Luke West


Australian Muscle Car - - Induction -

Firsts and lasts

One of my first as­sign­ments for AMC, back when I was a free­lance con­trib­u­tor, was to in­ter­view and pro­file Leo Geoghe­gan. That was in 2006 and a warmer re­cep­tion I could not have re­ceived when I vis­ited Leo at home. At that stage he was living in Cam­den, not far from Oran Park, ap­pro­pri­ately enough.

Meet­ing such a lovely, friendly bloke only in­creased my sense of sad­ness for a man who had clearly ex­pe­ri­enced some dif­fi­cult times ad­just­ing to life as a re­tired rac­ing driver, as he sought to fill the rac­ing void.

The fur­nish­ings in his home high­lighted that he was lead­ing a pretty ba­sic ex­is­tence, in stark con­trast to vis­it­ing the lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed abodes of Frank Gard­ner and Peter Jan­son, the two greats I’d in­ter­viewed im­me­di­ately prior to Leo.

Nonethe­less, on pole po­si­tion on Leo’s lounge­room wall was a paint­ing pre­sented to him by CAMS recog­nis­ing his great­est in­ter­na­tional tri­umph, the 1969 Ja­panese Grand Prix. The paint­ing de­picts him be­hind the wheel of his high-winged 2.5-litre Repco V8-pow­ered Lo­tus 39.

While he and his brother Pete were ab­so­lute su­per­stars of Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing in the 1960s and ’70s, for some rea­son that didn’t trans­late to fan adu­la­tion post-re­tire­ment for Leo, as it did for many of his tour­ing car con­tem­po­raries who raced a lit­tle later. I guess he com­peted when TV cov­er­age of our sport was in its in­fancy and he spent much of his ca­reer in for­mula cars and sportscars.

But what he did have in spades in more re­cent times was mas­sive re­spect from Chrysler en­thu­si­asts. In fact, he be­came the fo­cal point for those keen to keep Mopar mem­o­ries alive in Australia and New Zealand. And, just qui­etly, he loved be­ing Chrysler Australia’s very own living leg­end. The Pen­tas­tar faith­ful adored him, which was ap­par­ent at his fu­neral, with a fine dis­play of Charg­ers and Pac­ers and a eu­logy de­liv­ered by Chrysler club iden­tity Reg Singh. Leo

passed away while we were pro­duc­ing an is­sue that con­tains a story about a hairy-chested car he should have raced back in his hey­day.

The ar­ti­cle, by noted Chrysler his­to­rian Gavin Farmer, pulls to­gether ev­i­dence high­light­ing Chrysler Australia’s ea­ger­ness to join the tin-top rac­ing scene in the early 1970s with a V8-pow­ered model. But not the myth­i­cal Charger ver­sion.

While the V8-pow­ered Pacer (!) rac­ing pro­gram and a limited edi­tion road­go­ing V8 Pacer (!) spin-off model never, of course, hap­pened, Chrysler en­gi­neer­ing cor­re­spon­dence from late 1969 helps pro­vide new in­sights into the brand’s en­thu­si­asm to up the ante on Aussie race­tracks and in show­rooms. Count­less pub and car club ar­gu­ments have been waged on V8 Chrysler mat­ters over the last four decades, but how many dis­cussed the Pacer and the Im­proved Pro­duc­tion scene? Or a V8 Pacer for the Bathurst 500? Both were con­sid­ered and eval­u­ated at the Ade­laide-based com­pany and at head of­fice in Detroit.

Imag­ine Leo Geoghe­gan bat­tling Al­lan Mof­fat’s Coca-Cola Mus­tang, Norm Beechey’s GTS Monaro and the other stars of the ATCC.

If not for Chrysler’s in­de­ci­sion, it could have hap­pened. Yes, it falls in the cat­e­gory of ‘what might have been’, but, as Gavin found, there’s a trail of ev­i­dence that leaves mus­cle car trag­ics drool­ing over what might have been.

We’re pleased to pro­vide more bar fod­der start­ing page 78. A big thank you to Gavin and his many con­tacts in the Mopar world for go­ing above and be­yond in re­search­ing and pre­sent­ing this story.

Imag­ine what ATCC round wins in a V8 Pacer – or even a Bathurst 500 win in more stan­dard ver­sion – would have done for Leo G’s sta­tus! This

edi­tion is the last for long-time Mus­cle Ma­niac James Cock­ing­ton – at least as writer of that par­tic­u­lar sec­tion. Our pop cul­ture guru is pulling up stumps af­ter the best part of a decade pre­sent­ing his gems. Mus­cle Ma­niac just won’t be the same with­out James’s colour­ful turn of phrase and keen eye for the quirky, cu­ri­ous and cre­ative. James will, how­ever, con­tinue to con­trib­ute fea­tures. Mus­cle Ma­niac will live on with an­other writer at­tempt­ing to fill the shoes of JC, who has opted for a sea change in­volv­ing count­less laps of the Illawarra’s seabaths. En­joy mate.

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