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.

Pikes Peak 2017 Wrap-up

Known as one of the most extreme racing events in the world, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb roared into Colorado once again in June, with highly accomplished drivers and riders making their way from all corners of the globe to have a crack the famous ‘Race to the Clouds’. While in its current paved form, the course isn’t quite as insane as it once were (check out the iconic short film ‘Climb Dance’ to see what old school Pikes Peak was all about), there’s no doubting the task at hand is only suited to the supremely talented and/or the slightly crazy.

Taking the win in 2017 was Romain Dumas, a French Porsche factory driver and former Le Mans 24 hour winner. For Pikes Peak he took the wheel of his Norma MXX RD Limited to take victory for the third time in four years. Despite the impressive victory and a respectable time of 9 minutes and 5 seconds, Romain was left somewhat disappointed in the run and explained that mechanical issues put a stop to having a run at Sebastien Loeb’s incredible record run (8min13sec) in 2013. “It’s difficult to put words to this victory. The primary objective was to win, which is what we did and it’s never easy here. Never. I even questioned whether I’d get to the summit....We got first place, but we wanted so much more that I’m unable to feel completely satisfied today” Said Dumas.

While one-off prototypes are undoubtedly incredible, at Rare Spares we can’t help but cast our eyes through the results to find how the classics went! In a throwback to the old school Pikes Peak days, an Audi Quattro S1E2 drew cheers the whole way up the mountain on its way to a respectable to time of 12 minutes and 18 seconds. The 44 year old Porsche 911 RSR driven by Christopher Lennon found itself inside the top 25 outright and 3rd in the open class with a seriously impressive time of 10 minutes and 50 seconds. Arguably the crowd favourite was R J Gottieb in his amazing sounding ’69 Chevy Camaro who was able to tame the mountain in a tick over 11 minutes to wind up inside the top 35 outright.

Australia’s best hope of victory in the car category came in the form of Tony Quinn, who piloting his 633kw VR38DETT-powered Ford Focus bodied machine came within 3 kilometers of setting a lighting fast time before his brakes gave way. Although disappointed, the failure hasn’t dampened Quinn’s spirits who has stated he will back to take on the mountain again next year. The most impressive Australian result this year belongs to Sydney born Rennie Scaysbrook, who riding a brand new KTM Super Duke 1290 R finished second outright in the bike category. By doing so, Scaysbrook became only the 3rd man in history to break the 10 minute barrier on a motorcycle.

The Pikes Peak Hill climb holds a certain prestige, with competitors and spectators alike respecting that this mountain is a special beast, capable of wreaking havoc on those who take it lightly. Many have stated that the incredible Sebastien Loeb/Peugeot record from 2013 may never be broken, and in fairness no one has come even close yet. However, with a number of incredible custom built hill climb machines popping up across the world, it’s unquestionable that Pikes Peak is sure to retain its incredible reputation long into the future.

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 $312,000 Monaro

A pristine condition 1970 Holden HT GTS350 Monaro has been sold at Lloyds Auctions on the Gold Coast last month for a whopping $312,000. Eclipsing the previous record of $310,000 set in March, this ‘pride of the fleet’ becomes one of the most valuable Monaro’s ever sold at auction. Features include impeccable Platinum Metallic paint, a mere 119,000km on the odometer, a two speed powerglide automatic transmission and of course a 5.7 litre 350 Chevrolet engine. With the sale of this iconic Australian car, we decided to take a look back at the HT GTS350 Monaro and discuss why it holds a special place in the hearts of Australian motoring enthusiasts.

The HT Monaro was introduced in 1969 to much fanfare and whilst the minor design changes including the bonnet scoops and bold bonnet stripes were well received, it was the introduction of the 350 Chevrolet that got the punters excited. Not only was the GTS350 a winner with the public, it left a fair mark on the Australian racing scene as well, where it experienced almost immediate success on the track.

In 1969, in its first year under the management of Harry Firth, Holden Dealer Team GTS350 Monaro’s took out the top and third step of the podium at the Hardie Ferodo 500, piloted by Colin Bond/Tony Roberts and Peter Brock/Des West respectively. The Monaro would also go on to take out the 1970 Surfers Paradise 12 hour race driven once again by Bond and Roberts as well as the 1970 Australian Touring Car Championship driven by Norm Beechey. Beechey’s feat was made even more impressive as a result of an 8th place finish at Calder Park, a DNF at Warwick Farm Raceway and a DNS at Symmons Plains. The Monaro would go on to race a further two years in the ATCC before the ‘supercar scare’ of 1972 rendered the Monaro ineligible for the newly developed Group C production class.

Whilst the HK GTS327 Monaro was a great car and may have been the first to take up the fight to the GT Falcon, it didn’t quite hit the nail on the head in terms of usability. It was the GTS350 which propelled the Monaro to levels at the very least equal to that of the Falcon GT. Power outputs were comparable between the Holden and Ford marquees whilst acceleration and top speed figures were almost identical. The GTS was a second faster to 50mph, however only a shade faster to 100mph (20.1 to 20.6), ensuring the Holden v Ford rivalry raged on.

Significant suspension improvements were made to the GTS350 over the regular GTS models with performance in mind. Stiffer shocks, a heavy duty stabiliser bar and rear radius rods ensured a much sportier ride whilst bearing a significant improvement over the harsh ride of the HK GTS327. The end result was a car suitable for the track whilst also being completely practical for day to day use. Interestingly, the GTS350 in manual guise was the first Holden that could be ordered with rally wheels.

The Monaro will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Holden fans, with the iconic coupe representing some of the most iconic designs in Australian automotive history. At Rare Spares, we love to hear your stories of Australian classic cars; do you own an early model Monaro? Or maybe you have your eye on a particular classic? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook Page and let us know in the comments below.

Driving for a Cause – Classics cars at the Variety Bash

The Variety Bash was founded in 1985 by none other than Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, after he invited a few mates to make the trip from Bourke in far western New South Wales all the way up to Bourketown in northern Queensland. Along the way teams would recreate the Redex Car Trials of the 1950’s whilst raising money for the Variety Club of New South Wales, a charity which to this day still raises money for children with special needs. There were a few rules for participants; all cars had to have been manufactured pre-June 1966, have no performance modifications and meet a number of safety considerations such as carrying a certain amount of water, oil and be prepared for the harshest of Australian conditions. Other ‘rules’ were fines for things such as not having enough fun, cheating (or not cheating enough!), going too fast or not fast enough and taking the event too seriously. At the end of the day, the event isn’t a race; it is an enjoyable fundraising event to help those in need!

Dick Smith’s car for the first event was a 1964 EH Holden, which he went on to use in all Variety Bash’s up until 2001, throughout which time he raised upwards of $2 million. The old Holden has had almost all of its parts replaced at one time or another, with the exception of the driver’s side door which remains original! The car now resides in the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney after a broken front chassis rail brought an ending to its bashing career.

A tradition that has stuck since the events early days is that of weird and wacky car designs and competitor costumes. From a Mad Max V8 Interceptor replica to Hippy Vans and even Limousines, the Variety Bash has seen it all throughout the years! A quick look through the Variety Bash’s cars for sale section of their website gives you an idea of the sort of vehicle required for such a journey. Highlights include a 1976 Cadillac Grandeur Opera Coupe, a 1991 Ford F150 Ambulance, a tiger striped Mercedes Benz 450SEL and a 1984 Rover SD1 V8. None of which would generally sound suited to a cross country road trip, although fit the theme that’s made the Variety Bash a truly iconic Aussie event.

Whilst the event was originally founded in New South Wales, Bash’s now take place around all states and territories of Australia, each with their own unique travel itinerary. To get involved, head over to the Variety website and start your fundraising!

Have you ever participated in the Variety Bash? Or are you in the process of putting together a car for the 2017 event? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us all about it!