The Bluebird turbo’s dual-purpose ashtray, and the E49 Charger that took on A9X Toranas.
As a postscript to last issue’s ‘Flight of the Bluebird’ story, Paul Gover recalls the time Howard Marsden invited journalists to sample the Japanese flyer at Oran Park in the early 1980s – when scribes searched for the car’s much-rumoured hidden turbo boost knob.
The Bluebird was bent. Everyone knew it, but no-one could prove it and nobody really cared enough to mount a full-scale investigation.
After all, the rst Nissan racer of its generation wasn’t badly bent by the standards of the early 1980s when Group C homologation always seemed to be creating some sort of controversy.
Also, it was competitive but not dominant in the style of the Godzilla Skyline that would eventually ring the death knell for Group A touring cars in Australia.
By modern standards, the Bluebird was a basic car. The racer was based on a car that was built at Clayton in Melbourne and promoted as ‘Australia’s rst four-cylinder limousine’, but its ace card was a turbocharged engine homologated thanks to Japan. It allowed the sort of creative thinking that helped Howard Marsden turn the car into a Bathurst pole-sitter and race winner in touring car competition.
The standard of the day was set by the V8s and officially the Bluebird was making around 350 horsepower. With xed boost.
But the early Bluebird’s drivers, George Fury and Fred Gibson, always seemed to be able to nd something special and the car was particularly good at Bathurst where Japanese drivers Hasemi and Hoshino starred.
Everyone suspected some form of adjustable turbo boost.
I thought I would discover the car’s tricks when I drove it at Oran Park after Marsden extended an invitation for a group of journalists to sample Gibson’s racer. There was no chance at the rst attempt as the car’s ve-speed competition gearbox, the same non-synchro designed used in the Stanza rally cars, failed. The second time at Oran Park I was more worried about survival than nding an illegal boost knob. The car was an absolute beast, with a basic turbo that put the capital L into lag.
At Suttons Corner, I remember lifting off the gas pedal when it was time to accelerate. The trick was to tickle the turbo before you arrived at the corner to get the boost coming, then ease back before the apex so the Bluebird didn’t turn into a scary sideways speed machine.
From the inside, the Bluebird looked like a mildly-tweaked road car. There was nothing to hint at beastliness.
But the rumours persisted, the press corps was intrigued, and we tried everything we knew to nd that elusive boost knob. We looked under the bonnet, we looked in the cabin, but there was no sign. We eventually decided the knob was hidden somewhere, perhaps behind the ashtray or beneath the seat.
But it was more than 20 years before I learned the Bluebird’s secret.
Not surprisingly, the answer came from Howard Marsden. By this time he was back at Ford, heading up the V8 Supercars program that eventually put the Blue Oval back on equal terms with Holden.
As we sat together at a race meeting, watching the action on television like a couple of veterans, I plucked up my courage.
“Howard, it’s been a long time now, so let’s talk about the Bluebird,” I began.
“What would you like to know?” Marsden replied in his quiet, cultured, English accent.
“Well, we all knew the car had adjustable turbo boost, but we could never work out how you did it.”
“So, how do you think it we did it?” Marsden asked.
“I think there was a knob behind the ashtray,” I replied.
Marsden smiled a Mona Lisa smile as he prepared for his punchline. “You’re close Paul, very close. Actually, it
was the ashtray. You pulled it out to increase the turbo boost, then pushed it back in to turn it down.”