The Great Race 1970 – Battle of the big guns

A crowd guessed at around 50,000 saw a clear Ford victory in a race of changing fortunes, that had three different makes in the lead at different times. But many would have gone home disappointed, for the race that started and finished spectacularly, almost died in the middle.

Almost everybody won at Bathurst. Ford drove to a tactical “slow-as-possible” victory, with Allan Moffatt cruising the big GT over the line 1 min 20 secs slower than last year’s race under the careful direction of Big Blond Al Turner. And the General won Class C, which is all it claimed it would do anyway. Chrysler got a Class win and lots of kudos for almost finishing third, and even Castrol won when its new GTX motor oil was placed first in four classes.

But there were some big losses too. The spectators and television viewers lost heavily in a race that was largely dreary after the first two hours. The private Fords came all undone – seven “dead marines” in less than two hours, Firth lost his outright chances with over-revved engines and stretched valves, Toyota and Mazda lost the vital “small car sales class” to Nissan, and the ARDC, immaculate as always in organisation, lost any chance of recognition as a great promotional body. I also lost money when the Fords won.

If there was a big disappointment at Bathurst, it wasn’t in the outcome of line honours – Ford, Turner, Moffatt and McPhee had a deserved victory. The let-down was in the ARDC’s promotion and execution of Australia’s greatest race. Right up to race weekend, ARDC officials openly denied that either Toranas or Pacers had any outright chance. On laps one to six, when Bond’s Torana led it was hard to pick where the largest glow of red faces came from – the Ford pits or the ARDC tower.

Firth and GM built a car that was intended purely as an outright contender. Both cleverly disguised its purpose behind Class C qualification and completely deluded the ARDC which failed to capitalise on the magnificent “David and Goliath” promotional opportunities. Consequently, a largely un-enlightened public were amazed when the Toranas showed their true purpose and only came undone when they challenged the Ford to a “first-to-break” contest, and also boo-booed with the race eligibility and qualification. Literally dozens of top-ranked drivers were unseeded, and the whole farcical arrangement of grid position allocation was thrown into its true light when poor Scott McNaughton drove his Torana GTR XU-1 into fifth spot on the grid but failed to get a start on race-day as his reserve number didn’t qualify him.

The ARDC is to be congratulated for its organisational advances. Its official-power was suitably improved on last year’s event to cope with a record crowd estimated at around 50,000. Its decision to switch to a 2/2 grid avoided the unnecessary first lap “desperate” which contributes nothing to a marathon event and runs tremendous risks in terms of broken machinery.

The hard-luck stories of the weekend were topped by Doug Chivas (Valiant Pacer 2BBL) and Tony Roberts (Ford Falcon GT HO). Chivas had third spot in his pocket when a freaky last-corner-last-lap right rear tyre blowout sent him hobbling across the line 20 seconds ahead of winner Allan Moffat, and forced another lap on him – costing him third to Don Holland’s Torana. Tony Roberts, sitting in a cushy third with five laps to go, apparently locked a front-left brake and popped end-for-end over Skyline, landing right way up, but wrong side of the fence and in no condition to continue anyway.

The Toranas which made the pace for the first two hours, spearheaded by Cold Bond, retired for new heads after the valves stretched (but kindly avoided re-routing through the pistons into the sump). Moffat and McPhee made it a no-doubt one-two for Ford and Holland kept the Torana name intact a short one-lap down, ahead of the luckless Chivas Valiant Pacer followed immediately by Geoghegan/Ledddingham (Valiant Pacer 2BBL) Garth/Hall (Torana GTR XU-1), Des West/Peter Brown (Valiant Pacer 4BBL), Brian Reed (Torana GTR XU-1), John Goss/Bob Skelton (Falcon GT HO) and Gracie/Gillard (Torana GTR XU-1) to round up the first 10.

The outright retirements were also revealing – seven GT HOs blown, and one biffed, two biffed Toranas (Keran and Grose), and one Monaro GTS 350 into a fence. Some of the retirements listed casually on the IBM computer as “oil pressure problems” made fascinating investigation – at least two of them had totally unsalvageable engine blocks.

From the bottom-up, the classes sorted themselves almost from the start. “A” class was a Datsun victory, but far from a Datsun benefit. The Tapsall/Leighton Datsun 1200 ran strongly, but still had a Mazda 1300 (Haenhle/Revell) on the same lap at the flag. It was backed by the Mazdas of Leffler/Hodge in third and Ferguson/Laing-Peach in fifth, with a lone Corolla (Sampson/Thurston) spliced between them. The Carne/Leeds Mazda was the major victim of a Conrod braking area tangle with John Roxburgh, backed by the other major A class victim. John Roxburgh, who was finally eliminated in his Datsun 1200 in a top-of-the-mountain collision with Gary Cooke’s Corolla on lap 98.

In B Class, the Don Smith and Doug Whiteford cars made no mistake about a Datsun victory to double their class honours. Westbury/Marquet pushed the lone Cortina to a very creditable and consistent third ahead of the Forbes/Finlay Fiat 128. The Graham Moore Torana S retired with the top off a piston.

Don Holland was the private champion of C class beating the works’ 2BBL Pacers into second and third (Chivas and Geoghegan) one pit stop each, ahead of six straight Toranas – proving the point on longevity. They ranged from Garth, Reed and Gracie who figured in the outright top 10 down to Spencer Martin, Christine Cole/Sandra Bennett and Col Bond who lost 36 minutes to replace the head but still beat the first Escort Twin Cam home. The girls lost 16 minutes in the pits after a minor bingle in Forest Elbow but still finished on 124 laps – proving they would have been near top five for outright but for the incident.

Chrysler made no mistake about D class, putting four-barrels into first and second with Des West/Peter Brown, and Alan Cant/Bob Cook doing the honours. The Fiat 125S of Kearns/Lister and the Culcheth/McLeod Triumph 2.5 couldn’t make the pace finishing many laps down on the first placings. Beechey retired his four barrel with a broken timing chain.

In the Big Gun Class, six GT HOs beat the lone BMW 2800 to the flag, with a lap variation of 14 rounds from first to seventh. The top runners after the works Fords were Goss/Skelton, Tholstrup/Ford, Holden/Fanning, Meehan/Wherrett and Magic/O’Keefe in the BMW.

The race was slightly slower than the 1969 event and even the practice times didn’t match the mark of the previous year – proving only that 1970 was the year of the big outfox effort. Col Bond set fastest race lap in his Torana GTR XU-1 at 2 min 54 sec.

Next year we hope the ARFC will allow some proper promotional body to take over the publicity and advertising for the event. We also hope there will be a qualifying weekend as promised – to eliminate the ridiculous situation that allows 14 GT HOs (six finished) and 12 Torana GTR XU-1s (10 finished) to start, some crewed with second rank drivers while top drivers entered in competitive cars in the vital minor classes don’t get a start.

The answer could be a simple 12-per-class qualifying competition – with the fastest 12 in each class getting the grid spots. If any class is being under-supplied (and we can’t see that if the classes are broken up evenly), the balance of positions could be spilled into the other classes.

Last year drivers, sponsors, manufacturers, entrants, journalists and good old GP gave the ARDC their views at invited conferences on the race – but most of the major points were ignored. This year we hope it will be different. For 1971, we want to see a real Bathurst event representing true competition between the cars available on the Australian market, with a realistic and balanced competition for outright honours at the tope. How about it, Jack?

Reproduced from WHEELS Magazine, December 1970