George Smith is a fabrication genius. He has built about 80 famous racecars, including nine Bathurst winners and three rally champions, for the likes of Allan Moffat, Nissan, Peter Brock and HRT.
Many race fans will recall the pit fire at Bathurst in 1978 that momentarily torched Allan Moffat’s XC Falcon Cobra and sent a young mechanic to hospital with serious burns. That was George Smith. But appearing on the front page of a Sydney newspaper was not his greatest claim-to-fame. Building a raft of winning race (and rally) cars made Smith a revered name within the sport.
Working away diligently while the likes of Colin Bond, Allan Moffat, George Fury, Peter Brock, Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife hogged the limelight has never been a problem for Smith. For more than four decades he’s been happy to be the engineering force behind some legendary cars and titles – including a Brock-matching nine Bathurst 1000s and three Australian Rally Championships to prove his versatility.
Smith’s car-building talents have to date amounted to about 80 race machines, starting with the HDT Torana Sports Sedan in 1974, through the famous Moffat Ford Dealer Team Falcons that dominated the 1977 season, five rally cars and Holden Racing Team’s Commodores during its glory years. Not to mention Nissan Bluebirds and a Brock Sierra.
It’s an impressive body of work for a young mechanic from Launceston who took a chance, moved to the mainland, developed his skills and became the go-to man for race teams needing his expertise and flair. And at age 63 he’s still hard at work helping a new team – Charlie Schwerkolt’s Team 18, headed by old mate Jeff Grech – get established in the tough world of modern Supercars racing.
George was born in Launceston in 1954, the son of local football hero Hec Smith, who played for Tasmania in the 1920s and ’30s. The best and fairest medal in Northern Tasmania was named after Hec and he’s in the state’s Hall of Fame. Hec died when George was a teenager, but the old railway engineer clearly passed down his love of things mechanical because his son only ever wanted to be a motor mechanic.
Being a Holden fan, George approached local dealer Motors about an apprenticeship but was too young, so went away to complete Year 10, returned and was hired. He soon got the taste of motor racing and has never looked back…
Fantastic Mr Fox
George Smith’s ticket to the big time came from Harry Firth, who used Motors’ workshop when the HDT raced at Symmons Plains in 1974. George was already helping a mate with a speedway stock car and had been entrusted with the workshop keys. So when Firth asked for a gofer to help ‘The Fox’ and chief mechanic Ian Tate run Brock’s Torana XU-1 at Symmons, the dealership’s management picked George ahead of 40 other mechanics.
It was a dream weekend for the 20-year-old and he helped Tate fix a head gasket problem, enabling Brock to win the race. The following year Firth specifically asked for George, and HDT again won, with Bond in the L34.
“I must have made a bit of an impression [in ’74] because they were rapt with the way the whole weekend went and the following year they actually asked if I’d help again. At the end of that day I worked up the courage to ask Harry if he had a job available. His exact words were, ‘Cock, get yourself to Melbourne and you’ve got a job’.”
With childhood sweetheart Jan and threeyear-old daughter Angie, the young family moved to Melbourne, where Harry put him to work in his road car workshop, making the newcomer earn his stripes with HDT on weekends.
But Smith really wanted to get into racing, so when Harry reluctantly agreed to a
Left: All smiles for George Smith as he reflects on a career with the sport’s best teams. Sunglasses on the grid at Bathurst ’86 mask the effects of the mammoth Moffat crash rebuild.