1976 Sports Sedan ti­tle

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

It’s 40 years since the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship. An ap­pro­pri­ate time, then, to re­call how one of lo­cal rac­ing’s big­gest names cap­tured the ground-break­ing se­ries.

If the 1970s was the golden decade of Sports Sedan rac­ing, then 1976 was prob­a­bly the year it shone the bright­est. Which is fit­ting be­cause that was also the first year of the Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship. It was fit­ting, too, that the cat­e­gory had fi­nally re­ceived na­tional cham­pi­onship sta­tus. Emerg­ing in the late 1960s from the hum­ble Aus­tralian mo­tor rac­ing tra­di­tion of the ‘back­yard spe­cial’ (wildly mod­i­fied cars such as Peter Brock’s 186 six-cylin­der Holden-pow­ered Austin A30, or the early Sports Sedan pi­o­neers like the Bob Mor­ris Fal­con XP ‘Fal­tang’, so named be­cause of the 289 V8 Mus­tang en­gine jammed in the front, or any of Barry Sharp’s bizarre hy­brid V8 mon­sters – the su­per­charged V8 Ford Zephyr, the Austin A95-Ford V8, the Holden FE with Chev V8 power and left-hand-drive con­ver­sion…), Sports Sedans had al­ways been a pop­u­lar sup­port card draw at race meet­ings across the coun­try.

But by 1973 they’d be­come the big­gest thing in Aus­tralian tour­ing car rac­ing. That year the orig­i­nal ‘back­yard’ Sports Sedans had been joined by the old Im­proved Pro­duc­tion Tour­ing Cars – ma­chines like Al­lan Mof­fat’s Boss Mus­tang, Norm Beechey’s HT Monaro GTS 350 and Bob Jane’s HQ Monaro GTS 350 – and a whole new and ex­cit­ing beast emerged.

Not only were the Sports Sedans faster than the new Group C ‘Bathurst’ tour­ing cars, they were also more spec­tac­u­lar, more pow­er­ful, they were louder, the rac­ing was fiercer, and they were at­tract­ing big­ger crowds. Big money se­ries be­gan to spring up for th­ese cars. In Vic­to­ria there was the rich Marl­boro se­ries; at Oran Park in NSW there was the Toby Lee Se­ries.

Sports Sedan rac­ing was turn­ing pro­fes­sional at a great rate of knots: the idea of the ‘back­yard spe­cial’ was about to get a re­al­ity check as some very se­ri­ous play­ers in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport be­gan build­ing some very se­ri­ous Sports Sedans in a bid to snare a slice of the ac­tion – and the prize­money.

With his For­mula 5000-in­spired Rep­coHolden V8-pow­ered Valiant Charger, open­wheeler star John McCor­mack showed the Sports Sedan reg­u­lars what could be done by ap­ply­ing proper rac­ing car en­gi­neer­ing prin­ci­ples, as op­posed to sim­ply drop­ping in a big, pow­er­ful en­gine, slap­ping on the fat­test tyres pos­si­ble and hop­ing for the best. Fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar phi­los­o­phy, if not as well ex­e­cuted, was Bryan Thom­son with his wild VW Fast­back Chev V8 – more or less a McLaren F5000 with a V-Dub body. From New Zealand, Jim Richards was be­com­ing a fa­mil­iar pres­ence in his Sid­chrome Mus­tang; Bob Jane be­gan de­vel­op­ing even more per­for­mance from his HQ Monaro GTS 350; Ian Geoghe­gan had a HJ Monaro be­ing built which he would un­leash in 1975; Jim McKe­own and Bill Brown each im­ported 2.8-litre Porsche Car­rera RSs – ef­fec­tively the Car­rera Cup cars of their day, race ma­chines spe­cially de­vel­oped by Porsche for GT rac­ing…

It’s 40 years since the in­au­gu­ral Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship. An ap­pro­pri­ate time, then, to re­call how one of lo­cal rac­ing’s big­gest names cap­tured the ground-break­ing se­ries.

Added into this mix dur­ing ’75 was Al­lan Mof­fat’s Cologne Capri.

While Mof­fat would take ad­di­tional V8 fire­power to the fol­low­ing year’s cham­pi­onship in the form of the Monza, be­hind the scenes oth­ers had their own de­signs on the in­au­gu­ral Sports Sedan ti­tle. With the Holden Dealer Team hav­ing pen­sioned off the orig­i­nal To­rana XU-1 ‘Beast’ Repco-Holden V8 Sports Sedan, in Syd­ney Colin Bond was qui­etly pre­par­ing a new and much more so­phis­ti­cated To­rana LH-based re­place­ment. Then there was Frank Gard­ner. He had parted ways with the Bob Jane or­gan­i­sa­tion, and was putting to­gether a For­mula 5000 ver­sion of an early ’60s Chevro­let coupe model few Aus­tralians had even heard of…

The stage was set, al­though cru­cially some of the head­line per­form­ers – such as Gard­ner and Bond – would not be ready un­til the third or fourth acts. But when the cur­tain was raised at Surfers Par­adise for the open­ing round of the 1976 Aus­tralian Sports Sedan Cham­pi­onship, Al­lan Mof­fat, in typ­i­cal Mof­fat style, was pre­pared and ready for ac­tion. Main: Sandown, July 4, 1976. Mof­fat care­fully picks off the larger, home grown cars in his IMSA Monza. Right: Be­fore ’76 this trio were the duck’s guts.

How it played out

The

seven-round ASSC kicked off at Surfers Par­adise in May and con­cluded at Calder in De­cem­ber. Mof­fat took both the Monza and Capri to the first round, qual­i­fy­ing them fastest and third fastest re­spec­tively to sand­wich Jane’s Monaro on the Surfers three-two-three grid. En­gine whizz Peter Mol­loy had been on hand and, Rac­ing Car News re­ported, spent a lot of time en­sur­ing both cars were run­ning like clock­work. Sat­is­fied with his hand­i­work, Mol­loy flew back to Syd­ney on Sun­day morn­ing to en­joy a game of golf! On race day Mof­fat opted to drive the Chev. But just as the Capri would be there­fore a non-starter, so too was Jane ab­sent, un­able to drive due to a back in­jury he’d sus­tained the day be­fore. With Jim Richards hav­ing also with­drawn af­ter the Sid­chrome Mus­tang blew its en­gine on Fri­day, the only se­ri­ous threat to Mof­fat still run­ning was Tony Ed­mond­son in the for­mer John McCor­mack Charger-Repco Holden. The Monza’s pole time was 1m14.0 (the Capri set a 1m16.3 al­though it had lapped in low1m14s in un­of­fi­cial prac­tice); Ed­mond­son was a whole 3.4 sec­onds slower.

Mof­fat went on to clear wins in both race, set­ting a fastest lap in Race 2 that not only smashed the lap record but was 2.8 sec­onds faster than the best Ed­mond­son could man­age. Mof­fat’s win­ning mar­gin in both races was slim, but it may well have been, as RCN reporter Des White de­scribed, a case of Mof­fat “eas­ing off and giv­ing young Ed­mond­son 10 laps of tu­ition…”

White’s re­port ended with this: “Mof­fat had done it again. He once landed a full house Mus­tang down un­der and sat ev­ery­one on their ears. It took sev­eral sea­sons for oth­ers to catch up. Who is go­ing to catch up to the Monza, and when?”

The an­swer to that ques­tion would not be long in com­ing, but in the mean­time Mof­fat was the man to beat.

Af­ter a near two-month break the Sports Sedans rolled out at Sandown. Jane was ab­sent once more, but in ad­di­tion to Richards’ Mus­tang there was Ian Geoghe­gan’s Monaro, Colin Bond’s brand new HDT To­rana LH-Repco and Ron Har­rop’s in­de­cently fast Holden EH with For­mula 5000 Repco-Holden V8 power. Things were re­ally heat­ing up.

Mof­fat qual­i­fied a mere fifth (be­hind all the afore­men­tioned cars) but race day was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. The Monza – re­splen­dent in one-off stars-and-stripes liv­ery, bear­ing the num­ber 200 in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Amer­i­can Bi-cen­ten­nial be­ing cel­e­brated over that July 4th Sun­day – was in the thick of the ac­tion right from the start of Race 1. In the end Mof­fat made a bet­ter fist of the con­di­tions (it rained dur­ing the race, so the track was wet and dry at dif­fer­ent times) to score a third straight win, head­ing Bond and Richards.

Heat 2 was one of those clas­sic sedan races be­tween two cham­pi­ons at the top of their game (you can see for your­self – ABC TV’s live cov­er­age is on YouTube) as Mof­fat and Geoghe­gan went hard at it. This time Geoghe­gan pre­vailed, the win­ning mar­gin so close that the Monaro and Monza were cred­ited with iden­ti­cal race times. Bond, who’d been in the fight for a while, was third, ahead of Richards and Har­rop.

With Ed­mond­son not scor­ing, Mof­fat left Sandown with a sub­stan­tial lead in the se­ries on 18 points – 12 clear of Ed­mond­son and Geoghe­gan.

Onto the third round at Oran Park, where a

new chal­lenger ap­peared in the form of an­other two-door Chevro­let coupe – but one which was very dif­fer­ent from the Monza. It was very dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­thing else too; so much so, in fact, that it would change Sports Sedans for­ever.

If cars like McCor­mack’s Charger and the new HDT To­rana LH were tak­ing Sports Sedans into new tech­no­log­i­cal fron­tiers, then Gard­ner’s For­mula 5000-with-a-body Chev Cor­vair (fea­tured in depth in AMC #69) was ven­tur­ing into a whole new strato­sphere.

Not that it was smooth sail­ing on de­but: the Cor­vair failed pre-week scru­ti­neer­ing af­ter its rear­guard ra­di­a­tor duct­ing had been deemed il­le­gal. But CAMS was be­ing pres­sured by Oran Park to let it run be­cause the track had spent up on a big ad cam­paign pro­mot­ing the car’s first ap­pear­ance. A com­pro­mise was reached with the is­su­ing of a tem­po­rary CAMS logbook and Gard­ner was al­lowed to race – but on the con­di­tion that he start from the rear of the grid and would be in­el­i­gi­ble for cham­pi­onship points. Not only that, but if he found him­self in con­tention for a plac­ing he was not to in­ter­fere with any­one else con­test­ing a plac­ing – if so, the Cor­vair would be black flagged.

In short, there was a fair bit of hos­til­ity shown to­wards Gard­ner’s au­da­cious new ma­chine from of­fi­cials and some com­peti­tors alike. But not from Mof­fat – to his credit, Mof­fat de­clared from the out­set that he was not con­cerned about Gard­ner run­ning.

Off pole Mof­fat left Richards in Race 1 and kept the Sid­chrome Mus­tang at bay for the en­tire 20 laps. From the rear Gard­ner ad­vanced to third place – and duly es­caped the black flag for what was lit­er­ally a point­less podium fin­ish. Not so in Race 2; once the Cor­vair had be­gun to get amongst the lead­ers, Oran Park man­ager Al­lan Hors­ley was out on the wall wav­ing the black flag – with HDT boss Harry Firth in close at­ten­dance, no doubt mak­ing sure the Cor­vair wouldn’t be tak­ing the che­quered flag...

But nor would Mof­fat greet the flag, be­cause his race was run when the clutch failed be­fore the end of the first lap. In­stead, the win went to Ed­mond­son.

Mof­fat now led Ed­mond­son 21-15. There wasn’t a lot in it; Mof­fat could count him­self lucky that Geoghe­gan came away from Oran Park with noth­ing af­ter the Monaro ripped one of its half­shafts apart in Race 1.

The next round, at Wan­neroo in Perth, was a mere two weeks af­ter Oran Park. The short fort­night break was sig­nif­i­cant, in that it ef­fec­tively side­lined Gard­ner: there sim­ply wasn’t enough time to make the re­quired changes to the Cor­vair, Main: Makes you think there’s a road-go­ing Monza un­der­neath, doesn’t it? This is SPIR’s opener. In­set: Mof­fat of­ten had both cars at the track. Top: It wasn’t just tour­ing cars that pulled big crowds in the mid 1970s. Check that grand­stand! In­ter­est in the in­au­gu­ral ASSC was high. then get it for­mally ap­proved by CAMS, and then get it across the Nullar­bor….

The Oran Park de­ba­cle showed that the Monza was go­ing to have its work cut out if and when Gard­ner could get the Cor­vair race­wor­thy. In the mean­time, Mof­fat could go to Perth con­fi­dent in the knowl­edge that the Monza was more than up to the task of beat­ing ev­ery­thing else.

But when the cars fronted for scru­ti­neer­ing, the Monza was nowhere to be seen. It was still at Mof­fat’s Toorak head­quar­ters, in fact; he had brought the Capri in­stead.

In one press re­port, the Monza had stayed be­hind be­cause it was ‘be­ing re­paired’. It was true that there were ‘re­pairs’ be­ing done, but they had noth­ing to do with the Monza…

It was Au­gust, Bathurst was fast ap­proach­ing, and be­hind the scenes re­la­tions be­tween Mof­fat and Ford were be­ing qui­etly re­stored as plans were laid for what would be a mo­men­tous sea­son of suc­cess for the Mof­fat Ford Deal­ers’ team in 1977. As Mof­fat ex­plained in AMC #83 and

else­where in this story, the chiefs at Ford had made it known to Mof­fat that they would be hap­pier were he not to be as­so­ci­ated with a GM prod­uct…

And if Mof­fat was to press the Capri back into ser­vice, the Capri-friendly Wan­neroo was the per­fect place to do it. In­deed, only Jim Richards’ Mus­tang could top Mof­fat in qual­i­fy­ing – had Race 1 not been wet, it might have been a dif­fer­ent story than the one that saw Richards cruise to a com­fort­able win over Mof­fat.

Things were dif­fer­ent later in the day; on a dry track the Capri had the big­ger Ford’s mea­sure, Mof­fat re­liev­ing the Mus­tang of the lead on lap six to go on to an ef­fort­less win that gave him the over­all round vic­tory.

It was an im­por­tant re­sult, with no-score week­ends for ti­tle ri­vals Geoghe­gan (elec­tri­cal fail­ure) and Ed­mond­son (crash). The for­mer was now out of con­tention; Ed­mond­son now trailed Mof­fat by 15.

Two weeks later they were in Ade­laide. Mof­fat this time had both cars, but in qual­i­fy­ing the Monza caught fire due to a prob­lem with the fuel injection. Af­ter that, as the re­newed Mof­fat/Ford re­la­tion­ship be­gan to take hold, the Chev sim­ply ‘dis­ap­peared’ – and wouldn’t be seen in pub­lic again for an­other three years.

Mof­fat qual­i­fied the Capri on the front row at Ade­laide, sand­wiched by Gard­ner’s Cor­vair and Geoghe­gan’s Monaro. Need­less to say, the two V8s out-grunted the smaller V6 off the line and down the long stretch to the first cor­ner.

If it hadn’t been crys­tal clear at Oran Park, the ev­i­dence of the Cor­vair’s po­tency was there in plain view in Ade­laide as Gard­ner raced away to an easy win. Geoghe­gan dropped out with a gear link­age prob­lem; Mof­fat was over­hauled for se­cond by Richards, who trailed the Cor­vair by 20 sec­onds at the end of the 20 laps.

Gard­ner made it two from two later in the day. Fail­ing brakes on the Cor­vair al­lowed Geoghe­gan to at least make a race of it, but it was a bat­tle that was hap­pen­ing a fair way in the dis­tance ahead of the third placed Capri. Mof­fat may not have been in a po­si­tion to fight for vic­tory, but third over­all on the day added what was to prove a cru­cial swag of points to his se­ries lead.

Richards and Ed­mond­son were still in ti­tle con­tention, but they each needed to win both re­main­ing rounds, and with Mof­fat fail­ing to score in all re­main­ing races. The lat­ter sce­nario proved true: Mof­fat in­deed would not score any more points, be­cause he didn’t con­test the fi­nal two rounds. As for the ti­tle hopes of his chal­lengers, there wasn’t much hope of ei­ther scor­ing a clean sweep in the re­main­ing rounds, what with the Cor­vair now run­ning ram­pant. In fact, with vic­to­ries at Sym­mons and Calder, Gard­ner ended up vault­ing ahead of both Richards and Ed­mond­son to fin­ish se­cond in the points. And from there, the Cor­vair just kept on win­ning un­til the rules were changed to out­law it…

Gard­ner’s Cor­vair had won three of the seven rounds, while Mof­fat him­self also won three – two with the Monza and one with the Capri.

Top: The car of the mo­ment (Monza) leads a trio of yes­ter­day’s he­roes (Mus­tang, Monaro and Charger), the promis­ing new chal­lenger (To­rana) and the car of to­mor­row (Cor­vair). In­set: Jim Richards is in strife as a wheel de­parts the Mus­tang – but so too is Mof­fat in trou­ble, the Monza hav­ing blown its clutch at al­most the very same mo­ment! Above: When the Capri ran at AIR in late Au­gust it wore sig­nage re­flect­ing Ford’s new-found in­ter­est in Mof­fat’s rac­ing. Below: Dud tim­ing of Sym­mons Plains penul­ti­mate round, one week be­fore Bathurst, saw a de­pleted field chase Gard­ner’s Cor­vair.

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