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
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EH was the latest word in Aussie automotive design at the time, the somewhat frumpy-looking FB of 1960 had already been superseded by the EK, which in turn was replaced by the EJ, that gave way to the EH...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, pccv.org 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?