BET­TER WITH AGE

FOR­MULA FORD DRIVER’ S RE­TIRE­MENT PLAN

New Zealand Classic Car - - FRONT PAGE - Words and pho­tos: Quin­ton Tay­lor

R ecently re­tired from his Ti­wai Smelter job, Dave Har­ris will now be able to spend more time work­ing on some­thing spe­cial in his garage. It will not be long be­fore he cel­e­brates 30 years’ own­er­ship of his John­ston For­mula Ford (FF). He’ll still get in some quiet mo­ments fly fish­ing, but, last sea­son, he set his best ever time at Tere­tonga Park Race­way, In­ver­cargill, in the open­ing meet­ing of the sea­son, with a 1min 7.9s time around the chal­leng­ing South­ern cir­cuit. “I love driv­ing it. It’s fun. It’s an easy car to drive, and very en­joy­able,” Dave says, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing grin say­ing it all. Built in New Zealand for the fledg­ling For­mula Ford class Dave’s John­ston FF, chas­sis num­ber 05, was built by Johnny and Bob John­ston in Christchurch in the 1970s. “This car was com­pleted for Wally Austin, who wanted some­thing for his sons Garth and Shaun to drive. It is still Brab­ham based, but the front sus­pen­sion is dif­fer­ent, with the top wish­bones re­placed with links and a ra­dius rods,” he says. The body on 05 is orig­i­nal, as the John­stons changed it to a fi­bre­glass copy of the orig­i­nal John­ston 01 alu­minium body.

“It’s lasted pretty well, al­though I have had it up­side down once,” he laughs.

He has thor­oughly en­joyed rac­ing it over the now nearly 30 years since he first bought it, say­ing, “I bought it off John Craw­ford in 1990. He had an ’86 Van Diemen that Jim Spil­lane in Ti­maru wanted and Jim had this John­ston. John traded it on the Van Diemen.”

Tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the car was not en­tirely straight­for­ward, as there was a bit of work to do. “John had to build a new mo­tor for it, as the pre­vi­ous mo­tor was in a mil­lion pieces, more than it should have been be­cause of a bro­ken crank­shaft. I picked it up in July 1990, and, ba­si­cally, I’ve raced it ever since,” he says. There were a few teething is­sues, in­clud­ing a ma­jor mo­tor blow-up and a few mi­nor engine is­sues, which were even­tu­ally sorted. A few more horses, and some re­ward “It’s never had a For­mula Ford– spec mo­tor in it. It’s al­ways had the wrong camshaft. The pre­sent mo­tor is run­ning a mild Kent cam and il­le­gal dual valve springs, plus all the other bits

that go with it, so I’m get­ting a few ex­tra horse­power out of it. It’s also over-bored 60 thou, which isn’t le­gal ei­ther, but it does make good horse­power,” Dave ex­plains.

He has been suc­cess­ful at many lo­cal events, in­clud­ing the Gore Vin­tage Car Club ( VCC) hill climbs and Nga­para (a com­bined event be­tween the Otago Sports Car Club and North Otago VCC) in the VCC class. Some of his best re­sults in­clude win­ning the South­land Sports Car Club (SSCC) Sports/ Rac­ing Car cham­pi­onship back in 1994–’95 at Tere­tonga. This showed just how the sum of im­prove­ments were con­tin­u­ally adding to the car’s per­for­mance, and he won the same tro­phy again in the 2015–’16 sea­son. A small gap be­tween win­ning the sil­ver­ware!

“I’ve had some suc­cesses with the car. It’s never gone par­tic­u­larly fast, but it’s al­ways been good fun,” he tells us. As with any race car, long hours in the garage are usu­ally re­quired to rec­tify prob­lems. “There has been some sus­pen­sion re­build­ing re­quired. The last ac­ci­dent was when I flipped it over and it needed re­build­ing. Luck­ily, I’ve got jigs for most of the sus­pen­sion items. I also re­build all my own mo­tors and do all my own main­te­nance,” he says.

Dave has raced the John­ston on most South Is­land race tracks, in­clud­ing at High­lands Mo­tor­sport Park last April.

Dif­fer­ent view

Dave’s wife Bar­bara has a dif­fer­ent view on mo­tor rac­ing and doesn’t fol­low the sport with quite the same en­thu­si­asm, al­though she likes to see it re­turn in one piece: “He comes back from rac­ing, and I ask him if the car is al­right, and then I ask him if he’s al­right,” she says, laugh­ing.

De­spite be­ing late-’60s tech, the John­ston is still a rea­son­ably quick cir­cuit car, with Dave’s per­sonal best lap time last sea­son around Tere­tonga be­ing very re­spectable. “It’s not su­per quick, and, with­out me in it, weighs only 395kg,” Dave tells us. “About four years ago, I bor­rowed Barry Leitch’s cor­ner weights to set it up, and that’s when we found that it is very light. It’s ac­tu­ally un­der For­mula Ford weight.”

When asked if he in­tends keep­ing the car for a while, since he en­joys it so much de­spite a bit of rib­bing from Bar­bara, he replies, “Oh yes, I’ve got to put some nice new tyres on it for this sea­son, and it will be ready to go.”

Last sea­son, run­ning a day af­ter the en­durance race, the track was clean, which en­abled Dave to set a per­sonal best time: “I had a good run in qual­i­fy­ing last sea­son at the open­ing round with 1min 7.9s lap, my best yet. I didn’t think I was go­ing that quick, so it was a sur­prise when I got that time.”

A few oil-pump is­sues, a clutch and hy­draulic prob­lems have also been solved. Bur­ton pis­tons have been fit­ted along with a lit­tle ex­trav­a­gance — a Bur­ton rocker cover to dress up the engine — but, for its age, this is a well-used and well-pre­served slice of New Zealand mo­tor rac­ing his­tory.

A lit­tle bit of his­tory

Dave has col­lated a lit­tle bit of his­tory on the John­ston cars. Most ap­pear to have sur­vived and are still raced.

Johnny and Bob John­ston built just nine chas­sis in Christchurch. Their first car was a Brab­ham BT21 that Les Jones had crashed at Rua­puna. The Brab­ham was a Na­tional FF cham­pi­onship car fit­ted with a Lo­tus twin­cam engine of 1500cc. That car was kept as a Brab­ham de­sign. Johnny and Bob were part of the Jones team at the time. Their next car was also a crashed Brab­ham, be­ing the car owned by Lau­rence Brown­lie, which he had crashed when he tan­gled with Denny Hulme at Pukekohe in Jan­u­ary 1968. The car had sat for some time, and it was even­tu­ally re­built to be­come John­ston FF 01. Ba­si­cally a Brab­ham chas­sis de­sign with its own alu­minium body, the car was one of the very first FFS in the South Is­land. Now owned by Keith Cowan of Christchurch, it is a reg­u­lar run­ner at the Clas­sic Speed­fest at Tere­tonga, now with a replica Brab­ham body in­stead of the orig­i­nal John­ston, which was start­ing to show its age.

John­ston FF 02 was built for Norm Smith, who did very well with the car, tak­ing sec­ond in the Na­tional For­mula Ford Cham­pi­onship in the 1972–’73 sea­son. It was re­built by the John­stons and given a new chas­sis num­ber, 07. The car was now owned and raced by Snow Chisholm. The third car, 03, was built for Stephen An­der­son and re­sides in Eng­land. It was brought out to New Zealand a few years ago and raced in clas­sic speed-fest events. The next car built by the John­stons was a dif­fer­ent de­sign, with a square-tube chas­sis. It was sold as a bare chas­sis but never com­pleted. John­ston 05, the car com­pleted for Wally Austin, is the sub­ject of this ar­ti­cle. Well looked af­ter by Dave, it looks set for a lot of rac­ing dis­tance yet. John­ston 06 was a works car for Bob to drive, and, ini­tially, it was sim­i­lar to 05. A num­ber of mod­i­fi­ca­tions have been made to it, with a change of shape us­ing a Van Diemen body but re­tain­ing the John­ston nose. Dun­can Wright of Queen­stown owns it and also has the moulds taken from the orig­i­nal alu­minium body. John­ston 08 was built some time later, and raced by John Dou­glas of Dunedin. It was based on a 1980 Van Diemen. John had a lot of suc­cess with this car, and won the New Zealand FF Class 2 cham­pi­onship. The last time it was seen, it was owned by Clive Kirk­land of Dunedin. John­ston 09, the fi­nal car, also had a Van Diemen–based body but with nu­mer­ous changes, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing side-mounted ra­di­a­tors. Bob John­ston was rac­ing it in

“It’s lasted pretty well, al­though I have had it up­side down once,” he laughs. He has thor­oughly en­joyed rac­ing it over the now nearly 30 years since he first bought it

1990 when Dave pur­chased 05 in 1990, and he saw it be­ing raced by Steve Don­ald­son of Christchurch. For­mula Ford in New Zealand The first FF cham­pi­onship in New Zealand was won by David Ox­ton in 1972 in an Aus­tralia Elfin 600. Oth­ers to be­gin their ca­reers in the class in­cluded Craig Baird, Ash­ley Stitch­bury, Scott Dixon, Leroy Steven­son, Fabian Coulthard, Johnny Reid, Daniel Gaunt, Richie Stan­away, and An­dre Heim­gart­ner. South Is­land For­mula Ford Rac­ing in the South Is­land For­mula Ford (SIFF) se­ries be­gan in earnest in 1981, and the cheap for­mula quickly at­tracted good en­tries from young driv­ers ea­ger to en­ter sin­gle-seater rac­ing. It proved to be a very good learn­ing ground for South Is­land driv­ers to en­ter the na­tional se­ries.

The SIFF se­ries also caters for all ages of FF in cham­pi­onship classes held over six meet­ings, with three races at each cir­cuit at Mike Pero Mo­tor­sport Park, Rua­puna; Ti­maru In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Race­way; and Tere­tonga. Well-known SIFF driv­ers in­clude Ja­son Richards, Brent Collins, Daniel Gaunt, Ken Smith, Dave Mcmil­lan, Paul Ra­disich, Greg Mur­phy, Si­mon Wills, John Craw­ford, Andy Neale and Ross Stone.

SSCC driver Jor­dan Michels in a My­gale placed sec­ond and Steve Hef­fer­nan in his Stealth placed fifth over­all in the SIFF Cham­pi­onship for the 2016–’17 sea­son.

Left: By a nose: slim lines and an at­trac­tive shape of the John­ston Be­low: Not a bad day: 2015 Josephville Hill­climb en­trants re­lax af­ter a great day out in the sun — tro­phy and over­all win­ner Dave Har­ris is in the front row at right Be­low left:...

Above: Easy work: ev­ery­thing ma­jor is easy to work on in the John­ston Be­low: Smok­ing it: Dave Har­ris drops the clutch on the start line at the Josephville Hill­climb in 2015

Above: Mixed bunch: va­ri­ety in the Josephville Hill­climb: the John­ston FF with the Ryan V8 Spe­cial fol­lowed by the Tay­lor Morris Mi­nor Be­low: An­tic­i­pa­tion: Dave Har­ris looks for­ward to an early start for the sea­son

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