Bit be­tween the teeth

Australian Muscle Car - - Bathurst Muscle -

The 1971 Hardie-Ferodo 500 was, in many ways, the pin­na­cle of the show­room show­downs on Mount Panorama. It was a time when Aus­tralia’s big three car man­u­fac­tur­ers – Ford, Gen­eral-Mo­tors Holden and Chrysler – went head to head in a hos­tile bat­tle to win the hearts, minds and wal­lets of car buy­ers.

The Se­ries Pro­duc­tion wars of the early 1970s were all about prov­ing the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the show­room prod­ucts on the race track. In re­al­ity, one race track. And in the one race there that re­ally mat­tered.

The 500-mile (800km) Bathurst en­duro was the only Aus­tralian mo­tor race tele­cast live na­tion­ally for a full day and there­fore car­ried mas­sive cred­i­bil­ity and pres­tige.

To win Bathurst was to prove that your car was the fastest, the tough­est and the best. Of course, it wasn’t just the man­u­fac­tur­ers them­selves who ex­ploited the brag­ging rights that a Bathurst vic­tory brought with it.

For not a pro­hib­i­tive out­lay, a dealer could sup­ply a would-be rac­ing star with a new car straight off the pro­duc­tion line and or­dered through the busi­ness, some spare floor space in his work­shop, deal­er­ship me­chan­ics to pre­pare and main­tain it and a ready sup­ply of spare parts. The deal­er­ship also pro­vided a ready vol­un­teer pit crew on race week­ends.

Hence, there were a lot of car deal­ers in­volved in spon­sor­ship of Se­ries Pro­duc­tion rac­ing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Ford deal­ers were par­tic­u­larly prom­i­nent. The GT-HOs were ready-made race­cars and, as the Blue Oval bit into Holden’s mar­ket share, busi­ness was brisk enough to have a crack at Bathurst and other lo­cal races.

Thus, mid-1971 was a good time for budding Bathurst hero Damon Beck to ap­proach a mate of his, Bryan Bald­win, the prin­ci­pal of Bald­win Ford at Brook­vale on Syd­ney’s North­ern Beaches about an as­sault.

To that point, Beck, a For­mula Vee reg­u­lar, had had a trio of starts in the 500-mile en­duro with a best re­sult of 10th in a Cooper S in 1967. For 1971 he con­sid­ered him­self ex­pe­ri­enced enough for a se­ri­ous tilt in one of the new breed of mega mus­cle cars.

As Beck sized up his op­tions, his pref­er­ence was to cam­paign the soon-to-be-launched VH Charger, a log­i­cal choice as he worked in a Chrysler fran­chise at Ka­toomba, the Blue Moun­tains town half­way be­tween Syd­ney and Main and left: This Bathurst 1971 sur­vivor has been a Mus­cle Car Masters reg­u­lar. Above: By mid-1971, Ford’s North­ern Beaches dealer Bryan Bald­win had made his de­ci­sion join the Se­ries Pro­duc­tion fra­ter­nity. Af­ter all, his neigh­bour Booths Holden was in boots and all. Right: “Even bet­ter than the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship” read the ARDC’s pre-race ad­ver­tis­ing.

Bathurst. Beck soon cooled to the Charger when it was re­vealed that a four-speed gear­box was not part of the E38’s pack­age.

“I was cer­tain that the new Fal­con GT-HO Phase III would be su­pe­rior by far,” Beck wrote in 2005 about the 1971 as­sault. Beck is in poor health these days and AMC was un­suc­cess­ful in con­tact­ing him for this ar­ti­cle. How­ever, his rec­ol­lec­tions were recorded in a doc­u­ment AMC found while re­search­ing the story.

“I had been friends for nearly six years with Bryan Bald­win, by then Ford dealer prin­ci­pal at Brook­vale, and vis­ited him at his home so­cially in July. Nat­u­rally dis­cus­sions turned to my fer­vent de­sire to tackle the race in a com­pet­i­tive car – I must have been per­sua­sive, as he agreed to en­ter a GT-HO Phase III.”

Beck’s ver­sion of the ’71 Bathurst at­tack’s ori­gins tal­lies with the rec­ol­lec­tions of Ian Field, then ser­vice man­ager at Bald­win Ford and the bloke charged with the team man­ager’s role by the boss.

Field, owner to­day of Bris­bane’s Q Ford and CEO of the Mo­tor Traders As­so­ci­a­tion of Queens­land, says his first job was to en­list some ex­pert help. Af­ter all, the deal­er­ship was jump­ing into the deep-end with a rac­ing de­but on the big­gest stage.

“I got a friend of mine who was a topline rac­ing me­chanic, Les Shepherd, as a tech­ni­cal ad­viser. He had re­turned from Europe and was work­ing for WFM [Wright Ford Mo­tors in Syd­ney’s CBD] in their high per­for­mance op­er­a­tions,” Field ex­plains.

“We were do­ing it on a shoe­string, but Howard Mars­den gave us enor­mous as­sis­tance from in­side Ford.”

That as­sis­tance in­cluded rec­om­mend­ing a co-driver for Beck. Al­though one driver was per­mit­ted to com­plete the en­tire race, most par­ties agreed that two was a safer bet. And the Bald­win team’s key per­son­nel and Ford were all on the same page as to the most suit­able part­ner – Garry Rush.

“I think I was re­ferred to Bryan through the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany as I was rac­ing For­mula Fords at the time,” the speed­way leg­end told AMC. “He wanted to do Bathurst and I re­mem­ber he in­vited Damon and my­self to his of­fice.”

Beck also pushed for Rush, not­ing that he was fa­mil­iar with GT-HOs at Bathurst as he drove for an­other Bryan, Bryan Byrt, the year be­fore. Rush qual­i­fied in 1970 but didn’t get a drive on race day as the car re­tired early.

“As I hadn’t driven any­thing faster than a Cooper S at Bathurst ,I re­garded Garry as in­sur­ance for Bryan Bald­win that at least one of us would be com­pet­i­tive,” Beck has gone on the record as say­ing.

Garry Rush

Damon Beck

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