Holden’s Ford day
1969, Bob Holden began his association with Sydney dealer Alto Ford, racing an imported Escort Twin Cam in Improved Production. For Bathurst he was drafted into the Datsun Racing Team to share a Datsun 1000 with Bob Toffolon. Alas, in practice, Toffolon got it all wrong in The Dipper, demolishing the car, the fence and the television camera tower in one go! It was an early shower...
With Ford going gangbusters with the Falcon GT, Alto Ford was one of only six dealers nationally to set up a High Performance Division. Holden was bought in to manage it.
“We were the only dealer to make any money selling products from Ford’s High Performance catalogue for the Falcon GT, Capri V6, and Escort Twin Cam. While I was there I spied the battered XW GT-HO that Bill Brown inverted at Bathurst in 1969. Principal George Altomonte got me another body and we reshelled the GTHO and I raced it four times. We were going to upgrade it to Phase II specifications, but George sold it from under me. He said he would get me another one. So I ended up with a red Phase II for Bathurst.”
The 1970 Hardie-Ferodo 500 was a case of what might have been. Holden recruited fast Escort racer Bill Fanning as co-driver in the Alto Ford GT-HO.
“He wore out the brakes in practice! I believe Fanning was ‘racing’ someone in practice and cooked the brakes, without me knowing. He came in with a puncture. The practice session finished early due to a crash and we didn’t go out again, so I didn’t know there was a problem. I had no brakes after the 15th lap and decided to do the whole race (solo). Without brakes we finished way down.”
For the record, Bob’s sole Bathurst in a V8-powered car netted him 14th place outright and fifth in class.
Bathurst 1972 kicked off a sequence of 11 consecutive starts in the October classic aboard Escorts. The last of these was the most stressful, dramatic and successful. Race organisers initially knocked back his ’82 entry due to a revised class structure and Bob had to do some fast talking – and driving – to have his entry accepted and then make the cut in qualifying. He made the field with a last-minute desperate lap and was reward in the race with a respectable 15th outright and fourth in class behind the Nissan Bluebird Turbo and a couple of Ford Capris.
While his Escorts were outgunned up the Mountain this period, it was often a different story in the ATCC. Holden finished fourth outright three years in a row, 1972-74, and went one step better in ’75 after being in with a chance of winning outright at one point. While a favourable class point system helped, Holden’s Escort always showed well on the tighter, shorter circuits.
The record books show that the Sydneysider finished a stellar second in the 1982 ATCC to Dick Johnson with consistent class placings when several frontrunners went AWOL due to technical breaches or other adventures. Bob would also come within a couple of points of winning the 1982 Australian Endurance Championship.
Bob Holden Motors also ran a successful Formula Ford team. Stephen Brook (1980) and Phillip Revell (1981) won the Driver to Europe Series in the team’s trusty Lola T440. Bob also gave his Formula Ford young guns free runs at Bathurst in one of the two Escorts the team entered. Drivers like Mike Quinn, Wally Storey and David Earle also benefited from Holden’s vision for driver development at a time when the concept barely existed.
For 1983 there would be no more Escorts. Holden agreed to prepare and co-drive the Daily Planet-sponsored Toyota Celica with British star Gordon Spice. There was insufficient time to prepare the Celica properly and it broke its crankshaft on the warm-up lap at Bathurst and didn’t start the race. It was, however, the start of his Toyota period.
He may be the small car king, but he raced a Phase II at Bathurst 1970 for then employer Alto Ford.