Bloody Volvo driver
After selling HDT, Sheppard took on a job at Holden, running the company garage. Surprisingly, he didn’t get it through contacts, but by answering an advertisement in the paper.
It was possibly the happiest period of his working life, out of the public eye but nally satis ed. Talking about it, he was the most animated during our long interview. He learnt that “it’s not just motor racing that ful ls your life”, even if it was in a big bureaucratic company.
But motor racing lured him back in 1985. He hired a factory at Calder and went back to doing general service and restoration work. He became involved with the Thunderdome, assembled NASCAR racecars from American kits, and even became race director.
In the meantime, Volvo Australia had asked him to create the Volvo Dealer Team, with Robbie Francevic driving the 240T bought from Mark Petch. Suddenly the previously unreliable turbo car looked sharp and was a consistent nisher. After a ying start, the colourful Kiwi and VDT narrowly scored the rst turbocharged touring car title – and the seventh of Sheppard’s career!
But there was a huge personality clash between Sheppard and Francevic, not helped by the presence of John Bowe in a second car. Sheppard then decided to build a third car locally for Sandown and Bathurst.
“I thought Robbie was a strange man, but to be fair to him, he’d been there all the time and I just said to him, ‘You’re the long-term driver here, we’re building a new car, which one do you want?’ He said he’d have the car we’d bought from RAS (in Sweden). Well, when we made the Australian car, it was lighter and better than the other one, so he suddenly wanted it. I said, ‘Nup, sorry.’ Then he did the dummy spit.
“We built the Australian car with lots of good stuff from Volvo, but it was so slow arriving and we eventually got to Sandown after qualifying, after working two nights in a row because the parts hadn’t arrived. That’s when good old Robbie decided he didn’t want the RAS car any more because it wasn’t as good as the Australian car.”
Francevic, of course, had a different story to tell, accusing Sheppard of favouring Bowe and providing inferior equipment. [ED: Francevic’s side of the story is in AMC #92] What’s not arguable is that Francevic was angry, complained to Volvo management at Sandown, sat out the race, and was then dismissed.
“I’d been saying to them all year, ‘We’ve got to sack this bloke.’ But they said he was leading the Australian championship. So once he’d won the championship, they said, ‘Right, now we can sack him.’ He misbehaved himself at Sandown – ‘I’m not going to drive that other car, it’s dangerous, I’ll kill myself’ – so they put him off. Fortunately.”
After poor performances at Sandown and Bathurst, and with Volvo HQ ending the Group A program, the team folded. Sheppard went back to building NASCARs and restoring cars. After the Thunderdome wound down, he built a replica of the legendary Maybach (a local F1 special raced by Stan Jones) and a luxury motorhome.
For about the past ve years Sheppard has been building a replica of the Jane ToranaRepco, which will be his last project. It has been a lengthy process, and a cold winter and brush with cancer slowed him down, but he hopes to have it nished in about a year. [ED: There’s a progress shot on the Contents page.]
Robbie Francevic’s ‘86 ATCC win was Sheppard’s seventh. By Bathurst, though, Francevic and the Sheppard-led Volvo team had parted ways.