Navigating a course
It was probably inevitable that Phil West ended up racing at Mount Panorama.
“When I was 11 or 12 we moved to Bathurst from Townsville,” he explained. “In 1952 and 1953, I walked around Bathurst selling programs. It never occurred to me I could ever afford to go racing.”
West’s racing career began in an unlikely way, when the qualified mechanical engineer decided his new road car might be too much of a challenge.
“I was married and living in Fairfield in Sydney in 1962. The wife wanted a Renault Floride and I bought a Morgan Plus 4. The Morgan Car Club was pretty active back then,” he remembers.
“It was so bloody quick, compared to all the MGs and things I had had, I figured I’d kill myself. So I decided to do a bit of hill-climbing to teach myself how to drive it. I just went to have some fun in a motor car. I had no plan or no expectation. That led to a Lotus 20, then the little Brabham. It didn’t occur to me that it was a stupid thing. I just keep doing it. I spent every cent I had for years.
“I bought the Lotus 20 to find out if I could drive. It came from Kurt Keller Motors. It was very secondhand. It was a ’62 model and I bought it in 1965. They had the Cosworth 105E Anglia engine and if it was a good one they had 100 brake horsepower.”
For West – no relation to Des West or AMC’s editor – the lessons came quickly as he got to the front.
“Lotus 20s at Warwick Farm were a prime example of driving. About fifty people raced then and 44 of them did 1 minute 52 seconds. Six of us did 1:46. That’s light years, and it was the difference between drifting [through corners] and not drifting.
West’s ability was obvious to stammering Scuderia Veloce Racing boss David McKay, who had close ties to Ferrari, plus a stellar driver line-up including Spencer Martin, Bill Brown and even Jackie Stewart as guest driver.
That meant West got to drive a range of cars in various classes, from a production Monaro to a Ferrari GTB and the Brabham.
“A lot of people didn’t like David, but I did. He was still quick. But it was always a struggle to get the money together.”
He recalls driving the Ferrari GTB coupe in a three-car team for SV in the 6-hour race at Surfers Paradise, alongside a P4 and 250LM.
“It was a f**king awful motor car. Coming into Lukey Corner, over the back, I was braking at 180 yards while the others were at 80. It had complete and utter rear-end breakaway,” West recalls wryly.
He also has clear memories of the contrast with the early Monaro, during testing at the same track.
“The Ferrari was doing 154 down the straight, the Monaro about 124. The Ferrari was on 10-inch-wide Dunlop racing tyres with inboard disc brakes and the Holden was on Michelin XAS road tyres. But it was six seconds quicker around the circuit than the Ferrari. That was something that really opened my eyes, and since then I’ve not been the least bit interested in the badge on the front.”
Top and right: This story stemmed from a chat with Jim Palmer for issue #67’s HDRT story. Jim wondered whatever happened to West. A mate of Phil’s saw the story and prompted him to drop us a line. Above: He raced for David McKay’s Scuderia Veloce team. This is the Surfers Paradise enduro. Below: West raced until he answered a key question in his mind.