Mof­fat book ex­tract

Mo­tor rac­ing leg­end Al­lan Mof­fat takes us back to his epic 1973 sea­son – when he won both the ATCC and the (first) Bathurst 1000 – in this ex­tract from his long-awaited au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Climb­ing the Moun­tain

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Mo­tor rac­ing leg­end Al­lan Mof­fat takes us back to his epic 1973 sea­son – when he won both the ATCC and the (first) Bathurst 1000 – in this ex­tract from his long-awaited au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Climb­ing the Moun­tain.

Ford won its Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship with a Fal­con in 1973, and I was at the wheel. That year was ab­so­lutely epic. It started with my ATCC ti­tle win in the GT-HO Phase III, then we passed the ball to a new car, the Fal­con coupe dubbed the Su­per­bird, which de­liv­ered me my third Bathurst vic­tory, but the sea­son then ended with me in hospi­tal af­ter an in­ex­cus­able call by Howard Mars­den. Above all, it was the year that could be said to have started what be­came known as the Brock ver­sus Mof­fat era.

Ford pulled out of mo­tor rac­ing at the end of the sea­son.

Now who would ever have pre­dicted that, given that they’d just won the tour­ing car cham­pi­onship and Bathurst?

The new set of rules ef­fec­tively merged se­ries and im­proved pro­duc­tion. It re­moved the need for those cars to be suit­able for road reg­is­tra­tion, although, in the fash­ion only CAMS can man­u­fac­ture, that ex­emp­tion was still sur­rounded by grey ar­eas.

At Ford we took the de­ci­sion to run the ATCC with the tried and proven GT-HO Phase IIIs, but then to switch to the new XA two-door Fal­cons for the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onship and, of course, Bathurst.

The ATCC was first to be run over a busy eight rounds right around the coun­try in just six­teen weeks.

The writ­ing was on the wall at round one in Sym­mons Plains. On pole po­si­tion was Peter Brock in the Holden Dealer Team To­rana XU1. I was along­side him. It hadn’t been easy; I’d hit a slower car, a To­rana, in prac­tice and done a fair bit of dam­age. But in the race I sped away from Brock at the start and he couldn’t catch me.

Next round, Calder Park, and the old guard was rapidly chang­ing. Bob Jane was more than miffed that he’d been rel­e­gated to a To­rana un­der the new rules, so he read them again and fig­ured that, with a bit of ma­nip­u­la­tion, he could en­ter his red-hot 1972 cham­pi­onship-win­ning Ca­maro— which he did, and put him­self on pole along­side me. Brock was third. Rain turned the start into an or­gan­i­sa­tional dis­as­ter. Some cars had sped to the pits for tyre changes and were then told they couldn’t start be­cause the field was al­ready in the starter’s hands. Brock ig­nored all that and started any­way, but was then black-flagged and dis­qual­i­fied. I got the jump on Jane but later in the race he over­took me to win—only to have CAMS re­verse their de­ci­sion on the Ca­maro’s el­i­gi­bil­ity, so I scored max­i­mum points af­ter all.

At Sandown Brock pushed me all the way to the last lap, then lit­er­ally pushed his To­rana over the line when his fuel pump packed up and he ran out of gas with petrol still in the tank. The cheers from the grand­stand for Brock’s heroic ef­fort were greater than those for my win.

Sandown should have been a tri­umph for me, my third vic­tory in suc­ces­sion, but it was a tragedy. Mid­way through the day, I got the call ev­ery son dreads: your dad is dy­ing.

Mum and Dad had re­tired the year be­fore and moved to Vic­to­ria Is­land off Vancouver, where ev­ery­one from the plains goes to get some sun. Dad in his never-ceas­ing way had found work at, of all places, a men’s-wear fash­ion busi­ness, and he and my mother were set­tling down to en­joy a de­served long time to­gether. They were only in their early six­ties. In the past decade, we’d been get­ting on okay, but there was still a long way to go for both of us. For Pauline and me, the rac­ing busi­ness was an in­tense time, but for the past cou­ple of years we had en­joyed the muchcher­ished Christ­mas hol­i­days at Dad’s beloved Hil­ton Hawai­ian Vil­lage on Oahu. We’d meet there and he’d be the king of the beach—a ti­tle my fam­ily said I later as­sumed.

As soon as the race fin­ished, I was on a plane. Those were the days when you used to lock your pass­port up in the safe at the bank, and on top of that it was Sun­day af­ter­noon. To this day I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of how I did it, but I left Aus­tralia and re­turned with­out a pass­port. I can only guess it was some­one at Ford or Pan Am who ar­ranged it. I flew by my­self, sleep­less, as I re­counted the hits and misses of our life to­gether and apart. I got there too late.

Dad had lin­gered for four days, but I wasn’t in time to say good­bye. I’m by no means unique. So many fam­i­lies have had the same ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s just so much empti­ness, so much you wanted to say, so many fences you wanted to mend. I stayed as long as I could, made sure my mother was safe in the hands of my brother, and I was back in West­ern Aus­tralia for the Wan­neroo round of the cham­pi­onship two weeks later. It was Brock ver­sus Mof­fat the whole way and, with a de­flat­ing front tyre, I had to make the Fal­con as wide as pos­si­ble to hold off Brock as he went to the dirt to try to sling­shot around me to the flag.

At Surfers Par­adise, on a wet and slip­pery track, I was lead­ing Peter when I spun, lap­ping traf­fic. Third wasn’t first but I was start­ing to look at the cham­pi­onship points and think­ing it was best not to risk the ti­tle for a race.

We went to Ade­laide and tied to the tenth of a sec­ond for pole po­si­tion. I fig­ured Ade­laide was mine to lose be­cause the long straight suited the Fal­con.

That night we tucked the car up for bed in the work­shop of Bib Stillwell’s Ford deal­er­ship and in the morn­ing it was gone.

A lot of things hap­pened quickly. At 4am the po­lice started a drag­net. Bib Stillwell’s peo­ple of­fered me a brand new XA Fal­con off the show­room floor but there was no way that could be prepped in time. The race or­gan­is­ers scram­bled and resched­uled the race start to give me as much time as pos­si­ble. All to no avail. Then Mur­ray Carter, one of the lead­ing Ford pri­vate en­trants, stepped for­ward. ‘Take my car,’ he said. It was an act of ex­treme gen­eros­ity, and I did my best to re­pay him in com­ing years af­ter Ford with­drew from the sport, mak­ing sure he was al­ways up to date with the lat­est mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Fal­cons.

It’s not al­ways pos­si­ble for pri­va­teers to get that help. But I know for a fact that wasn’t Mur­ray’s mo­ti­va­tion. He’d en­tered the sport in the very early 1950s when it was a lot less pro­fes­sional, and he was first and fore­most a sports­man.

The rules said I had to start from the back of the field, not from along­side Brock. He bat­tled a stick­ing throt­tle the whole way to win. I brought Mur­ray’s car through the field to fin­ish sec­ond, a lap down. My fastest time in Mur­ray’s car was just 0.2 sec­onds slower than Peter’s best lap but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been on full noise.

Six days later the po­lice found my car aban­doned and bogged in a ditch in the Ade­laide Hills with only su­per­fi­cial dam­age.

A pretty spe­cial in­duc­tion sys­tem I’d been work­ing on was miss­ing from the front seat.

The thief had left a note: ‘My apolo­gies Al­lan. Sorry we in­con­ve­nienced you, but what a beaut car it was. I hope you go on to beat the To­ranas, Al­lan. Sorry about the spare carby but we had to hock it for fuel. What a thirsty beast it was. The Phantom Hunter.’

A fort­night af­ter­wards po­lice ar­rested a 22-yearold labourer and charged him with car theft.

It was only to be ex­pected that with these new rules CAMS would sooner or later start to en­force them, or at least check to see if we were all com­ply­ing. It was one of the great frus­tra­tions of the sport at the time that there was a real the­mand-us at­ti­tude, rather than us all co-op­er­at­ing to get the best re­sult.

Later CAMS would ap­point Harry Firth to be­come their chief scru­ti­neer – a case of set­ting a thief to catch one, but at least it cre­ated a more eq­ui­table play­ing field.

At Oran Park they caught Harry. In the race Brock slipped past me in lapped traf­fic to win but in post-race scru­ti­neer­ing they found his To­rana had oversize exhaust man­i­fold­ing, de­liv­er­ing ex­tra power, and he was dis­qual­i­fied. I got his points and won the ATCC for Ford Fal­con with one round to go.

It had been a huge bat­tle with Peter, and our re­spec­tive le­gends, if you can call them that, were es­tab­lished. We’d raced wheel to wheel through­out and never swapped paint. That was the thing about Peter. He was fast, clean and re­li­able to race against. We both knew ex­actly how far we could push each other. Aretha Franklin had sung it all when she re­leased the hit sin­gle ‘R-E-S-P-EC-T’ just six years be­fore.

Brock won the fi­nal round at War­wick Farm af­ter the Fords suf­fered oil surge as a re­sult of their wide tyres cre­at­ing much higher cor­ner­ing forces. Both my and Fred Gib­son’s cars blew en­gines. It was the last race for the Ford Fal­con GTHOs as Ford fac­tory cars and it was a sad way for their era to end. But they were cham­pi­ons.

For the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onship we’d been de­vel­op­ing the new XA Fal­con two-

Brock was fast clos­ing on me with Bond close be­hind him, co­in­ci­den­tally co-driv­ing with Pete’s brother, Leo. If I’d had to stop to put Pete in the car, both To­ranas would have over­taken us. But that couldn’t hap­pen. When Howard Mars­den sent Pauline to the team car­a­van to get Pete to suit up just in case, she found him and Keith Horner over a bot­tle of scotch.

door, dubbed the Su­per­bird by the mar­ket­ing depart­ment. It was based on the XA sedan, nat­u­rally, but was lower and there­fore more aero­dy­namic. Howard Mars­den’s de­vel­op­ment had been ham­pered by a rolling two-month strike at the Ford fac­tory, which af­fected Lot 6 as well.

John Goss, the Tas­ma­nian tear­away, had be­come some­thing of a pi­o­neer by rac­ing an XA GT in the ATCC, fin­ish­ing just one race in the points as he bat­tled the teething trou­bles.

There was a lot of spec­u­la­tion about the XA two-door. Would it sim­ply be the banned Phase 4 in dis­guise? Was the mar­ket­ing name Su­per­bird a nod to the Su­per Fal­con and, un­der the new rules, would much of the de­vel­op­ment work there be used in this new car? Both were pretty close to the mark be­cause, from any­one’s per­spec­tive, it would have been a crime to waste all that de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ment. So we got four-wheel disc brakes, the Phase IV Hol­ley car­bu­ret­tor and the exhaust head­ers, and we got sump baf­fling, which tried, with only lim­ited suc­cess, to head off the oil-surge prob­lems Goss had been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all year and which we tasted at War­wick Farm.

The coupes took to the track in brand new liv­ery: white with blue stripes—ef­fec­tively the Amer­i­can Shelby Co­bra colours.

I put the new car on pole in the Ch­ester­field 250 at Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way and was lead­ing in hor­ri­ble, wet con­di­tions un­til the al­ter­na­tor blew up. A quick pit stop moved me back to third be­hind team­mate Fred Gib­son, who had a long over­due win. Kevin Bartlett in John Goss’s car was sec­ond.

In the Sandown 250, pre­lude to Bathurst, I turned pole into a DNF when my en­gine blew just as John French’s had a few laps pre­vi­ously. I’d been dis­con­certed by the sight of Pete Geoghe­gan’s coupe stranded at the back of the cir­cuit on three wheels. He’d been in the test mule in which I’d done many miles and it turned out the back wheel fell off when the hub cracked. Since it had been de­cided Pete would share the drive with me at Bathurst there were a lot of learn­ings to be had from the de­brief­ing ses­sion af­ter the race. Brock and team­mate Bond clean­swept the Sandown 250 ahead of John Goss and Fred Gib­son. The To­ranas were the only cars on the lead lap.

The Aus­tralian Rac­ing Driv­ers’ Club had done some­thing mas­sive for Bathurst. En­cour­aged by the club’s gen­eral man­ager, Ivan Stib­bard, the race had changed from be­ing the Bathurst 500 to the Bathurst 1000. ‘Five hun­dred’ re­ferred to miles so, in the met­ric age, it was pos­i­tively an­ti­quated. ‘But you can’t have a race called the Bathurst 804,’ Stib­bard said, which was the ex­act con­ver­sion, so he in­creased the race to 1000 kilo­me­tres.

Along with Pete Geoghe­gan, I won the first 1000 in 1973. It was a close call on two fronts. Firstly, Peter Brock was in strong con­tention. He’d started from the front row along­side pole­sit­ter John Goss, while I was on the sec­ond row. Brock’s co-driver Doug Chivas was lead­ing when he ran out of gas at the top of the moun­tain. It was one of the clas­sic Bathurst mo­ments. He coasted all the way down Con­rod and then had to push the car up into the pits, un­aided, ac­cord­ing to the reg­u­la­tions. Doug was 51 and frail of build, and he col­lapsed in the pits af­ter his pit crew had been able to take over the push­ing.

My own prob­lems, again, re­lated to time. I was to take the ma­jor­ity share of the driv­ing but Pete, no slouch, had to do his bit. Mid­way through his stint his hands started to cramp. There’s ab­so­lutely no ex­pla­na­tion for it. The Fal­con wasn’t that heavy to drive and Pete was Mr Mus­cle any­way. But it hap­pened and he called in early. The rules al­lowed each driver only three­and-a- half hours at the wheel at a sin­gle stretch. My job was to stay in for all of those three-anda-half hours and get to the fin­ish­line be­fore they ran out. It was a close-run thing. I crossed the line with just two min­utes to spare.

And there was no al­ter­na­tive. Brock was fast clos­ing on me with Bond close be­hind him, co­in­ci­den­tally co-driv­ing with Pete’s brother, Leo. If I’d had to stop to put Pete in the car, both To­ranas would have over­taken us. But that couldn’t hap­pen. When Howard Mars­den sent Pauline to the team car­a­van to get Pete to suit up just in case, she found him and Keith Horner over a bot­tle of scotch. There was no way Pete was get­ting back in that car.

An­other tra­di­tion ended at Bathurst that day. It used to be the win­ners would ride around the track on the back of a truck dressed up as the vic­tory podium ac­com­pa­nied by the boss of Hardie-Ferodo, George Hib­bard. When I won in 1970 it took an hour to com­plete the vic­tory lap as fans flooded the track and we stopped for au­to­graphs. This time we were at the top of the moun­tain when, at the edge of my vi­sion, I saw a mis­sile ap­proach­ing. It was a beer bot­tle, head­ing straight for George’s head. De­spite the scotch, Pete’s re­flexes weren’t that di­min­ished. In a flash he lashed out and de­flected it. It was a close call and all George could say was: ‘We’ll never do this again.’ And no one ever did.

We blew the next round of the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onship at Surfers Par­adise with only Mur­ray Carter fin­ish­ing out of all the Fal­cons. With one round to go, the score line read Holden 50 points, Ford 49. Ev­ery­thing rested on the fi­nal round at Phillip Is­land if we were to achieve the tri­fecta of ATCC, Bathurst and the ManChamps.

It was no se­cret we were hav­ing difficulty keep­ing tyres un­der the Su­per­bird. On cer­tain cir­cuits, it took im­mense re­straint to nurse them through to sched­uled pit stops. This track would be one of those.

Brock was on pole but he made a strangely poor start. I charged through to lead on this most chal­leng­ing of all Aus­tralian cir­cuits. Noth­ing, not even Bathurst, matches that track in its re­quire­ment for ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion and preser­va­tion.

Brock and I staged a mon­u­men­tal bat­tle for 23 laps be­fore I just had to stop for new tyres, drop­ping to eighth. I’d worked my way up to fourth by lap 51 when I needed two new front tyres, again.

I was sec­ond, but I knew it couldn’t last. Eighty laps into the 102-lap race the wheels started to wob­ble, so badly it felt ter­mi­nal. I screamed into the pits and looked up at Mars­den on the pit box and asked him to check for flat spots, those points on the tyre that make it out of round and dif­fi­cult to drive.

Worse, they can cause a tyre to blow out. He looked at them in a cur­sory fash­ion and waved me away. ‘Go!’ he called, not want­ing to lose any more time.

It seems he didn’t check well enough. The vi­bra­tion was worse and I was con­tem­plat­ing mur­der when the tyre blew. At just un­der 200 km/h I was off into long grass at the side of the track, then I hit a ditch and rolled. The im­pact was so great that my belts stretched and my ster­num cracked. I stag­gered from the wreck and then col­lapsed. I was strug­gling for breath and the pain was im­mense. It was, at the time, the worst crash in my mo­tor-rac­ing ca­reer and all I wanted to do was get the guy who had not prop­erly checked the tyres.

Holden won the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onship. Be­cause of our poor per­for­mance in the last two rounds, Ford didn’t even come sec­ond. We slipped to fourth be­hind class-con­tenders Alfa Romeo and Mazda.

Ford said it had achieved what it set out to do. It had won Bathurst three times with its Fal­con, and it had fi­nally won the ATCC in a lo­cally man­u­fac­tured car of its own de­sign. If you were ever go­ing to quit, you’d want to go out while you’re ahead.

On 25 Jan­uary 1974, the day be­fore Aus­tralia Day, Keith Horner is­sued a state­ment an­nounc­ing Ford’s with­drawal from mo­tor rac­ing. He cited greater cost pres­sures brought on by de­vel­op­ment needs in emission con­trol and ve­hi­cle safety. He ref­er­enced the world en­ergy cri­sis, which had struck in Oc­to­ber 1973, just as I was win­ning Bathurst in a 6-litre V8. He didn’t talk about in­dus­trial un­rest at the fac­tory and in Aus­tralian so­ci­ety gen­er­ally as part of the Whit­lam era of fed­eral govern­ment. But it was there—an ever-present threat to Ford’s man­u­fac­tur­ing vi­a­bil­ity.

Some­times you need to look at the big­ger pic­ture. These were not the times to de­fend what was, when you come right down to it, a pub­lic­ity cam­paign. Keith said: ‘Mo­tor sport has achieved a great deal for Ford both in terms of as­sist­ing us in the de­vel­op­ment of bet­ter cars as well as en­cour­ag­ing sales through favourable and com­pet­i­tive ex­po­sure.’ He was right on both counts. In those days you could gen­uinely say that mo­tor-rac­ing de­vel­op­ment led to im­mense ben­e­fits in road-car per­for­mance, not just in speed but in pri­mary safety as­pects like han­dling, steer­ing and brak­ing. It was a lot to give up.

Keith talked to me be­fore that an­nounce­ment. It was, he said, a global di­rec­tive, not just lo­cal, and there was no ig­nor­ing it. But he did men­tion the Holden model of dealer-fund­ing of motorsport – a way around the fac­tory di­rec­tive – and he did en­cour­age me to stay close to my dealer mates. His mes­sage was very clear.

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