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