Bit between the teeth
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.