The Kaleda family has created a tribute Charger in the livery of patriarch Ray’s most successful Bathurst challenger. The E38 has proven a hit at car shows as it helps keep memories alive of an unsung privateer’s Great Race feats.
Everyone needs a project to crack on with, right? In the case of the Kaleda family, the recently completed project car you see on these pages serves several purposes. Among them was the family’s desire to highlight the racing achievements of patriarch Ray to Chrysler enthusiasts and the wider motoring public.
You see, Ray is one of the fondly-remembered giant-killing Bathurst privateers of days-gone-by. His is a name that has popped up regularly in the pages of Australian Muscle Car but, truth be known, we’ve never really stopped to tell his story. Until now.
And what a story the Kaleda clan had to tell us, too. It’s not just about Ray’s time in racing that hit its heights with eighth in the 1972 Hardie-Ferodo 500 and going two better the following year.
We’ll elaborate on ‘Project Kaleda’ and Ray’s extraordinary early life a little later on, but first it’s important to highlight the magnitude of Ray’s sixth place in the 1973 Hardie-Ferodo 1000. The ’73 Great Race at Bathurst will be remembered as a year of change. Not only had the distance been increased from the traditional 500 miles to 1000km, but the race also came under the new regulations. The previous year’s Supercar Scare saw the banishment of the road legal homologation specials and teams took advantage of modifications that were permitted under CAMS’ Group C rules. The Holden Dealer Team, for example, took a leaf out of Chrysler’s book and turned up with a triple Weber carb Torana XU-1 for Peter Brock/ Doug Chivas and a (slightly less thirsty) triple SU version for Colin Bond/Leo Geoghegan, finishing second and third respectively behind the Allan Moffat/Ian Geoghegan factory Ford XA Falcon GT. The race was probably best known for Chivas pushing the race-leading XU-1 uphill to the pit bay after running out of fuel, handing the race to Moffat and Geoghegan. Rounding out the top five was a pair of expertly driven XU-1s piloted by Bob Jane/ John Harvey and Bob Forbes/Dick Johnson. Behind the illustrious quintet, to the astonishment of all, was a privately-entered Chrysler Charger in its third Bathurst start, driven by Kaleda and Peter Granger. They started 18th on the grid and outlasted, outwitted and outplayed (to borrow the catchphrase of TV’s Survivor) all the other battlers to finish sixth. It was the first Charger home and suspicious race officials immediately pulled its head off to check its legality. For Ray Kaleda, this was a very sweet moment. His team was largely self-funded and he had prepared the car himself in his own workshop. But then battling against the odds was something Ray was very much used to, for he had been a battler all of his life.
Ray Kaleda was born in Lithuania in 1935; his father was a forest ranger. When Soviet Russia invaded Lithuania in 1939, his father was arrested and interned simply because he was armed and in uniform. When Germany subsequently invaded Lithuania, they released his father. But when the Soviets re-invaded in 1944 he was again on the wanted list!
After a tip-off that the Soviets were coming to get him, Ray’s father took his family and fled west on foot, finishing up in Germany. Ray’s son Garry Kaleda said his father doesn’t talk much about his childhood memories in war-torn Europe. Only recently his family learnt that he once found an abandoned tank and climbed inside, only to discover a dead crewman in there with him.
The family ended up in a refugee camp run by the Americans and remained there for five years. Ray recalled that his parents wanted to immigrate to the USA, but after watching a newsreel on Australia with people cooking meat on a BBQ with fat dripping on the ground he decided this was the place to be!
The family arrived in Australia in 1949 and moved to a refugee camp in Maitland, NSW. Sadly, his father was soon sent to an asylum after a spell working on the docks in the harsh
Australian sun. From what the family understands, this could have been as much for the effects of sunstroke and a lack of English as it was for the horrors of war that had taken their toll. His father accepted his spell in the asylum with some grace, stating that it was so much nicer than when interned by the Russians in Lithuania...
Meanwhile, 14-year-old Ray was sent to a boy’s home in Sydney. After briefly working in a bike shop, Ray was accepted as an apprentice mechanic with Allison Motors, Randwick, at the age of 16. The principal of the boy’s home signed Ray’s apprenticeship papers. Ray soon displayed a natural aptitude for things mechanical and proved to be a quick learner. He stayed with Allison Motors for 13 years, fi nishing up as the company’s workshop foreman. In 1962, Ray married Irena, another Lithuanian refugee who came to Australia the same year as Ray’s family.
Ray’s passion for motorsport began in the mid-1950s when he helped form the Eastern Suburbs Car Club in Sydney. His first car was a good old FJ Holden in which he competed in hill climbs and time trials. Ray self-funded his racing but said his kindly boss at Allison Motors would help out whenever he could. He got his competition licence in 1959 and
he raced a Morris Major at places like Warwick Farm, Oran Park and Catalina Park. Ray said in those days he was just happy to be competing and getting a place. In 1963 Ray left Allison Motors and bought his own Neptune service station and workshop on Victoria Road at Gladesville, Sydney. His father-in-law had guaranteed a loan to buy the business, a massive undertaking for a 28-year-old who had arrived in Australia as a refugee. Ray, despite his heavy business commitments, continued racing and made his Bathurst debut in 1964 in a Mini 850. Together with Barry Thiele, one of Ray’s employees, the Mini finished a creditable 15th overall and third in class. The campaign was self-funded, with some sponsorship from Neptune. Ray returned to Bathurst in 1965 with Graham Moore, one of his service station customers, this time in a Mini Cooper S. They came eighth outright and fifth in class, also picking up the teams’ trophy. Again, the bulk of the campaign was self-funded with Ray preparing the car himself in his own workshop. Moore, who would ultimately complete at Bathurst an impressive 25 times, including a drive with the Chrysler Charger factory team in 1971, has the highest of respect for Ray. “Ray was always very upfront and honest,” Graham told AMC. “What you saw is what you got and there was never any fuss working with him. Ray was an aggressive driver but because of his mechanical background, he was easy on the cars he drove.” For a change of pace, Ray purchased a Lotus Super Seven in 1967, a car he recalls as one of his all-time favourites. He was very successful in the Lotus and trophies he won in this car dominate his trophy cabinet today. He sold the Lotus in 1971 and bought an Australian-made Welsor clubman. He managed to crash it twice before selling it in 1973. During this time he continued to dabble in tin-tops. He purchased a Torana XU-1 in 1970 but didn’t race it in the Bathurst 500. He returned to Bathurst in ‘71, this time in a Mazda 1300 entered by the Mazda Dealer Team. Unfortunately, co-driver Bernie Haehnle rolled it on lap 17 before Ray could get a drive. Bathurst 1971 will be remembered for the domination of the Allan Moffat-driven factory Falcon GT-HO Phase III and the Chrysler Charger’s debut. One of those Chargers, the Hot Mustard E38 of Bob Forbes and John Millyard had a dramatic race, as outlined by Forbes in issue #95. The E38’s engine ultimately gave up the ghost after 46 laps, after which it was put up for sale. Ray purchased the E38 off Maurie Selke of Selke Motors, Drummoyne, recalling he preferred the Charger to the XU-1 he had previously owned, and the price was right.
Chrysler supplied Ray with a new short block, which he installed and dyno-tested himself.
“Chrysler recommended a 6000rpm rev limit and (told us) not to exceed that,” Ray says.
“Some drivers over revved the Chargers at Bathurst and paid the price!”
He entered the Charger in the 1972 HardieFerodo 500 with co-driver Paul Pressler. By then Chrysler had released the four-speed E49 which was over two seconds a lap quicker than Ray’s three-speed E38. Car #20C lined up 26th on the grid on a rain-soaked track described by Leo Geoghegan as a “500 mile lottery!”
The Kaleda Charger was the only E38 in the race and was in class D, while the E49s were in class C.
“My co-driver was very slow,” Ray explains, “and I ended up doing most of the driving myself.”
In an action-packed race, which saw a young Peter Brock drive brilliantly to take his first Bathurst win in the HDT XU-1, Ray stayed out of trouble to bring his car home an impressive eighth overall.
Main: Kaleda’s finest Bathurst moment was in ’73. Inset left: What a life Ray, far left, has led. Top right: It all started in Humpy Holdens, this is Gnoo Blas in Orange.
Far left: He owned College Auto Port, on the corner of Victoria Road and College Street, Gladesville, from 1963 to 1977. Left: Ray looks happy about his Bathurst 500 debut, in 1964, backing up in ’65 in #19. Right: With Champion sticker in hand; this is one of the Kaleda family’s favourite shots. Below: Ray was eighth at Bathurst in ’72.