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.