Australian Muscle Car
“What’s a Monaro?”
The birth of the short-lived Holden Dealer Racing Team came as a complete surprise to Phil West.
“I was driving for Scuderia Veloce and [team boss] David McKay comes up and says, ‘Ph, Ph, Phil, we’re putting a team in the Bathurst 500. Three Monaros.’ “I wondered to myself, ‘What’s a Monaro?’.” He found out soon enough, but there was a bigger surprise at the first official test at Holden’s proving ground at Lang Lang.
“They had three Falcon GTs there. I was chatting to the chief engineer and he said [the manufacturers] swapped cars.”
West decided pretty quickly that he was backing the right horse.
“What a bloody awful car that GT was. Terminal understeer, unless you provoked the back for a bit of oversteer, and then it wanted to bite you.”
He recalls the work of Tony Roberts and the Holden team and the enjoyment on the ride-andhandling track at Lang Lang.
“They had been doing the cars and they had done a magic job. Those cars were a dream, with totally neutral handling. You almost thought them around corners. I had always driven little cars, but as soon as you drove the Monaro it shrank down to an F1 car. It did everything right.” But the test wasn’t trouble-free. “Suddenly the car went very strange, wouldn’t stop, and I went sideways and slid off and parked in the Mulga,” he recalls.
“I heard the engineers saying, ‘F**king racing drivers, always blaming the motor car’, then they undid the rear axle and pulled it out and it immediately burst into flames.”
The bonding agent for the rear linings had failed under pressure, the linings had torn off, the brake pistons had popped out and the fluid caught fire when it was exposed to air. “That proved I hadn’t done that,” West laughs. When McKay asked him what things needed improvement, West asked for a bit more front grip and the engineers pulled out some anti-roll bars.
“They went off and made them. Half an hour later I was out there again.” But there was another mishap. “I lost grip in the same corner as before. I’d torn the centre out of one of the wheel nuts and there were three splits in the steel rim. Which kinda proved I drove a bit harder than the test drivers.
“We kept on with it, and I knocked 3.5 seconds off my time. Then they trotted a set of Dunlop racing tyres out. I did two laps and the inside wall of the tyre was smoking, where it had been been hitting on the radius rods.
“But they had already written the workshop manual. It was four seconds faster than XAS Michelins on six-inch rims but we couldn’t use them,” he recounts.