Galah Per­for­mance

The old­est Holden to ever con­test the Bathurst clas­sic was a hum­ble, of­ten-over­looked FB. This un­likely race­car gave a pair of rac­ing mad lads a boy’s own ad­ven­ture – and a spe­cial place in Holden’s sto­ried Great Race his­tory. Fifty-five years on, they te

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Story: Luke West Images: McCu­misky Col­lec­tion; Paul Cross

The Holden FB in the 1963 Bathurst 500, the ear­li­est model Holden to start the Great Race.

Seven Hold­ens lined up on the grid for the rst Great Race at Bathurst. Eight, if you count peren­nial Panorama pil­grim Bob Holden in his Peu­geot 404! Of the seven ma­chines wear­ing Holden badges in the 1963 Arm­strong 500, six were the brand new EH S4. Th­ese were the much­hyped limited-run ‘New Holden Sports Cars’ that dou­bled as the Gen­eral’s rst ho­molo­ga­tion race spe­cial. The ‘hot Hold­ens’ were sleek, modern and ex­pected to chal­lenge for line honours, es­pe­cially the crack Scud­e­ria Ve­loce-en­tered ex­am­ple driven by Brian Muir and Spencer Martin, drivers who would soon be­come stars.

In sharp con­trast to the half-dozen EH S4s was the other Holden car in the big race, one that was then al­ready three mod­els old. While the svelte EH was the lat­est word in Aussie au­to­mo­tive design at the time, the some­what frumpy-look­ing FB of 1960 had al­ready been su­per­seded by the EK, which in turn was re­placed by the EJ, that gave way to the EH...

Even by ’63’s low-key stan­dards, the two-tone pink and grey #24C FB was a world away from the racy Win­ton Red­coloured #17C Scud­e­ria Ve­loce S4. The lat­ter had Holden’s new 179ci (2.9-litre) ‘red’ six, while the FB was pow­ered by the old 138ci (2.3-litre) ‘grey’ en­gine.

The FB may have been a model with vir­tu­ally zero mo­tor­sport pedi­gree, but it did have one ma­jor at­tribute in its favour – af­ford­abil­ity. In fact, this par­tic­u­lar FB was the only op­tion for two young bucks ea­ger to con­test the rst 500 mile show­room show­down af­ter it was trans­planted from Phillip Is­land to Mount Panorama. That’s be­cause the ‘Desert Glow and Corona Grey’ ma­chine was al­ready one of the pair’s daily drives.

“It was the colour of a galah!” Lex Brai­ley laughs today of his FB. “Some­one should build a replica of it. That way peo­ple could see where it

all started for Holden in the Bathurst race.”

It wasn’t just their choice of race­car that set Brai­ley and the more ex­pe­ri­enced Philip McCu­misky apart from the bulk of the 58-car, 116-driver eld. At 23, lead driver McCu­misky was aged well be­low the com­peti­tor av­er­age, while Brai­ley was just 18!

Nor did ei­ther work in the mo­tor trade. Brai­ley ran a toy and hobby shop in Syd­ney’s west­ern sub­urbs, the Bankstown Hobby Hut, while McCu­misky was then half­way through a six-year term in the reg­u­lar army as a trans­port NCO.

Not only was their Oc­to­ber 1963 cam­paign quite lit­er­ally a boy’s own ad­ven­ture, it also holds a spe­cial place in Holden’s sto­ried Great Race his­tory. For they cam­paigned the old­est Holden to ever con­test the Bathurst clas­sic – and pos­si­bly the old­est of any mar­que – one that per­formed way above the ex­pec­ta­tions of fel­low com­peti­tors.

McCu­misky, who had been rac­ing a bug-eye Sprite at the Syd­ney cir­cuits, says he and MG racer Brai­ley “had tossed around the idea of en­ter­ing the race. We could not af­ford to buy a car for the event, so we ended up en­ter­ing Lex’s own car, a pink-and-grey 1960 FB Holden Spe­cial. From mem­ory it al­ready had 33,000 miles on it.

“We re­tained the spon­sors that I had and Lex was able to ob­tain some as well, so it was not a big cost to us to ac­tu­ally run in it.”

The car was en­tered un­der the name of the BP War­wick Farm Ser­vice Sta­tion, where it was pre­pared. Both drivers were supplied with green BP work­shop over­alls for the race.

“In those days you took the hub­caps off, pumped the tyres up and went rac­ing! No modi cations were per­mit­ted ex­cept for the or­gan­is­ers’ manda­tory race-spon­sored in­clu­sions: brake lin­ings, en­gine oil catch tank, etc,” McCu­misky ex­plains. “Ab­so­lutely no ad­ver­tis­ing [was al­lowed] on the cars, even to the ex­tent where they reg­u­lated the size of the manda­tory en­trant/driver names on the right­hand-side quar­ter panel of all cars. You were not even al­lowed to leave the lube sticker on the quar­ter win­dow of the front door. Th­ese were cars as they came off the pro­duc­tion line. All cars were ab­so­lutely bog stan­dard.”

Over half a cen­tury on, Brai­ley’s rec­ol­lec­tions largely con­cur with McCu­misky’s.

“There was a limited amount of work that could be done. I think we re­ground the valves, put new valve springs in and gen­er­ally went over the things like that.”

And so it was that #24C and its drivers fronted up at Bathurst in time for Satur­day prac­tice on the Oc­to­ber long week­end. Brai­ley says he wasn’t over­awed by his rst trip to the scenic goat track oth­er­wise known as the Mount Panorama cir­cuit. He re­mem­bers the scene upon his ar­rival.

“Ev­ery­one was just so busy, rush­ing about. I re­mem­ber Bruce Richard­son running around rst thing in the morn­ing get­ting things ready and he’s still in his pyjamas and dress­ing gown!

“Phil was a few sec­onds faster than me in prac­tice. He had a fair bit of experience by then, so he was ob­vi­ously the num­ber one man.”

Of prac­tice McCu­misky re­calls: “We were quite happy to mo­tor around, learn the lim­its of the FB un­der pres­sure, and de­ter­mine where those lim­its were. It prob­a­bly looked a bit scary on cer­tain cor­ners at the Mount, but it never fright­ened us in the han­dling depart­ment, and we were very en­thu­si­as­tic in the way the car was driven. The pho­to­graphs taken at the time ver­ify that.”

The han­dling may not have fright­ened the pair, but there was one other depart­ment which did, McCu­misky ex­plains.

“In those days there was no chi­cane (Cal­tex Chase) at the end of Con­rod Straight, and the FB did not like stop­ping at all. It took Lex and me a few laps to de­ter­mine a per­ma­nent land­mark to start the process where the FB needed to be coaxed to start slow­ing down.

“En­trants in cars like R8 Re­naults and Peu­geot 404s would ‘rocket’ past us as we threw ev­ery­thing out the win­dow to try to stop the FB be­fore al­most two-wheel­ing around Mur­ray’s Cor­ner. Mind you, we would then ‘rocket’ back past them and other lesser cars go­ing up Moun­tain Straight.”

Phil McCu­misky started the race, with the duo ‘ro­tat­ing the strike’ over the en­su­ing seven hours 50 min­utes.

Above, right: The Holden to have at Bathurst in 1963 was the new EH model, not the su­per­seded old FB. Pow­er­house bat­tle (right) be­tween the 2.3-litre FB and the Coller­son/Howard Fiat 770.

“The stan­dard of driv­ing in the race was very good, and I was sur­prised by the way the FB went gen­er­ally. Al­though it was no pow­er­house, it han­dled well, but it would have looked scary and some photos show­ing us go­ing through The Dip­per, around Hell Cor­ner and Mur­ray’s per­haps did not give that im­pres­sion. Oth­er­wise the car was re­ally easy to drive hard. I guess in hind­sight it was all about bal­ance and smooth­ness in what you were do­ing. My job was es­sen­tially to sur­vive the start and the hec­tic laps af­ter that, set­tle down and gain the best po­si­tion I could, hold it and try to bet­ter it, depend­ing on what would hap­pen on the track to other com­peti­tors.

“Lex’s task dur­ing his stint was to try to re­gain the spot af­ter the pit stop and hold it. Lex did a very good job at his rst start at Bathurst.”

Brai­ley, 55 years on, also has vivid mem­o­ries of race day.

“I can still pic­ture trav­el­ling down Con­rod side-by-side with Frank Matich in the Re­nault. We were wav­ing at each other and laugh­ing, pre­tend­ing to whip our mounts on to faster speeds.”

The car hit 96.2mph (153km/h) on Con­rod be­fore, as both drivers re­call, ev­ery­thing else was ‘drowned out by ex­ces­sive tap­pet noise’.

“How that thing held to­gether,” Lex laughs, “I don’t know. I can still hear it buzzing all the way down the straight. How it didn’t blow it­self to bits, I have no idea. “Both of us were at it from the start. There was no hold­ing back. It was full-on. From mem­ory we had a rudi­men­tary over the shoul­der belt, rather than just the lap strap and our set-up came loose dur­ing the race and out of place. The front-right tyre was bald at the end and right around the out­side rim were th­ese lit­tle ngers (of rub­ber) half-an­inch apart. And we didn’t have a brake pedal for most of the af­ter­noon.” Nonethe­less, the FB slowly crept up the running or­der as more fan­cied run­ners fell by the way­side. “The ca­su­alty rate of en­trants was fairly high,” McCu­misky con­tin­ues. “The S4 EHs were rip­ping right-hand-front wheel-cen­tres out through cor­ner­ing hard. The EH runs the same road wheels as the FB, but the FBs were not as fast and there­fore did not have the same prob­lem, al­though we were con­cerned at the time as the race wore on. Quite a few of the S4s were also drop­ping tail­shafts at the uni­ver­sal joints, un­til they worked out what was wrong. “Con­sid­er­ing the more pow­er­ful cars we were up against, we did not do too badly. The win­ning Cortina GT, driven by Harry Firth and Bob Jane, was only 15 laps in front of us af­ter 500 miles. We did more laps than a great many oth­ers who also nished the race, and we would have done it harder than most of them as well, due to the fact that our car was al­ready three years old.

“We only used one set of tyres through­out the event, Olympic ny­lon pre­mi­ums. The Miche­lin rep came up af­ter the event to marvel at this fact. He was in the pit next to us with the [highly fan­cied] S4 of Brian Muir and Spencer Martin and was watching us all race, and could not be­lieve that we were only re­fu­elling and chang­ing drivers all day long, even though we had two full sets of bal­anced spares there in case we needed new rub­ber.

“The amount of good-na­tured rub­bish­ing we re­ceived from a lot of com­peti­tors about our choice of car turned around to bite them as the day wore on and many more fan­cied com­peti­tors sat there watching as we pit­ted, changed drivers, re­fu­elled and drove on.”

An­other to note the two young­sters’ con­sis­tency was leg­endary mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist Bill Tuckey. The boys re­call Tuckey ap­proach­ing them af­ter the race to shake their hands. He also men­tioned their ef­forts in his mag­a­zine reports.

“He said he would never have be­lieved it if he had not seen it for him­self,” Phil says. “He gave us no chance of nish­ing the race let alone gain­ing a class po­si­tion.”

McCu­misky and Brai­ley came home ei­ther 24th or 25th out­right and eighth in class. It’s un­clear whether they crossed the line be­fore or af­ter the Peter Brown/Ron Mar­shall Mor­ris Cooper. Four laps fur­ther back was the Muir/ Martin S4, which dropped its tail­shaft in the rst hour and at­tempted to claw back as many po­si­tion as pos­si­ble there­after. The con­trast­ing for­tunes be­tween the glam­our and un­gainly Hold­ens could hardly be greater.

Lex Brai­ley says that the hard, pun­ish­ing day on the Mount soon caught up with the FB.

“Two weeks af­ter the event I was driv­ing down the Hume High­way in Bankstown, on my way to the drive-in with a girl­friend in the car, when the front-right stub axle broke. I re­mem­ber the guard plung­ing down.”

Al­though re­paired – and made faster – he doesn’t re­call what be­came of the FB, only re­call­ing that it was soon moved on.

Brai­ley re­turned to Bathurst the fol­low­ing year, shar­ing a Hill­man Imp with Bill Orr, only to “put a pis­ton through the block on the sec­ond lap.” And that, at the ripe old age of 19, was the end of his Great Race ‘ca­reer’.

Now 73, Lex works in min­ing and lives in the re­mote West­ern Aus­tralian Gold elds town of Men­zies, 133km north­west of Kal­go­or­lie. His mo­tor rac­ing days are now a long way be­hind him.

McCu­misky is 78 and lives in north­ern Vic­to­ria, where he drives the lo­cal school bus. When cir­cuit rac­ing be­came too ex­pen­sive he switched his at­ten­tion to speed­way, build­ing a ’67 Mus­tang Fast­back that he raced at such venues as Liver­pool, Tralee (Quean­beyan) and New­cas­tle. He has writ­ten a full ac­count of his Bathurst ’63 as­sault, en­ti­tled ‘Holden ver­sus Holden at Bathurst’, which can be found via a ‘Phil McCu­misky Bathurst’ Google search or on the Peu­geot Car Club of Vic­to­ria’s web­site, a club of which he is a mem­ber. He is also a Ley­land P76 en­thu­si­ast.

McCu­misky still has orig­i­nal driver’s arm­band (pic­tured be­low right) that was com­pul­sory race at­tire, along with his pit pass.

“I would like to ac­knowl­edge the gen­eros­ity of Lex for tak­ing me on board for this once-in-a-aonce-in-al­ife­time ad­ven­ture,” he says. “I am grate­ful to him – and all of our spon­sors – for giv­ing me the chance to en­ter an event that would re­main a life­long mem­ory for me.”

And that’s what it was for Phil: a one-off start in a edgling race that would soon be­come an Aus­tralian sport­ing icon. To be part of this new ca­per as a pi­o­neer­ing pri­va­teer for the race’s most suc­cess­ful brand is re­ally some­thing.

Very lit­tle has been writ­ten about their en­deav­ours in the sub­se­quent 55 years and the pair long ago lost con­tact... un­til AMC put them back in touch while re­search­ing this ar­ti­cle.

It’s un­likely that the FB has sur­vived down through the decades, but you never know, per­haps the ‘galah’ bear­ing NSW num­ber­plates CCB 828 is still out there some­where wait­ing for its his­tory to catch up with it.

As car owner Lex Brai­ley ob­served, the FB was ‘the colour of a galah’. Suit­ably, Brai­ley and Phil McCu­misky turned in a gala per­for­mance on the track to bring the old girl home eighth in class in the ’63 Bathurst 500.

n o i ct e ll o C y k is m u C c M / e r o m il G l e a h ic M

Above: It’s un­clear whether the FB fin­ished ahead of or be­hind the Brown/Mar­shall Mini. But this pic shows the Mini in front as (we think) the ‘fin­ish board’ is shown (a che­quered flag was not used as no out­right win­ner was recog­nised) – per­haps there’s some­one out there that can shed more light on the fin­ish of the 1963 race?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.