Australian Muscle Car - - Back In The Day -

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!’”

Gary Nolan

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.

By email: am­ced­i­to­rial@chevron.com.au

Snail mail: Pun­ters Pics, Chevron Pub­lish­ing Group, Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards, NSW 1590

(above), was

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).

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