Pygmy's palace

Australian Muscle Car - - Maniac - Luke West

Smarty’s Cir­cus, the Flag Inn and the Bathurst Hil­ton are among Mount Panorama’s best known tem­po­rary es­tab­lish­ments. Yet pre-dat­ing any of th­ese peren­nial Oc­to­ber clas­sic camp­sites was Pygmy’s Palace – equal parts ac­com­mo­da­tion, hos­pi­tal­ity tent and help desk.

Pygmy’s Palace was an un­of­fi­cial epi­cen­tre for GM-H per­son­nel in the pad­dock through the Sev­en­ties. It was the place where Holden folk and oth­ers grav­i­tated so­cially on race week­ends and a mag­net for those need­ing help. Sure, glam­our spon­sors such as Marl­boro or Levi’s may have pitched fancier mar­quees or parked up spec­tac­u­lar dou­ble-decker buses that acted as mo­bile hos­pi­tal­ity cen­tres, but Pygmy’s Palace re­mained a Great Race sta­ple for a decade.

Pygmy is Greg Lynch, a long-re­tired Holden em­ployee at its now de­funct Syd­ney as­sem­bly plant. AMC rst met Greg when we took for­mer Page­wood work­ers back to their old wa­ter­ing hole last year to rem­i­nisce for a story that ap­peared in is­sue #98. At this time it was ob­vi­ous the other re­tirees con­sid­ered him a liv­ing trea­sure, one of those unsung be­hind-the-scenes he­roes that ev­ery suc­cess­ful com­pany needs. Pygmy was a de­pend­able ‘go-to guy’ for all man­ner of me­chan­i­cal jobs and, well, any­thing re­ally.

Had Greg not been given the nick­name ‘Pygmy’ early in his ca­reer by Holden col­league and Bathurst track­side an­nouncer John Cum­mins, then he prob­a­bly would have be­come known as ‘Lynch­pin’.

“I started with Gen­eral Mo­tors work­ing in the Ser­vice Garage, which was their own ser­vice cen­tre, at Page­wood in 1951 and stayed with Gen­eral Mo­tors for 36 years,” Lynch ex­plains over a cuppa at his home north of Syd­ney. “I spent about six years in the Ser­vice Garage be­fore I grad­u­ated to the Ser­vice Of­fice and then went into the eld as a Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Then I took over [running] the Ser­vice Garage. And it was dur­ing this pe­riod I got to know all th­ese peo­ple, all th­ese iden­ti­ties in­side and out­side Holden.”

Lynch’s stretch over­see­ing Page­wood’s Ser­vice Garage co­in­cided largely with an­other pop­u­lar Syd­ney-based Holden iden­tity’s time as PR chief, Marc McInnes.

“Marc re­ally got things go­ing,” Lynch ex­plains. “He used to dream up projects and I used to help put them to­gether for him. Re­mem­ber the French Hell Drivers? We used the left-hand-drive ex­port To­ranas. We con­verted them over so they would run on two left-hand wheels with only the back wheel driv­ing. We also had to put solid valve-lifters in them, be­cause they used to leak af­ter a while, and put the car­bu­ret­tor on a lean so the fuel was breath­ing into the carb. We did 11 of those one-wheel-drive To­ranas for Jose who ran it all and he took them all over the world for his stunt shows.

“We were also sup­ply­ing cars for econ­omy runs and that led to us help­ing out the ral­ly­ing and rac­ing

peo­ple. They were con­stantly running out of bits and need­ing help.”

A good ex­am­ple was Des West, who was quick to or­der a Monaro GTS 327 when the built-for-Bathurst Monaro was an­nounced. West, in the lead-up to the 1968 Hardie-Ferodo 500, brought his Lo­rack Mo­tors-en­tered Pi­cardy Red­coloured Monaro to Page­wood so Pigmy could help his fel­low ver­ti­cally-chal­lenged mate see over dash­board!

“We put pack­ing – spac­ers, if you like – un­der the seat to raise it. Then he could see where he was go­ing. When you see the photos you can see him peer­ing over the steer­ing wheel.”

It wasn’t the only prob­lem West had to solve ahead of the big race, an event he led for a size­able chunk of the day (see break­out).

When West re­turned to Page­wood post-race so the seat could be re­turned to its orig­i­nal height, Lynch asked for a sou­venir from the GTS 327 – its steer­ing wheel. That steer­ing wheel is still proudly dis­played at Pygmy’s home. So, too, the orig­i­nal name­plate that hung over the en­trance to the palace. It’s now dis­played above his garage’s ac­cess door.

Greg says what would be­come Pygmy’s Palace was born the same year as the HDT, 1969, when “four to six” work­mates and mates went up and camped in the Bathurst pad­dock.

“It was the year Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won and Des West nished third with Peter Brock, who had a goa­tee beard. I re­mem­ber Westy drop­ping around and say­ing, ‘Who the bloody hell is this bloke Harry has given me to drive with?!’

“Colin Bond was and is a terri c per­son – a great bloke to work with. So was Tony Roberts. They were both ba­si­cally rally drivers.

“[The Holden man­ager in charge of mo­tor­sport] Joe Felice was al­ways very help­ful to us in those early years. One year he or­gan­ised a nice-sized mar­quee that was owned by Levi’s, the jeans peo­ple, and made out of denim. It was a good­look­ing thing for the time, but it rained one night and leaked like a sieve.

“The ARDC’s Ivan Stib­bard gave us al­lo­cated space in the pad­dock and I rented some ad­di­tional tents and stretch­ers and it grad­u­ally grew and grew. I think it was Marc McInnes that came up with the Pigmy Palace name and sign and we be­came pretty well known over time.”

The palace can be best de­scribed as some­thing of a hos­pi­tal­ity suite that Holden peo­ple and other mates stayed within.

“I bought canned beer at the right price and sold it via a ticket sys­tem at the right price – we weren’t mak­ing a pro t. We had th­ese two big drums that held the beer cans on ice. Then we’d feed them break­fast, lunch – a cold lunch – and din­ner. We made our own bar­be­ques at Page­wood and con­veyed them to Bathurst via GM-H trucks. We pro­vided camp-stretch­ers but peo­ple had to bring their own sleep­ing bags, etc. And we gen­er­ally tried to keep ev­ery­one out of trou­ble, al­though not al­ways suc­cess­fully.”

Then there was help­ing out Holden com­peti­tors who had struck trou­ble; pro­vid­ing emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion for mid­dle man­age­ment-types; and, af­ter the big wet of 1974, tow­ing bogged cars out of the pad­dock quag­mire. The man him­self says Pygmy’s Palace ran through the “Harry Firth years” at Bathurst.

“Joe Felice used to, through Harry I think, sup­ply us with tick­ets and passes so that helped keep our costs down. That was a big help. Some of the big dealer sup­port­ers were Char­lie McCar­ran from Canowin­dra, Camerons at Or­ange, Spring­wood Mo­tors’ Mal­colm Kerry and Sut­ton’s. Th­ese were peo­ple for whom noth­ing was a drama.

“While Harry was a cranky old bas­tard, I also found him very good to work with. When we got the Levi’s mar­quee it started to get pretty big. Even­tu­ally it got so big that ev­ery­one wanted to come along. Af­ter Harry went, I de­cided that I had had enough. I think we did 10 or 11 years in to­tal.”

In his real job Lynch (pic­tured far top right in suit) stayed with GM un­til he re­tired in 1987.

“When I nished up I was Isuzu trucks’ sales man­ager for NSW. I was ne­go­ti­at­ing re­tire­ment – an early re­tire­ment – and a thing called the World So­lar Chal­lenge came along with so­lar cars rac­ing from Dar­win to Ade­laide. GM in Amer­ica had en­tered and I took over putting to­gether the sup­port team for the chal­lenge.”

That led to the next phase of his life, be­com­ing a ma­jor player in the running of the Va­ri­ety Bashes and other rally-style events, with a spe­cial skill for get­ting com­peti­tors back on the road. Today he en­joys the quite life, in­clu­sive of reg­u­lar Holden re­tiree re­unions where in­evitably talks turns to his days as king of the cas­tle known as Pygmy’s Palace.

“Pygmy’s palace was born the year Colin Bond and Tony Roberts won and Des West fin­ished third with Peter Brock, who had a goa­tee beard. I re­mem­ber Westy drop­ping around and say­ing, ‘Who the bloody hell is this bloke Harry has given me to drive with?!’

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