Mus­cle Ma­niac

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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.”

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