Great Racer

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

Phil West’s first at­tempt on the Bathurst clas­sic was in 1964 when he drove a Hill­man Imp with Chris McSor­ley. They cov­ered 110 laps for 37th out­right and ninth in class. West re­calls an epic dice with Spencer Martin in a quicker Vaux­hall Viva.

“That Imp went around on rails. It didn’t have enough power to slide,” he says. But there is another, fun­nier story. “That’s where I be­came fa­mous. Max Ste­wart heard me bitch­ing be­cause it would only go 78 miles an hour on Con­rod. He was driv­ing a Tri­umph 2000 and he waited for me to ac­cel­er­ate out of For­rest’s El­bow, about three inches off his back bumper.

“The head­line in the Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald said ‘Hill­man Imp does 107 mph down Con­rod’. It was be­cause Maxie did me a tow.”

His next time was the Holden Dealer Rac­ing Team ef­fort in the Monaro GTS 327 which saw he and Jim Palmer fin­ish­ing sec­ond.

“The brakes were so bloody aw­ful on those Monaros. If you drove so you only had one hard brake ap­pli­ca­tion ev­ery two laps they were okay. But if you did two big stops at the end of Con­rod then some­thing so­lid­i­fied on the brakes and you had this hor­ri­ble vi­bra­tion.”

There is more drama in West’s story of the race though.

“It never made it into the news­pa­pers, but they put new ex­hausts on after prac­tice and somebody didn’t re­move the paint and tighten the clamp at the back of the muf­fler enough. On lap 32 my muf­fler came off and I got black-flagged.

“I spent quite a lot that race with Bruce McPhee be­cause I was out of phase after the stop. Com­ing up to the fin­ish, Bruce was lead­ing but go­ing easy be­cause he was go­ing to run out of fuel. Be­fore that he could put 200 yards on me any time he wanted up Moun­tain Straight, so he must have had some poke.

“So it was Bruce, then Des West, then me in third. I was fairly rapidly gain­ing on the pair of them, then com­ing to Sky­line I nearly lost it. I had lost all the brake fluid, and over Sky­line I was the wrong way one way, then back the other way. I fi­nally got it slowed down enough for The Esses.

“The last 13 laps, I didn’t touch the brake pedal. I was go­ing down to third at full speed, and go­ing back to sec­ond at about 88 miles an hour. The thing didn’t even turn a hair.

“I told it ‘You bas­tard, you will ei­ther fin­ish or blow up’. Well, after scru­ti­neer­ing we filled it with brake fluid, put the cylin­der head back on, gave it to the me­chanic and he drove it home.”

His fi­nal Great Race out­ing proved to be a com­plete fizzer.

“I only did Bathurst twice, although I was sup­posed to do it a third time, in 1969,” re­calls West wist­fully.

“We prac­ticed a Fal­con GT-HO, a dealer car from Alto Ford with David McKay run­ning it. Bill Brown put it on its roof on the first lap.”

That was the big­gest crash in the 500 to that point, in­volv­ing a large slab of the field. Brown and West’s Ford failed to com­plete a lap.

Above left: Phil got an ex­tra 30mph out of the lit­tle Imp with a tow from Max Ste­wart. Be­low: Bill Brown’s fa­mous rollover on lap one of the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500 robbed his co-driver Phil West of his fi­nal Bathurst drive.

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