Bob Jane Camaro
There is no more revered Chevrolet Camaro in Australia than Bob Jane’s awesome 1969 427ci ZL-1. AMC outlines why this ballistic bowtie beast is the most legendary of all Camaros down under.
There is no more revered Camaro in Australia than Jane’s 427ci ZL1 Improved Tourer.
Toughest of the tough
AMC described Bob Jane’s Camaro in the following manner when the orange machine was featured in-depth in issue #6’s ‘Aussie Invader’ cover story of 2003: “Quite simply this is a brutally powerful son of a bitch Chevrolet that rede ned the term ‘muscle car’ when it erupted onto Australian race tracks in 1971. Prior to its arrival, the local tin-top scene was dominated by Ford Mustangs powered by small-block V8s, but no one had seen anything like this. Under the bonnet of his new weapon lurked a 427 cubic inch (7.0 litre) all-alloy V8 ‘Rat’ motor with a zillion horsepower and so much torque there wasn’t a gearbox that could contain it.”
Driver to match
Behind the wheel was Bob Jane, whose presence in and out of the car matched that of his new glamour Chev. Jane had already claimed two Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) titles driving Jaguars in the early 1960s, then had ve seasons campaigning Mustangs with moderate success in the mid to late 1960s. This left the former champ hungry for more crowns. Crowds watched in awe as the nuggety Jane, in his typically aggressive hunched-behind-the-wheel style, took on the best in the business – and beat them.
It’s a genuine ZL-1
The ZL-1 model was the pinnacle of Chevy high performance. Some ve decades later, it still is. Jane’s car, VIN 610732, was
#13 of a 1969 batch of just 69 cars factoryfitted with ferocious 427 engines – with four-bolt mains, cast-iron cylinder liners, 12:1 pistons and open chamber heads – to meet drag race homologation requirements. These COPO (GM’s ‘Central Office Production Order’) No. 9560 cars were available in a choice of five colours with either a four-speed manual (Muncie M-21 or M22) or heavy duty Turbo 400 automatic transmission. In addition, the ZL-1 was also equipped with front disc brakes, a special raised ‘cowl induction’ bonnet scoop, heavy-duty radiator, performance suspension and a 12-bolt Positraction rear axle assembly loaded with 4.10 gears. In recent years 1969 Camaro ZL1s have changed hands in their home country for figures approaching $US 1million.
Can-Am engine origins T
he ZL-1 featured an engine developed by Chevrolet for the virtually unregulated Canadian American Challenge Cup – Can-Am!
From Melbourne to Melbourne H
aving identified the ZL-1 as the weapon with which to beat bitter rival Allan Moffat and friendly rival Norm Beechey, he purchased two from a US Chevrolet dealer in, of all places, Melbourne, Florida. That dealership just happened to be owned by 1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathman and located near the Cape Canaveral Space Centre. What could be more apt, when you’re a racer from another Melbourne after a rocketship! “When I went to America in 1970 I thought it would make a great racecar,” Jane recalled earlier this century. “General Motors in Detroit told me there were two available in Melbourne, Florida – this car in Hugger Orange and a Le Mans Blue (#52, VIN 620934) automatic for drag racing. So I bought them both.”
That colour A
ussie racing fans had not seen more outrageously coloured cars than Jane’s Hugger Orange Camaro when it lobbed. The colour – and the hue’s name – screamed ‘American muscle car’.
Creating a legend T
he Bob Jane Racing Team’s crew chief John Sawyer oversaw the transformation of the ZL-1 into a state-of-the-art Australian touring car contender, working with skilled craftsmen like John Brookfield and Graeme Moore. “I had a steel surface plate specially made for the building of that car,” Sawyer told
AMC in 2003. “We built it on top of the plate so that everything was perfectly flat and level and everything was measured from that plate when we welded up the chassis. Jane was good mates with Bruce McLaren at the time and the Camaro build employed some Can-Am thinking. How? “Basically in the suspension lay-out, some safety features and the way the internal frame (roll-cage) was designed and constructed,” Sawyer explained. “We built a cage in the car that went right from the rear of the chassis structure through to the tops of the front suspension pillars. It was like the Sydney Harbour Bridge inside. It was very, very strong and it kept the car very rigid.” Sawyer went to a lot of trouble “using the right materials to lighten the car wherever we legally could.” When Sawyer began running Calder Park during the ’71 season, John Sheppard took over as BJRT team manager.
Drop tank T
he Camaro’s lowered fuel cell or ‘drop tank’ as it’s become known was cuttingedge at the time. The idea was to get the car’s centre of gravity as low as possible, while adopting the latest in safety fuel cell technology from the US.
Title on debut J
ane claimed the 1971 ATCC title in the Camaro’s debut season, winning three of the seven rounds: Calder’s Marlboro Southern Sixty, Mallala’s South Australian Touring Car Championship and Oran Park’s Sydney Gold Cup. The latter is a fabled occasion in the championship’s 59-year history, with the circuit’s biggest ever crowd, a series of dramatic moments – including an errant road car entering the track mid-race – and a three-way battle for the title with Mustang drivers Ian Geoghegan and Allan Moffat. Jane emerged with a popular race and championship victory. “It was the first time I had raced at Oran Park and there was a huge crowd there,” Jane recalled. He missed a gear off the start and dropped back to third behind Moffat and Geoghegan. By lap 16 of 45, Jane was in the lead after Moffat’s car jammed in second gear and rolled to a temporary halt which dropped him to third behind Geoghegan. Moffat soon got mobile and set a scorching pace as he reeled in the leading pair, passing Geoghegan and setting sail after the Camaro. But Jane had more than Moffat to worry about. “There I was leading the race, trying to keep Moffat behind me, when a spectator drove onto the track in a white Valiant and joined the race – I mean he just drove onto the track from the crowd!” Jane says. “I was passing him twice a lap and at the same time trying to keep Moffat behind me. It was unbelievable. In those days it was not like it is today,” Jane said. “There were no yellow flags or Safety Cars. They did not stop the race either. I don’t know how, but (they) finally got that Valiant off the track and I went on to win the race. It was incredible. Winning that race was a great triumph.”
Doubling up I
n winning the 1972 title, Jane’s Camaro was the first car to win back-to-back ATCC series. We emphasise the word series, as Ian Geoghegan’s second Mustang won three consecutive ATCCs, 1967-’69, the first two of these held over a single race.
ctually, this Camaro is more correctly a rule-changer. After winning the ’71 title, changes to the ‘Improved Production’ touring car rules forced Jane to abandon his beloved 7.0 litre big block engine for a 5.7 litre (350ci) small block but the combination proved equally effective. Jane won his second ATCC in a row with the Camaro in 1972 and the fourth touring car title of his career. John Sheppard: “The car went as fast if not faster with the 350 in it and that really made Moffat tear his hair out!” Jane’s attempt at a hat-trick of ATCC Camaro titles in 1973 was scuttled when the rule makers declared his car ineligible to compete under the new Group C touring car regulations and he sold it.
I’m a survivor M
iraculously, this ZL-1 survived the next two and half decades and a multitude of owners until Jane finally rescued it in a dilapidated condition in 1998. In 1973, Jane had sold the Camaro to Victorian driver Jim Smith who raced it as a Sports Sedan in Camel Filters colours. Smith’s crew chopped the firewall and transmission tunnel to allow his Weslake-headed 350ci Chev V8 to be moved further back in the chassis for better weight distribution. After Smith had raced the car with limited success it then passed through the hands of another owner, before Melbourne, Victoria drag racer Mike Tydell bought it. In ’98 Jane was tipped off by Norm Beechey that Tydall had the now maroon and silver car up for sale and the tyre magnate purchased it.
High-end resto I
ts restoration, by Myles Johnson of Thunder Road Restorations in Melbourne, was of the highest quality, returning the car to the pristine 7.0 litre ZL-1 specification in which it first competed in 1971. It was a long project for the New Zealander, who came to Australia in 1970 and worked for the Bob Jane Racing Team from 1976 until Jane closed the team in 1983. “The transmission tunnel had been cut out of the car and a lot of the stuff had been disconnected,” Johnson said of the car’s preresto condition in 1998. “There were boxes full of parts. The car had been semi-gutted. It was a bit of a mess.” The restoration took four years and was detailed in AMC #6. While this issue is no longer available as a back issue (ie printed magazine), the story can be accessed via the Issue #1 to #50 Digital
Magazine Library on DVD available from mymagazines.com.au
Emotional reveal T
he restored Camaro’s unveiling was an event in its own right. It occurred at Bathurst in the lead-up to the 2002 Bob Jane T-Marts 1000, a significant occasion for Jane in more ways than one. Johnson recalls showing Jane the car for the first time, hoping he would be happy with the finished product. “Bob stood there looking at the car for some considerable time and then said, ‘You have done a great job’. I was pretty pleased with that.”
Famous five A
MC understands that the Camaro today is retained by the Bob Jane Corporation. It has not been seen in public for many years. With the passing of the company founder on 28 September 2018, it’s hoped that it will soon serve again as a fitting tribute on track at retro racing events to this giant of our sport. It’s 10 years since the Camaro was reunited with four other touring car titans – Geoghegan’s Mustang and Super Falcon, Beechey’s Monaro and Moffat’s Mustang – at the 2008 Muscle Car Masters at Sydney Motorsport Park.
“Muscle car of the century” T
he final word goes to the late, great Jane, who described the orange Camaro as “truly the muscle car of the century. It was an innovation for its day with its huge engine. It was the first professional touring car to be built specifically for racing in Australia on a solid steel plate. Not only did it have more bar work, that is, a far more advanced roll-cage set-up, but it was also the first touring car to have an in-board fire extinguisher. It really was an amazing car.”