The cam­era never lies

Armed with some new ev­i­dence, David Green­halgh has an­other look at the epic 1976 race – and casts se­ri­ous doubt on re­cur­rent claims that the sec­ond-placed Colin Bond/John Har­vey HDT To­rana had ac­tu­ally been one lap ahead of the win­ning Bob Mor­ris/John Fit

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Myth -

The 1976 Bathurst 1000 was a clas­sic. It had a strong and var­ied field, in­clud­ing two of the big­gest names in the sport. There were nu­mer­ous lead changes. It had a very close and dra­matic fin­ish. And there was even a post-race con­tro­versy which rather cu­ri­ously bub­bled away qui­etly for a few decades.

The weapons of choice for the out­right win were the Ford Fal­con XB GT and the Holden To­rana LH L34. Fal­con num­bers were painfully thin at just three, but on the credit side, the Ford fac­tory was mak­ing one of its in­ter­mit­tent re­turns to the sport. Al­lan Mof­fat’s team was now styled Mof­fat Ford Deal­ers, a works cam­paign in all but name.

John Goss, who had won in 1974 but failed early in 1975, was look­ing for more of the for­mer and less of the lat­ter, and en­listed Jim Richards as co-driver. Mur­ray Carter in the third Fal­con at­tracted de­scrip­tions more in the way of de­pend­able and con­sis­tent than fast.

Ranged against the Fords was a ver­i­ta­ble ar­mada of Hold­ens. They were led by the Holden Dealer Team, still un­der the lead­er­ship of Harry Firth, who fielded Colin Bond/John Har­vey and Char­lie O’Brien/Wayne Ne­gus. De­fend­ing win­ner Peter Brock chose his brother Phil to sup­port him in the Bill Pat­ter­son en­try. Bob Mor­ris (for Ron Hodg­son) had English­man John Fitz­patrick, while Al­lan Grice/Frank Gard­ner (for Craven Mild) also looked like a very strong team.

Amaz­ingly, Stir­ling Moss and Jack Brab­ham were also present (see AMC #75 for a full ac­count of their at­tack), in a To­rana. In the con­text of world motorsport, they were un­doubt­edly the two il­lus­tri­ous names who had ever con­tested the event – and they were sharing the same car!

And in ret­ro­spect, the two of them had a bet­ter chance of win­ning the race than was gen­er­ally recog­nised at the time. While they may have lacked out­right speed, the vic­tory was there for the tak­ing for any­one who could main­tain a fair pace and per­suade these very frag­ile cars to run fault­free for 1000km.

Sadly, Brab­ham’s car fell a mere 1000km short of that goal – his gear­box man­aged to se­lect two gears at once when the race started, leav­ing him to be clob­bered by a Tri­umph Dolomite on the grid. Some hours later, the patched car was sent into bat­tle. Moss was dis­ap­pointed with his own pace (his fastest lap of 2:32.2 was well off Brock and Mof­fat’s joint fastest lap of the race at 2:28.4), but on a day when speed wasn’t the key, Moss ac­tu­ally wasn’t far off the race pace.

Mean­while, at the head of the field, Mof­fat and Bond traded the lead in the early laps, un­til Mof­fat grad­u­ally be­gan to pull away over the course of the first stint. Brock, Mor­ris and Grice filled the next three places in vary­ing or­ders, while HDT boss Harry Firth kept Ne­gus in the sec­ond HDT car a bit fur­ther back. Above: Mof­fat’s Fal­con is out of frame and in the lead as Brock swings his L34 into Hell Corner for the first time. Fit­tingly, Mor­ris and Bond are al­ready bat­tling.

It also looked like Frank Gard­ner may have in­structed Grice to play the long and cau­tious game, as he too started drop­ping away from the lead pace, and ran his first stint out to lap 46, tak­ing the lead as his ri­vals pit­ted. Ide­ally, the quick cars could do the race on just three stops, but those who stopped be­fore lap 40 would ob­vi­ously strug­gle to do so. Grice/Gard­ner there­fore looked very well placed in that re­spect, but not long af­ter­wards, the car started run­ning rough, and was re­tired with a bro­ken rocker re­tain­ing nut.

Leader Mof­fat had pit­ted for co-driver Vern Schup­pan on lap 41, but Schup­pan gave the Fal­con back to Mof­fat on lap 80, which meant they were now very un­likely to go the 163-lap dis­tance on just one more stop. How­ever, such tac­ti­cal ques­tions were soon the least of their wor­ries: the crank pul­ley broke, tak­ing the fan belt with it.

The car was parked on lap 87, and with it went Ford’s chances. Nei­ther Goss nor his Fal­con was all that well; Goss was so off-colour that Richards drove nearly all the race. The car needed a new clutch, and also ran into other prob­lems, so the strik­ing white and blue XB was a long way be­hind at the flag. Mur­ray Carter didn’t have the speed to get into a po­si­tion where re­li­a­bil­ity could make

the dif­fer­ence – and in any event, suf­fered late-race en­gine prob­lems when run­ning sev­enth. So, which Holden was go­ing to win it? Mof­fat’s demise left Bond/Har­vey lead­ing by over a lap from Mor­ris/Fitz­patrick. Peter Brock had pretty well dealt him­self out of the game: a fuel pickup prob­lem cur­tailed his first stint, but worse was to come to­wards the end of his sec­ond stint. He ran out of petrol com­ing down Con­rod, and thought he had bro­ken an ac­cel­er­a­tor link­age as the pedal was on the floor. He hopped out to fix it, and in the course of do­ing so, bogged by the side of the track, ne­ces­si­tat­ing him to push it out. He later rue­fully re­flected: “We lost about three laps in that episode, and I could’ve just coasted in and lost about 10 sec­onds, so I’m kick­ing my­self.”

The sec­ond HDT To­rana, which ap­peared to be the team’s des­ig­nated tor­toise, was also not a con­tender, mak­ing sev­eral pit stops around half dis­tance. So the race was be­tween the HDT hare – the Bond/Har­vey L34 – and the Ron Hodg­son en­try.

Bond lost the lead when he stopped for a pad change, but a slow stop for Mor­ris (in­clud­ing a de­lay with a jack, which cost about a minute) and then a flat tyre for Fitz­patrick left Bond over a lap in the lead. But Fitz­patrick was catch­ing at about five sec­onds a lap, and sailed past Bond over Sky­line – sig­nif­i­cantly, not a place where you’d ex­pect to pass a healthy car – on lap 131 to get back on the lead lap.

Bond stopped for fuel, which cut his lead in half. Fitz­patrick kept com­ing, still run­ning four or five sec­onds a lap faster, un­til Bond stopped on lap 148 for oil and a new fan­belt. Fitz­patrick swept into the lead, only to run into the fa­mous dra­mas of his own a few laps from home. A blown oil seal in the front of the gear­box al­lowed oil onto the clutch, which started slip­ping badly. Fitz­patrick limped along, go­ing slower and slower, smoke pour­ing out the back of the car, wait­ing for Bond to come hurtling past.

But he never did. The HDT car had prob­lems of its own, lap­ping seven sec­onds off its pre­vi­ous pace, and Bond was still 48.3 sec­onds adrift when Fitz­patrick stag­gered past the che­quered flag.

The con­tro­versy

Ifirst be­came aware of any doubt about these events when I read Bill Tuckey’s The Rise & Fall

of Peter Brock, which dou­bled as a bi­og­ra­phy of John Har­vey. It was said that the HDT’s lap chart (run by Grant Steers) showed them still in the lead at the end; that the new man­ual scoreboard at Mur­ray’s Corner missed Fitz­patrick’s slow stop for the flat tyre and cred­ited him with an ex­tra lap; and that Ivan Stib­bard told Har­vey straight af­ter the race that, if the HDT protested, they would be el­e­vated to the win. How­ever, af­ter the drama of the fin­ish, and with Ron Hodg­son be­ing a big Holden dealer, the Holden brass elected not to file the protest.

Not long af­ter Tuckey’s book was pub­lished, when I was writ­ing the 1989 edition of Aus­tralia’s Great­est Mo­tor Race, I found my­self in the very dusty and cramped ARDC ar­chives in their old An­nan­grove site. With great ex­pec­ta­tions, I opened their folder of doc­u­ments from the 1976 race... but not a word did I fi nd to in­di­cate any doubt about the re­sult. Per­haps that was to be ex­pected.

In any event, the con­tro­versy lum­bered on, with Holden’s Ray Bor­rett even pub­licly apol­o­gis­ing, many years later, to Har­vey for de­priv­ing him of the win. One could be for­given for think­ing that Holden’s de­ci­sion not to lodge the protest straight af­ter the race was a clas­sic sit­u­a­tion of ‘put up or shut up’, but Bor­rett’s com­ments meant that Holden clearly didn’t see its choices in that light.

In 2004, Bill Woods cov­ered the dis­pute in Le­gends of Speed, claim­ing that the ARDC had in fact dis­cov­ered the mis­take (cred­it­ing an ex­tra lap to Fitz­patrick) dur­ing the race. Woods also quoted Harry Firth as say­ing that his driv­ers didn’t get the credit they de­served. For his part, Mor­ris stead­fastly main­tained that he’d won, fair and square, while Bond main­tained a com­mend­ably dig­ni­fied po­si­tion of ‘what’s done is done’.

And then in 2014 some­thing hap­pened that no­body was ex­pect­ing: the film of nearly all of the race was re­cov­ered from Chan­nel Seven ar­chives and re­leased as a DVD by Chevron Marketing Ser­vices. I sat down to watch the film won­der­ing if it would re­solve the dis­pute, as has hap­pened on other oc­ca­sions when films sur­face years later (see break­out).

There is a con­stant theme run­ning through the tele­cast: un­cer­tainty about lap scor­ing. Quite early in the piece, Howard Mars­den (com­men­tat­ing with Evan Green) says he doesn’t be­lieve the IBM print­out, which was fed from the ARDC time­keep­ers. Late in the day, Green tells the view­ers that Seven chose not to show many of the IBM print­outs on the screen, be­cause they knew they were wrong.

But from the point of view of Holden’s claims that the HDT won the race, the most sig­nif­i­cant part of the film is the nu­mer­ous shots of the HDT pit board for Bond/Har­vey. Ev­ery sin­gle one of those pit boards agrees with the of­fi­cial ver­sion of the race…

On lap 136, the HDT told Colin Bond he was ‘+113’. On lap 142, he gets ‘Mor­ris -52, 32.3, P1, L21’. On lap 143, Bond was told ‘Mor­ris -48, 33.3, P1, L20’. Af­ter Bond’s cru­cial stop on lap 148, he gets a board on lap 151 say­ing, ‘Mor­ris +114, 35.5, P2, L12’. On lap 155, he gets, ‘Mor­ris +115, 40.2, P2, L8’.

In other words, the per­son run­ning the HDT pit board told Bond that he was lead­ing be­fore his stop on lap 148, but was sec­ond af­ter that stop, and there­fore to the end of the race.

Whichever way you look at it, those pit boards present a sub­stan­tial prob­lem for Holden’s the­ory.

Pics: While some Holden fig­ures have claimed Bond/ Har­vey were a lap ahead of the win­ning Mor­ris/ Fitz­patrick To­rana, re­cently un­cov­ered TV cov­er­age of the race show­ing HDT’s pit boards re­veal that HDT’s own lap count did not dif­fer from the of­fi­cial chart.

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