Heard about this VB?

Australian Muscle Car - - Whaddayaknow -

We love sto­ries about pri­va­teer at­tacks on the Great Race, es­pe­cially one-off cam­paigns in the era when a new car could be pur­chased from a dealer and raced on the Moun­tain with min­i­mal up­grades. The Tom Heard Au­to­mo­tive-en­tered #19 Com­modore as­sault on the 1980 HardieFerodo 1000 is a per­fect ex­am­ple.

There are glimpses of this Neville Bridges/Sue Ran­som-driven VB in the race tele­cast, es­pe­cially late in event when it’s trail­ing smoke.

We’ve been in touch with Tom Heard a cou­ple of times over the years and the for­mer me­chan­i­cal work­shop owner pro­vided us with some good back­ground on the as­sault. Heard told us that he of­fered a drive to his em­ployee Neville Bridges if Bridges did the bulk of the prep work. Neville jumped at the chance, so Tom bought a brand new (but su­per­seded) 4.2-litre (253ci) VB Com­modore from New­cas­tle Holden dealer Young and Green in mid-1980.

Young and Green gave Heard a dis­count in re­turn for sig­nage for its MAMI In­sur­ance busi­ness and loaned Heard a truck to trans­port the car. Bridges’ father, Harry, or­gan­ised back­ing from his own em­ployer CIG Weld­ing Sup­plies. Bells Radiators also kicked the tin.

With Bathurst fast ap­proach­ing, Heard, the Bridges Jnr and Snr, Dale Har­vey (who helped with this story), Alan Mur­phy, Frank Krohn and others pitched in after-hours at Tom Heard Au­to­mo­tive in Hunter Street, New­cas­tle to com­plete the build.

Heard says no body-strength­en­ing was done and the only things done to the sus­pen­sion were fit­ting Lovell Springs, Bil­stein Shock Ab­sorbers and K-Mac sta­bliliser bars. He says the team built a 308 mo­tor with ex­trac­tors, mild cam and twin 45mm We­bers. It also ran with a stan­dard M21 gear­box and lim­ited slip diff (no locker).

As a shake­down, Neville Bridges drove the Com­modore in New­cas­tle’s fa­mous and now de­funct King Ed­ward Park hill­climb on Au­gust 30, 1980, while Bathurst co-driver Sue Ran­som drove Neville’s Group C To­rana XU-1 that day. That’s Bridges be­side the car in the small image.

The team even had time for a cou­ple of days test­ing at Oran Park, one on the way to Bathurst from New­cas­tle!

Once on the Moun­tain, the squad soon en­coun­tered dra­mas. Firstly, the 308 race en­gine had some ma­jor oil leaks, so the orig­i­nal 253 went back in for prac­tice. Also, the plan had been to race the car without wheel-arch flares and spoiler. How­ever, the scru­ti­neers would not al­low this and a set had to be ob­tained – no easy task at such short no­tice and with qual­i­fy­ing nearly upon them. Bathurst Mo­tors Holden didn’t have any in stock so an SOS went out to GM-H in Mel­bourne. These were not due to ar­rive un­til Satur­day – after qual­i­fy­ing! In the in­terim, Alan Browne’s Re-Car out­fit kindly of­fered to lend the team a set, but only once the donor Com­modore had safely qual­i­fied it­self. This achieved, the flares were re­moved, hastily fit­ted to #19 for Neville and Sue to com­plete their min­i­mum laps and qual­ify! The flares were then re­fit­ted to the donor Re-Car VC! Talk about stress city...

The THA VB qual­i­fied 40th, us­ing the 4.2-litre V8 mo­tor, with a best lap of 2m49.5s, some 27 sec­onds slower than the Brock ex­am­ple and 12th of the 14 Com­modores en­tered. They were, how­ever, seven sec­onds quicker than the six-cylin­der Scotty Tay­lor/Kevin Kennedy Com­modore and far bet­ter off than the trou­bled Phil Lyon/Bill Stan­ley VC which didn’t record a time. More im­por­tantly, they were in the race.

Ran­som found the Com­modore heavy to steer and the seat un­com­fort­able. She had her own seat brought in from Syd­ney in time for the race.

In­stal­la­tion of the 308 race donk was com­pleted after fi­nal prac­tice and the team was un­der­stand­ably ner­vous about grid­ding up Sun­day with it freshly in­stalled. Thus, the Com­modore was taken out to the back­blocks near Blayney on Satur­day evening for a run on a straight stretch of road.

The crew was re­lieved when all went well... yet they still had an­other big job to com­plete overnight. So it was back to a Shell ser­vice sta­tion’s work­shop for the last-minute re­place­ment of the Pan­hard Bar with the Watt’s Link­age rear de­manded by of­fi­cial­dom.

Need­less to say, by this stage the team had had very lit­tle (if any) sleep and were not con­fi­dent the car would last the dis­tance on race day. To their credit, in the finest Bathurst tra­di­tions, the Novo­cas­trian team never gave up and took their po­si­tion on the start­ing grid.

With the help of at­tri­tion, #19 quickly gained po­si­tions in the race to be run­ning some­where, Heard can’t re­call ex­actly, between 20th and 25th ap­proach­ing mid-race.

Then, sur­prise, sur­prise, the Watt’s Link­age broke, dam­ag­ing a tyre. Sev­eral laps were lost while this was re­paired... by re­in­stalling a Pan­hard Bar!

Yet they strug­gled on, the car smok­ing badly due to a holed pis­ton but cir­cu­lat­ing sev­eral sec­onds faster than its best qual­i­fy­ing time.

The crew was re­lieved to reach the fin­ish, with the blue, red and sil­ver VB com­plet­ing 134 laps for 22nd out­right and 12th in class A. That’s not to be sneezed at given the rookie team had a to­tal bud­get of about $20,000, in­clu­sive of the car’s ini­tial pur­chase.

Sue Ran­som, the only team mem­ber with prior Bathurst ex­pe­ri­ence, played a big part in get­ting it home. She re­calls it was “a bog-stan­dard, small block Com­modore with the most amaz­ingly heavy steer­ing l had ever ex­pe­ri­enced. l lit­er­ally had dif­fi­culty turn­ing the wheel at low speeds and I’m pretty strong!”

She says the smoke came from two sources: the en­gine mal­adies and the rear-end fail­ure that caused “se­vere tyre rub through some corners.”

Bathurst 1980 ex­hausted Tom Heard’s mea­gre bud­get and the car didn’t race again.

He says it was put back on the road and sold in ei­ther 1981 or 1982. It gave its sec­ond owner sev­eral years of faith­ful ser­vice be­fore Heard lost track of it. There were sug­ges­tions on­line a few years ago that it’s still on the road, but we can­not val­i­date those claims... un­less some­one reads this and con­tacts AMC via am­ced­i­to­rial@ chevron.com.au

Whad­daya­know? Does this beast still ex­ist?

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