Legend columnist Bob Morris re ects on ’71, while Aaron Noonan seeks Historic changes.
Alot of people wouldn’t realise this, but I’m probably the only driver in the Series Production era to have raced a factory Torana XU-1 and a factory Falcon GTHO Phase III. In 1970 I’d driven for the Holden Dealer Team with Peter Brock at Bathurst. Then in 1971 Al Turner, who was running Ford’s racing department, approached me saying, ‘We want you to be in a Ford, and this is what we’re going to do for you.’
I could have stayed with Harry [Firth] and not taken up the Ford offer, but at the time Harry’s book was almost full. He had Colin [Bond] and Peter; I drove for him on three or four occasions but they were only spasmodic drives. I got on really well with Harry but I couldn’t see a future there. There just wasn’t room for me in the team at that time, and I didn’t want to wait around picking up the odd drive here and there.
But what Al Turner was offering was very attractive: full factory support, with spares and engines to run in NSW. For me, it was a pretty easy decision to go with Ford.
Al organised for my Phase III racecar to be built at Lot 6, alongside their two factory cars and David McKay’s car. But between then and when I went to pick the car up, Al Turner had been moved on to a different posting at Ford, and Howard Marsden had been brought in to replace him.
When it came to the crunch, Howard just said, ‘Here’s your car, go and do your very best.’ All the other things promised by Al Turner didn’t eventuate, and I just ended up with a car – that they (Ford) owned.
With Howard, I don’t think it was anything personal that he had against me; I think it was probably just a case of him being too busy to help us. I think he was dropped in at the deep end by Ford: here’s your Phase IIIs, now go and win Bathurst. He’d come from England and wouldn’t have known anything about Falcons or the local drivers. He was fresh off the boat, and Bathurst was about a month or so away. So I can understand that he had his hands full, but I was disappointed that Ford’s word turned out to be not that good.
We took it to Oran Park to do a shakedown about a week before Bathurst – and blew the engine. We didn’t have a spare. It didn’t even have a spare tyre when we picked it up; it was: ‘Here’s your car, go away.’
So we rang Lot 6, and I think it was Bill Santuccione I spoke to. He was the only one still there as the others had already left to go to Bathurst. He said, ‘The only engine we’ve got here is the test engine on the dyno. You can have that if you want it.’ So we drove down overnight and picked up that engine, took it back to Sydney and put it in the racecar, and I drove it straight to Bathurst.
I was entered to drive with my father, Ray, but that was only as a precaution. The plan was always for me to do the race solo. The dyno engine only lasted about 80 laps, so it was a disappointing day, although I did set the fastest lap of the race.
The Phase III was such a big hairy car, lots of power but with skinny 6-inch wheels they didn’t have much rubber on the road, and the brakes were fairly temporary! It had a Detroit Locker diff, and that made them very tricky to drive. You’d go into a corner and it’d be unlocked, and then when you put your foot down out of the corner it just goes BANG and the diff locks up. It took a bit of driving to get used to that. Not so much at Bathurst, but with the tall gearing they were pretty speedy down the straight – speedy enough for the front wheels to come off the ground over the last hump.
For the race, we’d back off before the last hump, just to try to slow down a bit for the braking area. You would lose a bit of time doing that, but it was worth it if it meant you had a better chance of not going straight ahead at Murray’s Corner.
I can remember at the end of Conrod one lap putting two feet on the brake pedal, and pushing so hard that my bum was coming out of the seat! You’d be praying the thing would slow down enough so you could get it round the corner. And then you’d think, ‘I got away with that one; what’s it going to do the next time around?’
I raced that car for the rest of the year and a bit into 1972, but in the end we didn’t have the money to keep running it. I also felt we were left a little bit high and dry by Ford. The only reason I took up Al Turner’s offer was because of all the support he was offering, but which didn’t eventuate.
Looking back, it’s funny with the way things can go, because a similar thing happened with me and Ford about 10 years later, when Edsel Ford II’s time in Australia came to an end. But that’s another story…
Bob Morris is Australian motor racing royalty, one of just 16 drivers to have won the Bathurst classic and ATCC/Supercars title. AMC is honoured to have the 1976 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 and 1979 ATCC winner as our legend columnist.