Peter Mather’s immaculately presented FJ Holden is a wonderful tribute to the huge contribution the old 1950s-era Holdens made to the development of touring car racing in this country. But this is not a tribute car, nor a replica racer. This is an original race car, restored by the only man who ever raced it.
What makes this rare surviving ‘early girl’ Holden racer even more unique is its unusual racing history. Unlike most of the 48-215s and FJs that raced back in the day, this one is not a track veteran from the 1950s, and nor is it from the Appendix J era (1959 to the end of ’64). Nor was it a Sports Sedan, which was what became of most of the early racing Holdens in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s, as the hands of time rendered them increasingly less competitive.
This FJ didn’t go racing at all until the early 1970s, during the Improved Production era (1965-’72). It is, therefore, a very rare example of an Improved Production Touring FJ Holden.
That’s a distinction that sets it aside from other surviving humpy Holden racers. But it’s not the reason the car occupies a special place in Peter Mather’s heart, as he explains:
“It’s not Bob Jane’s racecar, it’s not Allan Moffat’s racecar. It’s my racecar.
“It was the third car I ever owned. I drove it on the road for two years, and then I raced it – and I won my rst race. It wasn’t a handicap; there was a pretty severe eld of drivers, including the Wilcoxes.”
Darryl and Rod Wilcox were among a number of pretty handy drivers in what at the time was a hotly contested early-model Holden scene in Tasmanian racing.
Early Holdens in racing may have been dying breed on the mainland by then, but across Bass Strait they were still thriving (as the accompanying pics show). Even today, the Apple Isle remains a haven for humpy Holden racers of old, as shown by the enormous turnout of Greysix Holdens at last year’s Baskerville Historic meeting.
the meantime a race-ready Grey six became available after fellow early model Holden racer Peter Lockley wrote his car off in a crash at Symmons Plains. After that experience, Lockley had had enough of racing for the time being, and so sold the engine from his wrecked Humpy to Mather.
With help on the mechanical side from John Penprase, Mather made his race debut in the FJ at Baskerville in May, 1971. He would race it consistently at Baskerville and Symmons Plains through to 1973.
The car was lucky not to have been written off early in its racing life, at Baskerville in January ’72 when the Humpy ended up on its lid. Mather had won the earlier race that day, but in the preEH Holden event got tangled up with a spinning car, was hit from behind and turfed into a rollover. The damage was extensive and required an entire new roof section, but Mather had it back on track six weeks later.
As Improved Production morphed into Sports Sedans for 1973, Mather decided to call a halt to his racing rather than try to update the FJ with the later-model Red six engine and four-speed gearbox, as most of those still running early Holdens in Tassie were now doing. Instead, it was turned back into road car and sold. derelict old humpy rusting away in someone’s backyard was indeed his old race car (the telltale faded yellow stripe and the modi cation he’d done to the inner guard to accommodate the triple Amal carbies con rmed it), he bought the car for the princely sum of $280.
On the one hand Mather was absolutely ecstatic to be reunited with his old race car. On the other, he knew that a task of herculean proportions lay ahead in restoring what really wasn’t much more than a rusting shell. He knew full well that the shell was too far gone for this to be a realistic restoration proposition – unless it happened to be a famous old car with expectations of it become highly valuable in restored trim. Which it was not – as Mather says, it wasn’t Bob Jane’s race car, or Allan Moffat’s race car.
But it Mather’s car…
The decision to proceed was an emotional rather than a rational one, but even then it still took Mather some time before he actually committed himself to doing it. Some 12 years, in fact – he bought the car in 1987, but the restoration didn’t commence until 2000!
The rst thing he did was source a couple of additional Humpy Holden body shells as ‘donors’ so that some of the more badly rusted sections could be replaced. The car was so far gone that it couldn’t even be put on a rotisserie because there wasn’t enough structural integrity left for the bare shell to support its own weight. As can be seen in the pics, Peter had to make up a special frame to support the shell while some of the key rusted areas were repaired or replaced.
Restoring the bare shell alone took three years. Mather had a lot of help and encouragement from panel beater and fellow former Humpy racer Rod Wilcox, as well as from Max Ash, a panel beater and fabricator of the old-school breed.
“Max is in his 80s but is still going strong,” Mather says. “He’s a really good panel beater. If you gave him a hammer and a sheet of copper, he’d make you a vase.”
Ash performed the delicate restoration of the bumpers and intricate FJ grille, and later would help with the tting of the panels, doors, boot and bonnet to ensure the gaps were nothing less than perfect. The quality of the workmanship here is rst class: open and shut the doors on this FJ and it really does feel like a new car.
Mather assembled the entire car in bare metal before anything was painted (above), to make sure everything tted properly. It also meant that after the car was painted – in a twopack green nish – the nal assembly was a fairly simple process. Everything had been pretted, every bracket had been fabricated and drilled. Mather notes that special attention was put into ensuring that where possible every nut, bolt and screw in the car original GM-H parts. He did all the mechanicals himself, engine included. The engine Mather has built for the restored car differs from the original in that the restored car has a Repco cross ow cylinder head, and three 40mm Weber carburettors.
The Repco head had been severely damaged in a previous engine blow up, requiring many hours of repair that saw Mather go to the trouble of fabricating new rockers and rocker shafts himself.
“Even though I never raced the car with a Repco head, I felt it was appropriate that I repair this one and t it to my car, given the unique history of these heads and the small number of them produced. And also, this head was originally owned by John Mitchell and tted to the MG Holden, a car that has racing history in Tasmania and which is now owned by Ian Tate.
“I would have loved to have had the cross ow head when I was racing my car.”
The engine hasn’t been dynoed, but Mather estimates it would have around 210 horsepower. His original race engine back in the day, with the normal con guration head and triple Amal Carbies, had about 160bhp. Back then Mather normally revved it to 7,200rpm, and only broke one crankshaft in three years (cranks were the Achilles Heel of the old Grey six Holden, especially in racing). The engine in the car today will run to 7,000rpm, he says, but for the sake of longevity he won’t take above 6000rpm.
He’s able to check those revs on the original tacho that he’d bolted onto the dashboard back when he was 18 – with the word BANG printed on the old Dymo sticker lettering and placed strategically at the point the tacho needle should never go beyond.
The car also has the original steering wheel which Mather made himself when he rst bought the FJ. As an apprentice, he couldn’t afford to buy a proper sports wheel.
“All my mates back then were buying woodrimmed sports steering wheels but I made mine out of steel electrical conduit roll. The centre is a piece of mild steel that’s been cut, drilled and chromed, and I got a mate to cover it in leather. Even the horn works!”
Peter removed the steering wheel when he sold the car in ’73, and gave it to a mate to put on his FJ ute.
“When I bought this car back, my FJ ute mate said, ‘you better come and get your steering wheel’!”
The road wheels are Minilites. It never raced on Minilites, running originally on widened steel wheels and later Can-am mags. Mather had always wanted to run Minilites, but couldn’t afford the 60 percent import tax duty on them. Like the Repco head, the Minilites on the restored car amount to a wish-list ful lled more than 30 years later.
“The only real differences between the car in 1973 and today are the Repco head, the Minilite wheels and the two-pack paint.”
Peter takes great pride not only in the fact the restoration has been done to such a high standard, but also that the vast majority of it he did himself.
“I’ve tried to do everything on the car myself. I didn’t paint the car, but the guy who did
paint it was restoring an XU-1, so I did all the mechanicals on his XU-1 and he painted my car in return.”
The restoration took four years. The car was ready in time for the Hobart Sporting Car Club’s 50th anniversary celebrations at Baskerville in 2004.
“Originally I was going to do the Targa Tasmania in it, but I’ve worked on a few cars that have done the Targa and trust me, it’s pretty hard on equipment.”
Among the visitors from the mainland at the Baskerville historic meeting where Mather’s FJ made its public reappearance was Garry Rogers, who was there with GRM’s 2000 Bathurstwinning Commodore VX on display. Rogers’ own driving career began in the ‘60s an ‘early girl’ Holden similar to Mather’s.
“Garry Rogers saw my car and came over to have a look at it. Then he came up to me and said, ‘g’day mate, you wouldn’t happen to know who owns this car, would you?’ When I told him it was me, he said: ‘I don’t suppose it’s for sale?’ I was dumbfounded.”
It wasn’t for sale, and Mather thinks it’s unlikely he’ll ever put his treasured Humpy on the market.
Garry Rogers wanted to buy it, Peter Brock would have loved to have raced it. Brock saw the shiny green FJ at the 2004 Symmons Plains V8 Supercar round (Brock was there having a run in a Group N Torana XU-1), and the Bathurst legend was enthralled.
Of course, Brock grew up with early Holdens, and would likely have made his racing debut in one had it not been for the government requiring him to undertake national service duty (the infamous ‘nasho,’ compulsory military training programme for young men which ran from 1951 to ’72).
Brock would eventually get to race a Humpy, at the 2006 Goodwood Revival, in what sadly would be his last race appearance. Mather believes that seeing his own car was what inspired Brock to pursue the 48-215 Goodwood project.
“Peter Brock loved this car when he saw it,” Mather says. “I’m sure it’s where he got the idea to do up a car and take it to England. Over the course of the weekend, and I’m not joking, he would have spent about three hours with me. He said to me, ‘Peter, you mean to tell me that you won your rst race in this car and set lap records at Baskerville and Symmons Plains – why didn’t go on and pursue your career?’ I said to him, ‘but I’m only me and I had no money,’ and he said, ‘but you nd people to back you!’”
In 1967 and ’68, Gary Nolan and few mates in their Cooper Ss took the trip to Bathurst for the October enduro in 1967. They didn’t get to see a repeat of the glorious rst-to-ninth Cooper S whitewash from ’66, but they did witness the dawn of the Aussie muscle car era on the Mountain and, in the second year, the beginning of the on-track battle between Holden and Ford that would de ne top level motor racing in Australia for most of the next 50 years. Here are some of Gary’s pics from both races, showing a track not much different from today’s other than the absence of concrete walls – and little different crowd-wise.
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Left: Mather’s home-made steering wheel was reunited with the restored car, along with the dash-mounted tacho (with Dymo maximum revs warning sticker).