59 Posters

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

AMC now fea­tures a reg­u­lar dou­ble-sided poster. This time we salute a pair of Bathurst 1000 win­ners, Greg Mur­phy’s Lap of the Gods Com­modore and Tricky Dicky’s Tru-Blu Fal­con. The No.1 song on Oc­to­ber 4, 1981: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’.

Count­less trib­utes have been writ­ten about the late Harry Firth since his death, aged 96, in late April. But what bet­ter way to high­light Harry’s ex­tra­or­di­nary life than to nom­i­nate 96 key achieve­ments, ex­pe­ri­ences and in­ter­ests

Grew up as a boy from Snowy River. Born and bred in Or­bost, in far north-east Vic­to­ria, on April 18, 1918.

Wrote mu­sic as a teenager and played the drums in a band. Lived through the Great De­pres­sion. Ed­u­cated him­self about me­chan­i­cal mat­ters. “I had a vast collection of books from when I was at school – ‘Speed And How To Ob­tain It’, ‘The Mo­tor­cy­cle’, etc. I read any­thing I could get my hands on that was rel­e­vant to mo­tor­sport and sport­ing cars and bikes. This was how I taught my­self about ma­chines and mo­tor­sport.”

Suc­cess­fully ran the gaunt­let of the lo­cal church min­is­ter en­listed by his mother to “try and mend my ways” – ie steer him away from cars and mo­tor­cy­cles.

Camped out at Ninety-Mile Beach, Vic­to­ria to see his first thor­ough­bred rac­ing car in

ac­tion – the ERA of Bri­tish star Peter White­head – in a record at­tempt. Rode his mo­tor­cy­cle there.

Read Mein Kamph, the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal man­i­festo by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in which Hitler out­lines his po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy and fu­ture plans for Ger­many. In do­ing so, Harry felt strongly about re­pelling the spread of Nazism.

Vol­un­teered for the Sec­ond Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force when war broke out in Septem­ber 1939. The Sec­ond AIF was the name given to the vol­un­teer per­son­nel of the Aus­tralian Army in World War II.

Joined the sig­nals unit as it had mo­tor­bikes! Was a despatch rider in the sig­nals unit for the Sixth Di­vi­sion, the very first Aus­tralian di­vi­sion to see ac­tion in WWII.

Was part of the big­gest con­voy to ever leave Aus­tralia, in 1940, head­ing for the Western Desert, North Africa.

Per­formed his dan­ger­ous ‘mes­sen­ger’ role dur­ing a big push of 800 miles by the Six Di­vi­sion over two months, which drove the Ital­ian Army back. Forced to throw his bike and him­self off the road into ditches on many oc­ca­sions to take cover from Messer­schmitt Bf 109 straf­ing.

Re­paired and re­built all man­ner of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles with what­ever he had at hand.

Con­tin­ued to per­form his despatch rid­ing du­ties in the Greek cam­paign.

“Chased out of Greece by the Luft­waffe,” wrote Harry in his un­pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. De­parted from Greece to Crete on 25,000 tonne liner that was sub­se­quently tor­pe­doed. “Jumped 25 feet off liner onto the deck of a de­stroyer.”

Wit­nessed the de­struc­tion of a Bri­tish de­stroyer from bomb­ing – one of the events that most af­fected him and led to the night­mares that af­flicted him for the rest of his life.

Re­de­ployed with the Sixth Di­vi­sion to the New Guinea cam­paign. Spent time in hospi­tal with dysen­tery. Built a dis­tillery from a 44-gal­lon drum and cop­per pipe sal­vaged from wrecked Ja­panese ves­sels. Built the still be­cause “the troops were go­ing troppo.”

Sur­vived six years of ser­vice only to fear for his life dur­ing the re­turn trip to Aus­tralia aboard a DC3. ED: Be­fore we out­line Harry’s post-war work­ing life, here is an in­sight into the life ex­pe­ri­ences that his over­seas mil­i­tary ser­vice and his mo­tor rac­ing ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vided. It’s an edited ex­tract from the ‘fore­word’ of what is ef­fec­tively his un­pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. The fol­low­ing shows that Harry was a well-trav­elled man of many ex­pe­ri­ences and in­ter­ests. It be­gins, “There wouldn’t be many people in the world who have done any of the fol­low­ing, let alone all of them...

“Stood on the slopes of Mt Olym­pus (Greece), Mount Kil­am­in­jaro (Tan­za­nia) and the Pyra­mids (Egypt). “Bathed in the Dead Sea. “Could de­scribe the in­side of the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre in the holy lands.” [This is the site in Jerusalem iden­ti­fied as the place of cru­ci­fix­ion and the tomb of Je­sus Christ.]

“Slept in the Church of the Na­tiv­ity in Beth­le­hem.

“Vis­ited the car­pen­ter shop where Je­sus worked [with his fa­ther]. “Shook hands with the Pope. “Took a Gon­dala ride in Venice. “Drove a car down the Olympic bob­sled run in Cortina, Italy, which was the scene of the 1956 Win­ter Olympics.

“Didn't go be­yond grade nine at school – don't even have a cer­tifi­cate. But the di­ploma of real world says ‘Mas­ter of Mo­tor­sport’. “Have gen­uine con­vict an­ces­try. “Made the most of ev­ery mo­ment.” “Worked 7am to mid­night most days for 30plus years of work­ing life.”

Slept with a Beretta pis­tol un­der the pil­low and car­ried it around upon re­turn­ing home from the war to ward off the “lo­cal yobs” of Or­bost.

Had a healthy dis­re­gard for con­ven­tion and “an ac­quired ha­tred of waste and red tape.”

Moved to Mel­bourne to work for Pre­ston Mo­tors. “The first week there found I had more tools than ev­ery­one else put to­gether!”

Worked at var­i­ous au­to­mo­tive es­tab­lish­ments over the en­su­ing years be­fore set­ting him­self up in his own busi­ness, ini­tially as a sport­scar specialist.

“Ran in a (mo­tor­cy­cle) scram­ble with a ‘Velo’ but de­cided it was highly dan­ger­ous com­pared to cars. I sold the bike to con­cen­trate on car work.”

“Com­peted at the first (and only) Point Cook meet­ing, in 1948, with the MG P-type. This was my first cir­cuit race. I did well in my sec­ond race, the 1500cc Scratch Race, in about fifth place, and was way in front in the hand­i­cap race, but made the mis­take of look­ing back around to see by how much I was in front, and over­shot the cor­ner and spun. I heard the usual com­ments of ‘Who is this chap­pie?’ and ‘What school did he go to?’ Couldn’t re­sist in­ter­rupt­ing with ‘Or­bost Higher El­e­men­tary – if you know where Or­bost is, on the Snowy River.’”

Built speed­boats us­ing Ford and Mer­cury V8s bought from army dis­posal for lit­tle money. “My boats held all the Vic­to­rian class records.”

Built speed­way cars us­ing the same ‘army

sur­plus’ V8 en­gines.

“Went un­der 30 sec­onds at Rob Roy Hill­climb.” This was in a MG with a Mer­cury V8/60 en­gine. Hill­climb­ing would re­main a pas­sion for him (see Punter Pics p102).

Bought and re­made 12 sec­ond-hand TC MGs into ‘Harry Firth Spe­cials’. “I took out wood from the body and re­placed with steel; put the bat­tery in the back be­tween the rear shock­ers; fit­ted cy­cle guards, tubu­lar shock­ers and 1380cc im­proved en­gine (some were sec­ond-hand). I made them with bright colours – such as ‘but­ter­cup yel­low’ – and sold them all.”

“Did com­plete makeover of Lukey Muf­flers’ Ford Cus­tom­line to race as a tour­ing car and it won many events.”

Built the first Arm­strong 500 cars – the 1960 Singer Gazelle, a Van­guard and two Tri­umph Her­alds. “They were not suc­cess­ful but many lessons were learned."

Re­ceived a Porsche plaque from Dr Ferry Porsche af­ter com­pet­ing with the fledg­ling mar­que’s prod­ucts. “The Porsche era was par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing to me. I had one at the Bal­larat Air Strip races for For­mula 1 in 1961. Dan Gur­ney was there with a BRM but he also drove for Porsche, and he was so im­pressed with my Porsche that he took all de­tails back to Ger­many for his car. This was ac­knowl­edged by Porsche’s com­pe­ti­tion man­ager.

Set new Aus­tralian stand­ing quar­ter mile record in what he de­scribed as “the ul­tra rad­i­cal su­per­charged MG TC spe­cial.

Won the 1961 Arm­strong 500 at Phillip Is­land with Bob Jane in a Mercedes Benz 220SE.

Fet­tled Bob Jane’s white Jaguar 3.8 that won the 1962 ATCC at Long­ford, Tas­ma­nia.

Was Ford Aus­tralia’s first mo­tor sport con­trac­tor, based at his hum­ble Firth Mo­tors work­shop in Auburn, Mel­bourne. There­fore, he es­tab­lished the first fac­tory-backed squad in lo­cal rac­ing in a form that has re­mained the ba­sic model for leading tour­ing car teams in Aus­tralia ever since.

Started work with Ford in 1961, with the late Les Pow­ell as com­pe­ti­tion man­ager. Used an Anglia to win the 1961 BP Rally of South East Aus­tralia.

Built five Fal­cons for the East African Sa­fari. “The way the cars per­formed earned me a con­tract with Ford for com­pe­ti­tion. This was re­ally the start of my as­so­ci­a­tion with Ford and the first step into the big time – al­though I was still do­ing work for oth­ers.”

Gave the Ford Fal­con its first ma­jor mo­tor rac­ing vic­tory, the 1962 Arm­strong 500. The 170ci Fal­con won the gru­elling Phillip Is­land event de­spite a rollover in prac­tice which ne­ces­si­tated a new bodyshell at his Queens Av­enue work­shop.

Was lucky to sur­vive a Hell Cor­ner rollover dur­ing the 1962 Bathurst 6 Hour Clas­sic when his Fal­con’s brakes seized on. “I had made a seat belt with dual cross-over each shoul­der, and that that saved me. It did take quite some time to get the seat­belt un­done as I was be­ing com­pressed into a ball un­der the flat­tened roof, but even­tu­ally I was able to get out through the back win­dow – while petrol was run­ning out onto the road and I was get­ting fran­tic for fear of it catch­ing fire.”

Won the 1963 Arm­strong 500 in a Cortina GT with Bob Jane. This com­pleted a trio of vic­to­ries in the event.

De­vel­oped the Cortina GT 500 ‘Bathurst Spe­cial’ that won the 1965 Great Race in Bo Se­ton’s hands. “The ARDC never quite re­cov­ered from the le­git­i­mate in­ter­pre­ta­tion which we were able to place upon their com­pe­ti­tion rules.”

Cre­ated “the last great ‘spe­cial Cortina that won the 1966 South­ern Cross Rally – a GT500 MkII Plus. The ve­hi­cle was bored and stroked to a swept vol­ume of 1722cc. I was able to

in­no­vate and con­tinue to ex­per­i­ment with the de­vel­op­ment of these ve­hi­cles in rally cars as much less at­ten­tion was paid to the me­chan­i­cal mod­i­fi­ca­tions.”

Won the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pi­onship, in 1968, in a su­per­charged Cortina MkII. Vic­to­ri­ous five times in the Alpine Rally. In­stru­men­tal in the prepa­ra­tion of the Fal­cons used in Ford’s 70,000 mile en­durance test at the You Yangs prov­ing ground, un­der­tak­ing a test run of each one on the course.

Started de­vel­op­ment on the new XR GT by de­vel­op­ing a ‘po­lice spe­cial’ that, through economies of scale, drove down costs and made the first GT vi­able.

Teamed up with Al­lan Mof­fat to tackle two long dis­tance races in the leg­endary Tran­sAmer­i­can Sedan Cham­pi­onship (aka Trans-Am) in a Lo­tus Cortina, at River­side and Green Val­ley in 1966. This was cov­ered in de­tail in AMC #61’s ‘Aussies in Trans-Am’ is­sue. “That Trans-Am ex­pe­ri­ence re­ally put Mof­fat on the map in terms of driv­ing. At River­side I spent two days go­ing through things with him. I taught him time and mo­tion stud­ies on a race track over there: how to eval­u­ate the cir­cuit and how to get the ut­most out of it.” Firth re­ceived sev­eral job of­fers to re­main in the US, but de­clined them to re­turn to Aus­tralia due to a rally com­mit­ment.” Had he ac­cepted them it would have changed the course of Aus­tralian mus­cle car his­tory. Think about it...

Won the 1967 Gal­la­her 500 at Bathurst in the XR Fal­con GT. Gave co-driver Fred Gibson his big break. Sparked Holden into ac­tion at Bathurst for 1968 with the short­lived Holden Dealer Rac­ing Team-run GTS 327s.

Mas­ter­minded Ford’s fine show­ing in the 1968 Lon­don to Syd­ney Marathon with its Fal­con XT GTs. Fit­ted out the three team cars which fin­ished 3-6-8, win­ning the team’s prize in the process. “There was a toi­let be­hind the pas­sen­ger’s seat, spare wheel be­hind the driver’s seat and wheel change gear mounted in­side that rear door. A spare ra­di­a­tor was mounted on the roof. All doors had ac­cess slots and ra­tions and cans of wa­ter. One of the cars car­ried two spare rear axles.”

Re­tired from driv­ing hav­ing es­tab­lished him­self among Aus­tralia's leading race and rally driv­ers.

Un­der­took early de­vel­op­ment work on first GT-HO “in­clud­ing 36-gal­lon fuel tank and twin ex­haust – a project taken over by Al Turner when I left to go to GM-H in ’69.”

Formed the leg­endary Holden Dealer Team. In do­ing so, he es­tab­lished the commercial and or­gan­i­sa­tional tem­plate that still un­der­pins the struc­ture of V8 Su­per­cars teams to­day, al­beit on a big­ger scale. HDT was an out­sourced fac­tory race team with additional spon­sor back­ing and slick pre­sen­ta­tion.

Or­ches­trated the HDT’s first Bathurst win in the 1969 HardieFerodo 500 with the Monaro GTS 350 and driv­ers Colin Bond and Tony Roberts. Made Ford re­gret re­tir­ing him. Pi­o­neered metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion and painstak­ing de­vel­op­ment. Many of his ways were un­ortho­dox.

Earned the nick­name of ‘The Fox’. For many years his Mel­bourne home’s front door knocker was a fox’s head!

Spotted and de­vel­oped more driv­ing talent than any other fig­ure in Aus­tralian rac­ing his­tory. Gave big breaks to Peter Brock and Colin Bond.

Crafted the great­est ever race driver on the do­mes­tic scene, Brock. Turned the gifted young tear-away in a spon­sor’s and fan’s dream. “When I first met Brock he was a coun­try yokel who had vi­sions of the big time, but didn’t know how to go about it, and was very happy to be told how. He knew he had talent, that was ob­vi­ous to any­one, and he had charisma. I had to teach him things. Things like a clean tee-shirt and jeans is not be­ing well dressed, that a ham­burger is not a proper meal. This is why I al­ways treated him dif­fer­ently from the other team mem­bers. He and Ian Tate were the sons I never had. I gave Peter the best ad­vice I could, when­ever he needed it. He was the best by far. He could drive around a prob­lem. He could adapt to any­thing, and he could win in an in­fe­rior car.”

Turned the LC To­rana XU-1 into an Aussie gi­ant killer.

Over­saw Holden’s 1971 Aus­tralian Man­u­fac­turer’s Cham­pi­onship, prov­ing the point that good lit­tle cars can beat big cars. All up Harry’s HDT claimed five ‘ManChamps’ for Gen­eral Mo­tors-Holden, four of them con­sec­u­tive (1973-1976).

Played a part, he claimed, in Chrysler his­tory in 1971. He sug­gested to Chrysler Aus­tralia com­pe­ti­tion chief John El­lis that he send the Charger en­gine with three DCOE car­bu­re­tors to the We­ber fac­tory in Italy and let them sort the car­bu­re­tion.

Was a cen­tral fig­ure in the great­est Holden mys­tery – what be­came of the XU-1 V8 pro­to­types.

Claimed to have named XU-1 colours, sev­eral which re­mained still­born: “Tip­ple Pink; Arc­tic White; Bleu (French blue); Red Cen­tre (Cen­tral Aus­tralia desert red); Baggy green (Aus­tralian cricket team); Mag­pie (Collingwood AFL club colours – black with white pan­els; Deep Pur­ple (same as spir­i­tual robes); Yel­low Dolly (bright yel­low); and Li­namint (bright green).”

Or­ches­trated Brock’s Bathurst 1972 win. “Un­doubt­edly the ’72 Bathurst race, that was his best race. Be­cause he knew that with all the test­ing we’d done, and with this new driv­ing tech­nique that we’d evolved for the new tyres, which only he was do­ing be­cause the oth­ers didn’t un­der­stand it, he was at least five per­cent faster on any cir­cuit than he’d been be­fore. Be­cause of that, un­less there was an ac­ci­dent or some­thing like that, he knew he was go­ing to win. The race was turn­ing point in his life. He went from no­body to King of the Moun­tain.” Claimed the 1974 ATCC with Peter Brock. Fa­ther of the L34. Turned the un­re­li­able SL/R 5000 – the first To­rana V8 – into a race win­ner and cre­ated a mus­cle car leg­end. Claimed the 1975 ATCC with Colin Bond. De­vel­oped the model that won Bathurst in 1975 and 1976 in the hands of a pri­va­teer team. Gave birth to the To­rana A9X. Showed that aes­thet­ics, con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, were im­por­tant to him when he or­dered a stun­ning black To­rana hatch to de­velop the A9X at Holden’s prov­ing ground.

Con­tin­ued to have a strong in­volve­ment in lo­cal mo­tor­sport when he ac­cepted the role of CAMS Na­tional Chief Scrutineer from 1979-1981. ED: Here’s an­other batch of Harry’s own achieve­ments, in­ter­ests and ex­pe­ri­ences that many read­ers would be un­aware of: “Played jazz three times in New Or­leans. “Col­lected records and posters. “Cooked recipes of world­wide ori­gin. “Stud­ied art from an­cient Chi­nese to that of the early Aus­tralian artist S.T. Gill.

“Name fea­tures on foot­path at Bathurst (on the Cham­pi­ons Walk in the CBD).”

Re­ceived Or­der of Aus­tralia Medal (OAM) for ser­vices to mo­tor­sport. Awarded CAMS Mem­ber­ship of Hon­our. Re­ceived Aus­tralian Sports Medal. In­ducted into the V8 Su­per­cars Hall of Fame. Lived to 96.

Firth and Jim Clark

First race: MG P-type Point Cook 1948

Harry Firth MG Spe­cial

Su­per­charged MG TC Spe­cial

1968 Lon­don to Syd­ney

1967 Gal­la­her 500

1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500

Harry and Colin Bond

Firth’s Black To­rana hatch pro­to­type

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.