The day after each AMC issue goes on sale just won’t be the same now Harry Firth has passed away. Let me paint the picture... The phone would ring, I’d pick up and hear, “Luke, it’s Harry Firth.” Me: “G’day Harry, how are... H: “What’s written in your magazine is not true.” Me: “Oh! Which story are you referring...” H: “I’ve told you before that any time you write about my cars, you must speak to me to get the facts.”
There were times when Harry’s calls were merited. There were other times when I could not appease him by explaining, quite reasonably I thought, that driver X was entitled to his opinion on topic X. Harry was adamant that his name was copyrighted and AMC couldn’t print it without his permission.
Harry got particularly cranky with me last year when we introduced then columnist Phil Anders’ page with the line that Phil had owned “more muscle cars than Harry Firth’s had hot dinners.”
Admittedly, it was a bit cheeky on my behalf, but was a light-hearted throwaway line and certainly not a dig at him.
Harry responded in letter form, highlighting that he was 95 and had been “eating hot dinners once a day, three times a week from when I was 20 years old. So that’s 150 meals a year for at least the last 70 years, which equals 10,500 hot dinners. There’s no way your man has had that many muscle cars. Nor can I recall reading he has achieved anything in life. I cannot remember meeting or speaking with him. To me this is a derogatory statement showing a complete lack of respect for my standing in the world of motorsport.”
I apologised to Harry for upsetting him and assured him there was no lack of respect for him from AMC. I think that comes through in our tribute, starting p67.
In compiling that list of his achievements I received fantastic assistance from Don Kinsey, one of three gents who delivered eulogies at Harry’s funeral. Obviously it was too big a task for one person!
Don’s duty was outlining H’s service in World War II, which was unknown to most people beyond the Firth inner circle. Meantime, Peter Otzen provided an insight into Harry’s childhood, while Ian Tate covered racing. But it was Harry’s six years in the 2nd AIF that was the real eye-opener. It also explained a lot.
“We – as in society – are only now really coming to realise the full effects of post traumatic stress disorder on former servicemen,” Don said to me during one of our conversations. “Given some of the things that Harry experienced during the war, they possibly explain why he was cantankerous at times and didn't suffer fools gladly.”
As uncomfortable as some of my conversations with Harry were, I always hung up the phone marvelling at how spritely he was for a nonagenarian. I never thought I’d write this, but today I’m glad I received those calls from H.
Harry, AMC salutes you.
Sadly, Harry was not the only racing legend we lost in recent times. Sir Jack Brabham obviously holds a special place in motor racing history, but his contributions to Australia’s heritage of homegrown high-performance are more extensive than you might initially think.
Firstly, if his 1966 World Championship in the Repco-powered Brabham BT19 is not a muscle car story then I don’t know what is. A decade later he entered Bathurst folklore when his (and Stirling Moss’s) stranded Torana was struck on the startline by a hapless Dolomite. More on these cars in future editions, as Sir Jack died just before this edition closed for press. Hence, please excuse the fact this page is the only nod to Brabham in this issue.
As to road cars, we mustn’t forget that Jack Brabham Ford in Bankstown ordered and received the only XA Falcon GT-HO Phase IV roadie. Then there’s the Jack Brabham Specials – his dealership’s alternative to the XY Falcon GT. The latter was a wolf in sheep’s clothing if ever there was one.
Tell us what you think about this edition’s series of cover stories. Be warned, anyone whinging about the Magna’s inclusion as a ‘wolf in wool’ without actually having read the yarn can expect to receive both barrels. Harry’s taught me well.