Every October since the 1960s, couches across Australia would fill with humans of diverse age and gender to watch an event known simply as ‘Bathurst’. This year, things will be different; our ever-present Pandemic forcing the Great Race back to December with the flag not dropping until around lunchtime.
Things were different in 1963 when a big field of unmodified production cars was launched down Pit Straight on a 500-mile (approximately 800 kilometre) journey around one of the most daunting race circuits in the world.
Mount Panorama at 174 metres wasn’t much of a mountain, but the tourist road that snaked up and across its peak had been challenging the country’s best drivers and motorcyclists since 1938.
The 500 Mile production car event originated in 1960 at Phillip Island in Victoria, but higher speeds as the cars became more powerful wrecked the surface and sent the event to the more durable Bathurst layout.
For 1963 the fastest cars were V8 Studebakers and new EH Holdens but most consistent were the Ford Cortinas. The British model would continue to dominate until 1965, with a GT500 version in ’65 running a modified engine and brakes plus twin fillers for their oversized fuel tanks to cut time spent refuelling. The era of the ‘Bathurst Special’ had arrived.
For the 1967 event, Ford announced a powerful GT version of its V8 Falcon but managed to still only beat the 1.6-litre Alfa Romeos by half a lap. A year later, Holden joined the party with its 5.3-litre GTS Monaro and sparked a Holden vs Falcon rivalry that would last until local production of both brands ceased.
In the beginning it wasn’t just about who had more power. Tactics played a pivotal role as well. Ford’s weapon of choice from 1970 until 1972 when the race regulations changed was the 5.7-litre Falcon GTHO while Holden fielded the lighter, more nimble Holden Torana XU1. Also, in the mix for outright contention from 1971 was the six-cylinder Chrysler Charger.
Political concerns about super powerful production cars being sold to the public prompted introduction of Improved Production rules, which allowed race teams to take a basic showroom model and equip it for racing without the manufacturer needing to produce a specified number of identical vehicles.
It wasn’t just Holdens and Falcons contesting 1960s-80s events either. There were fast and noisy Mazda rotaries, Ford Escorts, Datsuns and even BMC Minis. For a joke one year, the late Bob Jane nominated a two-tonne Mercedes-Benz 600 limousine and some competitors were worried he might actually show up with one.
Faster cars meant lower lap times and an earlier end to the race, so from 1973 the distance was extended to 1000 kilometres. On occasions when the Bathurst weather closed in and slowed the pace, it would finish in near darkness.
The era of Peter ‘King of The Mountain’ Brock began with a win in 1972 but was concentrated around the late 1970s-1980s. Between 1977 and 1987, Brock won the Great Race seven times.
From 1985 and for several years afterwards, the 1000 adopted international Group A eligibility rules. This saw turbocharged Ford Sierra Turbos replace Falcons, local and international teams fielding BMWs and a V12 Jaguar take the brand’s only Bathurst win.
Japanese models including Mazda RX7 rotaries and locally built Nissan Bluebird turbos came close to winning a couple of times but it wasn’t until the 1990s when Nissan’s ‘Godzilla’ GTR took back-to-back victories that parochialism erupted.
From 1993, the race was run under regulations that virtually guaranteed the winning vehicle would be a V8-engined Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon. Smaller engined models were allowed, but turbos and all-wheel drive were banned.
For 1995 the switch to a formula now known as V8 Supercars began. The only cars eligible were V8 Holdens or Fords, with a separate two-litre SuperTourer event for the smaller models.
From then until 2013, the Holden vs Ford V8 combat raged, but introduction of New Generation V8 Supercar rules saw other brands become eligible. Providing their mechanical specification matched the Holden and Ford benchmarks, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Volvo were included but never posed a serious threat to the local players.
Two years after Ford ended local production its Falcon became ineligible to race in Supercar events and stylised versions of the US-built Mustang took over. Once General Motors ended imports of the Opel Commodore, its tenure was limited too and from 2022 the ‘red’ contender in the Ford vs GM battle will be based on a Chevrolet Camaro.
Enthusiast Insurance clients may even own a ‘Bathurst’ model and not know it. Escorts, Datsuns and Corollas were frequent class winners, while everything from Mini Coopers to Chevrolet Camaros and Mazda RX7s had a go for outright.
Cars that won the event, especially when driven by household names like Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Craig Lowndes and Jim Richards, in most cases found their way into prominent collections and have become very valuable. However, there could be others lying idle in sheds or workshops waiting to be discovered.
If you find a classic racer or anything automotive and interesting it will need insurance and Enthusiast Insurance is available 24/7 to help. Buy a car online at 2am and you can immediately insure it by logging onto www.enthusiast.com.au and spending a couple of minutes getting a quote under the Enthusiast ‘Drive Less….Spend Less’ policy.
Accept our terms and your cover can commence immediately, with payments deducted monthly from a credit or debit card with no additional fee.