Six-lap slap: Brock's Bathurst '79-win­ning A9X

One of the most cel­e­brated Bathurst 1000-win­ning cars, the A9X that won in 1979 re­mains one of the most lightly raced Great Race vic­tors.

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The days of dom­i­nant vic­to­ries in the Bathurst 1000 are con­signed to his­tory. In fact, you have to go back to 1991 and Nis­san’s all­con­quer­ing twin-turbo all-wheel-drive GT-R to find the last time a car claimed victory by a lap or more at the end of a long day at Mount Panorama.

The mod­ern V8 Su­per­car era – for all of its crit­i­cisms – in­evitably pro­duces a nail-bit­ing fin­ish to the race, cour­tesy of the Safety Car, that leaves the na­tion on the edge of its col­lec­tive seats.

But it was one of those con­fi­dence-smash­ing multi-lap mar­gin vic­to­ri­ous re­sults of the ‘old days’ that is cel­e­brated as per­haps one of the great­est feats in Bathurst his­tory by its great­est ex­po­nent – Peter Ge­of­frey Brock. And the car that did it is revered as one of the great­est Aus­tralian tour­ing cars of all time.

Brock and Kiwi Jim Richards sim­ply dom­i­nated the 1979 Hardie-Fer­odo 1000 at Bathurst. Ac­tu­ally, ‘dom­i­nated’ is too nice a word. They bloody well owned it. Their familiar #05 Marl­boro Holden Dealer Team A9X To­rana was placed on pole po­si­tion by Brock in Satur­day morn­ing’s Hardies He­roes by a mar­gin of just un­der two sec­onds.

Then said pi­lot blew them into the weeds on the open­ing lap to score an in­stant up­per hand on the op­po­si­tion.

Then both driv­ers ex­tended the lead and led ev­ery sin­gle one of the 163 laps, re­ally stick­ing it to the breath­less and life­less pack when Brock punched out a new lap record (2 min­utes 21.1) on the very last lap to ram home the point.

It was a war-zone-like am­bush. Their enemies were left shell-shocked, in awe and dec­i­mated by the vice-like grip the duo had on the race and the way they sim­ply crushed any chal­lenge be­fore it had even had a chance to draw breath. And the win­ning mar­gin? Six laps. Yep, six bloody laps. Just over 37 kilo­me­tres of em­bar­rass­ment for the rest of the pack.

It was the type of dom­i­nant per­for­mance you couldn’t script and it brought down the cur­tain of 10 years of To­ranas rac­ing in the an­nual Oc­to­ber en­duro that had net­ted a to­tal of five vic­to­ries – three of them claimed by the Holden Dealer Team and four by Brock (who had also won as a pri­va­teer in 1975).

Last is­sue AMC told the story of the 1978 Bathurst-win­ning A9X To­rana, one that il­lus­trated a colour­ful rac­ing life of a car that was ac­tu­ally saved from the scrapheap.

Many mo­tor­sport fol­low­ers in this coun­try would have you be­lieve that the 1978 and 1979 Bathurst win­ners were the same ve­hi­cles – they most cer­tainly were not.

And just as those vic­to­ries had their unique dif­fer­ences in how they were won and how the op­po­si­tion lost, so too do the ve­hi­cles.

The 1978 car al­ready had a win­ning his­tory be­fore it con­quered the Moun­tain and then had fur­ther life as the team’s sis­ter car for John Har­vey, while the 1979 car would find it­self hav­ing one of the short­est rac­ing shelf lives of a top-line race car in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport his­tory, be­ing raced across the one sea­son.

While it was short, it was noth­ing short of spec­tac­u­lar on the re­sults sheet.

This is its life story.

A star is born

The

bodyshell of the 1979 Hardie-Fer­odo 1000 win­ner was man­u­fac­tured in late 1977 at GM-H’s Dan­de­nong, Vic­to­ria plant. It was then walked down the line with a num­ber of road car pro­cesses skipped in the in­ter­est of sav­ing weight and con­struc­tion time for HDT.

The ‘79 Bathurst win­ner made its rac­ing de­but in the open­ing round of that year’s Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship, at Sym­mons Plains in Tas­ma­nia.

Brock and Bob Mor­ris, who would ul­ti­mately claim the ti­tle that year, clashed on the exit of the hair­pin and that opened the door for Brock’s team­mate John Har­vey to win in the A9X that had won the Bathurst clas­sic the pre­vi­ous year.

Brock bounced back with a victory at Calder be­fore fin­ish­ing third at Oran Park and Sandown then claim­ing victory at Wan­neroo (de­spite a brake prob­lem that sent him into a spin and later a half spin) and Surfers Par­adise.

Scor­ing pole po­si­tion at Lake­side put Brock in the best place pos­si­ble at Lake­side af­ter the

cham­pi­onship had taken a six-week break, though he fluffed the start and dropped back into the pack.

A cut tyre that prompted a trip to pit lane (plus a one minute penalty for a push start when #05 wouldn’t re-fire) left him fifth at the fin­ish as Mor­ris went on to win.

That set up a ‘win­ner take all’ fi­nal round at Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way and, in short, Mor­ris stood tall when it mat­tered most. The Ron Hodg­son Rac­ing pi­lot started along­side pole man Brock and the duo duked it out for the en­tire 34 laps with the re­sult in favour of the Syd­neysider. This clas­sic sea­son-long battle was told in de­tail in AMC #11.

While the ATCC may have eluded Brock and the HDT, their lead A9X would show its ri­vals no mercy when the big en­durance races came around.

The even­tual Bathurst-win­ning car led home an HDT 1-2 with Har­vey sec­ond (a lap be­hind) at Sandown in what was also the first round of the Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onship of Makes made up of a hand­ful of en­durance races, though not in­clud­ing Bathurst.

The win from pole gave Brock an in­cred­i­ble fifth straight Sandown en­duro race win, a streak that would fi­nally stretch to seven and 1981 be­fore it was bro­ken.

Then came the well-pub­li­cised, dom­i­nant week­end at Bathurst that put

Brock, Richards and the To­rana into the his­tory books with Richards spend­ing 47 laps at the wheel and Brock 116 on race day.

“One of the things Al­lan Mof­fat said to me about that race was that we would have won that race on fuel econ­omy alone, be­cause ev­ery­one was com­ing in around high 30s, early 40s and we were out there un­til lap 46 or some­thing,” re­calls then HDT manager John Shep­pard.

“From our point of view we thought ‘how good is this?’ We were still go­ing fast, do­ing good fuel con­sump­tion. That’s the sort of thing that gets to peo­ple at a 1000kilo­me­tre race be­cause the op­po­si­tion watches you and those things go into their heads.

“The car was fastest in prac­tice, qual­i­fied on pole, led ev­ery lap and got the lap record on the last lap. I wasn’t even aware that had hap­pened un­til later. It wasn’t like Brock rang up (on the ra­dio) to say ‘I’m go­ing for a fast lap’. He just did it and that was the end re­sult. He was supremely con­fi­dent in the car.

“Peo­ple say you’ve got to have a long dis­tance state of tune or a sprint state of tune. We didn’t. The car went there ex­actly as it used to run in all the sprint races – and it sprinted for 1000 kays!”

For co-driver Richards it gave him his sec­ond Bathurst victory.

“We didn’t even re­alise that we were in front by that much as the race went on,” he re­calls.

“We just drove the car as hard as we could in each stint and it just hap­pened. I was brought in to do that one race each year. It set my ca­reer up to say to peo­ple ‘hey, he can drive a tour­ing car as well’. It was a plea­sure to drive.”

1979 Hardie-Fer­odo 1000 win­ner The ’79 Bathurst win­ner is un­re­stored and re­mains as it last raced – stone chips, rub marks and all. It’s part of the Bow­den’s Own col­lec­tion. #05 Marl­boro Holden Dealer Team Holden LX To­rana A9X hatch­back

Peter Brock/Jim Richards

Left: This chas­sis had a much tougher time of it in the 1979 ATCC than at Bathurst. Be­low and right: With its tan in­te­rior, the ’79 win­ner is eas­ily dis­tin­guish­able from the ’78 win­ner. No back­seat driv­ers, not with the rearseat per­ma­nently folded for­ward.

Left: With a six-lap Bathurst victory, this is ar­guably Holden’s great­est tour­ing car. Dis­cuss. Be­low left: Drop tank – drop dead gor­geous.

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