Vale Leo Geoghe­gan

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Sport -

The golden era of Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing has lost one of its most fa­mous fig­ures with the pass­ing of Leo Geoghe­gan in early March af­ter a long battle with can­cer. He was 78. Leo was born on May 16, 1936 in Syd­ney and learnt to drive aged 10 in war-sur­plus jeeps and blitz-bug­gies. He was 15 years old when he left school and joined his fa­ther Tom at the fam­ily’s taxi busi­ness in Liver­pool in south-west­ern Syd­ney; a busi­ness which soon ex­panded to in­clude a ser­vice sta­tion.

He fol­lowed his fa­ther into rac­ing and quickly rose up the ranks.

Leo was pri­mar­ily an open-wheel ex­po­nent, known for his pre­ci­sion in finely-bal­anced sin­gle-seaters. He was of­ten the first of the Aussies home when grand prix aces jour­neyed ‘down un­der’ for the Tas­man Se­ries races in the 1960s. In post-race in­ter­views his ar­tic­u­late and charm­ing man­ner made him a fine am­bas­sador for the sport.

The pe­riod 1968-70 dom­i­nated Leo’s own list of most trea­sured ca­reer mem­o­ries, as AMC dis­cov­ered when we pro­filed him in 2006.

“Com­ing sec­ond to Jim Clark at Sandown was fan­tas­tic. Next would be fin­ish­ing third be­hind the two Fer­raris in the 1969 Aus­tralian Grand Prix, then win­ning the Ja­panese GP. Then the Gold Star [ti­tle]. When we came third out­right in the 1969 Aus­tralian GP we were in­vited to the Ja­panese GP, which we won. That made me a mil­lion­aire… I won two mil­lion yen,” he laughed. “That was about $5000, which was good money in those days.”

That win came in the V8-pow­ered Lo­tus 39 (above), the fastest car Leo ped­alled at Bathurst, lap­ping in the 2 minute 12s in 1970.

“We were hit­ting 300km/h down Con­rod when it was an old bumpy track. So that was a bit of an adventure.”

That year Leo won the Aus­tralian Driv­ers Cham­pi­onship us­ing both the Lo­tus 39 and the later 59, which had a four-cylin­der Wag­gott en­gine. He won the ti­tle de­cider, at Mal­lala, seal­ing a nar­row points win over John Har­vey and Max Ste­wart.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to list all his suc­cesses and com­pe­ti­tion ve­hi­cles, but his fam­ily once tal­lied up the lat­ter at 64. He re­tired in 1974 af­ter clinch­ing the F2 cham­pi­onship.

De­spite his rep­u­ta­tion as one of Australia’s finest sin­gle-seater and sportscar aces, Leo holds a unique place in Aus­tralian tour­ing car his­tory. He was the only driver to com­pete in the Bathurst clas­sic for each of the big three – Ford, Holden and Chrysler – in fac­tory-sup­ported ef­forts.

All up, his Great Race record is 11 starts for nine fin­ishes. Be­tween 1967, his first Bathurst 500 in a Fal­con GT, and 1973, Leo fin­ished in the top five on five oc­ca­sions. Most regular AMC read­ers would be aware of his Ford and Chrysler ef­forts, but he also drove for the Holden Dealer Team at the Moun­tain in 1973, fin­ish­ing on the podium as part­ner to Colin Bond.

He and brother Pete suf­fered the ul­ti­mate heart­break of cross­ing the line first in the 1967 Gal­la­her 500, only to be stripped of the win upon closer ex­am­i­na­tion of the lap charts by of­fi­cials.

The pair are, how­ever, cred­ited with victory to­gether in a Daim­ler in the first ever pro­duc­tion car en­durance race at Bathurst, in 1962, the pre­cur­sor to the Arm­strong 500.

Leo also scored Holden’s first cham­pi­onship win, the 1956 NSW Sedan Car Cham­pi­onship, two years af­ter his rac­ing de­but.

De­spite rac­ing a va­ri­ety of mar­ques, his name was most closely as­so­ci­ated with Chrysler, thanks to his devel­op­ment role with the Charger and be­ing the brand’s spear­head dur­ing the com­pany’s brief time in Se­ries Pro­duc­tion com­pe­ti­tion.

Over the last two decades of Leo’s life he was a cheer­ful and en­thu­si­as­tic keeper of the Chrysler flame in Australia. He was in de­mand as a guest speaker at car clubs un­til ill-health in­ter­vened.

Be­cause his great­est tri­umphs were in for­mula cars and sportscars, he never at­tracted the mass ado­ra­tion that came the way of the tour­ing car spe­cial­ists who raced on into high pro­file eras. Nonethe­less, he and his brother were house­hold names in their na­tive NSW and in the homes of ‘car peo­ple’ na­tion­ally.

Leo was a friendly and ap­proach­able soul who will be greatly missed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.