Australian Muscle Car
Muscle Man: Joe Felice
He was Holden’s face of motorsport in the 1970s, the man who developed the Holden Dealer Team, sacked Peter Brock and Harry Firth, and ushered in a decade of classic Toranas
Joe Felice was Holden’s face of motorsport in the 1970s, a young man with access to the General’s chequebook and a brief to do whatever necessary to beat Ford on the track. He developed the Holden Dealer Team, sacked Peter Brock and Harry Firth, and ushered in a decade of classic Toranas – the XU-1, SL/R 5000, L34 and A9X.
When a go-getter by the name of John Bagshaw became sales and marketing chief of General MotorsHolden in the 1960s, he wanted to rid the company of its staid image and saw motorsport as a key ingredient, especially Bathurst. But he had a problem – GM had a worldwide policy of not racing. That didn’t stop him, though. He created a covert operation called the Holden Dealer Team and plucked a 21-year-old racing enthusiast out of the company garage to oversee a programme that would turn Australian motor racing on its head.
Joe Felice was the son of Maltese immigrants from Melbourne’s northern suburbs but was soon one of the most powerful men in the sport, conducting a factory race team cloaked in the illusion of being a rally operation with a dealer-funded track offshoot fronted by wily old Harry Firth and later John Sheppard with sponsorship from global tobacco giant Phillip Morris.
Felice and Firth moulded Colin Bond and Peter Brock into superstars who won races on Sunday and sold heaps of cars the rest of the week. At the same time, they conceived and developed machines that are now muscle car legends – the Torana XU-1, SL/R 5000, L34 and the daddy of them all, the A9X. These were barely disguised racecars that racked up ve Bathurst wins in eight years, yet Felice slipped them through the conservative GM system with the guile of the shiny-suited salesman he was.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Along the way he had to sack both Brock (in 1974) and Firth (in 1977), decisions he recalls as the lowest periods of his career, inevitable as they were. At least he was able to reconcile with the great Brock and bring him back into the Holden fold for a nal, glorious two-year steamroller with Sheppard before the corporate motorsport-haters at Fishermans Bend had their way.
When Holden pulled out of the sport after two successive dominant Bathurst wins, Felice had to move on to less exciting but better-paid roles within GM. But even though he is long retired, the passionate 72-year-old still has racing in his blood and remembers fondly his decade as Holden’s Mr Motorsport.
Top: The HDT at Bathurst, 1973, before the start (Felice facing camera). Felice was one of the VIPs at last year’s Phillip Island Classic.
“GMH in the early days was a very conservative company whose specialty was manufacturing family motor cars,” Felice says. “GM Corporation had a strict no-racing policy worldwide, but John Bagshaw (below
was determined to change the Holden brand image to one with a more dynamic pro le. John was very interested in motor sport and together with Peter Lewis-Williams (below right), who worked in GMH Sales Promotion and raced cars at the time, they decided to team up with Sydney motoring journalist David McKay and some willing dealers and started up the Holden Dealer Racing Team.”
However, after lacklustre outings in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon and Bathurst 500, Felice said the partnership with McKay – who he described as ‘a prima donna’ – was strained. Then Holden discovered that Harry Firth had been sacked by Ford and was keen for revenge.
“Harry never ever forgot or ever forgave anybody. He let it be known he was determined to show Ford they had made a big mistake getting rid of him and that he was interested in moving to Holden to upstage Ford.”
Not only was a deal done with Firth Motors to prepare the cars, GMH also decided to get more directly involved in controlling the programme while still giving Detroit the appearance it was all dealer-controlled. When Lewis-Williams left at about the same time, the company needed someone interested in motorsport management.
With a degree in marketing and business management, young Felice was given the role ahead of drivers Bob Watson and Tony Roberts, who worked with him in the engineering department. “Tony and Bob’s ambitions were to be top drivers and it was felt too politically risky to have actual drivers who worked for Holden being involved in the company program. They might have been more suited to the gig than me, but I was told that no one from GM was to be involved. Bob and Tony got the shits about it. In fact Tony ended up racing a Ford and Bob went to Renault because he couldn’t get a gig
with us and felt he was getting shafted. It got a bit awkward.
“My rst job was to go to Sydney to tell David McKay that our agreement with him was over. I can tell you he never forgave us till the day he died, and this was re ected in either bad writeups or no mentions at all in his newspapers.
“Anyway, the name was changed to the Holden Dealer Team to differentiate it from the old Holden Dealer Racing Team and we became a clandestine underground operation; everything was done with smoke and mirrors. Half the people in GMH were for motorsport and half were totally opposed.
“We went out and got several sponsors like Castrol, TAA and Levi’s, plus we put in a big chunk of GMH money, but the story we stuck to was that our money was being used for rallying and rallycross, which were allowed, but any racing was paid for by the sponsors, with the cars
Felice’s first job as motorsport manger was to shut David McKay’s Holden Dealers Racing Team (top left). The early ‘70s today is seen as a glorious period in Holden’s racing history but, Felice says, inside the company there was considerable opposition to motorsport. supposedly belonging to the dealers.”
Success rst up at Bathurst with Colin Bond and Roberts in 1969 did little to keep the corporate hounds at bay, though, merely spotlighting the performance capability of the Monaro GTS 350.
“We were getting a lot of pressure from the corporation about them being thundering V8 supercars that were obviously race cars. We were already rallying the six-cylinder Toranas, which everyone regarded as rally cars, not race cars, so we made the policy decision with management – it had nothing to do with Harry; he always just wanted more power – to go with Torana. This had the effect of convincing people that we weren’t really serious about racing, just rallying. After all, no one thought a small sixcylinder Torana could compete with a big Falcon 351 V8 on the racetrack.”
And usually they couldn’t. Not even the brilliance of Firth and chief mechanic Ian Tate could turn the XU-1 into a consistent GT-HObeater, though they did enjoy a fortuitous Bathurst victory in 1972, thanks to a wet track, Brock’s driving mastery – and a batch of three hand-built cars with lightweight panels.
“Bathurst 1972 was an aberration. We shouldn’t have really won it, but we were lucky with the weather, and the car was a very special motor car. We only ever built three of those cars – Brock’s car, Bond’s car and a spare – three very special Toranas we built in the engineering department on the engineering tooling, not plant tooling. They weren’t aluminium panels, but lightweight steel, which was pretty common (in racing) in those days.”
The supercar saga
Despite winning Bathurst in 1972, Holden and HDT were still smarting from the 1-2-3 thrashing at the hands of Ford the year before, which was when Harry Firth had started agitating for a V8 to be dropped into the XU-1 engine bay.
“Harry’s theory has always been more power. When in doubt, more power. He came up with the idea of putting a V8 in the Torana. When Ford killed us in ’71, he came to me and said, ‘Listen cock, this is bloody hopeless, we’re going to get blown off every year. The only way you’re going to x it is if we get a V8 in the Torana.’ I thought about it and told Bagshaw, ‘I don’t think we’re going to win Bathurst if we don’t have a V8, not while they’re racing the big 351 HO.’
“Anyway, I got approval for it, so I told Harry to put a 253 in one and give it a try. Peter tested this car at Calder against a six-cylinder XU-1 and found very little difference in performance. Harry being Harry, he then came to me and said, ‘Listen cock, if a 253 ts in so will a 308.’ That seemed to be drawing a long bow, but I again went to Bags and convinced him that we should give it a go. He agreed, but insisted that the project must be kept top secret. Harry tted a 308 and ran the rst car as a Sports Sedan. “I ordered three GTRs – orange, white and pink – because the accelerator linkage on the GTR was easier to hook up to the V8 engine than the XU-1, and they become our road-car prototypes, tted with suitable V8 powertrains and components. Harry got two and the third was my company car, complete with locks on the bonnet pins so no one in the plant could see what was in it.” Larry Perkins, who was working for Harry at the time, nicknamed that orange car the Lockwood Special. It also had a huge fuel tank that took
The fallout from the stillborn XU-1 V8 programme almost cost Felice his job. Felice was often at loggerheads with HDT boss Harry Firth over the team’s standard of presentation. Felice ‘hated’ ever having to take anyone to Firth’s Auburn HDT headquarters.
up all the boot space but, Felice says, this was never going to be approved for production ‘as we had to sell these cars to the public.’ The car was stolen from the Old Melbourne Motor Inn one night and the powertrain removed. It was recovered, then stolen again, and remains on the stolen list.
“About this time Sydney journalist Evan Green got wind of the program and wrote a little story for his motoring column. But some front page story fell over and Evan’s story was moved from the back to the front page. Evan was asked to get a quote from the transport minister, who went off his brain condemning what he called superfast death traps which in his opinion were going
Harry came to me and said, ‘Listen cock, this is bloody hopeless, we’re going to get blown off every year. The only way you’re going to fix it is if we get a V8 in the Torana.’
to kill every young driver in Australia.”
Holden’s business at this time was 80 percent eet and government sales, so managing director Bill Gibbs naturally panicked when the minister called and threatened to stop buying cars from Holden if the V8 Torana went ahead.
“Bill Gibbs was the most conservative MD GMH ever had. He was of the rm opinion Holden should only build white station wagons. Anyway, Gibbs ordered Bagshaw to terminate the programme. He in turn told me to kill it and I told Harry it was all over and sent trucks to the workshop to pick up the cars and take everything to Lang Lang to be destroyed. I really thought I was going to be sacked that day, with all the anti-motorsport people pointing the nger at me and saying I was the cause of all the problems. Anyway, I survived – just!
“There are a lot of myths about those two cars. As far as I was concerned they were meant to be crushed on the barrier test. Some people think they have the actual cars. I don’t comment one way or the other.
“Incidentally, Bill Gibbs also killed off our little GTR-X sports car. We built two prototypes, one for Engineering and one for Sales. By then I was also responsible for motor shows and I took that car all over Australia, and even did some promotional laps around Bathurst. It created great interest and everybody wanted to order one, but Gibbs said we were in the family car business and not the sports car business and wouldn’t approve the project. Bill wasn’t a car man and came to us from the railways because it was political to appoint an Australian MD.
“With the demise of the so-called supercars, we went back to running six-cylinder XU-1s. We knew we had the SL/R 5000 coming out down the track with a ve-litre V8 anyway, and when that came out no one said a word!”
The man who sacked Peter Brock
Peter Brock was dumped only twice in his life – both times by his beloved Holden. Even in 1974, after only six years of racing, he was the most loved driver in Australia. Team boss Harry Firth treated him like a son; to his mechanics he was a best mate, and for the thousands of people at Holden he was their torchbearer. But he had to go.
Early in the year he had married glamorous 21-year-old Michelle Downes, a former Miss Australia and Melbourne TV weather girl. “It was a marriage pushed by GMH and Channel 7 for the publicity, so we were half to blame,” Felice admits. “They were married at Peter Janson’s pad, it was all on TV, and I lent them a Chev Corvette show car to use on their honeymoon. It was all just a big fairytale.”
However, the marriage quickly turned sour. It was apparently a toxic and loveless union, and the Truth newspaper reported that Brock had bashed his wife. There were also reports he had shot a dog, for which best mate Grant Steers (Felice’s offsider at Holden) took the rap. Peter’s demeanour was further tested by the initially unreliable HDT Torana L34, which denied him dominant victories at Sandown and Bathurst. Finally, there was a notorious manager on the scene, who managed Michelle and now represented Peter as well, and who tried to step between he and Holden. It was all too much for Felice.
“Peter was a good bloke, but we sort of got to the stage of, do you put up with all this crap?
“Unfortunately Michelle had a manager who was also a very pushy private detective. He was a bad bastard and she talked Peter into making him his manager also. In those days there were no managers – Peter and I used to deal directly – but pretty soon he started getting involved in all Peter’s affairs. Peter had a promotions and advertising contract with General Motors and a driving contract with Harry, but it all became unworkable when this guy kept interfering.
“Peter and I had worked together since 1969. Taking into account his driving commitments, I arranged for Peter to do dealer promotions, product advertising, public appearances and product launches whenever there was time; for years I just rang him and told him what we had booked for him and there was never a problem. Then Peter tells me he’s not even allowed to talk to me directly.
“It got to the stage where it really started to irk me because this guy then started saying, ‘You’re not to book Peter for anything unless I approve it and you’re not to talk to Peter
Above: Brock in celebratory mood with Peter Janson and Felice (at back), but trouble was brewing by 1974. A variety of issues led to Felice terminating Brock’s contract with Holden at the end of that year. anymore, and I’ve told Peter he’s not to talk to you anymore.’ I said, ‘That’s not acceptable, we’ve got a contract with him and if he wants to keep that contract he’s got to ful ll it, and it’s not going to go through you. The deal is, he goes direct through us and that’s it.’ But he said he would decide what gigs Peter would do for us, and that he’d do gigs for other people instead if they were more lucrative!
“Well, that was the last straw. I told Bagshaw it was all becoming unworkable and he said, ‘It’s your decision, what do you want to do?’ I said either he gets rid of this guy or Peter will have to go, and that was exactly what happened. I just said to Peter, ‘Your choice – either you drop this guy or we’re going to drop you.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m going to stick with him.’ So I terminated his GMH contract and got Harry to terminate his driving contract. It was a big decision for the company because everybody loved Peter.”
Harry had also been having problems with his star driver, who he’d always insisted came to the workshop every day to work. Although Brock liked being around the cars and crew, the manager told Peter he was a big star and was wasting his time working with nuts and bolts.
“Eventually Peter and Michelle’s relationship broke down completely and they split up. Peter got into nancial difficulties and was practically broke. And the manager had disappeared.”
Return of the V8
After the almighty supercar furore that scuppered the V8 Torana XU-1 in 1973, it’s hard to believe that less than a year later the new-generation LH Torana appeared with Holden’s 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. The interim SL/R 5000 was rushed into service and helped Brock win his rst Australian Touring Car Championship, but the mighty L34 was waiting in the wings – though it wasn’t quite the car Felice had expected.
“The L34 was three-quarters of the way to being a full-blown race car, with the engine designed by Harry Firth, GMH engine engineer Fred James and Repco. It was made for competition and was quite noisy. The problem with the car was that it suffered from a small diff and pokey rear axles, and it still had drum brakes on the rear.
“At this time, one George Roberts was the chief engineer at Holden, and no matter how much we pleaded with him he would not budge on these items, even though we were putting big V8 power and torque through components originally designed for a four-cylinder car.
“It wasn’t until we were able to homologate the A9X as an evolution of the L34 (in 1977) that we got what we wanted – four-wheel disc brakes and the big axle. While the A9X was tted with a standard V8 engine for production, making it more user-friendly and easy to sell, we could use the high-performance L34 engine for competition. The A9X was the outstanding touring car of the time.”
The ‘74 season also saw the introduction of Marlboro branding on the HDT Toranas – a sponsorship brokered by wheeler-dealer Peter Janson – but it did little to elevate the level of presentation of the cars out of Harry Firth’s little Auburn workshop. The wily old fox had been out in the woods a little too long.
“Bloody Harry could be a pain in the arse and was as rough as guts. If you look at the original Toranas, we had a green one, a yellow one and a fucking pink one,” Felice recalls, still exasperated. “He would put a sticker on here and the next one would have the sticker up there. In the end I got sick of it all and I got Styling (GM’s design department) to come up with a whole new livery – all the same colours, uniforms, the whole lot – and they came up with the red-andwhite livery (1971), then the ’72 one (red, white and black) and everything after that.”
Typical of the Firth approach was ‘The Beast,’ the Repco-Holden V8-powered Sports Sedan he built using a well-worn Torana body. Felice, who had been keen to get publicity from the booming category, says the drivers wanted danger money because the car handled so badly.
“Peter and Colin said it went like buggery in a straight line, but then you’d have to waddle around the corners. It was just a heap of shit. It was an old rally car that had been battered and twisted and you could stick your nger in where the door pillars were. The boys said every time you accelerated you could see the body twisting! I remember Peter said, ‘I hate driving that thing.’ He said it used to twist and shake and rattle.
“We just had to become a lot more
professional. Initially we were really just like a backyard operation, which didn’t t the two corporations (GMH and Phillip Morris). Marlboro were an extremely professional out t and had a Formula One team competing around the world. They were very particular about the television and physical appearance of the cars.”
Right: A rare peek inside the famous HDT tent at Bathurst. Felice says the XU-1 V8 HDT Sports Sedan ‘Beast’ (below) was so bad that Colin Bond and Peter Brock wanted danger money to drive it!
“Bloody Harry could be a pain in the arse and was as rough as guts. If you look at the original Toranas, we had a green one, a yellow one and a pink one. He would put a sticker on here and the next one would have the sticker up there. In the end I got sick of it all and got Styling to come up with a whole new livery”
By 1977 Felice was under pressure, not only because the Moffat Ford team was dominating the races (and with Colin Bond, who had controversially swapped camps) but due to the presentation of his underperforming factory team.
“I was under a lot of pressure about the poor appearance of Harry’s cars from our directors, dealers and Phillip Morris in 1977,” Felice recalls. “I had constant battles with Harry about this, but all he used to say was, ‘Listen cock, do you want to win races or win beauty contests?’ I used to say we want to do both, but he felt as long as he won that was all that mattered. Well, those days had gone and sponsors only wanted to associate with completely professional teams.
“In the end I felt it had all passed Harry by, and he wasn’t going to change no matter what. Furthermore, his brother Norm’s bookkeeping was totally unprofessional and often ran fowl of our accountants and auditors. I was under pressure to move Harry on, but he had done so much for our product that I wouldn’t do it.
“In the end, I did ask him to retire gracefully, which he nally did – reluctantly – after I told him that there was no choice in the matter…”
With Firth having ‘retired,’ Holden called for expressions of interest in preparing the MHDT cars and had about six applicants.
“We nally narrowed it down to Frank Gardner and John Sheppard – both excellent prospects, with little to separate them. However, Frank wanted to operate out of Sydney and, as both the Holden and Phillip Morris headquarters were in Melbourne, we wanted the team to be based
here, so John got the nod.
“Well, what a difference! Everything Sheppo did was perfection. The cars looked great and still won a heap of races, and you could eat your lunch off the workshop oor. It was a pleasure to take people there, whereas I never took anybody to Harry’s workshop if I could help it.
“Sheppo made my life a lot easier. That was the best thing that ever happened. I should have done it three years earlier.”
Another big change for 1978, of course, was the return of Brock. After three years as a privateer, Brock was ‘back home where he belonged’ and won a touring car title, the Repco Round Australia Trial and two Bathurst 1000s.
However, with new regulations coming in 1980, rising controversy over tobacco sponsorship and the new Commodore just released, Holden shocked everyone by quitting motor sport – even though they weren’t officially involved anyway!
That meant Felice no longer had a job to do. He’d had great fun over the preceding decade, playing with a big budget and partying hard with the boys, but he’d also seen his contemporaries overtake him on the corporate ladder. It was time to settle down.
Felice took up a regional role in Adelaide, where he raised his two sons, then moved interstate and overseas working in several portfolios before nally retiring in Sydney in 2009 after 42 years with General Motors. Now aged 72, he lives back in Melbourne. And he still has a 1974 LH Torana (left) in the garage.
Joe Felice Q&A
AMC: You were very close to Peter Brock…
JF: I loved Peter as a person. He was totally charming and a fantastic driver, and promoter, but he wasn’t a businessman. He was totally disorganised. I used to bunk with him at Bathurst, just to keep an eye on him. It would be time to go to the track on Sunday morning and Peter would be wandering around in his underpants smoking a cigarette and having a cup of tea. ‘Peter, where’s your helmet and gloves?’ ‘Fucked if I know, must have left them at the track. Ring Tatey and see if he knows where they are…’ But, until he got involved with Michelle, I never had any trouble with Peter.
AMC: Was the stillborn V8-powered XU-1 to be called the XU-2?
JF: There was no XU-2 – forget that. That was put up by Styling, but the product committee knocked it back. I was part of the product program. The V8 was going to be called the XU-1 V8.
AMC: So the V8 XU-1 was only ever an interim model to win Bathurst in 1972?
JF: That’s about it. The SL/R was also only an interim car, between the XU-1 and the L34. It only had piddley little wheels and things, but it half-won a touring car championship. I had that car sent to Perth for Wayne Negus to run and it was updated to an L34 and won quite a lot of races. That was the third car in that 1-2-3 nish at
Wanneroo behind Brock and Harvey.
AMC: When you sacked Peter in 1974, was it true you wanted him to go to England to get him out of the way?
JF: No, that wasn’t true. He chose to do that. Peter had big ideas, but he had no money. And he was hopeless from a business point of view.You can see that with the Polarizer business – that was all bullshit – and the Director. I spoke to Peter about that myself because he was a friend of mine and people asked me to give him a call and tell him. I said, ‘Peter, you know you can’t take on General Motors. They told you: ‘You can’t call the car a Director and you can’t t a Polarizer when our engineers are saying it’s bullshit.’ He was told by everybody, including his friends and people he loved, but he wouldn’t listen. It was a pity.
AMC: Tell us about the Marlboro sponsorship and Peter Janson.
JF: Peter Janson was a guy we had a relationship with anyway, he was a Mr Fixit and he was an assisted privateer. Janson was a loveable rogue, and still is, and he was always trying to do promotions. He used to do work with the Phillip Morris guys and he came to us and said, ‘Look, I might be able to swing a sponsorship deal with Phillip Morris.’ I said that would be interesting because it was the right colours – we wouldn’t want Rothmans because they’re blue and white, but Marlboro was red and white.
AMC: You weren’t worried about the tobacco aspect of it?
JF: Not in those days. It wasn’t a big deal; tobacco sponsored everything. Later on it was a big deal. Anyway, we pursued it further and in the end we did the deal.
AMC: Do you remember how much it was?
JF: It was nearly a million dollars all up, but it wasn’t straight cash – there were promotions and advertising and using our cars in ads and things like that. It was still a lot of money back then.
AMC: What’s the story about Bob Morris’s 1976 Bathurst win? John Harvey still reckons he and Bondy won that race.
JF: I made that decision (not to protest). Our lap scorers had our car in front, but Bobby’s lap scorers had his car in front and so did the official lap scorers. A couple of others had Bob in front too. Harry had a talk to (the officials) and they said, ‘Look, you can protest, we would have to go over everything again, it could take weeks to do.’ Bear in mind two things: number one, Bob was running for Ron Hodgson, who was a big Holden dealer and was one of our biggest supporters; and number two, we had all the posters made, ‘Torana wins Bathurst,’ and all the press ads were made and booked. Harry came up and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Look Harry, he’s one of our big preferred dealers, he’s spent millions of dollars, as much as us, really… Philip Morris mightn’t be all that happy, but from our point of view it’s still a Torana and we’re pushing Torana.’ So I said, ‘Let it go, don’t protest.’ I rang John Bagshaw up and he agreed with my decision. If it had gone on for a month, none of us would have got anything out of it. We would have blown hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing. We had to make a commercial decision. We were not in motor racing for motor racing’s sake, we were in it to sell product.
AMC: Putting aside commercial considerations, do you think you won the race?
JF: I wasn’t sure. Our lap scorers had our car a lap in front, but it was bloody hard in those days. We used to take special people up there who could sit all day for eight hours on the roof of a panel van at the bottom of Conrod Straight in the heat or rain or whatever – and our cars were pretty much identical! Look, I wasn’t convinced (we had won), and Bondy didn’t push it much either, it was Harves who pushed it. He reckoned he got robbed of a Bathurst win, but the fact of the matter is, according to the official lap scorers Bobby was in front. It wasn’t just to appease Ron. Everybody was convinced that’s the way it was. AMC: So nobody else had you in front of Bob?
JF: (Shakes head.) AMC: How did Colin Bond’s move to Ford happen?
JF: Well, Robyn (Bond) was pushing like buggery. She was always saying that Harry was giving him shit stuff and that’s why Peter won all the time. But I’ve got to tell you, I know for a fact that Harry at one time swapped the cars over and Peter was still faster. The cars were identical. Even Bev Harvey (John’s wife) still screams that we always looked after Peter. I love John to bits, and open-wheelers in the ’60s he was a top driver, but he was never going to be a Peter Brock. Back in those days, Brocky and Moffat stood out and then there was a big gap. If Brocky was an A+ driver, Bondy was an A driver. I was disappointed in Bondy going to Ford. I can understand commercial decisions, but Peter stayed with the brand even though he had the arse out of his pants and was struggling. He stayed loyal. Whereas Colin saw it as a nancial decision; it paid dividends in the rst year, but after that he really never won another thing.
AMC: How did the reunion with Brock come about for ’78?
JF: We got a message back from Steersy (Grant Steers, Felice’s deputy and Peter’s best mate) that he was all contrite and wanted to come back, and we obviously wanted him back because the other drivers were never going to be Peter Brock. We were all going up to Surfers Paradise for a race, so Charlie O’Brien arranged for everyone – Holden, Philip Morris, Peter and a couple of other people – to go out on his boat on the Broadwater, and we kind of said ‘all is forgiven, come back my son.’ We re-signed him and just told Sheppo he’s coming back as part of the deal. Sheppo wasn’t in that meeting, but he was rapt to have him anyway.
AMC: How did Bill Patterson react?
JF: Patto didn’t care because he was to the stage where he didn’t want to put any more money into him. Patto was happy to just be part of the Dealer Team. He really didn’t want to have his own car. It was just too much money, even in those days.
AMC: What about Holden’s decision to nish with motor sport at the end of 1979?
JF: It was a corporate decision. Bagshaw had been moved overseas and a bloke called John Loveridge took over, and he wasn’t a motor sport guy at all. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it. There were people at GM who absolutely hated motor sport.
AMC: How do you feel about Holden quitting Australia?
JF: I am devastated. I think about all the history of that company and all the work that we did… But you could see the writing on the wall because we got to the stage where it was 100 percent closed shop – if you wanted a job there you had to be in one of the unions, and they kept pushing for more money and lurks and perks. It just got to stage where the cars just got too dear and people couldn’t afford them. People just fell out of love with Holden.