Back on track
Hot on the heels of the John McCormackbuilt Charger and Celica racetrack returns is more good news – another historically significant Sports Sedan’s restoration is complete. No less a vehicle than the first ‘works’ BMW to race on Australian soil, one of the three Sports Sedan/GT cars campaigned by the legendary JPS Team BMW in the early 1980s.
Back in 2014 this page highlighted that the car was slowly coming back to life in the USA.
The painstaking two-decade project by its owner – Cory Muensterman – finally bore fruit when the ex-IMSA car competed at North America’s premier Historics meeting in late 2016, the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion. It was the culmination of a long, hard road for the Californian. Before we go any further, it’s important we recap this 320 Turbo’s colourful and distinguished history as a factory BMW racer on three continents.
It was one of 28 ‘Group 5’ BMW 320 Turbos built by BMW Motorsport GmbH in Germany in 1977 and 1978. It was originally raced in factory BMW Motorsport colours in European events in 1978, including by the late great Ronnie Peterson on the legendary Nordschleife. This chassis then went to the USA for use in IMSA sportscar competition by the works-supported Jim Busby Racing, with additional backing from brewer Coors. The 320 Turbo was predominantly driven by owner Busby in 1979, the team changing the rear window configuration mid-season searching for the optimum aerodynamic set-up.
When JBR moved to the M1 model for 1980, the car – plus a second and little-used ‘spare’ chassis – was delivered to one Frank Gardner in Australia, then managing Allan Grice’s outfit.
The former IMSA car’s local debut came at Amaroo Park in 1980 in Craven Mild colours with Grice driving. He finished runner-up to Tony Edmondson in that year’s Australian Sports Sedan Championship, winning two rounds of the series.
That US-sourced car was parked by the team for season 1981 in favour of a right-hand-drive car constructed locally using key components from the famed Corvair. Grice and Gardner then fell out ahead of the 1982 season and Grice’s time as a BMW driver came to an end.
The former LHD IMSA car remained sidelined in ’82 at the ‘new’ JPS Team BMW – under Gardner’s ownership and with Jim Richards driving the 635CSi tourers – but hit the track again in 1983 when the traditional ASSC gave way to the new-look GT category.
“We were able to basically put it back to IMSA specs again with its big guards and 19” wheels,” JPS Team BMW chief mechanic Pip Barker says, “Jim actually led the championship in it in 1983.”
Richards won the two opening rounds and looked set to win BMW’s first Australian (GT) title... until the car was heavily damaged in the famous multi-car accident off the Adelaide startline. All hopes of winning the title were lost.
The repaired car passed through the hands of Glenn Molloy, Robin Doherty and Sydneysider Rob Burns, who sold it in the early 1990s to a Californian who planned to restore it to its IMSA spec and look. The project didn’t progress far beyond disassembly and the car sat around in pieces for several years – until the owner urgently needed to move it out of the factory unit it was scattered around, as the property’s new owners were about to move in!
Enter another Californian, Cory Muensterman, who agreed to buy the car from his friend.
“The car and a pile of spares were scattered all over the shop floor,” Muensterman explains. “As my friend didn’t have anyone working for him at the time to help him move it all, it’s my belief that he was preparing to keep the mechanical bits and throw away the rest! I did find some parts in the trash area outside and there were some parts missing that I know he had. So I collected the car and all the spares and brought them back to my ’shop. That was sometime around 1998-99.”
AMC #72 has more detail on the first 15 years of Muensterman’s restoration efforts, before he handed the car over to... Jim Busby Racing to complete it in 2015. That’s right, the same team that raced the car in 1979. Muensterman describes the Busby team’s efforts as “a great experience. Jim’s guys Keith Hickson and Steve Bounder did a great job on the car.”
The celebration of BMW’s 100th anniversary at the Reunion was an extra incentive to have it finished in time for that meeting with Busby himself behind the wheel. And that’s exactly what was achieved, as our main image shows.
“It was indeed a long road to completion,” Muensterman explained. “But it was an awesome experience to: a) have the car finished; b) have Jim (Busby) drive it again; and c) have it at the 100-year anniversary BMW Monterey Reunion. The last time Jim ever drove the car was late 1979 at Laguna Seca in a Trans-Am race, so it was great that it was the same track again.
“The car was wonderful. We had two problems: a clutch issue and a leaking intercooler that were both fixed at the track. It is a great handling little car and was reliable other that those issues. Jim said the car was much more driveable that in the day.
“The car got a lot of positive attention; people remembered seeing it run here and it hasn’t been seen since ’79. I gave away a lot of shirts!
AMC salutes Muensterman’s commitment to preserving an important – and well-travelled – piece of motorsport history. He’s chuffed its history includes time in Australia.
“I would love to make a spare set of bodywork in the JPS colours so it could be run either way – kind of a two-for-one deal. It looks so good in JPS colours. What doesn’t?”
Vision of the car’s track return can be found on YouTube. Search for “REPLAY: Finals Day 1 - Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion!”