AMSCAR Se­ries

The Group C years

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents - Story: Steve Nor­moyle

The glory years of Group C in Ama­roo Park’s leg­endary AMSCAR Se­ries.

Rugby League had the Amco Cup, a made-for-tele­vi­sion com­pe­ti­tion sup­ple­men­tary to the main pre­mier­ship, held at Syd­ney’s Le­ich­hardt Oval. Mean­while, Aussie Rules’ aux­il­iary com­pe­ti­tion was its night se­ries at Mel­bourne’s Lake Oval and later VFL Park. Mo­tor rac­ing’s ver­sion was the AMSCAR Se­ries, which be­gan late in the Group C era and saw, in the im­mor­tal words of com­men­ta­tor Mike Ray­mond, the tour­ing cars bark at Ama­roo Park. Part one.

Ama­roo Su­per Cars. That’s AMSCAR for short. This was the mar­ket­ing name dreamed up by Ivan Stib­bard, the gen­eral man­ager of the Aus­tralian Rac­ing Driv­ers’ Club, for rus­tic Ama­roo Park’s tour­ing car se­ries in 1979.

The AMSCAR Se­ries would run to the end of the Group C era and be­yond into Group A, all the way to 1993. It was even re­vived for a sin­gle sea­son in 1997.

With live tele­vi­sion cov­er­age of all rounds and a hefty prizepool cour­tesy of se­ries spon­sor Roth­mans, the rst AMSCAR Se­ries ri­valled the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship it­self for pro le, eld qual­ity and on-track ac­tion. It ac­tu­ally sur­passed the ATCC for dra­matic in­ci­dents as the tight con nes of the 1.9km cir­cuit on Syd­ney’s north-west­ern out­skirts al­lowed no mar­gin for er­ror. By com­par­i­son, only a hand­ful of 1979 ATCC rounds were on TV and, with no se­ries spon­sor, prize­money was a pit­tance com­pared to AMSCAR.

For the tour­ing car com­peti­tors, the AMSCAR Se­ries was a huge bonus. For one, it was a rare chance to race for se­ri­ous prize­money and de­liver their spon­sors live TV ex­po­sure in the process. For the top pri­va­teers, par­tic­u­larly those based in NSW, it was also the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete at the front with the big guns – and some­times beat them. Even bet­ter for the lo­cals, with four AMSCAR rounds in ad­di­tion to Oran Park’s ATCC round, its 300km en­duro and the Bathurst

1000 (and later on the CRC 300 at Ama­roo), it was pos­si­ble to sched­ule in a full rac­ing sea­son against qual­ity op­po­si­tion with­out hav­ing to ven­ture out of NSW.

While the $60,000 se­ries prizepool was in­deed se­ri­ous money in 1979, it wasn’t quite the pot of gold it ap­peared. If Su­per­cars rac­ing is con­sid­ered an ex­pen­sive ex­er­cise to­day, late ’70s Group C was hardly what you’d call bud­get­priced mo­tor rac­ing. At a time long be­fore con­trol tyres and lim­its on tyre use per meet­ing, it was not un­com­mon for AMSCAR fron­trun­ners to use a fresh set of tyres for qual­i­fy­ing AND each of the three races – at $600 a set.

The open­ing round of the in­au­gu­ral se­ries set the scene. It may as well have been an ATCC round, be­cause all the ma­jor play­ers were there with the ex­cep­tion of the HDT, which, wrote Ray Bell in Rac­ing Car News, was only be­cause of team boss John Shep­pard’s dis­like of Ama­roo’s ‘stock car’ style of rac­ing.

In any event, Peter Brock and John Har­vey would have been hard pressed to get on top of Bob Mor­ris, be­cause never was the Ron Hodg­son Mo­tors To­rana A9X driver more dif­fi­cult to beat than on home ground at Ama­roo.

Mor­ris won all three races at the open­ing round, chased by Al­lan Grice, Char­lie O’Brien and a string of other A9Xs: Garry Rogers, Garth Wigston and Bo Se­ton among them.

The made-for-TV for­mat con­sisted of ve, eight and 13-lap heats.

Al­lan Mof­fat led the way for Ford, with his black XC joined by the cars of John Goss, Colin Bond, Dick John­son, Mur­ray Carter and lo­cal pri­va­teers Garry Willm­ing­ton and Bill O’Brien. It was the strong­est lineup of Fal­cons that year out­side of Bathurst!

It was an event­ful day for Mof­fat, his driver’s side door cop­ping an almighty cave-in when Gary Cooke’s A9X hit it in race one; then, in race two, the even-more­man­gled door was left hang­ing by the hinges af­ter a clash with O’Brien!

But Mof­fat wasn’t there for race three. Straight af­ter the sec­ond race, he climbed aboard the Chan­nel 7 chop­per and was whisked away to Mas­cot air­port, where he boarded a plane bound for the US!

He had been sched­uled to re­turn to Ama­roo for the sec­ond round (pre­sum­ably with up­dated bits on his Fal­con from his US visit) but that week­end co­in­cided with the in­fa­mous ‘Ra­zor­back’ truck block­ade, a dis­pute over road taxes that re­sulted in more than 2000 truck owner-driv­ers join­ing an Aus­tralia-wide high­way block­ade. In the midst of the truck­ies’ in­dus­trial ac­tion, Mof­fat’s crew had been un­able to trans­port the car from Mel­bourne to Syd­ney.

Mof­fat’s ab­sence left a hole in the draw­card... un­til some­one came up with the novel idea of putting him in the spare Ron Hodg­son A9X. It was a pro­mo­tional stroke of ge­nius, as the prospect of Ford hero Mof­fat in a Holden – and one iden­ti­cal to that of se­ries leader Bob Mor­ris – was ar­guably even more of a crowd-puller than Mof­fat in a Ford.

Mof­fat duly beat Mor­ris in the open­ing race, re­tired from the sec­ond when the oil lter came loose, and nished sec­ond to Mor­ris in the nal. While Mof­fat wouldn’t ap­pear again that year in ei­ther a Fal­con or a To­rana, Mor­ris would go on to clean-sweep the re­main­ing AMSCAR rounds. Across the 12 races, Ron Hodg­son’s To­ranas were never beaten.

In Mof­fat’s ab­sence, the Ford ag was own by Dick Jon­son. Ama­roo was maybe not the place to show off the big XC Fal­con to best ad­van­tage, but it cer­tainly demon­strated the Ford’s straight-line grunt: John­son rarely quali ed bet­ter than fth or six, but as the 351ci V8 wound it­self up off the start head­ing up Bi­tu­pave Hill, the blue Hard­top was usu­ally third or fourth into the Dun­lop Loop.

Dick’s ’79 sea­son sched­ule il­lus­trated the signi cance and eco­nomic at­trac­tion of AMSCAR; John­son, then a still strug­gling privateer, only did the two lo­cal Queensland ATCC rounds and Bathurst, but con­tested all bar one AMSCAR round.

It was a solid start for the AMSCAR con­cept, but with Roth­mans’ with­drawal the se­ries went into hia­tus for 1980. In its place, the Bet­ter Brakes un­der 3-litre se­ries con­tin­ued through those years, and would be ex­panded in con­tro­ver­sial fash­ion for ’81 to 3.5-litres. The ca­pac­ity in­crease meant that the new Al­lan Grice BMW 635CSi could com­pete, much to the dis­may of the ex­ist­ing un­der 3-litre en­trants. The fact the BMW team was based at Ama­roo, and was thus a tenant of the ARDC, didn’t help to dis­pel the idea that the change was made es­pe­cially for the BMW. Grice, for his part, said of his dis­grun­tled op­po­nents: “Do they want to play girl guides or race?”

The 3.5-litre jam­boree lasted just the sin­gle sea­son; AMSCAR re­turned for ’82 and Grice, who had failed to win with an ’81 se­ries seem­ingly tai­lor-made for his BMW, was tri­umphant at the wheel of a Re-Car Com­modore owned by Alan Browne.

One high­light (or per­haps low­light) of that year’s Bet­ter Brakes AMSCAR Se­ries was the lo­cal tour­ing car de­but of Aus­tralia’s jus­tre­tired F1 star Alan Jones. A driver who only the pre­vi­ous year had been the reign­ing World Driv­ers’ Cham­pion rep­re­sented a huge boost to the se­ries, but Jones’ Ron Dick­son/BBQs Galore Ca­maro sadly was un­com­pet­i­tive. RCN’s Ste­wart Wil­son de­scribed it as “one of the worst han­dling lumps of sheet­metal to cir­cu­late at Ama­roo in years.” The F1 star ig­no­min­iously wal­lowed around near the tail of the eld be­fore crash­ing into the driver’s-side door of the Ca­maro of none

other than team leader Dick­son... Jones quit the team im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards.

The re­ally note­wor­thy as­pect of 1982, how­ever, was the rise of the Mazda RX7. Around the twisty Ama­roo, the nim­ble lit­tle ro­tary coupe was prov­ing it­self to be a kind of lat­ter-day To­rana XU-1.

Brock (in a fairly rare Ama­roo ap­pear­ance) may have won the open­ing round in his HDT Com­modore VH, but Mof­fat’s Mazda tri­umphed in round two. And privateer RX7 driver Terry Shiel emerged on top in the fol­low­ing round, fol­lowed by a third Mazda vic­tory for Barry Jones and the un­re­lated, afore­men­tioned Alan Jones in the CRC300, which counted as a

dou­ble-points nal round.

The suc­cesses of Shiel and Barry Jones were signi cant: the rst vic­to­ries for privateer (as in non-Mof­fat) RX7s in open com­pany.

It was a trend that would con­tinue in ’83, al­though early on it was the V8s that made the head­lines. On the open­ing lap of the se­ries a feisty Steve Master­ton gave Al­lan Grice’s rented Cit­i­zen/Gary Cooke Com­modore a hefty shove at Honda Cor­ner, caus­ing Grice’s even­tual re­tire­ment and al­low­ing Shiel through to the lead. In­cred­u­lously, Master­ton, seem­ingly not done with his heat one ef­forts, hit Grice again in heat two, again putting the Com­modore out.

Master­ton’s bat­tered Fal­con was even­tu­ally passed, for the win, by Terry Fin­ni­gan’s Triple M Com­modore, though in any case Master­ton was later ex­cluded. Not for his con­tretemps with Grice, for which the Ford driver was given a ‘se­vere rep­ri­mand’, but be­cause of the team’s novel (but il­le­gal) so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of keep­ing the XE Fal­con’s en­gine cool – a hinged cool­ing ap built into the bumper bar!

Shiel, a gal­lant third af­ter stalling on the grid, won the over­all round and backed that up with an-al­most clean sweep per­for­mance in round two (he was sec­ond to Barry Jones in race three). That gave the Euro­cars Mazda driver a com­mand­ing points lead head­ing into round three, where on a wet Ama­roo Sunday af­ter­noon Fred Gib­son emerged to win two of the three races (Barry Jones took the other) in what was Nis­san’s rst out­right tour­ing car race win in Aus­tralia, as well as the rst for a tur­bocharged car and the rst any­where for a turbo Blue­bird. It was also Freddy’s rst win in open com­pany in 10 years, the last be­ing his vic­tory in the 1973 Ade­laide 250 in a works Fal­con XA Hard­top!

Shiel had been cru­elled by me­chan­i­cal fail­ure in round three but things fell his way in the nale, with three straight wins to de­liver what in the end was a com­fort­able se­ries win. Shiel’s six race wins was three times as many as the next mul­ti­ple win­ner. The Euro­cars RX7 driver was the in­dis­putable star of ’83.

The vil­lain of ’83, Steve Master­ton, would re­turn the fol­low­ing year a hero, claim­ing a nar­row se­ries win. The end of Group C prob­a­bly came a year or so too early for the Master­ton Homes team, be­cause af­ter a patchy ’83 the Pat Pur­cell-pre­pared Fal­con XE was run­ning beau­ti­fully. Master­ton was too good for Gary Scott in the fac­tory Blue­bird in round one, but had to share the spoils in round two with Scott and Fin­ni­gan.

Help­ing Master­ton’s cause was the un­ex­pected re­turn of Bob Mor­ris, at the wheel of the ex-Barry Jones RX7. The in­au­gu­ral AMSCAR win­ner fronted for the third round and pro­ceeded to win all three races with con­sum­mate ease – thereby pre­vent­ing Fin­ni­gan, Scott and Jim Richards in the JPS BMW 635CSi from amass­ing a de­cent points haul that might have put them in a po­si­tion to threaten Master­ton in the nal round.

Master­ton clinched it with a pair of wins in the fourth and nal round, while Scott won the last ever Group C AMSCAR race; Fin­ni­gan was sec­ond over­all for the sec­ond year run­ning.

In­ter­est­ingly, Master­ton had beaten no less than Dick John­son in the open­ing round. The ab­sence of John­son from the later rounds, along with other big names such as Mof­fat and Brock, meant the ’84 eld (not un­like the pre­vi­ous year) was a lit­tle un­der­whelm­ing. It was spec­u­lated at the time by Ste­wart Wil­son in RCN that the stars were “un­pre­pared to risk their cars and rep­u­ta­tions in the hurly-burly of rac­ing at Ama­roo”, where the back­yard ad­van­tage en­joyed by the likes of Barry Jones, Shiel, Master­ton and Fin­ni­gan is “daunt­ing”.

If so, it was a ne com­pli­ment to the privateer lo­cals, who, free of con­test­ing the full tour­ing car sched­ule, could ded­i­cate their time to tun­ing their cars speci cally for the tight and twisty cir­cuit’s unique char­ac­ter­is­tics. Mean­while, for those con­test­ing the full ATCC it was a case of pri­ori­tis­ing re­sources. Re­gard­less, the AMSCAR era was a time to shine for the top pri­va­teers for whom the only miss­ing el­e­ment was a megabuck bud­get – and they didn’t waste the chance.

Next is­sue we’ll re­call the AMSCAR Se­ries’ Group A era.

1982

1979

1979

Mof­fat was the vic­tim of an A9X ambush in the ope­ing round (top left), be­fore sam­pling one him­self the next round (bot­tom). John­son flew the Ford flag but privateer Master­ton was the only Ford driver to win the se­ries.

1984 Ama­roo Park’s AMSCAR Se­ries gave the Group C tour­ing car pri­va­teers the chance to mix it with the big boys live on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

1983

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