An ad­ven­ture Down Un­der sparked BTCC great­ness

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Vauxhall In Btcc -

The seeds of Vaux­hall Motorsport were sown by a nascent club rac­ing cham­pi­onship and a trip to Aus­tralia.

Bill Cle­land, John’s fa­ther, went Down Un­der in 1984 and wit­nessed first-hand the Group C-spec­i­fi­ca­tion Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship big-bangers that were set to be out­lawed at the end of the year in favour of Group A ma­chin­ery. Like a true car dealer, Cle­land se­nior did a deal.

“He went to Bathurst and bought one of the Peter Brock Holden Com­modores,” says John. “We ran it in Thun­der­sa­loons through the GM Deal­er­sport name as we’d re­branded it to a Vaux­hall Se­na­tor for 1986.”

When it came to the next step, John says the BTCC was the ob­vi­ous choice: “My fa­ther, to­gether with Steve Thomp­son and John Nixey pounded the hell out of Vaux­hall to get them to agree to the pro­gramme. The As­tra GTE was a good lit­tle car in ral­ly­ing, with an Xtrac gear­box, and we thought it would be a good race car.”

But at this point, the motorsport ac­tiv­ity was all driven by Cle­land se­nior, more than by Vaux­hall it­self, but al­though John Cle­land would be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the brand, he never ex­pected the re­la­tion­ship to last as long as it did.

“In ’89, I signed with Vaux­hall for the As­tra and got a bit of a salary,” adds John. “Then, two months later, I ter­mi­nated my ar­range­ment with them as a dealer and thought ‘Hmmm, the phone will ring any mo­ment.’ It didn’t and the re­la­tion­ship was a very strong one.”

1989 Vaux­hall joined Class C of the BTCC and Cle­land won the ti­tle in Vaux­hall whet­ted its ap­petite in the Thun­der­sa­loons Cham­pi­onship

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