KIWI HOME-FRONT CAN-AM

IN THE SEC­OND PART OF THIS TWO-PART STORY, GER­ARD RE­TURNS TO WHEN BIGBANGER SPORTS CARS TER­ROR­IZED OUR LO­CAL TURF FROM 1964 TO 1973

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Ger­ard Richards Re­search as­sis­tant: Stu­art Buchanan Pho­tos: Ger­ard Richards, Stu­art Buchanan, Ron Mcphail, Al­lan Cameron, Grant Sprague, Phil Myhre

WHEN BIG- BANGER SPORTS CARS TER­ROR­IZED LO­CAL TURF — PART TWO

Ped­er­sen and Har­vey go head to head, 1970–’72

Garry Ped­er­sen and the crew at Glen Eden Mo­tor Bod­ies had spent the rest of the pre­vi­ous sea­son and the fol­low­ing win­ter di­alling in their Gemco Olds V8 into a very im­pres­sive ma­chine. They were ready to mount a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Gra­hame Har­vey’s ex­pe­ri­ence and his larger-en­gine Elfin 400. The Gemco was pow­ered by a 4.5-litre Traco-built (from leg­endary Cal­i­for­nian en­gine builders Jim Travers and Frank Coon) Oldsmo­bile V8, which had pre­vi­ously been ac­quired by John Ri­ley from Aus­tralian Neil Allen. The Olds en­gine’s big ad­van­tage was its al­loy block, which was sub­stan­tially lighter than the cast-iron Chev, giv­ing the Gemco driver a beau­ti­fully bal­anced ma­chine that was ex­cep­tion­ally good un­der brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion — though lack­ing slightly in topend speed.

Har­vey was smart­ing with in­dig­na­tion fol­low­ing his loss to Jim Boyd the pre­vi­ous sea­son and was hell bent on re­assert­ing him­self at the front. He would be a tough man to beat in 1970–’71. This was the sea­son that most closely con­jured up the shades of a New Zealand ver­sion of the Can-am. Both Har­vey’s and Ped­er­sen’s cars were be­decked in bright or­ange and were op­er­at­ing high rear wings by the lat­ter sea­son. As al­ways with the spor­ties, there was the un­for­tu­nate no-show of sev­eral cars. The Lola T70 didn’t reap­pear, and the Mcbegg, which ap­peared spas­mod­i­cally the pre­vi­ous sea­son, would only play a mi­nor role in pro­ceed­ings in the hands of its new owner, ex–in­ter­na­tional yachts­man Digby Tay­lor. Other no­table com­peti­tors who ap­peared from time to time in­cluded John Mone­han with the Stan­ton, but an in­ter­est­ing ad­di­tion was a car that was built out of the re­mains of Brent Hawes’ Begg Corvette, which also briefly reap­peared in For­mula 5000 (F5000) form in the hands of Leo Leonard as a Begg F5000 in late 1969. This car, ap­par­ently built by Lyn John­son from parts sourced from the Begg, was largely known as the ‘Begg’ or ‘El­mac Olds’, and was pow­ered by a 3.5-litre Oldsmo­bile V8. Driv­ers in­cluded Lyn John­son, Mur­ray El­wood, Lau­rence O’con­nor, and pos­si­bly oth­ers. There was also a num­ber of other run­ners who helped add spice to the fields. These in­cluded Danie Lupp in a rear-en­gine 2.7-litre Cli­max-pow­ered Rorstan; Jamie Ais­la­bie in the 3.8-litre Jaguar rear-en­gine Sid MKI (about which more later); Bob Hys­lop in his very quick Lo­tus 7 / U2– de­riv­a­tive JRM Ford; Glen Mcin­tyre with the Wil­mac Fiat; Gary Dea­con in the rear-en­gine twin­cam–pow­ered Heron; and oth­ers, in­clud­ing fast South Is­land Mal­lock U2 punter Dave Wal­dron.

Maybe it was the legacy of the Kiwi Mclaren Team’s, tidal wave of suc­cess in the Can-am, which was at the core of my love af­fair with the lo­cal sports car rac­ing ac­tion.

While we’re talk­ing about the make-up of the field circa 1970–’72, it would be very re­miss of me not to men­tion the huge con­tri­bu­tion made by Ge­orge Begg to New Zealand mo­tor rac­ing. His sin­gle-seaters won three premier Gold Star ti­tles and were of­ten the back­bone of the grid through these years. His sports cars were also ma­jor play­ers in this era, par­tic­u­larly with Hawes driv­ing. It was a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment that the ‘Mcbegg’, a com­bi­na­tion of an M1B(?) Mclaren space­frame chas­sis with Mclaren M6A body­work grafted on — which had ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial —was not able to be op­ti­mized. Af­ter a promis­ing start with Barry Keen, the ef­fort seemed to lose mo­men­tum with Ge­off Mar­don, and, later, Tay­lor also wasn’t able to terms with it, and nor was Har­vey or Ped­er­sen. Sadly, that was a lost op­por­tu­nity, and I’ve of­ten won­dered what would have hap­pened if Lau­rence Brown­lie, who broke the New Zealand land-speed record with the Mcbegg in 1969, had gone on to race it.

Full-blown ob­ses­sion

Any­way, back to 1970–’ 71. I had just turned 15 and, as men­tioned in last is­sue in part one of this ar­ti­cle, was gripped by a full-blown ob­ses­sion with the lo­cal mo­tor rac­ing scene. This had been mush­room­ing out of con­trol for the last cou­ple of years. I couldn’t get enough of the colour, sound, and spec­ta­cle, which to­tally blew me away, what with the wild phal­lic shapes of the pure rac­ing/sports cars and the bru­tal sa­loons.

Maybe it was the legacy of the Kiwi Mclaren Team’s tidal wave of suc­cess in CanAm that was at the core of my love af­fair with the lo­cal sports car rac­ing ac­tion. Ped­er­sen and his cam­paign with the Gemco Olds cap­ti­vated me in the sum­mers of 1970–’71 and 1971–’72. The beau­ti­fully fab­ri­cated car looked like a Mclaren M8A, but was a su­perb ex­am­ple of Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity that ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions with its fab­u­lous suc­cess. In hind­sight, it was a mi­nor mir­a­cle that Garry and the team at Glen Eden

Mo­tor Co had man­aged to craft a for­mi­da­ble com­bi­na­tion from such un­cer­tain com­po­nents as an an­cient con­verted 1961 Lo­tus For­mula 1 (F1) car and a pre­vi­ously un­re­li­able Olds V8 mo­tor in the hands of John Ri­ley. I have pre­vi­ously cov­ered Garry’s cam­paigns with the Gemco over these cou­ple of sea­sons, and his later F5000 years, in an ex­ten­sive three-part ar­ti­cle in New Zealand Clas­sic Car in 2011, so won’t re­hash pre­vi­ous ground here. Cut­ting to the chase, in 1970–’71, Garry threw out the chal­lenge to Har­vey, and they had some fierce con­tests. The cars were evenly matched, and, in the end, it came down to re­li­a­bil­ity, which favoured Har­vey at the end of the day. The ex­pe­ri­enced South Auck­lan­der was de­ter­mined to make amends, and he took out the sports car ti­tle for the sec­ond time. Costly re­tire­ments while in the lead at Rua­puna on Novem­ber 22, 1970, and Pukekohe on Novem­ber 15, were to ul­ti­mately de­rail Garry’s ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions that sea­son.

But sta­tis­tics never tell the full story. March 14, 1971, was the day that the Kiwi Can-am flavour ex­ploded for me at Pukekohe. I was there, right down by the heavy ca­ble and mesh fences on Pit Straight, as close to the ac­tion as I could get … Track safety was ar­chaic then com­pared with the overkill of to­day. What I was about to wit­ness was a stun­ning vis­ual as­sault of glad­i­a­to­rial com­bat. Sports Car Champs heat one was a ruth­less duel of un­be­liev­able raw may­hem … Har­vey and Ped­er­sen were beau­ti­fully matched that day, and drove six of the most blind­ingly con­tested laps that I have ever seen on a race track. In a wave of sound and fury, those two or­ange pro­jec­tiles gunned down Pit Straight, locked to­gether, twitch­ing slightly as they jos­tled for po­si­tion through Cham­pion Curve, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing in a wave of heav­enly thun­der. With their high wings, and the lead chang­ing sev­eral times, this was in­deed shades of Can-am. It was en­tirely fit­ting that they fin­ished less than a sec­ond apart, with Har­vey’s nose in front, but the spec­ta­cle had been mind-blow­ing!

The hard les­sons the Gemco team learned in 1970–’ 71 did not fall on deaf ears. Ab­so­lute at­ten­tion to de­tail on the prepa­ra­tion front was the mantra for the team, which left no stone un­turned in en­sur­ing re­li­a­bil­ity and im­mac­u­late pre­sen­ta­tion. A ma­jor im­prove­ment was fit­ting a new en­gine block and crank, in­creas­ing the power and rev range with­out sac­ri­fic­ing re­li­a­bil­ity. Fol­low­ing the bul­let­proof Mclaren Team script, ev­ery­thing was ready at the out­set of the 1971–’72 sea­son.

An­other clash of the sports car ti­tans was about to be un­leashed, but this time the ta­bles turned in Ped­er­sen’s favour. There was a num­ber of spell­bind­ing bat­tles be­tween Har­vey and Ped­er­sen dur­ing this last true sum­mer of the un­lim­ited-ca­pac­ity sports car rac­ing cham­pi­onship in this coun­try. On Oc­to­ber 17, 1971, Rua­puna saw one of the great­est con­tests on that track over two 10-lap heats, be­tween the two ri­vals. It was wild cu­tand-thrust rac­ing all the way, with sev­eral lead changes, but, in the end, Garry was in front when it most counted. Levin on March 14, 1972 pro­vided a re­peat per­for­mance be­tween the two con­tenders and was an­other ham­merand-tongs en­counter over two heats. The fi­nal re­sult was the same, but it was any­one’s race un­til the last cor­ner of each en­counter. Har­vey had the bit be­tween his teeth and forced his way into the lead on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, and he led more laps, but Garry timed his run per­fectly in the last blast to the flag in each epic con­fronta­tion. The sec­ond heat was run in stream­ing wet con­di­tions, and con­trol­ling these un­couth, raw ma­chines made for a very scary spec­ta­cle. It went down to the fi­nal cor­ner as well, and Har­vey — in his des­per­a­tion to hold out Ped­er­sen — lost con­trol and spun back­wards into some drums, which ended his chal­lenge, for­tu­nately with min­i­mal dam­age to the Elfin.

These two mighty du­els were surely the high-wa­ter mark of the Kiwi home-front Can-am. The tide was turn­ing in Garry’s favour, and the great prepa­ra­tion was pay­ing off. Har­vey won in the wet at the Tere­tonga Tas­man meet­ing in In­ver­cargill, his su­per­ef­fec­tive Fire­stone rain tyres help­ing his quest for vic­tory, but his ti­tle was slip­ping away af­ter a great de­fence. The next man home, in third po­si­tion in the points, was Ais­la­bie with the Sid Ford V8. Tay­lor ap­peared again with the

Track safety was ar­chaic then com­pared with the overkill of to­day. What I was about to wit­ness, was a stun­ning vis­ual as­sault of glad­i­a­to­rial com­bat

Mcbegg Chev in the lat­ter races and picked up a few plac­ings, as did El­wood in the El­mac (Begg) 3.5 Oldsmo­bile, Glen Mcin­tyre in the Wil­mac Fiat, Gary Dea­con driv­ing a Heron Twin Cam, Bob Hys­lop in the JRM Ford, plus Danie Lupp in a 2.7 Rorstan Cli­max, and oth­ers. They all shared some ac­tion in the mi­nor plac­ings.

The Gemco team cer­tainly de­liv­ered a su­perb les­son in how to go mo­tor rac­ing in 1971–’72. Garry drove beau­ti­fully in the im­mac­u­lately pre­pared Duck­hams-spon­sored Gemco Olds V8. The team was man­aged by its boss, Richie Wheaton, brother of orig­i­nal Kiwi leg­endary stock car racer Pe­ter Wheaton, and fol­lowed the same for­mula in the Mclaren­shaped car as the orig­i­na­tor, Bruce Mclaren, of be­ing set up and ready to race at ev­ery round. The team also suc­cess­fully ran the car in sev­eral of the longer Gold Star races that sea­son, and placed as high as third in one round.

The fi­nal sea­son

The fi­nal sea­son for the big-grunter spor­ties was 1972–’ 73, as a new 2.0-litre for­mula was be­ing in­tro­duced the fol­low­ing sea­son. The last show­down of the Kiwi home-front Can-am could have gone out with a real bang, but in­stead it stag­gered off with a whim­per. All the hard­core sports ma­chin­ery was still holed up in garages around the coun­try, but most of them didn’t show. The Lola T70, Elfin 400, Stan­ton Corvette, and Gemco Olds were all non-starters in what was to be­come a very brief farewell to the fire-breath­ing rear-en­gine mon­sters’ last blast.

Af­ter four sea­sons in the Elfin 400, Har­vey de­cided to call it quits. Ped­er­sen had moved on to F5000 rac­ing, ini­tially with the ex– Gra­ham Mcrae Mclaren M10A, which he wrote off in a prac­tice crash. He then fol­lowed that with a suc­cess­ful cam­paign with the ex–david Ox­ton Begg FM4, be­fore a less pro­duc­tive and in­ci­dent-rid­dled fi­nal sea­son with the tricky ex–evan Noyes Mclaren M18. F5000 was the favoured for­mula at the time, and there was a view that V8 sports cars were wa­ter­ing that down. The idea was to en­cour­age the front-line big-banger sporty driv­ers into the F5000 ranks.

At Rua­puna, only Tay­lor in the Mcbegg Chev, Ais­la­bie in Sid’s MKI Ford V8, and O’con­nor in the Begg Olds V8 fronted in the large-ca­pac­ity class. For once, Tay­lor’s Mcbegg ran fault­lessly, and he won eas­ily from Ais­la­bie, who only just saw off Wal­dron’s su­per­charged 1500 U2 and Lyn­d­say Mccutcheon. A week later, it was all over at Ti­maru, in swel­ter­ing con­di­tions. Tay­lor’s Mcbegg ex­pired, and Ais­la­bie went on to win the sports car ti­tle from Mccutcheon and Wal­dron. It was a sad end­ing to what had been a long and fas­ci­nat­ing era of thor­ough­bred and hy­brid V8s, smaller ca­pac­ity rac­ing sports cars, the club rac­ers, and pro­duc­tion sports cars since the mid 1950s.

The race tracks across the coun­try at this time could be de­scribed best as rus­tic, and that was prob­a­bly an un­der­state­ment: fa­cil­i­ties were very ba­sic and safety al­most non-ex­is­tent

Mega com­bat

This ac­count of the rear-en­gine V8 Kiwi Can-am has fo­cused on the four sea­sons of mega com­bat, ini­tially be­tween Har­vey, Hawes, and Boyd, and later be­tween Har­vey and Ped­er­sen. But it would be in­com­plete with­out ref­er­ence to the two years of dom­i­na­tion (1966–’67 and 1967–’68) by Andy Buchanan, first with the Scud­e­ria Ve­loce 250LM Fer­rari V12 and the fol­low­ing sea­son in his new Elfin 400.

The race tracks across the coun­try at this time could be de­scribed best as rus­tic, and that was prob­a­bly an un­der­state­ment: the fa­cil­i­ties were very ba­sic and safety al­most non-ex­is­tent. Spec­ta­tor pro­tec­tion was min­i­mal, with heavy ca­ble and mesh or wooden fences, wa­ter­filled drums, and hay bales be­ing the usual fare. The sea­son of Buchanan’s first sports car ti­tle was 1966–’67, and it was con­tested over seven rounds, two of them on rough and hazard-lined street cir­cuits. Andy’s main op­po­si­tion was Ge­off Mar­don in the Stan­ton Corvette. He scored two wins to Buchanan’s five, but he did win at that tight nar­row road cir­cuit at Ren­wick/marl­bor­ough. That would have been some­thing to see, con­trol­ling that bru­tal chain-driven rear-en­gine Chevy V8, hold­ing out Buchanan’s 3.0-litre V12 Fer­rari and John Ri­ley’s 2.7 rear-en­gine Lo­tus Cli­max 19B!

That 1967–’68 sea­son was re­ally the first ma­jor one of the Kiwi rear-en­gine V8 CanAm. Buchanan had ex­changed the Fer­rari for the big­gest rear-en­gine V8 grunter to ever grace the sports rac­ing cir­cus in New Zealand. Armed with a 6.5-litre (396ci) Ham­lin and Charles–built Chevy, with all the good gear, he was un­stop­pable in ’67–’68. The op­po­si­tion — Mar­don in the Stan­ton Corvette and Brent Hawes in the Begg Chevy — were sim­ply out gunned. Ri­ley re­placed the Cli­max mo­tor in his Lo­tus 19B with a well set up Traco-built Oldsmo­bile V8, sourced from Aus­tralian Neil Allen. This looked to have real po­ten­tial with the light al­loy block en­gine, but, af­ter some ini­tial prom­ise, Ri­ley was be­set with a grim saga of prob­lems.

Buchanan was beaten only once in the se­ries, al­though he missed the open­ing round — he was still pre­par­ing his new ma­chine — where Mar­don won in pos­si­bly the most en­ter­tain­ing race. Buchanan was to­tally dom­i­nant, ex­cept at the wet Tere­tonga Tas­man Se­ries meet­ing in Jan­uary 1968. He was to dis­cover the hazard of hav­ing too much lusty power and a heavy lump of rear-en­gine Detroit iron on a greasy, wet track. The Elfin was a lurid hand­ful on the slip­pery sur­face. Ron Ruther­ford, in his Lo­tus 23B Twin Cam, had the per­fect pack­age in the cir­cum­stances, and he de­liv­ered a les­son that power isn’t al­ways ev­ery­thing, with the nim­ble-han­dling Lo­tus out­run­ning the Elfin. How­ever, apart from a third place at the Ti­maru round, this was Ruther­ford’s only mo­ment in the lime­light. Mar­don and Brent Hawes fin­ished sec­ond and third, re­spec­tively, in the ti­tle chase, both on 24 points, Hawes with­out the ben­e­fit of a race win. Buchanan was in an­other strato­sphere on 47 points. It was also Jim Boyd’s last sea­son with the ven­er­a­ble Ly­coming, be­fore join­ing the V8 brigade. With the ar­rival of the 2.0-litre sports cat­e­gory, in 1973–’74, came a new in­no­va­tive phase to sports car rac­ing, but that’s an­other story for an­other his­to­rian. With the clos­ing of the door to the V8 rearengine fire-breath­ing hy­brid mon­sters that en­tranced me as an ado­les­cent, it strikes me that a good way to wind this up would be to re­flect on the fates of those cars that blew me away dur­ing the golden era.

Sid MKI / Jaguar 3.8 / Ford 4.7 V8

The ori­gins of this car are a bit un­clear. I al­ways thought it evolved from the Ross Baker–built Heron Daim­ler V8, but ap­par­ently this wasn’t the case. The car was con­ceived by Jamie Ais­la­bie and built by him, with help from Frank Ha­nen and Don Mcneil. It did use the front sus­pen­sion from the aborted sec­ond Heron Daim­ler, but the space­frame chas­sis was Ais­la­bie’s de­sign. The front body­work was from the Heron, and it was at­tached to an Ais­la­bie-de­signed rear sec­tion, and this was joined in the mid­dle by a Cessna 175 air­craft canopy. The car had a long and suc­cess­ful rac­ing life, mostly fill­ing the role of first-fin­isher be­hind the rear-en­gine V8s, but, in the last ab­bre­vi­ated two-round un­lim­ited-ca­pac­ity sports car cham­pi­onship in 1972–’ 73, it was vic­to­ri­ous. It was re­tired at the end of that sea­son, when the for­mula changed, and mounted above Ais­la­bie’s of­fice (mi­nus Ford mo­tor) for the next 13 years. It was ap­par­ently sold to Gra­hame Ver­coe in 1986 with the Jaguar mo­tor, mi­nus wheels and gear­box. It seems that Ver­coe later traded it to Jim Baird for his Cooper MKII. Baird is said to have com­pletely re­stored it in the late 1980s. Its cur­rent where­abouts re­main un­clear. have passed through the hands of re­la­tion John Mone­han, then on to Mur­ray Smith and Rod Matthews, be­fore be­ing sold to Rus­sell Greer. It was re­stored a num­ber of years ago by Greer, who was the last driver to race it in pe­riod. Over sev­eral years in the mid ’ 70s, it was stripped back and raced on the sands at Nel­son’s Tahu­nanui Beach and in hill climbs. It won the 1980 New Zealand Hill Climb Cham­pi­onship and the 1976 and ’77 New Zealand Beach Rac­ing Cham­pi­onship in Greer’s hands. It is now back in full sports car for­mat, and Greer still owns it at last count.

Post­script

I have only in­cluded the rear-en­gine V8 sports rac­ers for this roll call of the ma­jor play­ers dur­ing the leg­endary 1964–’73 era. How­ever, I would also like to ac­knowl­edge the won­der­ful con­tri­bu­tions to a fas­ci­nat­ing rac­ing cat­e­gory played by many of the smaller ca­pac­ity com­peti­tors men­tioned through­out this story but not listed in the role of hon­our. These would in­clude the Ross West / Ron Ruther­ford / Ivy Stephen­son Lo­tus 23B; the Baron Robert­son / Gary Dea­con / Don Elvy Heron Twin Cam, the Barry Cot­tle / Red Daw­son / Dave Wal­lace Lola Cli­max MKI; the sec­ond Lola MKI Ford driven by Doug Lawrence / John Ri­ley / Don Mc­don­ald / David Ox­ton / Ray Ole­nius, etc.; Bob Hys­lop’s JRM Ford; Dave Wal­dron’s Mal­lock U2; Danie Lupp’s Rorstan Cli­max; Glen Mcin­tyre’s Wil­mac Fiat; Pe­ter Slo­combe’s PMS Cli­max; John Arm­strong’s Lo­tus 15 Cli­max; Pe­ter Bruin’s Targa Fiat; and Lynsey Mccutcheon’s Mal­lock U2; among oth­ers too nu­mer­ous to list here. I would also like to ac­knowl­edge the many pro­duc­tion­based sports cars that also com­peted, par­tic­u­larly in the ear­lier years. It would be great to hear from any­one who has any fur­ther up­dates on the his­tory of any of these large- or small-ca­pac­ity sports rac­ers that were rel­e­vant in these years. It’s al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing to hear the his­toric trail of these old rac­ers and see any pic­tures peo­ple might have.

In wrap­ping this up, I want to ac­knowl­edge the un­sung he­roes of the Kiwi Can-am era. To all the driv­ers and crews who trail­ered their cars around the coun­try and lined up to race some fear­some beasts on some pretty agri­cul­tural tracks for lit­tle re­ward ex­cept for the thrills, I want to thank you all for a very en­ter­tain­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing era of New Zealand mo­tor sport!

Be­low: (Top) Dave Wal­dron’s quick Mal­lock U2, leads Jamie Ais­la­bie Sid Mk1, Ti­maru 1970-71 (pho­tog­ra­pher un­known) (Bot­tom) Sports car grid, Pukekohe New Zealand Grand Prix meet­ing, Jan­uary 10, 1970 — Har­vey and Boyd are in the front row, with car­nage...

Above: Danie Lupp (Rorstan Cli­max), Levin, early ’70s (photo: Bob Home­wood col­lec­tion) Left: Lyn John­son in the Begg Olds 3.5 V8, Rua­puna, 1970–’71

Har­vey leads Ped­er­sen at Pukekohe, early 1971. Motorman cover, April 1971 (photo: Jack In­wood)

Left: Lau­rie Pow­ell flags away the big-grun­ters of Ped­er­sen (Gemco) at right, Har­vey (Elfin 400) in the mid­dle and Ais­la­bie (Sid MKI) at left — Pukekohe 1971–’72 sea­son (photo: Phil Myhre) Be­low: Hawes (Begg) and Arm­strong (Lo­tus) head the Rua­puna...

Top: (Left) Ped­er­sen (Gemco Oldsmo­bile V8), Pukekohe pad­dock, 1970–’71 (photo: Ger­ard Richards); (right) Digby Tay­lor (Mcbegg Chevro­let), Levin, early ’70s (photo: Martin Bearda) Bot­tom: (Left) The Sid MKI Ford V8 at Bay Park, 1971–’72 (photo: Bob...

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