Q&A

Australian Muscle Car - - Willo Tribute -

Peter, you played a prom­i­nent, if quirky, part in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport his­tory via Race­cam in 1979. We would imag­ine it’s a source of great pride for you to this day?

Of course. Partly be­cause no­body else wanted to know about it then. It was of­fered freely at Ama­roo Park at the AMSCAR round. Driv­ers like Brock and Grice couldn’t see any value in it. The of­fer was made with a tenet that there would be a bit of work in­volved in de­vel­op­ing it: “We need you to come and help us in the next cou­ple of months.” Be­ing a car sales­man and pub­li­cist I didn’t want to let that go. I could see the pro­mo­tional value. They knew what they were do­ing.

How did your Race­cam in­volve­ment come about?

My mar­ket­ing man­ager Keith Dim­mons in­vited the Chan­nel 7 guys for a steak sand­wich and a beer! They made the of­fer to me. I don’t think ini­tially they were happy who they ended up with, but at the end they were be­cause we put a lot of work into it. I think we were the right peo­ple at the time for the job. My team got right behind it and that helps. Do­ing commentary was all part of it. It was all fully ex­plained how the sys­tem worked. There was a fair bit of risk in­volved.

Un­til we got to Bathurst, in­deed be­fore the start of the race, we didn’t know how good it would be. They were sit­ting in the fox­hole (TV com­pound) in the mid­dle of the pad­dock and it started to rain. They said, “We’re get­ting in­ter­fer­ence off the trees, so when you go through The Cut­ting turn this but­ton here and then when you get to Sky­line turn it back again.” Well, it was a bit too hard. When the flag dropped the sun came out, we turned every­thing on and it worked, though range was lim­ited. “We have a link to the he­li­copter, so when you see it over the top start talk­ing,” they told me. That was okay, every­thing worked and then the ra­dio went dud and I could no longer talk to the tech­ni­cians. So ev­ery time the he­li­copter went over I started talk­ing. The com­men­ta­tors pre-empted what I was go­ing to say – I don’t think many peo­ple picked up that it was a one-way con­ver­sa­tion. I couldn’t hear them. They knew the prob­lem. I had to de­liver the mes­sage and I was al­ways good at one-lin­ers so that’s the best way. Just say it and get on with the race!

So did Dick John­son learn all of his one liner’s from you? He sure did!

Some of the com­ments made on air – “that bloody Volvo” (1979), “move you big Yan­kee thing” (Ca­maro, 1980) en­deared you to TV au­di­ences, but did you cop any heat af­ter­wards from those com­ments?

Only from David McKay who drove the Volvo! David should have re­alised that he was in seven coun­tries on TV with a Volvo that no one would have cared about oth­er­wise. The Ca­maro in­ci­dent was un­for­tu­nate. He got in my way and nearly crashed me. When you are highly stressed you say things you shouldn’t.

Given you fin­ished ninth out­right in 1979 – and first non To­rana A9X home – it ob­vi­ously didn’t slow you down too much?

No. We had a good out­fit. We put a good race to­gether and we had a well-pre­pared car. We did well be­cause of the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of the top run­ning cars. But you had to fin­ish.

Race­cam wasn’t with­out its prob­lems, weight be­ing one of them as well as the elec­tri­cal de­mands placed on the Cel­ica, which drained the bat­tery at Bathurst 1980. Was there ever a thought of not com­pet­ing with Race­cam or were the ben­e­fits too great to pass-up?

One year (in 1980) it dam­aged the al­ter­na­tor and we couldn’t keep power up to it. I never thought about not hav­ing Race­cam. I gig­gle now when they said they have this minia­ture Thom­son cam­era, which was de­vel­oped for the Moscow Olympics. The cam­era wasn’t too lit­tle, but it was smaller than be­fore.

There was a lot of op­po­si­tion from AMI Toy­ota when you de­cided to race a RA23 model Toy­ota Cel­ica in 1977. Why was that? Es­pe­cially as your ef­forts did a lot to change per­cep­tions about the Cel­ica be­ing a hair­dresser’s car. Was it be­cause the sportier (twin-cam) GT model you raced wasn’t sold here?

The lo­cal Toy­ota peo­ple didn’t even know about the GT model. Nor did they know the po­ten­tial it had. It was a very good car, which we would have liked to sell. They felt it was a lit­tle too sporty, it wasn’t a com­fort­able fit. They were mar­ket­ing a fam­ily im­age. They ap­proached a num­ber of mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists who all bagged the idea. And I was in­structed not to pro­ceed, but I didn’t take much no­tice. Once we showed

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