Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Mini may­hem

Rac­ing leg­end Fred Gib­son made his Bathurst de­but in a Mini and re­calls fin­ish­ing run­ner-up in the 1966 clas­sic. Mean­time, Gover, yes every­one just calls him ‘Gover’, re­mem­bers his favourite Fords and Ford Aus­tralia per­son­nel.

Rac­ing leg­end Fred Gib­son made his Bathurst de­but in a Mini and also re­calls fin­ish­ing run­ner-up in the 1966 clas­sic.

The word ‘mini’ only ever re­ally meant one of two things, didn’t it? One was a gar­ment that caught the eye of red-blooded males, the other was a car that got the same blokes pretty revved up as well, back in the Swing­ing Six­ties. I can’t re­mem­ber the first time the skirt in ques­tion caught the Gib­son eye, but I re­mem­ber very well mak­ing ac­quain­tance with the cars in the early years of my rac­ing ca­reer. I’ve just been re­minded that it’s 50 years, al­most to the day as I write this, since the Mini Cooper S left its mark on Bathurst. That same day I part­nered Bill Stan­ley to out­right sec­ond be­hind the win­ning en­try.

The win­ner was, of course, the #13 car – lucky for some – pi­loted by Rauno Aal­to­nen and Bob Holden, which com­pleted 130 laps in the 1966 Gal­la­her 500 to our #17 car’s 129. Mor­ris Cooper S en­tries took 16 of the 19 spots in the Class C en­try list – and no fewer than nine of them oc­cu­pied the first nine po­si­tions in the race it­self!

We’re talk­ing about the hey­day of the Bri­tish Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion, or BMC, of course, and my in­vi­ta­tion to take part in that his­tory-mak­ing 500 came about in part be­cause of where I was liv­ing at the time.

There was a pub in the Syd­ney sub­urb of Hurstville where a mob of us used to gather on a Fri­day night, not so much to drink as to ex­change yarns about mo­tor­sport. One of them was Donny Hol­land, who was pretty well con­nected. Not only that, but BMC Zet­land was not far at all from Rand­wick, and I was one of a num­ber of mo­tor rac­ing en­thu­si­asts who ben­e­fited from the BMC pres­ence of ‘Hot Bits Ed­die’ – a bloke who used to be able to con­jure up rac­ing parts through the back door! I bought a lot of parts off Hot Bits Ed­die, in­clud­ing close-ra­tio gears and such like, and they all used to come out in brand-new pack­ag­ing too! And at half the price of re­tail!

That BMC con­nec­tion, I think, helped get me the drive when the well-known Hurstville deal­er­ship Vaughan and Lane de­cided to sup­port a Mini Cooper S en­try for the ’66 Great Race. This is where I have to cor­rect that great fig­ure in Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport jour­nal­ism, the late Bill Tuckey, af­ter whom the Me­dia Cen­tre at the mod­ern Bathurst is now named.

In his his­tory of the first years of Bathurst Bill said, in his 1966 chap­ter, ‘An­other rookie was a pleas­ant-faced Lo­tus Elan sports car racer called Fred Gib­son’. Now Bill was right, of course, about the pleas­ant face, but he seems to have for­got­ten that I ac­tu­ally raced in the first Bathurst 500, in 1963, co-driv­ing a Mini 850 with my old mate Kevin Ni­chol­son. Be­fore that I had also taken part in the Bathurst 6-Hour sports car event with my mate’s MG-A twin­cam, so there was al­ready a Bri­tish con­nec­tion of sorts where FG was con­cerned.

Any­way, I was pretty chuffed to re­ceive the in­vi­ta­tion for 1966. It put me among a whole swag of big Aus­tralian names, for a start, names like Firth and Matich, but it also meant I could rub shoul­ders with some of the big­gest over­seas driv­ers of that era. This was the first truly in­ter­na­tional Bathurst and it meant a lot to me to sit in the driv­ers’ brief­ings along­side guys like Aal­to­nen, who was Euro­pean Rally Cham­pion in 1965 and Paddy Hop­kirk.

They called Rauno ‘the rally pro­fes­sor’, and we cer­tainly learnt a thing or two. It was an ed­u­ca­tion to see those Coop­ers bar­relling down the straight – no kink at the bot­tom in those days – lit­er­ally bump­ing each other along. If you nosed the car in front, it meant you also en­joyed the tow. You both went some­thing like 5mph faster! Mind you, you needed the guy be­hind you to jump on the brakes at the bot­tom…

As far as my own car was con­cerned, it had taken a bit of get­ting used to. In those days the first time you met was in prac­tice at Mount Panorama, and I found, again on the down­hill straight in par­tic­u­lar, that if you didn’t hop on the brakes as soon as you lifted, the thing would start to dart side­ways across the track. I men­tioned it to my co-driver, Bill Stan­ley, who wasn’t as tech­ni­cally-minded as I was but agreed that he had ex­pe­ri­enced the same prob­lem. When I nagged hard enough for the guys to take a closer look, they found that the car’s front sub-frame was out of whack af­ter a road ac­ci­dent. They re­placed it and the car was like brand-new.

Which was a lot more than you could say for some of those Mini Coop­ers early on in that 1966 race! One was in the fence on lap 6; then my old pal John French whacked a Valiant at Mur­ray’s Corner; an­other out­braked it­self at the bot­tom of Con­rod; on lap 11 an­other rolled over. Even the best of them came un­stuck: Matich was us­ing a Fire­stone rac­ing tyre that seemed to put ex­tra load­ing through the front wheels and he kept break­ing the cen­tres, but worse than that, he even­tu­ally lost a wheel at The Dip­per and went into a tree, of which there were plenty be­side the track in those days.

BMC’s bigwigs must have been re­lieved to see #13 out front and un­trou­bled while Bill and I fol­lowed along, a lap down at the end but im­mensely pleased with the re­sult and the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a land­mark re­sult for me and, of course, it paved the way for an even bet­ter re­sult just one year later, but that’s an­other story! FG ED: A trib­ute to the FG/Bill Stan­ley #17 Cooper S was on dis­play at this year’s Bathurst 1000.

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