Five Memorable Summernats Grand Champions

Summer is fast approaching and for many that means one thing; Summernats. Summernats plays host each year to Australia’s best show cars, street cars, burnout cars and more in a festival of cars, music and burnt rubber. Each year the elite entrants compete in a series of events to establish who is the year’s Grand Champion, with criteria stretched from the typical ‘car show’ presentation points to include a number of driving tests. A scroll through the list of previous Grand Champions is like a walk through one of the most impressive car museums you’ve ever seen, and in this article we’ll take a quick look back at some of our favourites.

Rob Beauchamp’s VL Commodore – Top Street Machine Overall at Summernats 1, 2 & 3

Rob’s Jaw dropping VL Commodore will be remembered as not only one of the meanest VL’s in the land, but as also a car that pushed the limits of the term ‘street machine’. Fitted with a Kinsler-injected 302 Chev at the time, the VL was a full blown drag car, capable of mid 10’s and barely suited to use on the street. It was the immaculate attention to details that won fans and judges alike to win the then named Top Street Machine overall at Summernats 1, 2 & 3.

Howard Astill’s Rock Solid 3 – Grand Champion at Summernats 4 & 5

Howard Astill’s XA Falcon went through a number of guises throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s before it was reborn as the gobsmacking Rock Solid 3. Featuring an ever-so-cool neon paintjob, Rock Solid 3 typified what the punters love about show cars – it was fast, loud and eye catching. The XA would dominate Summernats 4 & 5 before being parked to allow Astill to move on to the next of his many incredible builds. In recognition of his contribution to the show car scene, Astill was honoured as a Rare Spares Legend in 2009 – check out our blog from 2015 with Howard here.

Joe Lore’s BLOWJO XY Falcon – Grand Champion at Summernats 23

Everybody loves an XY, and you’ll struggle to find any better in the land than Joe Lore’s purple beast. Featuring a 351 Cleveland (stroked to 383cu) and a humungous blower, BLOWJO is an incredibly striking vehicle that ran away with victory at Summernats 23 in 2010. If you haven’t had the chance to see this XY up close yet, keep an eye out for the incredibly detailed airbrush work on the interior and underbody, this car is a true work of art.

Peter Fitzpatrick’s ’59 FC Holden – Grand Champion at Summernats 2

A six time Grand Champion winner, Peter Fitzpatrick is a name that stands without peer in the Summernats history books. At Summernats 24 Peter Fitzpatrick arrived with his ’59 FC Holden and swept all before him, taking out not only the coveted Grand Champion award, but also winning the People’s Champ and Top Judged awards, the first to do so in the history of Summernats. Peter Fitzpatrick is also a Rare Spares Legend, recognised in 2012 for his legendary contribution to the street machine community.

Mark ‘Happy’ Williams’ HQ One Tonner – Grand Champion at Summernats 30

The most recent Summernats Grand Champion winner, fan favourite Mark ‘Happy’ Williams and his HQ One Tonner was a popular winner with the huge Summernats 30 crowd. The Supercharged One tonner is a sight to behold and sounds incredible, becoming the first Western Australian built car to take out the Grand Champion sword at the 2017 event. An emotional victory for Williams, who lost his father only days before the event, in his memory the car’s license plates were changed from ‘2HAPPY’ to ‘4MYDAD’.

Which is your favourite Summernats Grand Champion? We would love to hear which car and why, so head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

1979 Bathurst Re-cap

In the lead up to this year’s Bathurst 1000, Rare Spares are taking a look back at some of the most memorable Bathurst’s in history. We kicked things off with a look at the 1992 Bathurst 1000, which you can read about here. In this second installment, we will be re-capping the 1979 Hardie Ferodo 1000, an event that typifies the legend of the late great, Peter Brock.

Peter Brock, 34 at the time with three Bathurst victories under his belt, was partnered with New Zealander Jim Richards and the all-conquering A9X Torana. Coming off a second place finish in the 1979 Australian Touring Car Championship, Brock and co-driver Richards were undoubtedly favourites for the big race.

After dominating practice, qualifying and the Hardies Heroes Top Ten Shootout to the tune of a 2 second victory, Brock started the race from the front of the grid. With the likes of Larry Perkins, Allan Grice, Allan Moffat, Dick Johnson and Bob Morris fronting the starter some were predicting it mightn’t be the walk in the park that many thought was a guaranteed. Well any doubters were silenced almost immediately with Brock pulling out to a 5 second lead within the first lap.

Brock dominated the first 2 hours of proceedings before pitting for fuel and allowing Richards to jump behind the wheel of the mighty Torana. The domination continued throughout Richards’ stint, who performed the role of a model co-driver by running fast, clean laps before handing the car back over to Brock to bring it home. The final stint of the race has gone down in racing folklore. Brock continued to run rings around the field, eventually taking the chequered flag some six laps ahead of the competition, even managing to break the circuit lap record on the final lap of the race! 

The Torana domination wasn’t confined to the top step of the podium either, with the next seven, yes you read that correctly, seven positions also occupied by Toranas! After the race Brock described the race as “An absolute dream run for us. From the word go the car was really on the ball and we drove it fast all day. We didn’t have to slow down for any reason.”

Of course, Brocky would go on to win five more Bathurst’s and the 24hour race in 2003, making him the most successful racer at the mountain, it is this race though that is remembered as one of his best.

Which year at Bathurst should we re-cap next? Do you have a favourite Bathurst memory? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.

Five unusual HSV’s

Holden Special Vehicles has earned an iconic status in the Australian automotive landscape over the last 30 odd years and has manufactured some of the country’s most impressive and fastest sports cars. However, as with most manufactures, not every single model has been a hit with the public and some won’t go down in history as ‘special vehicles’. Time has not aged the below cars particularly well, but none the less in this article we will take a look at three HSV’s that were on the unusual side.

HSV SV1800 Astra

The Nissan Pulsar… ah Holden Astra, wait no the HSV SV1800 Astra will go down as one of the least inspiring and unsuccessful HSV’s to hit the showroom floor. Powering the SV1800 was the all-conquering 1.8 litre four Cylinder Holden Family II engine which produced a mind-warping 79kw and 151nm. HSV took the Pulsar, added HSV badges, a Walkinshaw-esque ‘wind tunnel designed’ body kits and a HSV build plate. Only 30 sedans and 35 hatchbacks were ever sold, with the remaining body kits winding up as a special option for the regular Holden Astra.

HSV Jackaroo

For the HSV Jackaroo, designers took the regular Holden Jackaroo added an uninspiring body kit, velour trim and badges… and that’s about it. Less than 100 of the off-roaders were built, so perhaps as with many other obscure, short-lived cars if you’re an owner you may be wondering if you’re sitting on a gold mine. Guess again. The HSV variant of the Jackaroo will likely net you somewhere in the region of $5-7K (very marginally more than the Holden variant). Off-roaders bemoan the lack of a V8 or a supercharger that would have undoubtedly ensured the Jackaroo lived up to the HSV reputation of being ‘special’.

 

HSV Challenger

Chances are that you’ve probably never heard of the VN Challenger, only the most diehard HSV fans will remember the 50 ‘dolled-up’ Executive Commodore’s that were put together for the Holden dealer group in Canberra. Features included body coloured wheel covers and bumper bars, pin stripes, a HSV grille taken from the SV3800 and Challenger decals and the only colour option was ‘Alpine White’. While the Challenger itself is not particularly unusual, in fact if anything it’s far too ‘usual’ to be considered a ‘special vehicle’, it’s the reason behind its production which is strange. In the early 90’s, HSV produced a number of short run models to coincide with motoring events and other reasons they saw fit, including the Challenger as well as the DMG90, SVT-30, 8-plus and Plus-6, none of which quite reached the lofty heights of many HSV’s that followed.

Have you owned any of the above HSV’s? Or maybe you have a story about one of the many other HSV’s that have hit showroom floors over the last three decades? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments below.

Gone But Not Forgotten – Australian Tracks of Yesteryear

Australia plays host to a number of internationally renowned motorsports events each and every year with Philip Island, Mount Panorama and Albert Park the most notable circuits on the motorsports calendar. But what about the tracks of yesteryear, the tracks that once held events which spectators would flock to in droves? What happened to these tracks and what lays in their place now? We will look to answer a few of these questions in this week’s blog.

Oran Park

Oran Park closed down in 2010 to make way for a housing development after almost 50 years of racing. The course held a reputation within both the car and motorcycle world as a tight, fast and unforgiving circuit which punished even the slightest mistake. The last Supercar race took place at the venue in 2008, in what also served as Mark Skaife’s final full time race event, Rick Kelly went to win the final race of the weekend while Garth Tander took the round win. Unfortunately, as a result of the housing development there’s not really anything left of the track at Oran Park, with only the street names such as Moffat St, Seton St and Peter Brock Drive to represent the racing of yesteryear.

 

Surfers Paradise Raceway

Racing in Surfers Paradise began long before the days of champ cars, the Indy 300, A1 Grand Prix and Supercars as we know them today. Way back in 1966, Gold Coast Businessman Keith Williams (of Sea World fame) decided to build a co-existing race track and drag strip in Surfers Paradise. The popular track hosted weekly drags as well as the ATCC, Tasman Series and even the 1975 Australian Grand Prix with drivers such as Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Allan Moffat and Bob Jane racing at the track regularly. As with Oran Park, Surfers Paradise Raceway was demolished to give way to the ever-expanding urban sprawl. Of course racing still continues in the form of Supercars on the iconic Surfers Paradise Street Circuit, so not all racing has been lost in the city.

 

Catalina Park  

Opening in 1960, ‘The Gully’ as it was commonly known was one of the nation’s more treacherous racing circuits including rock walls, cliffs and a narrow track right in the heart of the blue mountains. As a result of its mountainous location, fog issues ensured that many race days encountered scheduling issues. While racing stopped at the venue in 1970, the track was utilised for one lap dashes with single cars up until the 1990’s. In 2002 the site was declared an Aboriginal place.

Lobethal

Considered by some to be Australia’s Spa-Francorchamps, Lobethal was a fast, flowing street circuit in South Australia. The almost 14km course ran through the towns of Charleston and Lobethal, with scores of spectators basing themselves at the local pubs to watch the racing. The 1939 Australian Grand Prix was raced on the Lobethal circuit, with racers completing 17 laps in the scorching Australian summer – a number of cars were unable to complete the race. The final race meeting was held in 1948, before closed-street racing was banned altogether by the South Australian government.

Have you driven or raced around any of these circuits? Or do you have a favourite Australian circuit that’s no longer with us? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook Page and let us know in the comments section below.

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.