The 1968 racing season was a remarkably successful one for Phil West. He won Bathurst’s 1968 Gold Star round in a Repco V8-powered Brabham open-wheeler at the venue’s annual Easter meeting.
Then, six months later, he was runner-up in the Hardie-Ferodo 500 in the factory-supported Holden Dealer Racing Team’s best performing Monaro GTS 327. West and New Zealander Jim Palmer were the only other pairing to complete the full 130-lap distance that day, following home Monaro privateers Bruce McPhee and Barry Mulholland.
Truth be known, West and Palmer’s #24D may have actually greeted the chequered flag first, such was the inaccuracy of the lap scoring of the era. We’ll never know.
Nonetheless, victory and second place in Bathurst’s two biggest races of 1968 were mighty achievements for a previously unheralded twenty-something driver. The world was surely West’s oyster as the 1970s approached.
Yet, within 12 months of finishing runner-up to Kevin Bartlett in the 1968 Australian Driver’s Championship, West was gone from the sport for good.
The late Barry Lake, a renowned motoring writer who also raced against him, once highlighted that West “performed one of the greatest disappearing acts I’ve ever known.”
AMC #67’s story on the HDRT in early 2013 highlighted his Houdini act and put the call out for information on West’s whereabouts.
Twelve months later – in early 2014 – he dropped AMC a line and invited us to pay him a visit to discuss his time in motorsport.
So we sent Paul Gover to chat to West at his home in South East Queensland to ask him why he pulled the shutters down on his racing career just as it was getting into gear.
We learn more about his three Bathurst 500 campaigns, which included missing out on a drive when Bill Brown and his XW-GT-HO got caught up in the massive first lap crash of 1969.
West shares his memories of driving a Formula 1 car at speeds approaching 300km/h at Mount Panorama, with stretches that were little more than a glorified goat track.
We also learn that his racing endeavours paled into insignificance in many ways compared to landing aircraft on the HMAS Melbourne!
You don’t win in an F1 car at Bathurst without the right stuff. This is Easter 1968. Six months later Phil West finished second in the Bathurst 500 (top). Soon after he gave up racing...
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