Racing history & sliding doors
The racing lives of Steve Perrott’s pair of Philips-sponsored Toranas are fascinatingly complementary when you stop and look through the files. The four-door’s main year of racing was in 1979 in Charlie O’Brien’s hands, though he actually started that year racing his ex-Bob Morris, Ron Hodgson four-door A9X repainted in Philips colours. Period sources account for him running early in the year at Amaroo in the AMSCAR Series and also finishing runner-up in the Sandown round of the Australian Touring Car Championship in the ex-Morris car in Philips colours. He advertised this car for sale mid-season, though we haven’t been able to pinpoint in time for the issue’s deadline at what point in ’79 he moved into the fourdoor Perrott now owns.
O’Brien had further podium finishes in the ATCC that year aboard a four-door with a third place at both of his home Queensland round at Surfers Paradise and Lakeside helping him to fifth in the overall championship points.
There was also the very awkward moment at the Hang Ten 400 at Sandown later in the year where he (driving a four-door, we presume to be Perrott’s) and teammate Garth Wigston (in the hatchback) crashed one another into instant retirement. Ouch! That scene is shown below.
The team entered and practised the four-door at Bathurst but parked it for race day, instead racing the hatchback.
The four-door scored victory in the final Championship of Makes endurance race in ’79 at Surfers Paradise, with O’Brien beating a field that didn’t feature all of the heavy-hitters of the era, before Wigston ran it in the Winfield 25s event to round out the year at Baskerville in Tasmania.
The four-door also had earlier appeared in 1978 in the hands of Bruce Gowans at the Calder ATCC round and finished second in that year’s Rothmans 500 enduro at Oran Park in the hands of he and Wigston.
This particular car hasn’t appeared on track for some time, but will be wheeled back out in November for the Geelong Speed Trials in Victoria.
“We’re just freshening a new engine for it at the moment,” says Perrott. “I haven’t raced it for quite a number of years, it’s been sitting up on stands at the workshop.”
On the other hand, the hatchback is understood to have been the team’s 1978 and 1979 Bathurst racecar that actually did very little racing apart from its assaults on Mount Panorama. In ’78 Wigston qualified it for the inaugural Hardies Heroes shootout and he and Wayne Negus were running fifth before it broke the crankshaft. In ’79 Wigston and O’Brien were sitting in a comfortable second place behind Peter Brock before a failed pinion seal caused a leaking diff. A rear axle was replaced and they came home eighth overall.
When AMC interviewed O’Brien way back in issue #39, he revealed a ‘sliding doors’ moment that could very well have rewritten Bathurst history.
“Everyone knows Brock won Bathurst by six laps, but not the reason he won by six laps.
“We were on the same lap with about an hour to go. HDT and Gown-Hindhaugh both got their gearboxes and diffs built by General Motors at Fishermans Bend. I used to go down there and pick them up. You didn’t drop off a unit and get the same one back; they all got freshened up and you got what you got. With an hour to go, the pinion seal let go in my diff, but it didn’t let go in Brock’s diff. So that race could have gone either way.”