Historic Muscle Bringing Back the Golden Age of Kiwi Saloon Racing, Part One
New Zealand has a rich and quite diverse history when it comes to saloon-car racing. Being a small country, and fairly isolated, we’ve tended to go off and do our own thing rather than amalgamate with other nearby countries, as is the case in Europe.
For the period from 1960 through to the end of 1967, the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship was mostly devoid of actual rules. This total creative freedom saw an explosion of wild-and-wacky race cars that thus eventually ended up being dubbed the Allcomers. This class was outlawed following the 1967 season, but of interest was the fact Motorsport New Zealand actually started making plans to rein things in as early as 1965, when it introduced a separate championship for FIA Group 2 cars for the 1966 season.
Group 2 was a set of rules being used elsewhere in the world, most notably the UK and Europe, as well as the US, where the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) used Group 2 as the basis for its new Trans-am series that began in 1966. Group 2 rules were fairly strict, allowing only a limited number of modifications to be made to the standard production vehicle.
For 1966 through 1969, the European Touring Car Championship, British Saloon Car Championship, and various European domestic touring car championships all switched to a new set of FIA regulations called Group 5. These rules allowed far greater freedoms than Group 2, which created more of an even playing field. But importantly, they also required the car to still be production based, and fitted with the same type of engine it left the factory with, not altered in any way from standard. In addition, they had to carry all-factory glass, all-factory bodywork, and only light flaring of the wheel arches to fit wider wheels and tyres.
While Group 2 rules were used in New Zealand for the final two years that the Allcomers still reigned, following the 1967 season New Zealand ditched Allcomers, and introduced Group 5 as our own set of regulations for the NZ Saloon Car Championship. While the SCCA in the US had drifted away from Group 2 and drawn up its own set of regulations by 1968, these regulations were quite similar to those of Group 5. So too in Australia, which raced under its own Improved Production regulations, based largely on Group 5.
Indeed, Paul Fahey won the 1971 New Zealand Saloon Car Championship in his Alan Mann Racing Escort FVC, beating the V8s on both the small and big tracks. And other drivers of smallcapacity vehicles, such as Jim Richards, Jack Nazer, Brian Crosbie, Stan Baird, Max Pennington, Don Halliday and Gary Sprague (all in Ford Escort twin-cams), as well as Alan Boyle (Viva GT), and Rodger Anderson (BMW 2002), were always in the fight. The very-smallest-class battles were dominated in numbers by Mini Coopers, but in amongst them were cars such as the Brian Patrick– owned Sidchrome Imp raced by Jim Richards, and Roy Harrington’s similar car. When Historic Muscle Cars was formed in 2011, initially the plan was to race period-correct big-bore sedans that represented those contesting the NZ Saloon Car Championship, Australian Touring Car Championship, and SCCA Trans-am championship during the late 1960s through early 1970s. The growth of the category has been rapid, despite its stringent regulations, with new cars joining the group virtually at every event, and several more currently in the build.
Do you have a hankering to tick Targa NZ off your bucket list, but don’t have a car? Then it’s time you spoke to Peter Martin, Targa’s event director. From small beginnings four years ago, Targa’s hire fleet of event- and tour-ready lease cars now numbers four — ranging from a 1.3-litre Ford Ka, to a BMW 328i coupé and a classic Ford Escort suitable for the main competition event, as well as a late-model BMW 1 Series M coupé that would be perfect for those looking to join the popular Targa Tour.
In 2014, to celebrate the event’s 20th anniversary, the annual six-day tarmac road rally travelled to the South Island, but this year it is back to the North Island and, for the first time ever, the 2015 Targa NZ will include over 1000 kilometres of closed special stages.
If that isn’t added incentive to turn the dream of competing on the event into reality, Martin says he doesn’t know what is — and that’s the key to the extra time and effort he and his team have put this year into expanding the line of lease cars.
“It’s about taking the ‘buts’ out of the equation,” says Martin, whose own introduction to the event was as a competitor. “One, obviously, we hear a lot is ‘I’d love to do Targa but I don’t have a suitable car.’ The other, and this is one we’re hearing more and more, and not just from first timers, is, ‘I’d love do Targa this year but I don’t have the time.’”
As a result, Targa NZ has put together a range of lease options that range from taking the car away and running it yourself, to the easy option of simply turning up on the day to drive the car on the event, with everything else handled by the Targa NZ team.
Costs vary from car to car and package to package — and from event to event — but past feedback from those who have leased a car before is positive.
“For some,” says Martin, “it’s a chance to dip a toe in the water, for others it’s the bucket-list thing. What we have seen from the Targa Tour though is that once you get the Targa bug, it is hard to shake it off.
This year’s six-day event starts in Auckland on (Labour Day) Monday, October 26, and finishes in Palmerston North on Saturday, October 31.
In-between are 35 closed special stages comprising a total of 1067km linked by 1431.7km of touring stages with overnight stops in Hamilton, New Plymouth (two nights), Palmerston North and Havelock North.