Sandown 1983

Australian Muscle Car - - Immortality 6 -

Pete Stur­geon is the proud cus­to­dian of two very spe­cial his­toric BMW tour­ing cars. The New Zealan­der owns the Johnny Ce­cotto/Gian­franco Bran­catelli BMW M3 from the 1987 Bathurst 1000 and the JPS BMW 635 CSi raced in 1985 by Neville Crich­ton. Each is an ex­cel­lently pre­sented ex­am­ple of a fine BMW Group A model.

Or rather was, be­cause the 1985 Crich­ton 635 Group A car has just un­der­gone an ex­er­cise in time-travel that’s seen it re­vert to its orig­i­nal 1983/84 guise as a Group C ma­chine.

At this point the ques­tion might be asked: why go to the trou­ble of tak­ing a his­toric Group A JPS BMW 635 CSi back to Group C specs? It’s not as though the Group C ver­sion was an out­stand­ing suc­cess over the model’s three-and-a-half­sea­sons. The best re­sults achieved by Group C 635s were fifth at Bathurst in ’82 and fifth in both the ’84 Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship and the Aus­tralian En­durance Cham­pi­onship.

Rather, it was in the Group A era, not Group C, where the 635 CSi starred, both here and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

As a Group A ma­chine, this car com­pleted a JPS BMW one-two in the open­ing round of the ’85 ATCC at Win­ton – the break­through year for BMW in Aus­tralian tour­ing car rac­ing as Jim Richards went on to claim the Ger­man mar­que’s first ATCC ti­tle.

So it’s a car with some Group A sig­nif­i­cance – and in­deed when Pete Stur­geon pur­chased it from Queen­stown res­i­dent Jim Boult in the late 2000s, he was more than happy to have got his hands on a gen­uine Group A 635.

The car had been in Boult’s pos­ses­sion for some 17 years, hav­ing been orig­i­nally im­ported from Aus­tralia to New Zealand by pre­vi­ous owner Peter Hud­son in 1989.

Prior to that it had been the Jim Keogh car – the strik­ing deep bur­gundy coloured ma­chine which Keogh and Garry Rogers shared to sixth place at Bathurst in ’85. The Keogh liv­ery was one of three dis­tinct colour schemes the car sported that year; the oth­ers be­ing the orig­i­nal JPS black/gold and the white/red/blue colours in which Glenn Mol­loy raced it briefly in NSW be­fore Keogh. When Stur­geon got the car he took it back to JPS specs.

But then, when he be­gan rac­ing it at His­toric race meet­ings in New Zealand, events took an un­ex­pected twist.

Stur­geon in­vited Jim Richards to drive the car at Hamp­ton Downs. As this was the Crich­ton car from ’85, Richards had never raced this par­tic­u­lar Group A 635. But there was some­thing familiar about it…

He wasn’t sure, but Jim had an inkling that this might have been the fi­nal JPS Group C 635. The car which Jim raced through ’83 and ’84 be­fore it was con­verted to Group A for Crich­ton.

In the mean­time Pip Barker, JPS BMW team’s chief me­chanic back in the day, had be­gun to take an in­ter­est in the JPS 635 Group A that had just resur­faced across the ditch. As the man who had ba­si­cally built the thing in the first place (as well as con­vert­ing it to Group A at the end of ’84), Barker knew what to look for to con­firm the car’s lin­eage. When he saw it run­ning at Hamp­ton Downs, it didn’t take long for him to be con­vinced: this ab­so­lutely was the Group C car.

Over the next 12 months, Barker and Richards grad­u­ally per­suaded Stur­geon to turn it back into a Group C car. Barker tells the story...

“Time went by, and then I was back over there (NZ) again to do the Otago Rally with a guy, and I caught up with ‘Sturg’ on the way through. He said, ‘we need to sit down and have a talk about this car’. Jim had ob­vi­ously been in his ear about it too, and so we went through what was in­volved and what it would cost, and he said, ‘OK, we’ll do it, but on one con­di­tion: where ever the car goes to run, you’ve got to go with it’. I said, ‘if you’re pay­ing, that’s fine!’

“But I love be­ing in­volved in it any­way. Any of the JPS cars we built I en­joy be­ing in­volved with. I’ve been in­volved with some of the other JPS cars around the place, and I’m do­ing work for Jim on one of his cars at the mo­ment – he’s got a Group A 635 and an M3.”

Amaz­ingly, Stur­geon agreed to an ex­pen­sive retro­fit of his oth­er­wise per­fectly good Group A BMW – de­spite hav­ing never seen or heard the car in its orig­i­nal Group C pe­riod!

“I was cer­tainly happy with it in Group A form,” Stur­geon told AMC. “I loved the car! I’d never taken much in­ter­est in it back when it was a Group C car. Be­ing in New Zealand, I never re­ally had much aware­ness of Aus­tralian Group C – those cars never re­ally raced over here.

“Any­way, they con­vinced me to do it; and now I can’t be­lieve the trans­for­ma­tion! The sound –I just couldn’t be­lieve my ears when I heard this thing go­ing down the straight for the first time... You hear it, you see it; it’s now a thor­ough­bred race­car, whereas as a Group A it was more a glo­ri­fied saloon car turned into a race­car.”

Any­one old enough to have wit­nessed the Group C 635s will at­test to the sound – that dis­tinc­tive snarling bark from the 3.5-litre straight­six was un­like any­thing else in tour­ing car rac­ing in the 1980s.

But a lovely ex­haust note is not rea­son enough to un­der­take an ex­pen­sive and la­bo­ri­ous project such as this. So what is it, we asked Pip Barker, that makes this Group C BMW so spe­cial?

“It was such a unique car,” he said. “It was never a suc­cess­ful car but it was a one-of-a-kind. It’s the only fac­tory-sup­ported 24-valve 635 in the world. It was three years of my life, that car, and at the end we turned it into a Group A car; what else was there to do with it?”

The car was built by the JPS BMW team in Syd­ney in 1982, from a brand new left-hand-drive bodyshell (painted black) im­ported di­rect from

ATCC Win­ton 1985

Bathurst 1982

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