Classic Australian Touring Cars

Brand loyalty. It’s a “thing” that companies spend a lot of money on in research and making it happening. Perhaps the best example of this is in the world of cars and there’s nothing more stronger nor more divisive than the love a man hath for the brand of car.

That’s why any list of Australia’s top touring cars will always be subjective, sure to cause discussion, and will be debated at length. Agreed, there are the drivers and team to consider but tell that to the marketing teams.

1. Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III

1971 and Bathurst see this car linked permanently in our motorsport history. Lap 43 of The Great Race saw Bill Brown and his yellow XY roll along the Armco after his front right tyre blew at over 100mph coming into McPhillamy Park. Three and a half rolls later Brown and his XY became part of folklore. Though it wasn’t the first time Bill had put a GT-HO on its lid, but that is a story for another day.

However there is the car itself. In qualifying for 1971’s race the top seven grid spots would be occupied by this racing machine from the Blue Oval factory. The top two cars were factory backed, the other five from privateers, and just 1.1 seconds separated fourth through to seven. Pole sitter Allan Moffat would take pole by three seconds ahead of John French.

Moffat and his Ford Falcon XY GT-HO Phase III would go on to win the 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500 and would fill in five of the top ten positions at race finish.

2. TWR Jaguar XJ-S

Jaguar is one of those brands that is either a love, or it’s a ummm, no thanks. And whilst it may not instantly be recognized as a classic Australian touring car, it did win a Bathurst 1000. The Jaguar’s Bathurst story started when Tom Walkinshaw Racing took the long and elegantly designed V12 from one of Britain’s oldest brands, and turned a grand touring car into a race oriented touring car.

The car itself took over from the legendary E-Type in 1975 and in racing trim would be entered into the then Group C category. This was for cars with engines of over three litres in capacity and placed the near five metre long “Jag” against Holden’s VK Commodore with a 5.0L V8.

In the hands of TWR and Tom himself, three XJ-S machines would be in the top ten for the 1985 James Hardie 1000. Entitled “Hardies Heroes” grid spots 6, 2, and 1 would have the JRA Ltd backed cars in place. John Goss piloted the number 10 badged car for sixth in the shootout, with Jeff Allam and Walkinshaw himself taking second and pole.

Come race time and it was the German/Australian pairing of Armin Hahne and John Goss that would greet the chequered flag after 163 laps and a race time of six hours forty one minutes. Goss would also set the fastest lap with a 2:21.86.

3. Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback.

Regarded as possibly one of the prettiest yet aggressive looking cars on Australian roads, the Holden Torana hatchback of the mid 1970s would be powered by a choice of six and V8 engines. With the tag of A9X giving the car a stronger differential and rear disc brakes plus slightly modified suspension and a Borg-Warner T10 manual four speed transmission.

Powered by the L34 spec 5.0L V8, Holden entered the LX into the Class A category for the 1978 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. That years was the introduction of the Hardies Heroes shootout, where drivers literally would draw the top ten running order for qualifying from a hat.

This era was also the sweet-spot for the Holden v Ford rivalry, as the top ten would see six Holdens and four Ford XC Falcon hardtops. Driven by Peter Brock, it would be the Marlboro-HDT Torana that would take pole by 8/10ths ahead of the Moffat Ford Dealers pairing of Colin Bond, a long time friend of Brock, and Allan Moffat.

History shows that the Holden LX Torana SS A9X Hatchback would fill four of the top ten finishing positions, with another two being the A9X four door versions. Brock and co-driver Jim Richards would be the only car to complete the full 163 laps, finishing a full lap ahead of another A9X hatchback driven by Allan Grice and John Leffler.

And then there was the legendary performance at Mount Panorama in 1979, where Brock and Richards would finish a staggering 6-laps ahead of everyone else – the next seven placed cars were also A9X Toranas.

4. Ford Falcon XC GS Hardtop

Ford Australia had resurrected a two door design for its legendary Falcon nameplate with the “coke bottle” XA Falcon in 1972. A slender nose would be offset by a somewhat heavy tail, with the rear flanks seemingly overwhelming the 14 inch diameter wheels. Subsequent redesigns would see subtle changes at the rear and with the blunter XB and XC noses adding an assertive presence.

Although perhaps of itself not a car that imprints itself into racing consciousness, it was the 1977 one-two finish of the big machines that has the XC Falcon two-doors in this list of classic Aussie touring cars.

Although Allan Moffat, the Canadian born driver that had made Australia his home, had qualified third, behind team mate Colin Bond, he would subsequently lay down the quickest lap of the 1977 race. Finishing a lap ahead of Peter Janson and Larry Perkins in their A9X hatchback, team orders had Moffat lead Bond into the final turn and across the line by a half car length in vision that brings tears to the eyes of Ford fans.

5. Volkswagen Beetle 1200.

1963 and the Volkswagen Beetle is finding love and homes throughout the world. It also found success on Australian racetracks. Entered into Class A, a category for cars costing less than nine hundred pounds, the “Dak-dak” would be amongst the list of cars racing at Mount Panorama for the Armstrong 500. The race had moved from Victoria’s Phillip Island and with the Australian Racing Drivers Club the new organizers.

In Class A, four VW 1200s would be in the top 5, with the winners of the class, Barry Ferguson and Bill Ford completing 116 laps of the new venue, and completing this list of the top five Australian Touring Cars.

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Picture Credit: www.autopics.com.au

Classic Bathurst Recap - 1989

Changes were in the wind in the 1989 Bathurst 1000. Sponsored by beer giant Tooheys, the event continued its growth in stature internationally, and internally. Teams expanded from one car to two, and a return to the past was made, in the form of a standing start.

The all-conquering Ford Sierra RS500 was back and in bigger numbers. Enough were here that one of Australia’s favourite sons and a Holden icon had made the jump into the Blue Oval camp. The King of the Mountain would also be involved in an incident that, although technically within the rules, wasn’t seen as being of a sporting nature.

The Sierras attracted big names from overseas. Briton Andy Rouse came in to drive alongside Peter Brock. Ruedi Eggenberger returned to run the Allan Moffat operation, with a brand new car for Klaus Niedzwiedz, Moffat and Frank Biela. Alain Ferté flew in to drive a Glenn Seton car. Toyota was here, with the six cylinder Supra. John Smith and Drew Price, while Nissan had Anders Olofsson.

This year’s race was also an advance in television coverage, with the Tooheys Top ten shootout broadcast in full for the first time. The fastest ten cars from qualifying on Friday were sent out on the Saturday to determine the positions. Of the top ten final results, all but one were Sierras, with Nissan and Jim Richards claiming seventh.

Peter Brock would be given pole and it would be the only pole position of his career that wasn’t in a Commodore powered by a V8. It would also be a frustrating result for the Holden faithful as there were no Red Lion cars to be seen in that ten. There is also a little bit of history here, with all cars in the top ten being powered by a turbocharged engine, a feat not seen before or since.

The controversy around Brock and his car was simple, in essence. A fire suppressant system in the cars used a gas called Halon. A nozzle in the engine bay after the top ten run was found in scrutineering to have been pointed towards the engine’s turbo intercooler. The theory was that the gas had been discharged, lowering the temperature and boosting the engine output. Although later deemed to be not illegal, Brock was fined five thousand dollars.

A return to the standing start procedure also raised eyebrows. With a set start time of 10:00am, a formation lap had been performed and cars lined up on the grid. However it appeared that some were a little early and the subsequent wait may have contributed to a number of cars suffering engine failures during the race.

Race start and Brock lead the field, with old mate and sparring partner Dick Johnson, (with co-driver being Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe) in hot pursuit. There would be drama for Andrew Miedecke inside the first lap, with his #6 Sierra stuck in fifth gear thanks to a broken gear selector. This came on top of the #8 sister car, driven by Andrew Bagnall, crashing during the top ten shootout, however with only light damage allowing the car to start as the tenth car.

Coming down Conrod Straight, Johnson’s Sierra would pass Brock to take the lead, where throughout the next 160 laps it would remain.

The race would see a number of cars fail to finish due to mechanical problems. Brock himself would pit his Sierra, complaining of a loose rear wheel. The Tony Longhurst and Giancarlo Brancatelli Sierras would retire with Brancatelli’s car losing a wheel, and Longhurst out after his Benson and Hedges #25 car blew a head gasket. Longhurst would move into the #20 car and along with Alan Jones and Denny Hulme completed the race in fifth.

Glenn Seton’s Sierra had found oil on the track at Skyline. Seton’s #30 Peter Jackson sponsored car slammed into the tyre barrier backwards. Seton was ok and the car was able to be driven to the pits for repair where he, John Goss, and Tony Noske would later pilot the car to 20th. The #35 car would not complete the race.

Debris from Seton’s vehicle had an unfortunate knock-on effect for Brad Jones. Brake lines are an effective piece of equipment in a car when they’re in one piece. Jones’ car would have theirs cut by the debris, leaving Jones to find that out at speed coming into the Chase. He and co-drive Paul Radisich benched the car and would lose eight laps, finishing 9th.

The Sierras were showing signs of stress with the #18 Shell Ultra Hi car, driven by the UK pairing Jeff Allam and Robb Gravett, suffering electrical issues. Allan Moffat’s second car would be parked after just thirty laps, whilst John Mann and Murray Carter’s Sierra lasted just ten.

However the Skylines and Commodores were showing no such signs. Alan grice and Peter Janson would find themselves in the top five thanks to smart fuel pit strategy however some gremlins got into the transmission, dropping them to tenth at race finish. Brock’s rear wheel issue looked to have been fixed and the team would be back in the top three half way through the race. But again a problem occurred, this time with a recalcitrant wheel nut needing to be cut off. The hub was discovered to be so worn a new one could not be fitted and the team was out.

Bowe and Johnson had cemented their lead but in the closing laps the turbo boost pressure was falling. Bowe nursed the car along enough to hold the lead, watching the second Moffat Sierra, driven by Niedzwiedz and Frank Biela eventually fall off enough for Bowe to pit for a final fuel stop and get the car across the line for the win a full minute ahead of Biela.

Third would go to Jim Richards and a young Mark Skaife, in the Nissan Skyline HR31 GTS-R, with a team driver swap having Anders Olofsson bring home the second car in fourth.

Of fifty six cars entered, twenty nine would not see the chequered flag for the Tooheys Bathurst 1000 in 1989.

Classic Bathurst Recap - 2006

The Bathurst 1000 of 2006 will be forever etched in history as the one “The King of the Mountain” watched from up high and saw his protégé’ Craig Lowndes, alongside a champion in the making, Jamie Whincup, hold the first ever Peter Brock Trophy over the pit lane crowd.

It was the second win for CL, as he’s known, and the first for Whincup after his second place the year before.

Thirty one cars would be entered in this year’s “Great Race”, with an almost even split of Holden and Ford branded vehicles. Ford would field fifteen BA Falcons, the first model after the ill-fated AU Falcon, whilst Holden showcased sixteen VZ Commodores, the final iteration of a design essentially a decade old.

Qualifying was tight and intense, resulting in the top eight cars being separated by under a second, and the top eighteen cars separated by under two seconds.

Again it was almost an even split for the then top two locally made cars, with four Falcons and six Commodores. Of the top five though, just one blue oval branded car would be there, with a former Holden driver, Jason Bright, in second. Provisonal pole had gone to Holden driver Mark Skaife in a blistering 2:06.9764, just a tenth ahead of Bright’s Falcon.

The Top Ten Shootout would see Skaife carry that form onwards, with a 2:07.4221, a full three tenths quicker than Bright. Rick Kelly, New Zealand born Jason Richards and Greg Murphy, all in Commodores, would round out the top five. Eventual race winner Lowndes, driving the Ford BA Falcon, would be beaten to fifth by a mere four one thousandths of a second.

The race itself was held on Sunday October 8. In 2006 it was the ninth race weekend of the then V8 Supercars Championship. It would also prove to be the longest race since 2002. With all 161 laps completed it finished just seven seconds shy of seven hours and a full twenty two minutes longer than the previous year.

A race start incident proved to be crucial in the final results. Pole sitter Skaife went from hero to zero within a half minute, with a clutch failure leaving him battling to get his Commodore moving to race speed. Although he had cleared the first corner he had got as far as the first rise on the road to the top of the mountain, and with heavy traffic behind him an unfortunate Jack Perkins was blindsided, ploughing his Commodore into Skaife’s and forcing him into the wall.

This allowed the second grid spot driver, Jason Bright and his co-driver Mark Winterbottom, to take the lead. However a brake lockup had Bright require a tyre change with just fifteen laps completed. More woe befell the duo with Winterbottom garaging the car on lap 28. A full fourteen cars would fail to finish the 2006 race, with Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe, alongside his mate and co-driver Brad Jones, finishing eleventh.

The race was punctuated by a number of safety car interventions, including one of over twenty minutes after the veteran Kiwi born Paul Radisich, on lap 71, had his Commodore spear into a retaining wall at the Chase. The impact rolled the car onto its side and left Radisich in need of trackside marshal intervention to remove him from his stricken vehicle. Just six laps would be held in that fourth hour of the race.

As seems traditional with the Bathurst 1000, a late race incident played a part in the final standings. Jason Richards also lost control and hit a wall. Laps remaining were just ten. Rick Kelly and Craig Lowndes were dealing with a six second buffer prior to the final safety car call to deal with the Richards car. A fired up Lowndes would lay down the race’s quickest lap on the 158th circuit of the 6.213 kilometres worth of tarmac, and would greet the chequered flag a bare half second ahead of a determined Kelly.

In tumultuous and emotional scenes on the presentation balcony, Lowndes would be in tears as he acknowledged his late friend and mentor, Peter Brock.

Is 2006 your favourite Bathurst 1000? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us your memories of the weekend in the comments section below this article.

The Holden Monaro 427C - Australia's Homegrown GT Monster

The Australian automotive industry is an oddity in the global scheme of things. A small buying population, the most brands per head of population, and innovations not seen elsewhere, make it virtually unique.

Although we weren’t the first to build a car with a hardtop and two doors, we certainly made some great ones. Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Holden all have cars that are memorable and one that stands out was the Monaro 427C. 

Designed, engineered, and built in Australia, this car was intended to be a track weapon and race in the Bathurst 24 Hour. The first of these races was set to run in late 2002, meaning the development of the car, slated to run in 2003, had to be brought forward. 

The heartbeat of the 427C was its US sourced 7.0L or 427cid V8. With the Holden Racing Team turning down the offer of developing the machine, Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) took the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R engine, a Monaro body, and the responsibility of running the 427C as a race car. 

The car would later be a controversial one; the race would attract cars from outside Australia such as Lamborghini’s Diablo GTR, Ferrari’s 360 N-GT, and the monstrous Chrysler Viper ACR. All of these cars would race with the same engine they would come off the production line with. However, the Monaro at the time came with Chev’s fabled 350cid or 5.7L V8, and therefore would be ineligible to run. However, the organiser of the race, which would come under the umbrella of a racing group called Procar, allowed the Monaro to be run with the bigger engine to be seen as more competitive with capacities such as the 8.0L V10 in the Viper.

As the race was going to be run under the then current GT regulations, GRM had to design a body kit to suit both the regulations and the aerodynamics of the VX Commodore based two door. Using the V8 Supercars design as a basis, GRM fitted a wider rear wing that sat below the car’s roofline, as per the regulations. A similar front air dam was fitted to the front, and underneath the 427C utilized a number of components that could be found on a Supercar. 

A technically minded casual observer would see a Hollinger six speed manual transmission, wheels of 18 x 11 and 18 x 13 inches, MacPherson strut front suspension and a trailing arm rear, bolted to coil springs and thick anti-roll bars. The engine was said to be good for 600 ponies (447kW) and would be bolted into the front of a car weighing 1,400 kilograms. 

All up the Monaro 427C would be 4789mm in length, run a front and rear track of 1559mm/1577mm, and roll on a wheelbase of 2788mm. The aero package provided plenty of down-force and made for a stable on track racer. 

Raced at the 2002 Bathurst 24 Hour by a team of four drivers, being Garth Tander, Nathan Pretty, Steven Richards, and Cameron McConville, the car was also being touted as being available as a road car. The race car itself would prove to be strong, durable, and a race winner. Although despite suffering a flat tyre and a collision with another car, the car would ultimately win in its debut race by 24 laps.

As a road car, it was potentially to be powered by a 433kW version of the 427cid engine. But, as a business case, the numbers simply didn’t add up and would result in a mooted buy price of $215,000 being out of reach of its intended market. Just two road going cars, and just four race cars, would be built.

The Monaro 427C would go on to compete in the Australian Nations Cup Championship in 2003, and the Bathurst 24 Hour race in the same year. A second race car had been built by then. Driven by Peter Brock, Jason Bright, Todd Kelly, and Greg Murphy, the car would win by just 0.3035 of a second. Tander, driving the 2002 winning vehicle, was thwarted in a last sector charge by a yellow flag thanks to a car close to the racing line.

The 427C would race in 2004 and see a third chassis completed, before the Nations Cup category collapsed due to fiscal issues. With regulations reverting to GT Championship rules in 2005, the Monaro 427C was deemed ineligible. Of the race cars, one is with a private collector, one is in the Bathurst Motor Museum, and little if anything is known of the locations of the others.  

Aussie Motorsport Classic: The Channel 9 Camaro

October 3, 1982. Reid Park, Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Lap 27. Kevin Bartlett. Camaro. A time, location and car that are forever etched into Australian motorsport history.

KB is up with the leaders in the famous Bathurst 1000 when one of a batch of fourteen wheels the team had bought for the Camaro fails. It’s the rear left. Instantly, the tyre deflates, pitching the Channel 9 branded car’s rear into the concrete safety wall. The left front bounces off as the nose swings around and it’s just on a right hand curve on an uphill run.

Unsettled, there’s momentum enough to cause the Camaro to roll over to the right, landing on its roof. The car skids to the other side of the track and quickly a trackside official is there to assist a shaken Bartlett out of the inverted Camaro. He’s ok, points at the clearly ruined wheel and tyre, and walks into the crowd.

In context, it was a miracle that Bartlett and the Channel 9 sponsored car were in the race at all. In practice just a couple of days before, co-driver Colin Bond was at the wheel when a ball joint nut on the front left wishbone came adrift. The front left suspension collapsed and flung the corner into the wall. The location? Almost exactly where the wheel would fail two days later.

As KB says: “it was a miracle that my crew and the TAFE smash repair team had it back together in time for qualifying.” However, there’s more to the story in getting the car on track in the first place.

Bartlett bought the car, a brand new 1978 built machine, from an American dealership and imported the car into Australia. The intent was to race it in what was then the Group C regulations. Once the car landed, Bartlett says, a lot of work was needed to get the car down to the weight as stipulated. The leaf spring suspension was replaced with fibreglass units, super strong Kevlar for the front guards and spoilers, but CAMS insisted that the car use drum brakes at the rear, instead of the optional disc brakes.

In case you’re wondering why the car looks different to a 1978 model, it’s because CAMS also said the car had to run with bodywork from the ’74 to ’77 models. Bartlett still shakes his head in disbelief. But there was a hidden benefit as it turned out. The earlier bumpers were aluminium, not steel…

Is the Channel 9 Camaro your favourite Aussie Motorsport classic? Or maybe you're a GTHO or Torana sort of person? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us about your favourite cars to hit the Australian motorsport scene!