Bloody Volvo driver

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

Af­ter sell­ing HDT, Shep­pard took on a job at Holden, run­ning the com­pany garage. Sur­pris­ingly, he didn’t get it through con­tacts, but by an­swer­ing an ad­ver­tise­ment in the pa­per.

It was pos­si­bly the hap­pi­est pe­riod of his work­ing life, out of the pub­lic eye but nally satis ed. Talk­ing about it, he was the most an­i­mated dur­ing our long interview. He learnt that “it’s not just mo­tor rac­ing that ful ls your life”, even if it was in a big bu­reau­cratic com­pany.

But mo­tor rac­ing lured him back in 1985. He hired a fac­tory at Calder and went back to do­ing gen­eral ser­vice and restora­tion work. He be­came in­volved with the Thun­der­dome, as­sem­bled NASCAR race­cars from Amer­i­can kits, and even be­came race di­rec­tor.

In the mean­time, Volvo Aus­tralia had asked him to cre­ate the Volvo Dealer Team, with Rob­bie France­vic driv­ing the 240T bought from Mark Petch. Sud­denly the pre­vi­ously un­re­li­able turbo car looked sharp and was a con­sis­tent nisher. Af­ter a ying start, the colour­ful Kiwi and VDT nar­rowly scored the rst tur­bocharged tour­ing car ti­tle – and the sev­enth of Shep­pard’s ca­reer!

But there was a huge per­son­al­ity clash be­tween Shep­pard and France­vic, not helped by the pres­ence of John Bowe in a sec­ond car. Shep­pard then de­cided to build a third car lo­cally for Sandown and Bathurst.

“I thought Rob­bie was a strange man, but to be fair to him, he’d been there all the time and I just said to him, ‘You’re the long-term driver here, we’re build­ing a new car, which one do you want?’ He said he’d have the car we’d bought from RAS (in Swe­den). Well, when we made the Aus­tralian car, it was lighter and bet­ter than the other one, so he sud­denly wanted it. I said, ‘Nup, sorry.’ Then he did the dummy spit.

“We built the Aus­tralian car with lots of good stuff from Volvo, but it was so slow ar­riv­ing and we even­tu­ally got to Sandown af­ter qual­i­fy­ing, af­ter work­ing two nights in a row be­cause the parts hadn’t ar­rived. That’s when good old Rob­bie de­cided he didn’t want the RAS car any more be­cause it wasn’t as good as the Aus­tralian car.”

France­vic, of course, had a dif­fer­ent story to tell, ac­cus­ing Shep­pard of favour­ing Bowe and pro­vid­ing in­fe­rior equip­ment. [ED: France­vic’s side of the story is in AMC #92] What’s not ar­guable is that France­vic was an­gry, com­plained to Volvo man­age­ment at Sandown, sat out the race, and was then dis­missed.

“I’d been say­ing to them all year, ‘We’ve got to sack this bloke.’ But they said he was lead­ing the Aus­tralian cham­pi­onship. So once he’d won the cham­pi­onship, they said, ‘Right, now we can sack him.’ He mis­be­haved him­self at Sandown – ‘I’m not go­ing to drive that other car, it’s dan­ger­ous, I’ll kill my­self’ – so they put him off. For­tu­nately.”

Af­ter poor per­for­mances at Sandown and Bathurst, and with Volvo HQ end­ing the Group A pro­gram, the team folded. Shep­pard went back to build­ing NASCARs and restor­ing cars. Af­ter the Thun­der­dome wound down, he built a replica of the leg­endary May­bach (a lo­cal F1 special raced by Stan Jones) and a lux­ury mo­torhome.

For about the past ve years Shep­pard has been build­ing a replica of the Jane To­ranaRepco, which will be his last project. It has been a lengthy process, and a cold win­ter and brush with cancer slowed him down, but he hopes to have it nished in about a year. [ED: There’s a progress shot on the Con­tents page.]

Rob­bie France­vic’s ‘86 ATCC win was Shep­pard’s sev­enth. By Bathurst, though, France­vic and the Shep­pard-led Volvo team had parted ways.

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