With next week’s 50th running of the Great Race at Bathurst, Irwin Racing’s Lee Holdsworth and Craig Baird were in Bathurst on Tuesday to cut laps of Mount Panorama in the Ford Cortina GT replica that won that first Armstrong 500 49 years ago.
Hopefully there will be much more of that type of thing during the four days of on-track action next week.
Fifty-eight cars lined up to face the starter in that Armstrong 500 of 1963. It was held on Sunday, October 6 – not one person in their wildest imagination would have dreamed the race would have gone this far to become such a success.
In those early days, the cars were in classes with varying prices, not engine sizes. The cars did not qualify for grid positions as they do today. Instead, they lined up in the four classes – the most expensive being 1200 to 2000 pounds – to take part in a ballot for each class to establish their grid position.
Class A was for cars that cost less than 900 pounds, with Volkswagen, Morris 850 Fiat 770 and Triumph Skaife.
Class B was for cars priced 901 to 1000 pounds, with 1.5-litre Ford Cortina, Morris Cooper, Morris Major Elite, Renault R8 and Simca Aronde.
The Class C cars were worth between 1001 and 1200 pounds, with models like the FB Holden, Ford Cortina GT and the EH Holden 179 S4s.
Class D – for the big cars worth 1,201 to 2,000 pounds – featured Chrysler Valiant, Ford Zephyr, Humber Super Snipe, Peugeot 404, Studebaker Lark, Vauxhall Velox and their VX 4/90 model.
The convoy of production cars left a spray of dust as they jockeyed for position, then, as they reached Murrays Corner for the first time, a cheer went up from the crowd.
Warren Weldon made a great run through, leading the field in the Studebaker Lark.
Following the Studebaker were Stan O’Shannesy and Kevin Bartlett, both in EH Holden S4s; Bob Jane in his Ford Cortina GT; and Leo Geoghegan in another GT Cortina.
There were many drivers of note from other categories, such as Ian Geoghegan, Barry Seton, Doug Chivas, Fred Gibson, Bob Holden, Spencer Martin, David McKay, Greg Cusack, Frank Matich, Brian Muir, Peter Manton, Brian Foley and Bruce McPhee.
The tradition had begun. It was also the start of the fierce rivalry between Ford and Holden that still exists today.
There was no official outright winner of the race in its infancy. Instead, they were racing for “line-honours”.
After winning the previous year at Phillip Island in a Ford Falcon XL, Bob Jane and Harry Firth made it back to back in their number 20 Cortina GT.
It took them seven hours and 46 minutes to cover the 500 miles.
Second over the line and first Holden home was Ralph Sach and Frank Morgan in their S4, while Bruce McPhee claimed third in another GT Cortina, with Graham Ryan as co-driver.
Class D was won by Tony Allen and Tony Reynolds in an AP5 Valiant.
Bob Jane and Harry Firth were successful in class C, while the great Doug Chivas won Class B class in a 998cc Morris Cooper’s with Ken Wilkinson.
Class A, for the toddlers, was the most exciting of the lot. Frank Kleneig Jnr in his Morris 8509 and Don Holland and Lindsay Little in their Morris 850 battled it out with the Volkswagen of Bill Ford and Barry Ferguson. It was tight right until the final corner on the final lap, when Ferguson and Little arrived into the corner together. Contact was made and Little rolled the mini on its side, while Ferguson recovered to take the flag. The mini righted to finish a brave second.
Also in the race were three Bathurst drivers: Barry Gurdon, Jerry Trevor-Jones and Warren Blomfield.
LONG-TIME Bathurst fans will be forgiven for thinking they are in a time warp as they watch the V8 Supercars roll out on track next Thursday for the first day of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Several teams will use retro livery.
Dick Johnson Racing yesterday unveiled its 2012 Bathurst look – it was very close to being identical to the way the number 17 Ford looked in 1980.
In the Great Race of 1980, Johnson had a mammoth lead in his Tru-Blu Ford Falcon when it hit a rock exiting the Cutting. An upset Johnson gave a tearful live television interview after the crash, prompting an outpouring of financial pledges from spectators, viewers and the Ford Motor Company which put him back on-track.
The team has turned James Moffat’s yellow Norton-backed Falcon into a blue Tru-Blu Falcon for the race, paying homage to the 1980 rock incident.
To be driven by Moffat and Alex Davison next weekend, the TruBlu/Norton Falcon will also carry the famous number 17 for the weekend, swapping its regular number 18 for the Bathurst event only.