In 1964 Ford brought out one of the most influential cars of the century, the Mustang. The car was a huge marketing triumph with over one million sold in its first two years. The car also had almost instant success on the racetrack with the help of Texan chicken farmer and Cobra founder Carroll Shelby and his highly professional Shelby American racing team.
The Mustang didn’t go unnoticed in Australia. In early 1965 Norm Beechy debuted his new Neptune sponsored Mustang. (Which was the first mustang to win a circuit race anywhere in the world.) After overcoming the initial handling problems the Mustang was a success on the track.
It easily outclassed the likes of Bob Jane in his 4.1 Jaguar and Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan in his little black lightweight Cortina.
That prompted both Bob and Pete to go to California, USA in search of a couple of new Mustang’s to race in the Australian Championship. Bob had very good ties is in the motor industry and had acquired a formal letter of introduction from Ford Australia to state their interests in genuinely racing the Mustangs in Australia. The obvious choice for the two would-be Mustang drivers would have been the brand new GT-350/R model Mustang. This was the racing version of the Shelby GT 350 road car. This car would not however be allowed to race in the Australian Improved Production Group ‘C’ rules as it was a fastback body. (It wasn’t until 1966 that Shelby produced a notchback Mustang specifically for racing in the new Trans Am series. A few of these found their way to both New Zealand and Australia in 66, 67and 68.) Unable to get a hardtop body through Shelby American both racers acquired their Mustang’s through the local dealership, Holmes Tuttle Ford. Bob’s was Wimbledon white and Pete’s was his then traditional black
Their next stop was Shelby American, and a meeting with Caroll Shelby to acquire all the latest R model racing parts to put into their newly acquired Mustangs. It all didn’t go as planned however, and after countless hours of waiting to meet Shelby, Bob marched up to his office with his letter from Ford to let it be known that he was not too happy with the Texans hospitality. However Shelby headed him off with “Where have you guys been, we’ve been waiting for you!” Then in his typical Texan exuberance stated, “You guys have got to be looked after” and promptly told the bloke in charge of the New Parts area to “give these guys anything they want!” That proved just to be the catalyst the Australians needed to get the ball rolling. (When talking to Pete about facts for this story, he mentioned how he saw a 100 of the new GT 350’s all lined up out the back of Shelby’s facility to be checked by the Sports Car Club of America for the homologation of the R model.) They were given the run of the parts depot. This caused quite a bit of concern in the factory with constant phone calls going back to Shelby’s office only to be returned by “let them have anything they want!” They both left Shelby American with the necessary race parts to make their Mustangs into winners.
Both cars arrived in different boats; Bob’s went straight to Melbourne and consequently arrived first. Pete’s went to Sydney. When Pete was unloading his Mustang from the boat, he received a phone call from his brother Leo to tell him that they had just acquired full sponsorship from the petroleum giant ‘Total’. Getting the sponsorship also meant that Pete had to paint his much loved black car white. The conversion to white with red and blue stripe paint job was done by Bo Seton.
While at Shelby American Pete had ordered a full house motor for his Mustang. He still distinctly remembers the day in their engine shop when he specifically asked for an Engle 338 roller cam to be put in the engine. Shelby’s guys said that “we don’t like to use that cam” but they would use it as Pete insisted on it. As it turned out the engine put out 405 bhp, about 20 hp more than Shelby’s guys had been able to get previously. Bob didn’t get an engine from Shelby, instead believing that he could build a better one back in Australia.
For the 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) Bob’s brand new car got pole position. As the race went on however he had to retire due to overheating. Norm Beechy went on to win the ATCC that year. Pete’s car was still in one million pieces due to be meticulous preparation by Pete’s ace mechanic, John Shepherd. To give you some sort of an idea of the work that was put into this Mustang; all the major components of the car were sent away to be crack tested and because of this they went through a total of 84-conrod bolts till they had a set that was Perfect! It was this sort of preparation that was to help make the car and driver the greatest in the land.
Pete’s first event at Calder Raceway in the Mustang was held with great trepidation, he had serious doubts that the car would be competitive against the other Mustangs. It was only from the pleading of the then owner of Calder Raceway; Jim Pasco that Pete attended the racing meet. As it turned out Pete’s fears were unfounded and to use Pete’s own words “he blew them into the weeds”.
This was to be the start of a never to be seen again racing era. Pete and his Mustang were an unstoppable duo, winning him practically everything that could be won with a touring car. His record goes as follows: 1966 Australian Touring Car Champion, New South Wales Touring Car Champion, Victorian Touring Car Champion, Queensland Touring Car Champion, holder of the touring car lap record at every circuit he raced on, the 1966 AJC trophy at Warwick Farm, the 1966 Gold Star Touring Car Series at Lakeside. And best of all, from a total of 74 starts the car managed 68 outright wins. This remarkable record was to be posted in the Guinness book of records.
In the Mustangs competitive period very few major modifications were ever made to the car. Only minor modifications such as under bonnet air intakes, to maximise the airflow to the Weber carburettors and special cooling fins put on the brake drums that were all fabricated by John Shepherd.
In November 1965, Bob’s Mustang was written off in a huge accident at Catalina Park. He was very lucky to survive this accident, after a rear axle snapped at over 200 kilometres and hour.
In late 1966 Pete acquired sponsorship from the multinational Castrol oil company that entailed another colour change in the cars war paint.
Gone were the red and blue stripes of the Total colours and in came the familiar green stripes that were to be passed on to his next great Mustang, the 1967 GTA.
The 1967 GTA
By early 1967 the 65 Mustang was at its limit of development, so Pete set about getting his new Mustang, the 67 model ready to race. He sold the 65 to New Zealander Rod Coppins. Rod was a familiar face in New Zealand racing circles and even came to Australia to campaign the car in the 1967 ATCC. When Pete sold Rod the car he specifically told him, “don’t change a bloody thing!” So Rod didn’t, he did his best with the car but was unable to emulate the success of Pete (not to say there wasn’t any serious competition in New Zealand at that time, with Paul Fahey in his 1966 Shelby Trans Am notchback and Red Dawson in his 1967 Shelby Trans Am notchback).
While attending a race meet at Lakeside International Raceway, Rod queried Pete on the car not being as competitive as he had hoped (thinking that something had been changed before he took possession of it.) Pete hopped in the car and did a few quick laps of the circuit. By the time he came in, he had managed to lower the track record by a full second. That promptly stopped any talk of changes that had been made to the car!
Rod kept and raced the car until 1970, when he sold it to Glen Walmsley, a big fan of both Pete and the Mustang. Glen used the car as daily transport for a number of years. (Still with the race engine and all the original race parts in order!!) A series of circumstances had Glen put the still unmolested Mustang into storage, all the while intending to restore it back to its racing glory days. The car sat in a number of different secretive locations for the next 22 years.
Many stories had filtered back to Australia, over the years, that the car was now landfill in New Zealand. In early 1998 Terry Healy from The Oldtimer Garage began to enquire in New Zealand (for David Bowden) after the car. Armed with the chassis number and the last known registration number of the Mustang, Terry began his search for the car. It was only when talking to a Mustang enthusiast, Ross Walker, in Auckland, that Terry became aware that it was likely that Pete’s Mustang was alive, still in the very protective hands of Glen Walmsley. With only an old address obtained from Ross both David and Terry went to N.Z. to try and find Glen along with the truth on the Mustangs whereabouts
Upon arriving and meeting Glen at his workshop David and Terry were nonetheless sure that Glen had ever owned the Famous Mustang. Then Glen pulled out the registration documents of the Mustang, (all cars, including racing cars, had to be registered by New Zealand law); it showed the trail back to Rod Coppins from when he brought the car back in 1970. Also tucked away in his workshop were various bits and pieces that could only have been off Pete’s Mustang. They knew they were close. Glen however rejected any ideas of them being actually allowed to go and see the car. It wasn’t until a second trip to New Zealand that Terry and David actually got to see the car. When they first saw the body it showed the signs of Glen’s aborted attempts over the years to restore it. But amazingly it was still in fantastic original condition with all the special race parts from Shelby American and John Shepherd.
Nonetheless, it was still a very hard decision for Glen to part with the Mustang. It was only through a personal letter from Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan, with the assurance of a good home in David’s collection of Australian touring cars that the car finally came back home to Australia.
The restoration was a comparatively easy one, with the utmost care being taken to use many of the original parts from the car. After about six months of restoration, (Very much like the work John Sheppard did on the car when it first arrived at his workshop in ’65) the much-celebrated old Mustang was finally reunited with its famous driver ‘Pete’ Geoghegan. After thirty years of separation, Pete once again pushed the ‘old girl’ along to do more than a few respectful laps at the Ipswich Raceway historic meeting.
With both the Mustang and Pete’s racing days naturally over, the Mustang is now preserved,to be remembered as an amazing part of Australia’s motor sport history. Just as it should be.