Vale Bob Jane
Bob Jane was a towering gure in the history of Australian motorsport.
Bob Jane died on September 28, 2018, after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. He was 88.
Bob Jane’s record as a driver is surpassed only by a handful of fellow greats. Yet that is but one aspect of Jane’s multi-faceted contribution to and achievements in Australian motorsport. He was a giant of the sport – as a driver, a patron, as a circuit owner and a promoter.
As a driver, Bob Jane was a four-time Great Race winner. He won the 1961 Armstrong 500 alongside Harry Firth in a Mercedes, the pair backing up the following year in a Falcon – the rst Great Race win for the famous Ford nameplate. Firth and Jane triumphed again in ‘63 in the rst Bathurst 500, this time in a Cortina GT, and Jane got the job done again in ’64 in a Cortina with George Reynolds as co-driver. More than 50 years on Jane remains the only driver to have won the Great Race four times in succession.
He was also a four-time Australian Touring Car Champion – in ’62 and ’63 in Firth-fettled Jaguar MkIIs and later in the famous ZL1 Camaro in 1970 and ’71. With the Camaro, Jane has the unusual distinction of winning consecutive ATCCs in the same car, but powered by completely different engines. In 1970 he won using the ZL1’s original alloy 427ci V8 but had to swap it for a cast-iron 350ci for 1971 under a change of CAMS rules that were never logically explained at the time (leading to suspicions it was designed speci cally with nobbling the big Chev in mind).
Jane returned with the Camaro the following year detuned to the then-new Group C rules, only for his win in the Calder ATCC round to be scrubbed by CAMS on the basis that the Camaro did not meet the minimum local sales number (in any case, it wasn’t even in GM-H’s model lineup).
These were neither the rst nor the last confrontations Jane would have with the controlling body of the sport.
As a circuit owner and promoter, Jane’s runins with CAMS are legendary. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s he was at loggerheads with CAMS over issues such as tobacco sponsorship (Jane had accepted sponsorship from the Victorian government’s anti-tobacco programme, putting his Calder and Adelaide International Raceways at odds with the pro-tobacco CAMS – as a consequence neither venue was granted CAMS championship events for some years) and, more critically, public liability insurance.
On the latter, Jane was vehemently opposed to what he saw as an unhealthy monopoly enjoyed by the controlling body. Jane’s view was that he and the other circuit owners should be free to negotiate their own insurance deals – and potentially at a cheaper rate than the one CAMS compulsorily secured on their behalf. Jane saw the CAMS’ way of doing things as amounting to a restraint of trade.
It ended in court, and with Jane moving to establish his own motorsport sanctioning body in opposition to CAMS. The later evolution of this body, the Australian Auto Sport Alliance
(AASA), continues today as an effective alternative to CAMS.
In business Jane’s style was not unlike the way he conducted himself on the track: tough, pugnacious, but also smart. Over the journey he collected his share of devoted friends as well as bitter enemies. His ongoing feud with Allan Moffat is legendary, and one which often spilled over on the track (and sometimes the courts). Motor racing by nature is sport that can foster intense rivalries and even outright contempt, but Australian motor sport has probably not seen anything like the Jane/Moffat enmity before or since.
In terms of Jane’s on-track career, he is probably equally famous for the exciting cars his race team put together. Beasts such as the bewinged LC Torana XU-1 with Formula 1-style Repco-Brabham V8 power, the HQ Monaro GTS 350 that started out as an Improved Production replacement for the Camaro but went on to enjoy huge success as a Sports Sedan, and the Chev Monza that replaced the Monaro.
As a patron of the sport, Jane was generous to say the least. By the early ‘70s his car dealership and tyre retailing businesses were booming, but in trademark Jane fashion he wasn’t afraid to invest the pro ts in the sport he loved.
Jane was a canny businessman but there’s no doubt that his involvement in the sport as a sponsor was in uenced as much by the heart as the head.
He was instrumental in John Harvey’s successful transition from speedway champion to road racing star. Harvey drove a succession of Jane’s cars for Jane’s team: the Bowin P8 Chev Formula 5000 and McLaren M6 sports car in addition to the Torana Repco, the Improved Production Monaro and the various Jane Series Production Monaros and Toranas. But Harvey was far from the only driver to bene t from Jane’s guidance and support. Bob Jane T-Marts over many years was a proli c sponsor of a range of drivers – and even events, with the company taking naming rights sponsorship of the Bathurst 1000 from 2002 to ’05.
When a bold plan was hatched to eld an Australian-entered Porsche 956 in the ’84 Le Mans 24 Hours for Peter Brock and Larry Perkins, it was Jane who committed to the project as the principal sponsor.
The important role Jane played in establishing an Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix is one that isn’t always acknowledged. But the fact is that the not-inconsiderable investment he made in bringing in current F1 stars to race in the Australian Grand Prix held at the Jane-owned Calder circuit in Melbourne from 1980 to ’84 had the effect of energising our hopes of securing an F1 race. The Jane-funded Calder AGPs demonstrated what was possible – and the South Australian Labor administration was only too happy to provide the government assistance required to secure such an event.
Calder never got to host an F1 grand prix. But it did feature on the international stage in other ways. Jane had long dreamed of bringing NASCAR racing down under, and in the late ’80s the dream was realised with the construction of the 1.8km Thunderdome complex adjacent to the Calder road course. It was the rst banked oval superspeedway built in the southern hemisphere, and in 1988 it hosted the rst NASCAR event to be held outside of North America.
Into the early ‘90s NASCAR racing at the Thunderdome (which included the home-grown Commodore-vs-Falcon AUSCAR second division) boomed.
It was not to last, however; by the late ‘90s the huge crowds that had packed the venue for the early years were literally a thing of the past. Stock car racing was last held on the Thunderdome in the early 2000s.
Sadly, just as the Thunderdome has laid more or less dormant for the best part of the last 20 years, so too did Jane’s personal and business life unravel in his later years.
In recent times there had been a bitter battle for control of Jane’s businesses with son Rodney, who eventually emerged in control of the Bob Jane T-Marts operation – which to this day carries his father’s iconic image and name.
Bob Jane declared bankruptcy two years ago, not long after another legal dispute with Rodney, this time over Bob’s attempts to establish a rival tyre business under his own name.
Jane died a somewhat diminished gure but his motorsport legacy remains as huge and as important as ever. It is hard to think of any one person that has made anything approaching the contribution to the sport Bob Jane has made – and that’s over and above all those race and championship wins.