In The Begining
The first Australian Touring Car Championship was held in 1960 as a single race for Appendix J Touring Cars. It was a category for modified, production based sedans.
This category was introduced by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport to take effect from January 1960.
Prior to the introduction of Appendix J, there had been no national regulations for touring car racing in Australia with individual race promoters applying differing rules regarding eligibility and modification of the cars being raced.
Under Appendix J, eligibility was restricted to closed cars with seating for four persons and at least one hundred examples of the model had to have been produced. Bodywork and interior trim had to remain virtually standard, however engines and suspensions could be modified to improve performance and handling. Modifications were permitted in the areas of carburettors, valves, pistons, camshafts, inlet systems, exhaust systems, springs and shock absorbers.
Cars competed in numerous classes based on engine capacity with the regulations allowing an increase in capacity up to the limit of the relevant class. Many highly modified cars which were no longer eligible to compete as Touring Cars found a home in another new CAMS category, Appendix K. This was ostensibly for GT cars but in reality allowed virtually any form of closed vehicle to participate.
The Australian Touring Car Championship was run to Appendix J rules from its inception in 1960 up to and including the 1964 title. This was an acknowledgement of the rising popularity of races held for passenger sedans as opposed to the more purpose built open wheel racing cars, or sports cars. The original race was held at the Gnoo Blas circuit in Orange in rural New South Wales, west of Sydney on the 1st of February 1960.
The race was won by journalist racer, David McKay racing a Jaguar saloon prepared by his own racing team, which to this point had been better known for its preparation of open wheel or sports racing Ferraris.
The early years of the ATCC saw the once a year event visit mostly rural circuits, before finally visiting a major city circuit, Lakeside Raceway on the outskirts of Brisbane in 1964. This race was also the first not won by a Jaguar saloon with Ian Geoghegan winning the first of his five titles in a Ford Cortina. From January 1965, Appendix J was replaced by a new category, Group C for Improved Production Touring Cars. Because of this change the title would largely be won by American V8 powered muscle cars, most notably the Ford Mustang which would go on to win five consecutive titles. The first victory by an Australian car was the Holden Monaro driven by Norm Beechey.
A major shift occurred in 1973. The championship had blossomed from a single race into a multi-event series in 1969, but the competition had not changed markedly. The ‘Supercar scare’ that had rocked the build up to 1972 Bathurst 500 forced sweeping changes through touring car regulations. The Improved Touring Car regulations which governed the ATCC, known at the time as Group C were amalgamated with the more basic Group E Series Production Touring Cars regulations which governed the Bathurst touring car endurance race in a compromise between the two, creating a single class for touring car racing that would hold sway of Australian Touring Car racing until the introduction of Group A in 1985.
This period saw a rise in the tribal style conflicts between Holden and Ford and in particular the two marques leading drivers, respectively Peter Brock and Allan Moffat who between them would claim seven of the eras 12 championships (and nine of the associated Bathurst victories). By the mid 1980s Group C had become wracked with infighting and almost random parity adjustments between competing marques.
Attention focussed purely on Holden and Ford had blurred as European and Japanese manufacturers joined the Australian agents of the two big American companies, the trend starting in 1981 with BMW, Mazda and Nissan. The international Group A regulations, already utilised by European and Japanese touring car series, allowed them to compete on equal terms. Holden was forced briefly into catchup phase, which they quickly did.
1992 saw the demise of Group A and with the international touring car scene fragmenting in several directions (moving towards DTM, Super Touring and Super GT) while Australia forged its own path evolving the Group A specification Holden Commodores into the new Group 3A regulations that would later be renamed and promoted as V8 Supercar.
The ATCC continued to be used until the end of the 1998 season, after which V8 Supercar organisers altered the name of the series, eventually adopting its present identity, the V8 Supercar Championship Series.
In relation to Australian motorsport, Group C refers to either of two sets of regulations devised by the Confederation of Australian Motorsport for use in Australian touring car racing from 1965 to 1984. These are not to be confused with the FIA’s Group C sports car regulations, used for many years for the World Sportscar Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Group C Improved Production Touring Car regulations were introduced by CAMS in 1965 to replace the Appendix J rules which had been in force since 1960. The Australian Touring Car Championship was run to these new rules from 1965 to 1972, initially as a single race championship and from 1969 as a multi round series. Group E regulations defining rules for Series Production Touring Car racing in Australia had previously been introduced with effect from 1 January 1964.
For 1973 CAMS introduced a new Group C Touring Car category to replace both the existing Group C and Group E. The new Group C cars would contest both the Australian Touring Car Championship and the Australian Manufacturers’ Championship, the later having previously been contested by Group E cars and run over numerous long distance events such as the Bathurst 500. The new Group C classification had been brought about by the media-driven ‘Supercar Scare’ of 1972 which lead to Ford Australia, General Motors Holden and Chrysler Australia ceasing direct involvement with the manufacture of high performance production cars for Group E racing. Both Ford and Holden would continue support of touring car racing, although in Ford’s case that would be limited to a single season.
The ATCC had expanded to 11 rounds in 1976 and 1977, but the ‘Golden Era’ often had a thin veneer as uncompetitive small engined cars bolstered entries for many years. The low point saw just nine cars competing for the Symmons Plains round in 1980. The final three seasons however were plagued by parity arguments and leading teams and drivers campaigning with officialdom over technical regulations that were increasingly losing touch with the original intent of the class. For the 1985 season CAMS replaced Group C with new regulations based on FIA Group A rules which were then in use in the European Touring Car Championship.
Vehicles were separated into various classes based on engine capacity. The ATCC used a two class system throughout the second Group C era with the field divided into Under 2000cc and Over 2000cc classes from 1973 to 1975 and then into Under 3000cc and Over 3000cc classes from 1976 to 1984. Favorable points structures were used to encourage the smaller cars but it would take until 1986, after the abandonment of Group C, for a small class car to take outright victory in the ATCC.
The Bathurst 1000, as it became in 1973, would change several times, reflecting its roots as a race where four or five individual races held simultaneously with no outright winner promoted. The 1973 version began with cut-offs at 1300cc, 2000cc and 3000cc. For the 1977 race the under 1300cc class was abandoned and a 1600cc class was introduced for the 1979 race. After a one off cylinder based system used in 1981, the two smaller classes were removed leaving just under and over 3000c. The capacity based system was abandoned entirely for the final Group C Bathurst race in 1984.
Today Group C touring cars are a spectator favourite at historic motor racing festivals, with leading drivers and cars from the era in high demand. Leading race cars are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, whereas less than a decade ago you couldn’t pay someone enough to take away your old Group C racer, with a burgoning support industry emerging including car clubs, professional magazines, parts and car care products. The largest race meeting specifically catering to historic touring cars is the Muscle Car Masters held at Eastern Creek Raceway in Sydney. The largest museum of historic touring cars available to the public for tour is the National Motor Racing Museum, sited on the outside of Murray’s Corner at the Mount Panorama Circuit at Bathurst.
In relation to motorsport governed by the FIA, Group A referred to a set of regulations providing production-derived vehicles for outright competition. In contrast to the short-lived Group B and the Group C, the Group A referred to production-derived vehicles limited in terms of power, weight, allowed technology and overall cost. Group A was aimed at ensuring a large number of privately-owned entries in races.
To qualify for approval, a minimum of 2500 cars of the competing model had to be built in one year, out of 25,000 for the entire range of the model (eg: 2500 Subaru Impreza WRX, out of 25,000 Subaru Impreza). Up to 1991, the requirement was a minimum of 5000 cars in one year, without regards to the entire range, but the FIA allowed “Evolution” models to be homologated with a minimum of 500 cars (eg: BMW M3 Sport Evo, Mercedes-Benz W201 Evo). Rules also required some of the interior panels to be retained, e.g. interior door panels and dashboard.
However, not all manufacturers who built 500 such models sold them all, some stripped the majority of them to rebuild them as stock models or used them to allow teams to use modified parts. One such example of this was Volvo with the 240 Turbo in 1985. After they had produced 500 such models, Volvo stripped 477 cars of their competition equipment and sold them as standard 240 turbo roadcars. As a result, after FISA’s failed attempt at finding an “Evolution” car in any European countries, Volvo were forced to reveal the names of all 500 “evo” owners to be permitted to compete. The other example was Ford, after selling off their entire RS500 stocks, they read the rulebooks and found themselves that rather than using either the Sierra Cosworths or the RS500s, they could use the body of the basic 3-door Sierra, which Ford was discontinuing, and use their Evolution equipment on them. Nowadays, these cars are treated as any other model in the range.
For touring car competition, vehicles such as the BMW 635CSi, Jaguar XJS, Ford Sierra RS500 and Nissan Skyline GT-R were provided. In the European Touring Car Championship, Group A consisted of three divisions, Division 3 – for cars over 2500cc, Division 2 – for car engine size that are between 1600-2500cc , Division 1 for cars that are less than 1600cc. These cars competed in standard bodykits, with the production-derived nature required manufactures to release faster vehicles for the roads in order to be competitive on the track. Tyre width were dependent on the car’s engine size.
Group A stopped being used in touring car racing in 1994, when the German Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) switched to a 2.5 L class 1 formula, while in Japan by that year as the Japanese Touring Car Championship organisers followed suit and switched classes like most other countries who had adopted the British Touring Car Championship-derived Supertouring regulations, many of the redundant Skylines found a new home in the form of the JGTC (Japanese GT Championship) with modified aerodynamic devices, showing its competitiveness whilst being up against Group C, former race modified roadcars and specially developed racers, like the Toyota Supras during the earlier years. For 1993 the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport replaced Group A with a new formula for Australian Touring Car racing. This was initially open to five litre V8 powered cars and two litre cars (later to become known as V8 Supercars and Super Touring Cars respectively). Hillclimb races still use Group A as a Touring Car class across Europe.