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Strong thought-provoking content, myths debunked, facts only, no nudity. Written by Ben Stewart.
FNo racing please, we’re General Motors
or a long period of time GM-H was bound by the parent company’s global ban on direct involvement in motor racing. But why was this the case and how did it come about? The ban can be traced back to a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ in the 1950s between the ‘big three’. But on the Australian motorsport scene, the Ford Motor Company didn’t appear to be bound by it and neither did Chrysler Australia. How come? It would appear that a case of double standards was in play. Both Ford and Chrysler proudly ran factory teams, with cars based on road-going models, at prestige events such as the Bathurst 500 and 1000 races. Why was there never a factory Holden team as such, until the advent of the Holden Racing Team in the late 1980s?
June 6, 1957 marks the date when that gentlemen’s agreement was arrived at by the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) that included Chrysler, Ford and General Motors Corporation – the big three automakers in the United States. It was an anti-racing resolution where direct factory involvement would not occur. It also extended to the point where the vehicle manufacturers themselves would agree not to build special racing versions of their product lines.
The agreement had come about for several reasons. A major influence was the tragedy at Le Mans in 1955 when a Mercedes left the track at high speed and killed innocent bystanders. Eighty-three spectators and driver Pierre Levegh perished at the scene with 120 more injured in the most catastrophic accident in racing history.
However, in 1961 new Pontiac Motor Division head Semon E (‘Bunkie’) Knudsen declared he had a division to re-build and racing was going to be a part in that. Pontiac would release some serious competition-based product in an effort to take on Ford who had reversed their compliance with the 1957 agreement. The famous tag line, “What wins on Sunday sells on Monday”, courtesy of Ford dealer Bob Tasca Senior, had been coined during this time. Knudsen was a petrolhead and would in time head up the Ford Motor Company. His pro-performance approach would eventually extend down under and to the major shake-up in Ford Australia after the defeat at Bathurst in 1968, and the departure of Harry Firth from the company.
In December 1962 came the trigger that cemented the infamous GM global ban on participation in motor racing. Legendary Chevrolet engineer Zora Arkus Duntov tested the Grand Sport #001 Corvette at Sebring that month with promising results. This car was in direct response to the success of the Ford-powered Cobra. News of this testing reached GM’s chairman, Frederic Donner, and in January 1963 he decreed that all racing efforts were to cease immediately. Donner penned an internal policy letter dated January 21, 1963 that started the ball rolling.
At a press conference on February 16 came the announcement that GM would not go racing.
Donner fronted the large press gallery with the following statement: “Ever since the AMA adopted – I think you can term it a recommendation – back in 1957, we have had a policy on our books and we haven’t had any change in it.”
Donner was subsequently questioned on the fact that the Pontiac Motor Division was involved in at least one form of motor racing and that