The Geoghegan years
Preparing the car that beat Leo in the latest Lotus must have impressed old Tom Geoghegan because Sheppard was lured to Sydney to look after one of the biggest motorsport equipes in the country. It was a baptism of re. Arriving at the race shop in Liverpool in 1963 must have been a bit of a shock, though, because it was little more than a tin shed with barely enough room for the cars. “It was an old dump, a real hillbilly joint,” Sheppard recalls.
Sheppard prepared as many as four cars at a time, working every night until 10 and weekends, and even drove the truck initially. But the rst national titles came quickly, with Pete winning the Australian Tourist Trophy, the nation’s premier sports car race, in June 1963 driving the team’s Lotus 23, and Leo taking out the second FJ title at Warwick Farm. Two championships in three months – Leo’s second and Pete’s rst.
Leo raced the same Lotus 22 as the previous year, with the engine rebuilt by
Sheppard. It was not the latest unit from the UK as many thought. Like Pete, Leo was impressed with their new mechanic. “The week before Warwick Farm all I worked on was the 22. I was chucked in at the deep end. Leo went out in practice and drove in, and as I walked over he had his hand out and shook my hand and said, ‘That’s the rst time I’ve ever driven a racecar that did everything it’s supposed to do.’ It was quicker than the car had ever been before, so Leo was happy, and that was as good a compliment as I’d ever had.” In 1964 Sheppard built a Lotus-Cortina GT – the rst time he’d built a racecar from a road car – and Pete beat Beechey’s Holden S4 and Jane’s Jaguar to win the Australian Touring Car Championship at Lakeside. Pete also won the 1965 Australian TT in the Lotus 23 before taking two more ATCC titles, in 1966-67, in Sheppard-built Mustangs. “The rst Mustang was all Shelby bits and pieces you bought off the shelf and made into a racecar, and the second car we got was a little more sophisticated, we thought. We were lucky to win the championship in 1967, because next time out it blew up at Warwick Farm.”
Sheppard left for the challenge of running Johnny Stewart’s Coventry Climax-powered speedway midget for Sydney dealer Ron Hodgson (above inset and right), but he didn’t enjoy the speedway scene. “They were just gravel grubs,” Sheppard recalls. “There are lots of low-life roughhouse people in the world and a lot of them seemed to congregate around the speedway.”
Top left: John stands with the 4.4-litre Repco engine he’s building to go into his replica of the Jane Torana. Above: Pete Geoghegan goes back-to-back in the ‘67 ATCC in his John Sheppard-built Mustang. Sheppard also built the ‘64 ATCC-winning Geoghegan Cortina.