Historic Muscle Car Update HMC Profile: Gary Raiti
Right from the outset, the emphasis of the Historic Muscle Cars race series has always been on the cars themselves, on celebrating motor-sport history, educating race fans and creating a fun, low-pressure environment for enthusiasts to enjoy their racing.
One very positive outcome of HMC’S main objectives is that the class has also attracted some fantastic people, who make it a better place to be for everyone involved. One of these people is Gary Raiti.
In many ways, ending up at HMC means Gary has gone full circle. “My introduction to muscle cars came in my late teens,” he explained, “when I purchased a 1967 Ford Mustang GT fastback. I became an active member of the Auckland Mustang Owners Club, a club in which I held various positions, including president. This is where I got into drag racing. I then got a 1969 big-block Mach 1 and then a 1970 Boss 302. It was about then I found out about circuit racing. I discovered that happiness was not around the corner. It WAS the corner. Along with a few other lunatics, I was one of the founding members of the American Muscle Car Club.”
Aside from his love for American muscle cars, Gary has another passion. “As a young boy, I always had a passion for 911 Porsches. My first Porsche was a 1985 3.2 Carrera. Then I had the opportunity to fulfil my dream and buy an absolute darling 1983 930 Turbo, and joined the Porsche Club of New Zealand, and that was where the motor sport thing stepped up somewhat. Through the Porsche club I have made some amazing true friends, including my mentor Helen Nott, who taught me the processes to becoming a Motorsport New Zealand clerk-of-course. I also had the pleasure of assisting her to run the Bridgestone race series.”
Eventually Gary coaxed his son Jason into motor sport, and Jason turned out to possess bags of pure natural talent, being both lightning fast and extremely level-headed behind the wheel. Soon, a Sierra RS Cosworth joined the fleet for Jason to race.
The eventual return to V8 muscle came about somewhat by chance. “Jason and I were at a Pukekohe round with Porsche when we saw the Production Muscle Car race series, and we both agreed this would be a cool thing to do.” In early 2005 Gary found a beautiful, original 1973 XA Falcon hardtop road car in Tauranga.
The Falcon, as purchased, had 36,000 miles (57,936km) on the clock, it had original paint, and was in stunning condition. Not a GT, rather a Falcon 500, it was originally a six-cylinder four-speed car later fitted with a 351ci (5751cc) V8. “Through my ownership of the Sierra I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Edwards,” Gary explained, “and we developed the car through baby steps.” PMC rules require many of the original road-car parts be retained, which meant the Falcon didn’t need to be heavily modified to be competitive. In fact, PMC rules don’t even require a roll cage. In that first season, with Jason at the wheel, the team finished third overall, and Jason was rookie of the year.
Jason and Gary have run the Falcon with PMC, Northern, and Central Muscle Cars, and it was with CMC they took the car to Australia, for the 2007 Muscle Car Masters, where they were required to fit a roll cage.
“I moved to the Mount in 2012,” Gary said, “and started spending a lot of my time with my long-time friend, Dale Mathers, who I’ve known now for 36 years. I liked what he was doing starting Historic Muscle Cars. The Falcon was so close all I had to do was put it on 15-inch wheels and run the Hoosier tyre. The HMC series is just a better place for the car to run. Everyone likes seeing these old dinosaurs running around the track, there is no championship, people are racing the cars because they want to. Plus, we race against period-correct cars, so you can’t keep on throwing money at them to get more speed, as the tyres are the true leveller. And they’re a good bunch of guys, it’s like four gears and grey hair.”
Gary’s Falcon is a true period-correct car. It has a wet sump, Ford top-loader gearbox, and production parts throughout. He still uses the original keys to unlock the doors and start the car. Essentially it’s still a road car, never having made the full transition into a race car, and that is its beauty, and one of the reasons why it’s so popular. Gary grips the original 1973 Falcon 500 steering wheel, all the trim is intact, carpet, full interior, badges, etc. Sure, it’d go faster if it was turned into a full-blown race car, but that isn’t the point.
The Falcon is a credit to Gary, and he’s become an integral part of HMC. “The coupé has now travelled 42,000 miles [67,592km] and still has 98-per-cent original paint. We’re getting Glen Jennet of Engine Specialties to freshen the engine for more fun both on and off the track, as it’s done 40 hours. It could be said that I’m part of a drinking team with a racing problem, but the one thing that is true, the older I get the faster I was!”
More info on Historic Muscle Cars can be found at the HMC website, historicmusclecars.co.nz, or through the HMC online discussion forum at The Roaring Season, theroaringseason.com.