Report by Chris Ralph. Pics by everyone…
Historic Touring Cars have always been a replica category, allowing ‘new old cars’ to be prepared for Motorsports Australia’s Historic 5th Category. Fifteen years after pre-65 Group Nb appeared in 1980 the pre-72 Group Nc category hit the tracks. New builds now appear regularly but some very special ‘originals’ have been around for almost 30 years. This is one of them.
Touring car racing exploded in popularity between 1965-72 to become Australia’s premier racing category, so it was no surprise cars from that period were included into Group N historic touring car regulations. New Group Nc regulations were approved in July 1993 and in the CAMS manual by 1995 when the flag was dropped.
Pre-’65 Group Nb accepted models with a global FIA race history but the new Group Nc would be restricted to models raced in Australia. There was pushback from the pre-65 racers, but others eagerly plotted their race builds and the first cars soon hit the track.
Birth of the Warhorse
Son of Owen Bailey, a well-known 1950s competitor who raced a Talbot Lago at the famous 1956 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park won by Stirling Moss, Rob Bailey knew exactly what he would build – a replica of the 26-only Ford Mustang Trans Ams built in 1967/8 by Carroll Shelby for the ‘Trans American Sedan Series’.
Armed with a good Californian Mustang shell, A4 block, GT40 heads and Top Loader Rob engaged legends Ian Tate to build the 302 motor and Ken Zinner the gearbox.
The car’s build, race prep and years of race crewing would be taken care of by Rian Nott, ace panel man, race car builder and gun driver who had also built a front-running XY GT Falcon for the new category.
With a 4-barrel carby it initially made 400HP but later, four IDA Webers took that to 500HP and 400 lbs/ft of torque. First hitting the track at Historic Sandown in 1996 it was also driven by Sir Jack Brabham in demonstration races.
Near death of the Warhorse
With Rob’s then business partner and co-owner driving at Calder, hooves clattered and the near-new racer tripped and fell dramatically. End of racing, end of partnership. Rob bought the wreck for Rian Nott to totally rebuild, with period McLaren colours replacing the previous Shelby yellow/black scheme.
Rob raced it through to the end of 1998 when the horse went to another stable…
Many years senior to the relatively youthful former owner was the UK-born Chris Stephen who had won his first rally in 1961 and had rallied and raced consistently thereafter.
Running a large family Tasmanian sheep farm producing Superfine Merino wool recorded by the Guinness Book of Records as the finest wool in the world for nine years, the doughty Chris raced and rallied “whenever he could get behind the wheel”.
With wife Dee as navigator his Ferrari 365 did three Targa Tasmanias, his Iso Rivolta three more and a Classic Adelaide or two (plus lap records in Victoria as a Group S car) while a factory-built ex-London to Sydney Falcon handled dirt duties.
Two tough campaigns
With Rian Nott spannering the car he knew so well, the now Victorian-based Chris enjoyed a serious couple of years of Mustang racing in Victoria, NSW and South Australia, doing 10-12 meetings a year. Natsoft shows wins and podiums amongst the toughest company across most circuits.
rue to their roots, Chris and Dee also entered a Classic Adelaide but the Tilton clutch kept going out of alignment, so it was on to the trailer and off to the wineries.
Warhorse still in the wars
In a dust-up at Clipsal Adelaide, young Nick Stillwell stuffed the front wheel of his Mini through the passenger door (“Bib tore strips off him!” says Chris).
Sandown June 1999 saw the late Brett Wiseman spin his grey Falcon at T1. Chris managed to stop in time but Greg Nicholls in a 289 Mustang didn’t – brave car and driver were meat in the sandwich.
These days Chris gets his kicks driving the Safety Car at historic meetings, fierce eyebrows bristling. “Several hundred kays around Phillip Island in somebody else’s car, that’s a good retirement plan!”, he chuckles.
Meanwhile, in 2001 our hero horse was off on another adventure…
Time in a top paddock
The Mustang then came into the gentlemanly hands of Mike Bugelly, who quickly adapted to the big jump from his Mini.
Known for mechanical sympathy and a relaxed style, Mike had a dream run with the car. “It was fabulously reliable,” he says, “the only times it didn’t finish a race was from somebody else’s accident”. His 1.23 at Sandown showed the partnership worked well.
Consistency, reliability (plus Rian Nott spannering through his third owner) won Mike and Mustang the 2002 Victorian State Race Series Championship for Historic Touring Cars.
Mike didn’t actively pursue development but the second of the two engine rebuilds, this time by Dennis Johnson, netted 517 HP – enough to carry Mike through to the end of his of 12 years of ownership.
Mike drove the car in the 2022 and 2004 Australian Grand Prix support races and brought it home battered on the trailer after the 2008 Muscle Car Masters in Sydney.
“It was fantastic to drive, always up there at the pointy end – but not in the wet!” he remembers, “then it was – ‘just bring it home’…”
In 2013, it went to a jockey with more serious intent…
Back into the fray
New HTCAV member and ex-Radical racer, current HTCAV President Chris Stern was looking for a class “that does not change their rules and specs every year” and was fired up ready to go. The old stallion was going from a ‘hands and heels’ jockey to one happy to use the whip.
Taken aback by the comparative lack of brakes to his previous steed, Chris upgraded to larger Kelsey-Hayes units, gave it a fresh coat of paint and set off at a gallop.
It must have been shock to the system for the old nag. “I had three engine rebuilds over the time which were a disaster until The Doctor (Keith Davidson) took over. Never had another engine fault.” Chris says.
He remembers highlights as an overall second in class at the 2019 OTR SuperSprint at The Bend, running top ten at Bathurst and a couple of placings in the Victorian State Race Series.
Off to a famous stable
In February 2020 the Warhorse came into the hands of Tino Leo for son Dominic, a current HTCAV Committee member. Presentation is a Leo hallmark: black paint highlights were replaced with silver, the traditional Leo gold not sitting well with the McLaren orange!
Due to all the Covid dramas Dom’s first race wasn’t until November of that year. But 2021 furnished the most fun – 2nd in the Victorian State Race Champs and some great battles at Sandown, including with John Mann’s Camaro and the late Alan McKelvie’s ’68 Mustang.
Coincidentally, the second oldest Group Nc car was a Warhorse stablemate – the Monaro bought from Kent Youlden in the late 90s, later sold on and repurchased.
In another coincidence the Leos, always looking to get further up the grid, had a conversation with another respected father and son outfit – Jim and Darren Collins whose white Camaro had won them a cabinet full of trophies and many lap records…
Late last year a gentlemanly trade took place that saw Darren Collins take over the old Warhorse with a generous budget to go racing and Dom Leo with a car that has been on pole position more often than not. Everybody happy!
Tino and Dom immediately painted gold stripes on their car, Jim and Darren immediately took the silver stripes off theirs, adding a black bonnet to return it to original 1968 Shelby colour scheme.
Looking at the 68 Trans Am race results over recent years, Darren is super excited about the big challenge. “I’ve always fancied a Mustang, and the TransAm can rev its head off. Going to be pushing to getting back up the front, and who knows I might even get a sniff of Dom in the old car…”
And Dom? His times and results in the Warhorse prove he’s no slouch in the driving stakes. “Always been a Blue Oval racer so getting my head around driving on the ‘Dark Side’,” he smiles, “but so excited to get behind the wheel of a car with such an impressive record.”
Back into battle
Warhorse with winning driver vs winning faster car with talented up-and-coming driver – it will be fascinating to see how the two compare on the track. Will Camaro cubes see Dom close to Darren’s times, will Darren’s front-running experience push the Warhorse faster than ever?
You’ll read all about that in the next issue of JUST CARS when we report on the February opening race of the season at Sandown. Don’t miss it!