His­toric horse­power

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Maniac -

Here’s a car that fits per­fectly with this is­sue’s horse theme. Mo­bile bar­ri­ers were all part of the spec­ta­cle of trot­ting at a time when crowds of 30,000 reg­u­larly at­tended meet­ings at city tracks.

An im­ported Cadil­lac was used in Mel­bourne, while at Syd­ney’s Harold Park venue a cus­tom-made mo­bile was built, based on a stretched HQ one-tonne chas­sis and cab. It was pow­ered by the 253ci (4.2-litre) V8, ini­tially with man­ual gear­box, but later changed to an au­to­matic. A set of white mag wheels was added in the early 1980s.

This im­pres­sive unit was built in 1973 by W.G. Smith and Sons. It was used at Harold Park for over 30 years then placed in stor­age when the NSW Har­ness Rac­ing Club re­lo­cated to the new Tab­corp com­plex at Me­nan­gle in 2010.

Last year the club de­cided to re­store the old work­horse as part of their mu­seum project. Ap­pro­pri­ately this project was done by Mark Smith, a son of W.G. Smith who now spe­cialises in build­ing hot rods.

The restora­tion was largely in­sti­gated by Owen Mul­li­gan, now Tab­corp Track Man­ager, who has driven the HQ on and off since 1982. Jimmy Chang has been the other driver. Both men con­sider this spe­cial Kingswood a sig­nif­i­cant part of Syd­ney’s sport­ing his­tory.

They named it ‘Black Thun­der’ when it was painted in the JPS colours of John Player cig­a­rettes. It has also been spon­sored by Com­modore (the cig­a­rette brand, not the car) and ra­dio sta­tion 2UE.

The car is still in work­ing con­di­tion but no longer suit­able for mod­ern race starts. They run 10 horses wide these days and the HQ can only ac­com­mo­date eight pac­ers. Still, Mul­li­gan has sug­gested that it should be used for spe­cial demon­stra­tion races on big race nights.

He says that with­out power-steer­ing driv­ing Black Thun­der was pretty hard work, es­pe­cially on wet tracks.

It was orig­i­nally road-reg­is­tered so it could be taken to other met­ro­pol­i­tan tracks dur­ing the week. On the high­way it would cruise com­fort­ably at 90mph and, as you can imag­ine, at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion from other mo­torists.

On the dolomite track, V8 power was nec­es­sary to ac­cel­er­ate quickly af­ter the race start. There’s an art to driv­ing these things, es­pe­cially with a row of very ex­pen­sive horse­flesh run­ning at full speed just a me­tre be­hind the gates.

The driver would re­ceive in­struc­tions by two-way ra­dio from the race starter who sits fac­ing back­wards un­der the canopy. When he told you to go you had to flat­ten it, get well ahead of the pack then swing back the gates and steer to the out­side fence.

These days, com­put­erised mo­bile bar­ri­ers make the job a whole lot eas­ier, but they prob­a­bly take away some of the old ex­cite­ment.

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