Dick Johnson and The Infamous Rock

Ford racing legend Dick Johnson was at the centre of one of motorsports greatest controversies in 1980. While leading the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 disaster struck when he encountered a rock on top of the mountain on lap 17, ruining both his car and any hopes he had of race victory. In this article we will recount the incident, the following outpouring of support from the general public and discuss just how the rock ended up on the track.

The 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 started about as well as Johnson could have hoped. With main rival Peter Brock experiencing issues as a result of a collision with a back marker and going a lap down at the start of lap 17, the race was Johnson’s to lose. As any Australian motorsport fan would know, the mountain tends to strike in the strangest of ways, and only a matter of 30 seconds after putting Brock a lap down, Johnson experienced firsthand the ways of the mountain. After passing through the cutting, Johnson rounded the next right to be confronted with a tow truck on one side of the road, and a football sized rock on the other. With nowhere to go, Johnson hit the rock. The impact ripped the front wheel and suspension apart before sending the XD Falcon into the wall at high speed. At such an early stage of the race it’s hard to say it cost Johnson a certain victory, but with the lapped Brock going on to win the great race, it’s not too much of a stretch to say the race was Johnson’s to lose.

Later in the day Johnson was interviewed for TV, where he emotionally explained the incident, stating “I just couldn’t believe my bloody eyes. These galoots up there that just throw boulders... like it was enormous.” He went on to explain that to repair the car and have it back on track would cost him at least $40,000 and that until fences were installed around the track he wouldn’t be returning. The public responded with an outpouring of support, calling into the TV station to donate money towards the rebuilding of Johnson’s car. When all was said and done, $72,000 had been donated by the public, which was matched by Ford Australia leaving the grand total at $144,000. The amount reignited Johnson’s racing career, which still continues today as a key stakeholder in the DJR Team Penske Racing Team, which is currently dominating the 2017 Supercar Championship. Of course Johnson would return to the mountain, recording three wins in the great race, including the very next year in 1981.

But just how did that rock end up in the middle of the Mt Panorama racing circuit? Well the story goes that two hungover men had made their way to the side of the track to watch the racing after a big night on the cans. One of them was lying down with his head resting on one rock and his feet resting on another, using it to hold him in position on the steep bank above the track. While moving his feet, he dislodged the rock, sending it plummeting down the embankment. At this point the two men bolted and were never to be seen again and as for the rock… the rest is history. Johnson has since stated in interviews that he believes this story and even shares in the humour of the situation, having the rock on display in his office for the last 30 years.

What’s your favourite Bathurst memory? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Aussie Cars that never were

When we think about Aussie cars, our minds drift towards the Commodore, the Falcon, or the Territory. However, what about those Aussie cars that didn’t quite go as far in the public domain as these classics? Australia has produced some awesome cars that didn’t quite reach the lofty heights laid out in planning. In this article we will take a look at three Aussie cars that didn’t sell in the intended quantities, but still hold a special place in Australian automotive history.

Ilinga AF-2

The Ilinga (aboriginal word meaning ‘distant horizon’) AF-2 was designed by Tony Farrell in partnership with Victorian businessman Daryl Davies. The intention for the Ilinga was to be a high-performance luxury coupe utilising aluminium body panels over a steel chassis, using a modified Leyland/Rover 4.4 litre V8 to provide the power. Before running into financial difficulties, two prototypes were built and orders were taken, however the 1970’s oil crisis ensured the closing of Leyland Australia, meaning the Ilinga had lost its engine supplier. One of the prototypes lives in the carpark entrance of the Melbourne Museum, whilst the other is nowhere to be found!

 

Giocattolo

Born in 1986, the Giacattolo was the brainchild of Paul Helstead and F1 engineer Barry Lock. With plans to build Australia’s first Supercar, Helstead and Lock took an Alfa Romeo Sprint and dropped a 5 litre Walkinshaw Holden Group A V8. Producing 220kw and 500Nm, the car was a rocket, capable of powering the Giocattolo from 0-100 in under 5.5 seconds while having an electronically limited top speed of 260kph. With upgraded tyres, brakes, transmission and a supremely high tech suspension package, the Giocatollo was akin to a Go-Kart on steroids. The $80,000 price tag however was a bridge too far for consumers, and production ceased after only 3 years and 15 units were built. To take a look at the article we put together on the Italian/Australian pocket rocket earlier in 2017, click here.

Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard

With more comeback tours than John Farnham, what started out as the Joss JT1 was supposed to be Australia’s answer to iconic supercars such as the Enzo Ferrari and Lamborghini Murcielago. It has never eventuated unfortunately, as numerous attempts to get the project off the ground including renames to JP1 and eventually Vanguard have fallen flat. Featuring a 6.8 litre V8, the 940kg supercar was fast enough to achieve 0-100kph in less than 3 seconds and run the quarter mile in a tick under 12 seconds in stock trim. Only 1 Joss has been built to date and the outlook looks bleak, however we’ve been in this position before only for Joss to announce that the project has been fired into life again! So who knows, maybe there’s still hope for the Joss JT1/JP1/Vanguard?

Have you spotted any of these low production Aussie cars on the road? Or maybe you’re the proud owner of one of the very few remaining Giacattolo’s? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

The Fastest Aussie Ever

On the clear morning of 27th March, 1994 at Lake Gairdner in South Australia the natural serenity was interrupted by a deafening roar. A 36,000hp Mirage jet fighter engine kind of roar. Except that this engine wasn’t strapped to the back of said Mirage, it was perhaps crazily applied to a wheeled vehicle, set on achieving the World Land Speed record and named the Aussie Invader II.

The story of Aussie Invader II began over 10 years earlier, the inspiration coming from committed Australian speedster Rosco McGlashan, OAM. Rosco’s obsession with speed started at an early age and after following Donald Campbell’s Speed Record attempts, Rosco was determined to go faster than Donald and committed himself to the goal.

From drag racing to rocket powered world record go karts to jet dragsters, Rosco really has the ‘need for speed’ as they say!

The 10 year project to build Aussie Invader II involved a 25 strong team of professionals. From manufacturing processes, to design, aerodynamics, jet propulsion, safety and electronics, Aussie Invader II was a huge undertaking.

Aiming to beat the Australian Land Speed Record of 403mph (set by Campbell), the first outing in 1993 of Aussie Invader II was successful, the car reaching 450mph, however bad weather meant that officially timed runs couldn’t be completed.

Back on the dry, flat Lake Gairdner in 1994 and with improvements to the vehicle, it was time to open the afterburner and set a record. How does a lazy 801.8km/h (498.2mph) followed by an 801.3km/h on the way back to make it official sound? That’s pretty damn quick if you ask us!

Not content on smashing the Australian Land Speed Record, Rosco announced to his team that he wanted to push harder and aim for the outright World Land Speed Record the same day, despite weather conditions deteriorating in front of them. After their jaws came back off the floor, the team prepared the car and nervously watched on as Rosco opened the throttle.

The Mirage fighter engine certainly had the potential in it and Rosco quickly found himself heading southbound and accelerating up to 933km/h (580mph) before it all went wrong. The special wheels broke through the salt surface, pitching the machine sideways as it tramlined across the timing markers, only 200 metres from the measured mile. Sadly, Aussie Invader II was a write off. Fortunately Rosco was still in one piece.

Unperturbed, Rosco and the team rebuilt and debuted Aussie Invader 3 in 1996 at Lake Gairdner for a crack at Richard Noble’s new 633mp/h World Land Speed Record. Despite a higher peak speed of 638mph, the British record would remain due to adverse weather conditions that prevented a committed, official back to back run.

In 1997 the Thrust SSC, developed by Richard Noble stepped up the game, breaking the speed of sound and rewriting the record books. This speed record has not been broken in the 20 years since that feat, which is quite impressive in its own right.

As for Rosco, the obsession continues, and despite being the ‘Fastest Aussie Ever’ with the Australian Land Speed Record, he is not resting on those laurels. Rosco is currently building the Aussie Invader 5R, with the aim of that elusive World Record. The engine? a 62,000 lbs thrust liquid oxygen and bio-kerosene motor. Sounds explosive! We can’t wait to see how the project shapes up.

Party up front, Business at the back – The best of Holden Performance Utes

As the production of Australian cars winds up, we will continue to take a look at some of the locally built cars that will be fondly remembered by the Aussie motoring community. In this installment, we look back on a few of the most memorable Holden performance Utes; cars that took business and mixed it with pleasure.

Although Ford is generally credited with designing the world’s first Ute in Australia with the Coupe Utility in 1934, Holden soon joined the world of Ute’s with their 48-215 (FX) Utility in 1951.

Designed as workhorses for Australian farmers and tradesmen, the humble Ute continued to evolve with handling and power improvements, however was never sold or intended to be a performance based vehicle. 

This all changed for Holden at the 1990 Sydney Motor Show, when Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) unveiled the VG HSV Maloo Ute.  Quickly becoming the star of the show the ‘Maloo’ (Aboriginal word for ‘thunder’) was powered by a 5.0-litre V8 engine with 180kW/400Nm and only available in Alpine White and Maranello Red to enhance its exclusivity. You don’t see many of these driving around today!

 Although Holden had been fitting V8’s to their Ute’s for many years, it was in 2001, with the release of the VU Series, that Holden upped the game with their own true performance model, being the VU SS Ute.  Based on an all new platform, the Holden team spent a huge amount of time optimizing the Ute for improved aerodynamics and reduced wind noise, and the result is a very smooth, flowing exterior design.  The VU Ute was fitted with a 225kw Chevrolet 5.7L Gen 3 LS1 Engine placed between the strut towers as well as what was a first in a Ute at the time, independent rear suspension. This added to the 17” alloys, sports seats and sports suspension. What did they cost at the time? $36,490.

 

HSV stepped up the game to another level with the VZ Maloo R8. A far more aggressive exterior design clearly differentiated the HSV enhanced Ute from the Holden performance variants. Fitted with the then new 6.0 litre LS2 V8 Engine, the VZ series also boasted 19” wheels and traction control.

In 2006, Aussie motorsport legend Mark Skaife set a world record with the VZ Maloo, clocking 271.44km/h on a closed road in South Australia and becoming the “World’s Fastest Production Pickup/Utility”.

 

As part of Holden’s continued marketing drive around the performance angle of its ever popular Ute range, a new marketing campaign was needed to launch the new VF SS V Redline Ute.  Holden decided to ship the Ute to one of the world’s most famous testing grounds, Germany’s 20.8km long Nordschleife. With high hopes and a vehicle test engineer behind the wheel, the SS clocked a blistering 8:19.47 around the 170 turn track, becoming the fastest Utility to do so. There was no official record given there was no ‘utility class’ but regardless, the time was an impressive achievement.

 

The Holden Performance Ute collection wouldn’t be complete without the final variant of the iconic Aussie vehicle. Enter the HSV GTSR Maloo. HSV decided to honour the performance Ute by sending it out with a bang and a model truly representative of performance in every sense of the word. Power was well and truly taken care of with the 435kw Supercharged LSA 6.2L V8 engine. A tuned HSV performance suspension package plus numerous electronic aids takes care of handling while stopping power is handled by the massive 6 piston calipers and two piece discs. 20” wheels and an aggressive styling package complete the head turning aesthetics.

Although it is a sad day to see the traditional Aussie Ute finish production, we will always have the memories of such an Aussie institution.

Vacation Nation - Looking Back at the Humble Holden Vacationer

As Aussie as thongs, meat pies and kangaroo’s, the humble road trip is an Aussie institution. Most of us will remember those drives in the back of the car as the family headed North, South, East or West to that holiday home, camp site or Uncle’s place somewhere up the road. No doubt those fond memories were re-created with the next generation, this time with you in the front seats!

With such a treasured pastime as the road trip, Holden were in tune with this fact, and playing to the feelings of freedom and good vibes of those holidays, launched specific ‘Vacationer’ models. This up-spec’d model would appeal to those looking at a special model that could make the long hauls across our vast nation somewhat more comfortable.

In 1972 the Holden HQ Kingswood Vacationer model was released. And what a beauty she was. Premium additions like a luxury centre arm rest and door to door carpets, chrome wheel trims and a selection of two-tone colour options, joined the 202 engine and tri-matic automatic gearbox with disc brakes.

The Vacationer model made appearances throughout the majority of the subsequent Holden line-up, culminating in the last appearance of the vacationer model in 1995 when Holden released the VS series. At the time of release, the VS Commodore Vacationer was $30,370 which in today’s money is $50,951.

What did you get standard for your money when ordering a new Vacationer in 1995? Air conditioning, power door mirrors, remote (keyless) central locking, power steering, power windows all-round, plus the all-important cruise control to gobble up those highway miles.

While we don’t think Holden will revive the Vacationer model any time soon, it was an interesting model that for many years was a reflection of the habits of a vacation nation!

Were you one of the many children who spent countless hours’ road tripping in the back of a vacationer? Or maybe you still own a Vacationer? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below!