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.