The Australian Competition Department
on BMC’s highly successful Competition Department located at the MG factory in Abingdon England, the Australian outpost’s version was the first in-house factory racing team in Australia. Its first ‘employee’ was John Cotter, a second-year apprentice mechanic, who spoke to AMC for this story.
“I started as an apprentice at BMC in 1961,” recalls Cotter. “The Competition Department was PR manager Evan Green’s idea. It was headed by Alan Kemp who was the Apprentice School Manager and I was the first employee. Alan looked after administration and I looked after the cars. We had help from Terry Douglass in the Service Department and Andy Handright came across as well.”
Initially the competition department assisted private entrants like Charlie Smith and Don Holland. Its first major outing was the 1964 Sandown International 6 Hour, where it entered three English-built Cooper S racecars. Interestingly, these cars were prepared by Brian Foley’s mechanic Peter Molloy at BMC’s Melbourne workshop in Moorabbin.
The Competition Department put in a mighty effort for the 1965 Bathurst 500, as Cotter recalls.
“We prepared six cars for the race! Three Cooper Ss for their imported rally stars and local aces, a 998 Cooper for Charlie Smith and two De Luxes, with one being driver by Kevin Bartlett.”
For 1966 the work rate increased as not only did the department prepare the three Cooper S entries for Bathurst, but built a lightweight Mini for Foley/French for the Surfers Paradise 12 Hour Sports Car Race in August and a further three Cooper S for the inaugural Southern Cross Rally for its rally stars a week after Bathurst! Cotter takes up the story.
“We built the lightweight Mini from scratch. There wasn’t a lot we could do to the production race and rally Cooper S. We blueprinted the engines and ran them on the dyno – they were all the same. There was no funny business! After hours Noel Delforce and I helped Charlie Smith with his Bathurst Cooper S and his ‘sports’ Mini Moke that he ran in the Surfers Paradise 12 Hour. We were so busy, but we were young!”
“Alan Kemp’s brother Gordon drove the Austin FJ ‘transporter’ to Bathurst. The truck belonged to the Experimental Department and was involved in durability testing. We did drive the race Cooper S after dark up to Wisemans Ferry (50km north of Sydney) to run the engines in though!”
“As for the drivers? Rauno Aaltonen was very quick. He really stood out. Timo Makinen was good too. I remember he put the Cooper S on its side at Forrest’s Elbow in 1967. He clambered out, righted the car with a bit of help and only lost about half-a-minute!”
1967 was the last year that BMC entered the Cooper S at Bathurst, among myriad other projects that extended into ‘68.
In early 1969 Leyland took over BMC and the Competition Department was closed. There would be a few factory-supported entries in both racing and rallying up until 1971.
John Cotter moved to Leyland’s Product Quality department until Zetland closed in 1974 and then moved to Engineering Services at Moorebank. He left Leyland in 1976 and moved to Volvo Australia, where he prepared the Ross Dunkerton Volvo 244 that finished fourth in the 1979 Repco Round Australia Trial. Cotter was the liaison manager for Volvo when the importer backed the Group A Volvo 240T that took Robbie Francevic to an ATCC win in 1986 and was the motorsport manager in the Super Touring era of the 850R (with Peter Brock!) and S40. The latter, in Jim Richards and Rickard Rydell’s hands, won the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000.
Above right: The three-car factory BMC team rocked up to Bathurst in ’66 in style. Top left: John Cotter was a central figure in two Bathurst wins: 1966 and 1998. Top right: Charlie Gibson’s ‘Sports Mini Moke’ was factory fettled after hours.