Readers drop us a line on their memories of the Gallaher Falcon XR GTs and just about everything else that was in the last issue.
Romeo’s is a Toorak tradition – an Italian bistro way past ever being regarded as the latest buzz-place but still beloved, in a comfortable sort of way, by regulars. Its website, last updated in 2009, boasts that it’s where stars come to eat and there’s pictures of Shane Warne, Andre Agassi, Anthony Mundine and Missy Higgins to support the claim.
There’s no picture of the bloke in the corner, the most regular of regulars, who wanders down the hill from his home 750 metres away for the guilty pleasure of gelato. He prefers it that way even though despite the years there’s not too many diners who don’t recognise him.
The larger-than-need-be spectacles and the ever present can of Coke (now Diet) confi rm his identity.
Four times Australian Touring Car Champion, four times Bathurst victor, winner of the Sebring 12 Hour and so on… Allan Moffat is on his home turf. He’s lived in Toorak and its environs for nigh on 60 years and right now he’s at the epicentre of his world. His workshop of almost half a century at 711 Malvern Road about two kilometres away, now sold and in the final stages of unit-block development, is about as far as his comfort zone extends.
For all his gigantic public persona, Moffat is a reserved man, aware of his achievements but not boastful about them, shy to the point of being vulnerable to misinterpretation as arrogant.
He was once: arrogant, that is. When he rode the wave of Ford versus Holden mania that defined ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’, he wore his lofty disdain like a defiant shield, daring people to penetrate it. But no more. He’s going through a renaissance and the fans he used to at best avoid because his mind was on his motor racing (or at least briefly address because he knew he had to do it), are now those he genuinely appreciates. Charlie O’Brien tells the story of how he tricked Moffat into coming out of his motorhome where he was (traditionally) hiding at Bathurst by telling him an old friend from the States just wanted a few moments, only to be confronted by a mass of fans, with no escape.
These days, at historic races and at Supercar meetings the longest queues are for Moffat autographs, and he dutifully complies. He’s spanned generations. Grandfathers, fathers and sons are all likely to line up, along with wives and girlfriends.
Truth be known, he loves it – although, not wishing to break the habit of a lifetime, he’d not admit it.
Guest columnist John Smailes has commentated, publicised and reported on motorsport for five decades. Throughout this time he’s observed at close quarters the intriguing career and persona of Allan George Moffat. Who better then to help bring Moffat’s long-awaited autobiography to life.
You wouldn’t want him to anyway. There’s a certain public persona he’s developed and Moffat wouldn’t be Moffat without the drawl, the wry sardonic comment, and the steely glare.
Increasingly there’s a wave of nostalgia sweeping our sport far more tangible than a warm fireside feeling.
Car models, posters, pictures, clothing – ‘merch’ of all sorts has become big business. Moffat is in on it, not so much to cash in but to prevent others getting a free ride on his name.
To stave off unscrupulous operators who simply take the names of the greats without attribution – and that includes Brabham and Brock – Moffat has become a trademark and he’s doing sensible deals with people who want to do the right thing not only by him but by the fans.
To shut down a wave of Facebook pages in which he’s had no involvement he’s started his own ‘Official Allan Moffat’ site and its attracting precious pictorial memorabilia from supporters around the world.
This year he’s going to be super busy at Bathurst. It’s the 40th anniversary of the 1-2 ‘form finish’ and Supercars is looking to revere the legends of the mountain. Frosty’s Falcon will be in the retro-white-blue-and-red colours of the ’77 XC Falcons, and Tickford has developed a limited edition Moffat Mustang of which only 77 will be made. And then there’s the book. For his entire life he’s run a mile from putting it down on paper. He’s operated his life and his business – and it’s impossible to distinguish between the two – so close to his chest that the mere suggestion of revealing his inner thoughts was an ever present threat. The next deal just could not be done if people knew what had happened in the last one. The devil, for Moffat, has always been in concealing the detail.
And then he turned 77. Nice co-incidence really, celebrating the ’77 win at Bathurst in his 77th year.
We’re sitting in Romeo’s – Allan, me and our mutual mate Peter Carpenter who worked with Allan in his Mazda days and has been a close friend ever since, while building monstrous V8 engines which he takes annually to Bonneville to shoehorn into salt flat racers.
Carpy has set up the lunch, but it’s Moffat, unusually, who’s doing most of the talking. He’s talking about his boyhood in Saskatoon, his youngest brother who died tragically in a home accident while Allan was at school, his first car – a ’35 Ford Fordor in South Africa, his first girlfriend (Evelyn, same name as his Mum), how he was part of Jimmy Clark’s winning Lotus pit crew at the ’65 Indy 500 (he handed Clark a Dixie cup of water at his one pit stop).
He’s opening up, more than I’ve ever known him. And then I realise, he’s auditioning.
Carpy, on cue, gets up and leaves the table and Allan fixes me not with a steely glare but with a face full of trepidation and says, “Would you like to write my book?”
It’s as if he thinks his story might not be good enough. As if half a century – more – of setting the gold standard for raceteam development, for sponsorship acquisition, of race-winning and of being what Edsel Ford called, “the most determined white man I’ve ever known”, counts for nothing.
It was a privilege to say yes. It was even more so to sit with him in sessions over six months laughing, crying, learning more about motorsport from the inside and from his perspective than I thought I’d ever know.
Moffat has fulfilled an important obligation to his craft by allowing this book to be written. It’s in his own words – an autobiography – and as I wrote it I channelled Allan Moffat, a scary proposition which led my wife to ask when I walked through the door each night: “John, or Allan?” It’s called, appropriately, Climbing
the Mountain and it will be launched at Bathurst. JS