Tragic end to Bathurst racecar
The ‘Patto hatch’ that appeared on last issue’s cover is owned by the ACT’s Russell Stenhouse. Many moons ago Russ also owned an XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III, a car that had raced in the 1972 Hardie-Ferodo 500. This machine was later involved in a horrific road accident in Canberra in 1977 – after Russ had sold the car – that claimed the lives of two young men.
The car in question was the Phase III driven by Des West in the ‘72 Bathurst classic. This was when West hooked up with American drag racer Lee Drake for a serious attack on event. Drake had originally ordered a GT-HO Phase IV, but the Supercar Scare that erupted mid-year scuttled those plans. The team was forced to source a second-hand Phase III, procuring, Russ believes, a one-off October 1971-build white example (with matching white Fairmont trim) via fellow racer Bruce Burr and Gregorys Ford in Canberra.
The hastily-prepped XY, repainted dark blue for its appointment with the Mountain, gave the team no end of trouble. It blew its engine in practice, so the team borrowed a spare engine from Allan Moffat’s factory Phase III and installed that for the race. However, after starting 10th, clutch failure saw the Falcon retire mid-race. Interestingly, the Phase III ran on raceday with different gold signage on either flank and without front and rear spoilers.
We can’t find any record of it racing again after its sole Bathurst outing. This is hardly surprising given the car carried sponsorship from Golden Products, an early pyramid-selling scheme that was later outlawed. We’re not sure how effective its cleaning products were on those hard to shift stains, but those low in the pyramid’s structure can vouch for the inevitable collapse of such schemes to clean out pockets and bank accounts. Hopefully all-round good guy, the late Des West (no relation to the editor), didn’t take a hit financially.
Post-Bathurst the car ended up in the hands of Golden Products’ accountant, before it was sold on his behalf by a friend after this money man returned to South Africa.
Enter the aforementioned Russell Stenhouse, who spotted an advertisement for the car and eventually purchased it.
“This guy had no luck in six months trying to sell it – go figure,” Stenhouse says. “The car had an eight-track cartridge player and I ended up squeezing the deal out of the owner’s mate on the basis that he kept the cartridge player.”
That’s Russ pictured “in full Ned Kelly disguise taken near Lilydale, Victoria in 1975, I think, after I had added the gold stripes and tidied it up,” he says, referring to the train track photo. “It looked pretty ordinary without the racing signage and with just the metalflake blue.
“I still have the 31-spline axles and locker bits from the West car ‘left over’ when I set it up for more friendly street use with a 3.25 Daytona LSD. I remember I registered the car with YHO003 plates.
“I drove this car for a schoolmate’s wedding,” Russ recalls. “He was about to become brotherin-law to the Carroll brothers, which is how they came to approach me to buy it.”
This would prove to be a fateful encounter for soonto-be owner Martin Carroll, who did indeed purchase it off Stenhouse.
About a year later Russ was on his way home from tech in Canberra one night, in early September 1977 when he came across a police diversion for an accident on Barry Drive, Turner. Stenhouse thought nothing more of the crash until he woke the next morning and saw the Canberra Times’ front-page story, headlined with “Two Die As Car Burns After Crash”. Accompanying the story was a photo of the charred remains of his old Falcon, which the Carrolls had repainted the lighter True Blue hue and registered YGP-351.
Carroll, 21, had lost control and crossed the medium strip, striking a Gemini driven by a 17-year-old girl who was taken to hospital but thankfully survived the accident. Carroll and his 19-year-old male passenger perished when the Phase III burst into flames.
It was a truly gruesome end for the pair. Less importantly, it was also a sad demise for one of the small group of 15 or so Phase IIIs to have raced in the Bathurst classic in either 1971 or ‘72.
Taking into account the severe damage displayed in the image published in the Canberra Times and the fact that in 1977 GT-HOs changed hands for four-figure sums, it seems inconceivable that anyone would have salvaged and rebuilt or re-shelled the wreck. But we long ago learned that nothing is impossible when it comes to GT-HOs. These cars seem, like magic, to miraculously survive crashes that would claim other lesser vehicles.
So before we completely draw a line through this particular GT-HO Phase III, we call for any information on this car. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org