tyre cost them a few laps but they proudly brought the car home 23rd of 27 (and the other 27 lost in battle).
The sands of time…
Supercars are now big business. Even the privateer entrants that exist in the feeder categories are essentially million-dollar operations. The days when amateurs could have a crack at the Big One are long gone and that’s what makes these tales of yesterday so valuable.
Those lucky enough to be a part of it remembered their adventures as if they were yesterday, firing up as the sense of came back to them. We thank them for their cooperation.