The Holden ECOmmodore

Holden has a history of quietly sneaking concept cars or forthcoming design changes into public view. Possibly its biggest hidden in plain sight concept of the last two decades was the ECOmmodore of 2000.

Ostensibly a four door coupe version of the VT Commodore, it would eventually point the way towards the upcoming rebirth of the Monaro after showcasing a concept in 1998. But the real talking point was the engine package inside the swoopy body.

Holden had joined the then burgeoning hybrid technology race, and in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO, put forward a petrol and battery powered engine combination.

The petrol side was a transversely mounted 2.0L four cylinder, replacing the 3.8L V6 normally found under the VT’s bonnet. An electric motor, complete with super-capacitors and lead-acid batteries, supplemented the four, with power rated as 50kW. The fuel tank was down to 45L yet the expected range was 800km thanks to a near halving of consumption. There was plenty of torque available for the hybrid with a total of 290Nm, but thanks to the electric motor, 100Nm was there on startup.

The transmission was a five speed manual and, because of the east-west engine layout, fed that oomph to the front wheels, not the rear. Emissions were said to be 10% of the normal V6 engine yet performance would have been within cooee of the existing engine and auto transmission.

The body was a slightly modified Monaro shell; not only were there four doors, it was fitted over the longer wheelbase wagon floorpan. Aluminium was used to replace sections of the steel floor, with other weight saving additions such as polycarbonate replacing the glass windows, strong but lightweight carbon fibre panels, and some fibreglass panels also.

Good looking 18 inch alloys were bolted to the reduced weight suspension components, with rolling resistance lowered by fitting narrower than standard tyres at 165/55. All up, the modifications lowered drag from 0.32cd to 0.28cd.

The ECOmmodore would star in the Sydney Olympics torch relay, leading the first 70km stretch from the heart of Australia, Uluru. Although never intended to be a production vehicle, costing showed that if it had been produced, it was at a $3000 premium over the VT at the time.

Ahead of its time at the time, the ECOmmodore foreshadowed other marques developing four door coupe bodyshells, and even more, it was 18 years ahead of a tantalizing piece of “what if” with HSV revealing that plans to electrify the ZB Commodore were being investigated.

The last known location of the ECOmmodore was inside The Powerhouse Museum.

What’s your favourite Holden concept car? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments sections below this article! 

Best Australian Motorsport Liveries

Imagine, if you will, sitting in the grandstand at your favourite motorsport circuit, and watching a field of cars, all black, racing. Or all white. Or all blue…you get the picture. Yes, it may sound great but gees, it looks pretty boring seeing unidentifiable cars circulating.

Graphic designers and teams spend a lot of time designing the look of a car in order to do two main things: make the car look visually appealring, and to promote the sponsors of the team racing the car.

Sometimes though, it’s not the range of colours applied that have a car stand out, it’s how they’ve been applied. Here’s a few to consider.

Craig Lowndes AU Falcon

Holden, Ford, Holden. Craig Lowndes has stamped himself as a legend, however it was his 2001 AU Falcon that quickly captured attention. With a body scheme of black and silver, the rounded AU Falcon made itself a a car that took easily to being a team and sponsor billboard. But it was the lurid green appliqué to the headlights, a colour that somehow burned its way through any lighting conditions, that had eyes on it. The rest of the car was a mix of simple and elegant curves, with a large silver and black Ford logo on its rear flanks, a rare occasion of not seeing the Blue Oval in blue. 

Kevin Bartlett Channel 9 Camaro

“KB” is a lovely and genial bloke. Always with a ready smile and an anecdote from his extensive racing career in the back pocket, Bartlett took a metaphorical back seat to one particular vehicle.

Rule changes were under way for Aussie tin top racing in the latter part of the 1970s, and some American muscle found its way to the tarmac. Bartlett was handed the keys to a 1978 Camaro, and it would be painted in a simple combination of yellow icons over a blue base.

It was an immediate success in garnering attention; the massive front air dam had a television network’s name prominently displayed  in the centre, their logo in broad swathes on the right and left hand sides, and the station identifier on the landing pad sized bonnet. Front and rear bumpers had generous applications of yellow to provide some horizontal relief. Eye catching? Most certainly.

John Bowe Touring Car Masters LX Torana

A more modern entrant but with history on its sides (literally) is the LX Torana as campaigned by Rrare Spares brand ambassador, John Bowe, in the Touring Car Masters category.

The initial scheme is simple. A banana yellow base has acres of a light blue on the sides and a strong front to rear presence. That in itself looks fine, but it’s the subtle splashes of red, along with the careful placement of the numerous sponsors that somehow manage to be readable in a crowded canvas, that have Bowe’s “Torrie” in the list.

Dick Johnson Tru-Blu/Greens-Tuf Falcons

Sometimes a monochrome canvas can be hugely effective in standing out. Dick Johnson, a legend in Australian motorsport, kept things “simple” with his XD and XE Falcons.

Using the ethos of “KISS”, or Keep It Simple, Stupid, Johnson painted his XD Falcon in one shade of blue, and his XE in green. No fancy pants extra colours for the bumpers, or bonnet, or roof. They were kept free for the placement of the sponsors on the vast, flat, surfaces of the blocky Falcon’s bodywork. The basic design of the XD and XE made for excellent opportunities to place sponsors in strategically and highly visual locations, with the huge doors and bonnet seeing the main sponsors in pride of place.

It’s perhaps the Greens-Tuf car that has more of a place in history. The car hit a rock that had been accidentally dislodged by a spectator during the 1980 Bathurst 1000, with the end result seeing the bright green machine, complete with faux Ch7 logo on its flanks, reduced to a smoking shell.

Mark Skaife HRT Commodore

Evolution is a slow progress. But side by side a change in look can be plotted, and one line of change came to fruition on Holden’s Commodore in the early noughties. Again it was a duo of colours that made the car stand out.

The VY Commodore was a somewhat jarring mix of a rounded, organic, middle section, bracketed by a nose and rear that had defined angles. It was the smooth rear door section that lent itself best to Holden Racing Team’s logo; a combination of Holden’s lion and HRT’s helmeted race driver with an almost satanic glare inferred.

The slope to the bonnet allowed designers to front and centre a reverse colour image of the famous Holden lion as a visual counterpoint to the white outlines of the flank’s images. And, as we all know, a red car goes faster.

 

Rare Spares would love to know what you think is the best livery on a race car, be it a Mini from the 1960s, a Charger from the 1970s, or even a Formula Ford seen on track in 2018.

Drop us a line on our social media pages and keep in touch via our blog site.

The Falcon 300+ Prototype

Cars were simple once. Four doors, two doors, five doors in a wagon, three in a panel van. Australia’s own motoring history is full of variations on the theme, particularly of the two door variety. Holden had the Monaros and Toranas, Mitsubshi the Starion, Toyota the Supra and Celica, Chrysler the mighty Valiant, and Ford?

Ford had a “tudor” going back to the days of the XP Falcon, a beautifully proportioned and styled machine. Escorts and Cortinas bobbled in and out with two doors. There was the heavy hipped XA to XC coupes, and then….nada. And it stayed that way for some time, until a design proposal for an AU Falcon based coupe was put forward. Admittedly, the AU wasn’t the prettiest looking thing on the road, so a coupe?

Inspiration, in a way, came from brothers Troy and Clayton Hillier, well known in street machine circles. Based in Tenterfield, the brothers had, without attention and fanfare, converted an AU sedan to a coupe. Once Ford had been made aware of the car by W.A. based Advanced Engine Components, (AEC), and Millard Design in Victoria. Along with the soft approval of Ford, the car was put together in a relatively short time.

Showcased at the Melbourne Auto Show in 2001, the red and silver highlighted machine certainly grabbed plenty of attention. Power was courtesy of a supercharged 4.6L V8, said to produce 370kW and 660Nm (with varying figures for both, it must be said), thanks to the Sprintex huffer from AEC bolted on top.

Gears came courtesy of a six speed Tremec manual, that, when spun up, would join with the engine to see a 0-100 kmh time of 4.6 seconds, a rapid time in anyone’s book. Having 245/35 ZR19 and 275/30 ZR19 tyres to steer and grip certainly helped. Stoppers were four and two potters from Brembo.

But it was the styling that made this car, sadly a one off, stand out.  There was tacit support from Ford Australia, with the then head of Ford Motorsport, Howard Marsden, overseeing the build project. It was based on the TE50 sedan platform, and was given some serious massage work.

Computer Aided Design, or CAD, was employed. A redesign of the rear bulkhead and floorplan was undertaken to reduce weight and increase torsional strength. The rear guards were given a push outwards, but the main ingredient was the rearward movement of the B pillar by 200 mm. Naturally this meant the doors had to be lengthened and strengthened to suit.

In order to overcome what is called a “crown effect”, and working with an already bulbous roofline (which would be flatted substantially for the BA Falcon), visual and physical design cues were employed. The roof was flattened substantially, however a lower profile rear wing was fitted to assist in making the car, especially from the rear, look lower.

Twin headlights were fitted inside the triangular housings up front. The bonnet was massaged to provide clearance for the Sprintex supercharger. Bodywork here was a change to a simple looking air intake and the ground scraping chin on the bumper.

Inside, the trim was lifted by fitting leather clad seats with red and grey trim. The driver binnacle was upgraded by using the Fairmont dash, however the overall dash design, complete with its soft organic curves, was untouched in real terms.

The build itself was effectively a joint venture between the three companies and relied on Ford to see the project through for a viable sales base. Allegedly there were fifteen orders for the car, and at a price of around $100,000, that was a substantial investment.

However, without the deeper pockets of Ford being available when they withdrew their support, the Falcon 300+ would remain an orphan, and a blip in Australia’s “tudor” history.

What has been your favourite Australian made prototype? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below this article. 

Craig Lowndes Motorsport Career

His Mum calls him Craig. His mates call him whatever they want. Fans call him CL, or Lowndesy. We know him as Craig Lowndes. During his racing career he would become known for not just his talent, but his ever present smile, a great sense of humour, and a deep appreciation for his followers.

In a (V8) Supercars career that started in 1996, the year of his 22nd birthday, Lowndes became a winner at Bathurst seven times, including the memorable win in 2006 where he and Jamie Whincup became the first to have their names etched on the Peter Brock Trophy. He’s a triple V8 Supercars champion, and, as of the end of 2018, no longer a full time competitor in the Supercars championship.

Born in Melbourne on June 21, 1974, Lowndes trod a path many others have followed when following a motorsport dream. Karting was the weapon of choice, and at the age of nine he was likely to be found at the Whittlesea karting circuit, some forty or so kilometres north of the Melbourne CBD.

It took less than a decade before racing success came his way. In Formula Ford Lowndes found a kindred automotive spirit, gaining valuable exposure in the Motorcraft Formula Ford “Drive To Europe” series in 1991. Other drivers that found fame in this series were Russell Ingall, Tomas Mezera, and Cameron McConville.

1993 and Lowndes wins the Formula Ford championship, propelling him into the vision of Formula Ford in Europe. The championship title eluded him, but not by much, with third being notched up.

Come 1994 and he’s in Formula Brabham, winning the Australian Silver Star. Also known as Formula Holden, the series itself was short-lived. The Brabham nomenclature was part of the series for just five years, from 1991 to 1995. V8 Supercars were coming and the bright lights beckoned.

Lowndes was added to the test team crew of the Holden Racing Team and competed, in what was meant to be a one off appearance, alongside Brad Jones for the 1994 Sandown 500. The drive was successful enough to impress team principal Jeff Grech enough to offer a seat that had become vacant to Lowndes.

The 1994 Bathurst 1000 race cemented Lowndes as part of the Australian racing landscape. Ballsy driving, a rookie error or two, and a second place in 1994 set him on the path to become a full time member of HRT, winning the championship with them in 1996. On his first full season with them, mind. It had Lowndes drive next to Greg Murphy, with the win making Lowndes the youngest driver to win “The Great Race” at the time.

Although Australian success was his, the call from his heart to return to Europe was strong. 1997 and the International Formula 3000 Championship saw Lowndes sharing team driving duties with Juan Pablo Montoya. The candle was alight but the success proved elusive for the Victorian, with just one season completed and Lowndes returning to Australia.

By this time the V8 Supercars category was established and in full flight, with Lowndes quickly returning to form on Australian circuits. The 1997 Sandown 500 was added to the trophy cabinet, with “Murf” his co-driver. The next year Lowndes and Mark Skaife co-starred throughout the year, and Lowndes took out the 1998 championship. 1999 promised a lot inside the new VT Commodore and consistent performance had Lowndes on track to win that year’s championship by the time round eight arrived.

The location? Calder Park. The result? A car written off, one of the most spectacular rollovers seen in Aussie motorsport, and one very lucky CL. Although the crash gave him just minor injuries and being forced to miss the Sandown race that year, his lead was such that the championship was yet again his.

Australia’s automotive brand rivalry was brought to the fore at the beginning of the 21st century as Lowndes went from a red lion to a blue oval on his car. Further colour changes came in the form of his AU Falcon being a combination of black, silver, and green, the latter on the headlight covers and giving the car the affectionate nickname of “the green eyed monster”.

As much a talking point the car was, it didn’t deliver for Lowndes. It wasn’t until 2003 when a move to FPR, Ford Performance Racing, that his first win with Ford and the first since 2000 came along. The tenure with FPR proved short in time, with Lowndes signing with Team Betta Electrical, or Triple Eight Racing, for 2005. This was partly spurred by a 20th place finish for the 2004 season.

Again his tilt at the championship was looking good; he’d taken the most victories, and the most pole positions, but incidents such as a wheel smashing his windscreen at the 2005 Bathurst race had him place second behind Russell Ingall. However, there was a highlight for Lowndes in the form of the Barry Sheen Medal. Voted upon by motorsport writers, former drivers, and commentators, it was a recognition of Lowndes in that he’d won without being the year’s championship winner.

Perhaps the most memorable of wins for Lowndes was at Bathurst in 2006. Just weeks after the tragic passing of his friend and mentor, one Peter Brock, Lowndes and Whincup muscled their way through for the win to finish just a half second ahead of second placed Rick Kelly. Lowndes capped off that year by winning the Barry Sheene medal for the second year running. 2006 would also see he and Whincup take the first of three Bathurst victories in a row, making them just the third pairing to do so, with Brock and Larry Perkins, and Brock with Jim Richards the others.

In a flagging of what was to come, Ford Australia cut their motorsport sponsorship. Lowndes made the move back to Holden, with whom he would become the first driver to reach 100 wins, win his fifth Barry Sheene medal, and his third most popular driver award. 2015 saw him win his sixth Bathurst 1000.

2017 would be perhaps his career lowlight, with no wins to his name. Although this spurred talk of retirement which was denied, in mid 2018 Lowndes, CL, and Craig to his mum, along with his ever present smile, announced he would retire from full time competition.

What was your favourite Lowndesy career highlight? Head on over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below this blog! 

History of the Ford Falcon in Supercars

Born in the early 1990s, the category originally known as V8 Supercars (and now Supercars) came from a decision by CAMS to revamp the Australian Touring Car Championship. 

One of three classes originally put together was Class A, which comprised 5.0L V8 powered Ford and Holden cars. The first Falcon to take part in what would become V8 Supercars, was the recently released EB Falcon. This model in road going trim, was the first to feature what were called “cannon barrel” headlights for the sporty XR6 and XR8 variants. Officially known as Group 3 A, Glenn Seton would take out the 1993 championship. The updated version, the EF Falcon, would take John Bowe to the championship in 1995. 

1996 saw the Australian Vee Eight Super Car Company, AVESCO, come to life. This was a joint venture organization and effectively formalized the category as being the V8 Supercars. 1996 had Ford producing the EL Falcon, the last version of the fifth generation Falcon.

Ford Australia moved into the short lived AU Falcon. Perhaps best described as a failed design study, the AU would quickly be redesigned into the BA Falcon. Wins for the Falcon in the V8 Supercars championship would be sparse between 1997, with Seton again taking the championship in an EL Falcon, to 2003. Tasmanian born Marcus Ambrose piloted his BA Falcon, under the Stone Brothers umbrella, to the flag in that year.

It would also see a “threepeat” for the team with Ambrose repeating his win in 2004, followed by Russell Ingall in 2005. Ford revamped the BA into the BF in October of 2005. However it would not be until 2008 that Jamie Whincup would bring one to the forefront of the championship with the Triple Eight Race Engineering team.

A substantial facelift for the Falcon would bring the FG series into the championship. The road going versions had a streamlined model range and a raft of under the skin improvements. The road going FG range also saw the deletion of the 5.4L V8 that was part of the engine range and was replaced by the 5.0L “Coyote” engine. In a twist that brings in the future, that engine is the one to be found in the Ford Mustang, the body shape that will take over from the now discontinued Ford Falcon in the Supercars series.

Whincup would take a FG Falcon with Triple Eight to the championship in 2009, with the Ford “Blue Oval” also winning the championship in 2010 in the hands of James Courtney and Dick Johnson Racing.

The next generation of Supercars brought in a chassis specific design from 2013, meaning Holden and Ford would build to a base design, not off a production car. Since that era started, and finished in 2018, a Ford Falcon has won the Supercars championship just twice, with Mark Winterbottom and Prodrive Racing partnering in 2015 whilst Scott McLaughlin wrapped up the championship in Newcastle in the final FG X Falcon with Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske just a few weeks ago.

The Falcon is now replaced by the incoming Mustang and will be missed on the grid by the blue-oval enthusiasts. What was your favourite Falcon Supercar racer? The Green Eyed Monster or maybe one of the many iconic Shell Racing DJR liveries? Head on over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comment section below this blog!