Tragic end to Bathurst race­car

Australian Muscle Car - - Whaddaya Know -

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 am­ced­i­to­rial@chevron.com.au

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