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Historic Mustang Racer
While enormous fields of V8 sedans raced in the US during the 1960s through early 1970s, New Zealand only ever had a handful competing at any one time. Therefore, even if it were possible to gather up all the original V8 sedans that raced here in period, there wouldn’t be nearly enough cars for a full grid. So Historic Muscle Cars (HMC), like most historic-racing sedan classes around the world, is made up of newly built cars that represent the type of machinery that raced in period, rather than the actual original cars themselves.
However, there is one notable exception.
Red Dawson’s Shelby Mustang
In 1967, the Shelby Racing Team constructed 26 turn-key SCCA A/sedan Ford Mustangs. Retailing at around US$6K each, they were all painted white. Shelby kept four cars aside to race, with the other 22 were sold to privateers. Not only did this boost its bottom line, it also helped Ford win the Manufacturers Championship in the Trans-am series — in 1967, there was no championship for drivers. Points were assigned to the highestplaced car from each manufacturer, whether factory-run or privateer. And as Mustangs heavily populated each race, there was usually a well-placed privateer in the mix if the factory cars faltered.
One of those 26 cars was purchased by a Kiwi. His name was Norm Barry, although he chose to race under the pseudonym of Frank Bryan. He bought the car because New Zealand had switched from Allcomer rules to Fédération Internationale de l’automobile (FIA) Group 5 regulations for the 1967/’68 New Zealand Saloon Car Championship. Barry acquitted himself well against tough opposition — including Paul Fahey’s very fast 1966 Shelby Mustang, Rod Coppins in the ex– Pete Geoghegan 1966 American Touring Car Championship (Atcc)–winning Mustang, Red Dawson’s ex–ivan Segedin Mustang, and reigning champion Robbie Francevic’s impressive new 427ci (7.0-litre) Ford Fairlane — and he finished second in the Over 2000cc class behind the dominant Fahey in the 1967/’68 championship.
After that single season, the Shelby Mustang was sold to Red Dawson, who’d struggled with the ex-segedin machine, which was fast but fragile. He had it painted a brilliant metallic blue, with huge gold racing numbers (Dawson raced as No. 35) emblazoned on the doors. He took the car to Australia to contest the ATCC at Warwick Farm, where he qualified ninth but failed to finish.
Dawson was a match for Fahey on pace for much of the 1969 New Zealand Saloon Car Championship, but he struggled to finish races, doing so in just three of the nine rounds. With a single race win and two runner-up positions, he finished second in class behind the runaway Fahey.
However, everything came good for the
1970 championship. Fahey had sold his Mustang to John Riley, replacing it with an Alan Mann Racing–built Escort FVA, and Dawson notched up a string of victories early in the season to build a healthy points buffer. Things began to come unravelled, however, when Rod Coppins started challenging for wins in his new Camaro, having missed the first part of the season, and to try and counter this new threat, Dawson sought to squeeze more power from his motor. That brought about a return of unreliability, and the title went down to the final race, at Levin, where the Mustang was sidelined in practice with a failed piston. Thankfully Red’s good mate, John Riley, loaned him his ex-fahey Mustang, and after he convinced officials to overturn a jumped-start penalty, he and Coppins emerged tied on points. A countback couldn’t separate the pair, as they’d taken the same number of race wins, and second and third placings, so they were awarded as joint champions, the first and only time this has ever happened.
Dawson continued with the Mustang for another season, but by now it was showing its age against new competition, and it was eventually sold in 1971 to make way for a new Z28 Camaro. The car raced briefly in the South Island Open Saloon Car Association (OSCA) series before being converted to a road vehicle, which is how it remained until it was purchased in the 1990s by Queensland collector David Bowden, who, in one giant buying spree, also acquired the Fahey Mustang, the Geoghegan/ Coppins Mustang, and a sister car to the Dawson Mustang that came to New Zealand in 1970 with Dexter Dunlop.
As a rule, Bowden doesn’t sell cars from his collection, but the Bryan/dawson Mustang was an exception, as long-time Mustang enthusiast and classic racer Nigel Macdonald managed to prise it from him and return it home to New Zealand in 2008.
Overall, the old Mustang was in decent shape, though it had sustained the usual backyard repairs so typical of the ’ 70s and ’80s. After some preparation work, Nigel was able to race the Mustang with HMC at the 2013 NZ Festival of Motor Racing. At that time, it was painted white, as supplied by Bowden, and, unless told about it, many race fans may not have been aware of its significant New Zealand racing pedigree.
However, Nigel wanted to return the Mustang to its famous metallic blue with gold numbers, as raced by Dawson, and, while it was hoped that the body was good enough for some basic prep work and a repaint, a little digging soon revealed it needed to be brought right back to bare metal and properly repaired.
At the time of writing the Mustang has had its bodywork restored, and new paint applied, and — all going well — it will make its return in its famous 1970 championship–winning colour scheme at the 2016 NZ Festival of Motor Racing.
Watch this space.