The Phillip Island Classic is one of the best historic motor racing events in the world. The Classic is so good it’s nominated for awards, while bringing in thousands of spectators and over 500 entrants every year. Sadly, this year’s event didn’t seem to have a main theme and the ‘special’ cars from overseas – a la last year’s tasty invitational field of Can-Am and Le Mans sportscars – were thin on the ground. Or so it seemed at first, until you started to dig a bit.
There was a Kurtis 500 – the two-seat US sportscar based around Kurtis’ Indy 500 winners. There were Maseratis and Alfa-Romeos from the USA and UK respectively, hiding among more
Historic racing in Australia is a bit like NASCAR – the season starts with the biggest event of the year. Old race car junkie Bruce Moxon checked out the quirky, quick and quaking at the 2014 Phillip Island Classic.
familiar cars from closer to home. There was a 1927 Bugatti and a Lancia from the same year. There was also Mark Donohue’s Porsche from the first-ever International Race of Champions series, the last car he drove to victory.
Famous drivers from days gone by and from today were on hand, racing, signing stuff or just looking around.
Sir Jack Brabham was the event patron and was on hand to sign autographs, have his picture taken and act as special guest of honour at a dinner on Saturday night. Sir Jack is pretty frail these days; the years have caught up with him and there was a warning that this might be his last visit, as travel is just too much for him.
But Sir Jack certainly seemed full of beans – whisked here and there to meet and greet. Less evident was Captain Peter Janson, who was last seen headed for the mainland in his Rolls-Royce, much to the disappointment of many fans.
Phillip Island turned on its usual mixed bag of weather, with overcast skies and rain on Friday, cloud clearing on Saturday and a warm and sunny main raceday Sunday.
The parking areas were full of fantastic cars old and new and a few brave souls even dressed up for the occasion. Your humble scribe also got into the spirit with a fetching chocolate-brown safari suit and mutton chop sideburns to match – think your uncle who was trying to be hip in 1980
and you’ll have it! (Pictured above.)
As always, there’s just so much going on that it was just impossible to get to everything, but here are some highlights.
Saluting the SL/Rs
The Torana SL/R 5000 L34 fraternity celebrated the 40th anniversary of the legendary Torana V8 by arranging for its national meeting to coincide with the Phillip Island Classic. Appropriately, there were only two Toranas racing in the Heritage Touring Cars (Group C/A) category and both of them were L34s.
Dean How’s yellow car (main pic, far left) was originally raced by John Stoopman at the 1975 Phillip Island 500km ManChamp round when the track broke up, as it did quite a bit in the 1960s and ’70s. It was later raced by Bernie McClure at the Hang Ten 400 at Sandown under a lease deal, but the car never actually raced at Bathurst.
It was then sold to Dave Langman who raced it until 1978. When the A9X came along, Langman traded this car in on the newer model. He pulled the engines and gearboxes out of both cars and swapped them over, and then the L34 was sold off as a road car.
At its last race, the car broke a gearbox and Langman parked on the grass, which then caught fire. Marshals rolled the car onto its roof to get at the fire, then rolled it back over, damaging the turret in the process. So Dave Langman had a sunroof fitted to hide the damage before selling the car. Just two weeks later, the car was stolen and later found in a paddock with a blown engine. The new owner had the engine rebuilt, but due to being unfamiliar with the twin-points distributor they couldn’t get it running right.
Consequently, the car was parked in a garage with an intention to ‘get it going one day.’
Fifteen years later Dean How bought it. “It was missing the big front brakes and the roll cage. And I had to put a new roof on it. All the interior, the spoiler and sway bars are original. Dave Langman has been very helpful. It’s got 38,000km on it, I have had the speedo re-connected to keep the mileage accurate.”
The other L34 came from a car with a short and
scary life. In 1974 the McRae brothers, sons of the owner of Dustings Holden, ran a brand-new L34 at Bathurst. During that very wet race, the car aquaplaned on Conrod Straight and hit a tree, floor first, several feet off the ground. The car was destroyed, bent like a banana and it’s something of a miracle that nobody was killed. By the way, the car had been issued its CAMS logbook the Friday before the race! That’s tight.
They came home and got right to work on a replacement car, which they got logbooked in December 1974 and raced that month in the 500km race at Phillip Island. The car then raced at Calder, Adelaide International, Sandown and Bathurst in 1975. The car then went to Wayne Mitchell who raced it until 1977, when it too was sold as a road car.
In 1997, one Ian Johnson bought it to build into a Targa Tasmania car. Ian thought he’d been sold a dud, as when he started to strip paint he found the front was one colour and the back another. But once he rubbed back the middle the truth become evident; this was an ex-race car, not a cut-and-shut.
Current owner Rod Hatfield bought the incomplete car from Johnson and “chased up a fair bit of stuff. It had a mixture of nuts and bolts, imperial, Whitworth and metric sizes. It was as rough as guts and had a blown engine.”
So it needed some work and an inspection shows it’s had plenty of it – the car is immaculate.
Rod also owns the HDT Torana SL/R 5000 featured this edition in Aaron Noonan’s V8 Sleuth section and central to the 40th celebrations on the Island. It’s the car Peter Brock drove in just two races in 1974 to wrap up the ATCC.
Lawlor unto himself
Terry Lawlor won all four Heritage Touring Car races in the GIO Nissan GT-R campaigned by Bob Forbes’ team. Lawlor had just bought that car from Rod Markland and traded his ex-Colin Bond Caltex Sierra to the Marklands. Word is that there might have been an Austin Kimberly as part of the trade...
Jim Richards was running his own Skyline, one of several being campaigned out of the everincreasing Nissan fold and under the watchful eye of Fred Gibson. Jim and Bryan Sala (Ford Sierra) were best of the rest.
Sunday’s feature race was a torrid affair with Lawlor, Richards and Carey McMahon fighting for the lead. Sadly, it also saw Carolyn Kruger’s older Skyline damaged after a tailshaft failed, wrecking the gearbox, diff, floor and the following ‘Escort agent ‘Neville Butler’s day as he ran over the debris.
The Captain, Peter Janson, may not have spent long on the Island, but his old VH, in the hands of Milton Seferis was everpresent in the Group C division, winning the Group C division in the first three races. Adam Workman’s Nissan Bluebird prevailed in the fourth race.
Of special HTC interest at the meeting was a contingent of New Zealanders in some tasty BMW M3s. Conrad Timms’s ex-Pirro 1992 DTM car has a significant Australian link, being the Paul Morris Diet Coke car that German Joachim Winkelhock raced at Bathurst 1992. Then there was Stephen Grellet’s ex-Michel Ferte 2.7-litre ‘Super Tourismo’ M3, from the French Touring Car Championship. Neither could do anything about Bill Cutler’s ex-Schnitzer M3 that was first raced in Australia when it flung at the scenery at every opportunity at Bathurst’s World Touring Car Championship round in 1987.
Inset: Rod Hatfield, owner of the Dustings L34 and the SL/R 5000 Brock used to clinch the 1974 ATCC, bumped into ‘The Captain’ Peter Janson. Below: Terry Lawlor and his GT-R reigned supreme in the Heritage Touring Cars.