Our favourite Bathurst winners

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Words: NZ Autocar staff   |   Photos Alex Schultz
16 Oct 2020

Every October we’re enthralled by the ‘Great Race’. The Aussie enduro classic dates back to 1960 when it was known as the Armstrong 500 and took place at Phillip Island. In 1963 the race moved to a town called Bathurst, the first winner on the mountain being a Ford Cortina GT raced by Harry Firth and Bob Jane. Holden has claimed the most wins over the years however, and Peter Perfect still reigns as the King of the Mountain, his nine victories unlikely to be surpassed. Here, our Bathurst-loving staffers pick their favourite winner from the past four decades.

1971 Ford XY Falcon GTHO: Allan Moffat

The HO sweep

Lining up for the 1971 running of the Hardie-Ferodo 500, Ford’s Falcon XY GT HO phase III claimed the first seven spots on the starting grid. Factory driver Allan Moffat topped the charts with a time of 2:38.9. He was the first to go under the 2:40 mark, which was ten seconds faster than the pole time set the year before. The phase III is my favourite Bathurst winner as it’s the biggest and baddest of the showroom racers, a car built to dominate motorsport that you could buy at your local dealership. Speed was everything and the big 351 was given a massive 780cfm carb and a wild cam to boost output to somewhere in the 350hp range. Given a long range tank, plenty of ‘Handling Options’ and a semblance of added stopping power, the HO was the favourite to win, as long as it lasted. And it did, Moffat was able to control the race from start to finish, ahead of the rest by a lap at the end, covering the 500-mile race distance 20 minutes faster than the winner's time in 1970. The only drama for Moffat during the race was an empty beer box blocking the radiator grille that threatened to overheat the big Clevo. He led an XY 1-2-3, Colin Bond managing to bring his LC Torana in ahead of another two GT HOs.

One GT HO that failed to finish was that of Bill Brown. Entering the blind McPhillamy Park at 100mph, his tyre blew sending him into a barrel roll along the top of the barrier. It’s an horrific looking crash and it’s a miracle he survived given his Falcon lacked a roll cage, or any safety bits really. Lucky the Falcon’s seat broke in the accident, meaning Brown was laid flat during the ensuing mayhem that took the XY’s roof off. - Kyle Cassidy

1990 Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV: Win Percy / Allan Grice

The Podium Pig

No list of Bathurst winners would be complete without the VL SS Group A SV. Known affectionately as the ‘Walky’ or rather rudely as the ‘Plastic Pig’, it was this car that fueled my passion for the Holden brand. I love the mad styling and the fact that it is one of the last Aussie homologation specials. The bodykit was honed in a wind tunnel and reduced drag by more than 25 per cent when compared with HDT’s SS Group A. The kit weighed around 65kg and consisted of over 20 pieces, originally featuring covered C-pillar windows, though these were later disallowed by the rules. Every part was functional and helped reduce the Cd from 0.40 to 0.34. Under the ventilated bonnet resided a 4.9-litre cast iron V8 with strengthened conrods and a F5000-derived camshaft. Topped with trick heads, fuel injection and a unique twin throttle body set-up, it produced over 300kW (nearly twice that of the road car!) at 7000rpm. The engineers cunningly added a flange high up on the extractors as regulations allowed the exhaust to be modified from the first join.

The Bathurst winning car (which recently sold for an undisclosed sum) was built by TWR in England where it also made its racing debut. Tom Walkinshaw then campaigned the car at Bathurst in 1988 where it recorded a DNF due to suspension failure. The SV wasn't a great success on track, clocking up only a handful of wins in two years. But one of those was a win at Bathurst in 1990 piloted by Win Percy and Allan Grice. The HRT liviered car led the race for 41 laps and finished 15 seconds ahead of the second-placed Sierra. - Tom Gasnier

1992 Nissan BNR32 GT-R: Mark Skaife / Jim Richards

Richards tells it like it is

You’re a pack of assholes.” That’s how Gentleman Jim addressed a rather hostile crowd during one of the more memorable post-race interviews in Bathurst history. That’s thanks to the 1992 race having one of the more controversial finishes. It was stopped early due to torrential rain, the race flagged on lap 145. But due to the fact there were so many accidents on the final lap, the race was wound back an additional lap. And so the results included these retirements, including the GT-R of Skaife and Richards, which was judged the winner. This clearly didn’t sit well with the Ford and Holden fans as they booed the Nissan pairing on the podium, chanting… “bullshit”… “We want Dick! (Johnson that is)” who had passed the Nissan after it had crashed. Richards’ emotions may have got the better of him as he had just learnt his friend Denny Hulme had died earlier in the race driving his BMW M3. But he had a point. And as Skaife said… “We led the race all day… that’s the way it is”. Richards definitely let the crowd know what he thought of them.

This win was one of many to cement ‘Godzilla’ as one of the all-time greats, it dominated the 1991 and 1992 season, giving back-to-back wins at the mountain for Skaife and Richards. The Gibson Motorsport prepared GT-R was said to be the most formidable in the world, even more powerful than the Nismo cars cleaning up in the Japanese championship. However, 1992 would be the final year of the Group A era in the Aussie series. - Alex Schultz

1998 Volvo S40: Rickard Rydell / Jim Richards

A win by seconds

Getting into motorsport in the mid-1990s, the debate of the time - V8s versus the 2.0-litre super touring invasion - was lost on me. The V8 Supercars and Australian Super Touring were just two categories with very different cars. As a kid, you latch onto the simple stuff and super touring appealed to me because of the different cars and noises. The gearbox of the McLaren-developed BMW 320i made a shrill ear-tearing scream. The Audi A4 produced a matter-of-fact note dominated by the induction bellow. And the V6 Ford Mondeo sounded like three or four different cars all rammed together. Then there was the Volvo S40. Its extra cylinder gave its 236kW donk an uneven, raspy-but-refined note that sounded like nothing else on the planet. For the ‘rebel’ 1998 Bathurst 1000, Volvo flew in three A-grade touring-car stars and a pair of S40s from its BTCC assault. Having cleaned up in the UK, Rickard Rydell then underlined the extent of his talents by throwing down a 2:14.948 in the shootout, a Lap of the Gods-style whipping of the locals.

Ironically, for all the star power in the line-up, most of the attention was on the one ‘local’ in the Volvo fold — Jim Richards. Jim’s son Steven was part of Nissan’s factory effort; a lone Primera he would share with Matt Neal. Media loved the ‘father versus son’ narrative, and come Sunday that’s exactly how the race played out. At a time when races were still generally well and truly ‘decided’ by the last few dozen laps, the 1998 2.0-litre race was one of the first true nail-biters. The lead Volvo and lead Nissan were at war with each other for the entire day, rarely separated by any more than a few seconds on track. And that’s all that decided it in the end — two measly seconds. - Matthew Hansen

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