The best-laid plans went awry when disaster struck the team about four weeks out from the big race.
Garry Rush remembers the fateful day well,
The horse came across the top of the bonnet, peeled part of the bonnet back and took everything off
back to the B-Pillar. The roof was only centimetres above the steering wheel. If the rollbar hadn’t been in the car they would have been dead
as both Damon Beck and he were in Bryan Baldwin’s office briefing the first-time team owner on their personal preparations for the race.
“Bryan, being new to motor racing, told us to go and get practising! We had to tell him that you really can’t go and do that in these cars. So he said to us, ‘I’ll give one [a Phase III] to you, and you can drive it to Queensland and back to become more familiar with it. So he supplied us with a Phase III each!
“Damon took the car we were going to race at Bathurst and he left the dealership a bit earlier than I did because he was living up at Katoomba, which is a good couple of hours drive from Brookvale. He might have left at about 5pm.
“I stayed at the dealership talking to Bryan and other people. About an hour later Bryan received a call from Damon informing us that he’d had an accident. He said he was going along Windsor Road, near McGraths Hill, heading towards Katoomba and a horse had stepped out in front of him.”
Beck and his female passenger were extremely lucky to escape. Top: Klaus Sayer’s shot of Pittwater Road, Brookvale a week before the big race. Titan Ford sits on this site today. All aboard the 151 bus to Mona Vale – we bags the front seat on the top deck. Above: The ARDC’s acceptance letter of Baldwin’s Bathurst entry. Left: A proud Bryan Baldwin takes the local press for a spin. Note the local paper’s snapper next to the Fairlane.
“If the rollbar hadn’t been in the car they would have been dead,” says team manager and dealership service manager Ian Field. “The horse came across the top of the bonnet, peeled part of the bonnet back and took everything off back to the B-Pillar. The body was a write-off so we got onto Ford to get a replacement body.”
One of the dealership service department staff who remembers the car returning to the Brookvale workshop is Klaus Sayer, who says the remains were a bloody mess in more ways than one.
“The roof caved in. The car knocked the legs of the horse out and the body came over the bonnet and took the Shaker off and went into the windscreen. Because we had the rollcage in there, it stopped the roof from coming down on Damon and his passenger. The roof was only centimetres above the steering wheel. From memory Damon had only a couple of injuries to his hand.”
An SOS went out to Ford for a replacement body, but as Field outlines another disaster quickly presented itself.
“Howard Marsden organised for us to have another body painted in the same colour. So somebody from the dealership drove to Melbourne to pick it up, but on the way back the trailer got side-swiped on the Hume Highway and that new body fell off the trailer and down into a gully. So we had to pull it out of the gully, get it back to Sydney and get it repaired by a local panel beater. It was just under two weeks before the race when we got it all back together.”
But wait that’s not all, with the team manager himself tempting fate and narrowly avoiding prerace disaster number three.
“Three of us decided to take it from Sydney to
Swan Hill to run it in,” Field chuckles. “I remember Les Shepherd lost it in the rain at one point. Then I was driving between Hay and West Wyalong, at, let’s say, considerable speed, which you did in those days, when the rear tyre exploded.
“We had the Michelin XAS tyres on the car [for the run to Swan Hill]. We figured we could do the race on one set of tyres. Our strategy was to not change tyres and therefore save a helluva lot of time, remembering that changing wheels was not as easy back then as it is today. We figured that what we lost to the cars with slicks we’d make up by spending less time in the pits. It was a big call, but that’s what we decided to do.
“Problem was that the Michelins weren’t rated for the speeds the Phase III was capable of doing...
“I’ve got this mental image today of driving along on the Hay Plain and feeling the tyre exploding and looking in the rearview mirror and seeing the car fishtailing all over the place. And I can hear Les Shepherd in my mind to this day saying, “D-o-n-t t-o-u-c-h t-h-e b-r-a-k-e!” as he was hanging onto the rollbar.
“Anyway, we stopped and there’s this bloody big piece of tyre embedded in the guard. The steel-belted radial just came apart.
“On the way back to Sydney, the third driver went through a tumbleweed going flatout and it was so abrasive all the paintwork on the front of the car was sandblasted off it.
“So by the time we got to Bathurst the car was definitely run in,” Field laughs. Right: The relaxed-looking crew secured an impressive ninth on the 60-grid. It was a boy’s own adventure for the mostly novice race crew.