Supercar scare

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The Supercar scare was a national controversy that arose in 1972 in regard to the sale to the public of high performance "race homologation" versions of Australian-built passenger cars.

The Article[edit]

The cause of the controversy was an article published in the Sydney based The Sun-Herald newspaper [1] on 25 June 1972.[2] Written by motoring journalist, Channel 7 television commentator and successful race and rally driver Evan Green and entitled "160 MPH 'Super Cars' Soon", it claimed that Australia's three major car manufacturers, General Motors-Holden's, Ford Australia and Chrysler Australia (commonly referred to as "The Big Three"), were each about to produce new models, based on family saloons but with top speeds of up to 160 mph (257 km/h) (although some rural roads at the time had no set speed limits, the maximum limit on most roads in Australia was 110 km/h (68 mph)).[3] The intent by each manufacturer was to sell at least 200 units of their respective models to the public, thus making the cars eligible for the Hardie-Ferodo 500, a major motor race held on the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales which at the time was run under Group E Series Production regulations meaning that the cars that raced had to be available for sale to the general public, though the race cars did have safety features such as roll cages and racing seat belts,[3] (the Hardie-Ferodo 500 mile race was a forerunner to the current "Bathurst 1000" event).

The Cars[edit]

The proposed models were a 320 bhp (239 kW; 324 PS), 5.0 L V8 engined version of the Holden LJ Torana GTR XU-1, the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase IV powered by a 400 bhp (298 kW; 406 PS) 5.8 L V8 engine, and an uprated version of the Chrysler Valiant Charger fitted with a 300 bhp (224 kW; 304 PS) 4.3 L Hemi-6 engine.[3]

The Ford Falcon GTHO Phase IV was a casualty of the "Supercar scare"

While testing the prototype Torana V8 in a Sports Sedan race at Bathurst during the Easter weekend in 1972, Holden Dealer Team (HDT) boss Harry Firth calculated that the car, driven by regular HDT driver Colin Bond, reached 272 km/h (169 mph) on the 2km long Conrod Straight. He also noted that the V8 was a regular road car engine (with minimal modifications) and not a blueprinted race engine. Firth ran the car in Sports Sedans (fitted with front and rear spoilers) in a successful attempt to disguise that the V8 Torana was intended to be raced in the Bathurst 500 later in the year. Firth also had team mechanic/driver Larry Perkins drive the Torana from Melbourne to Bathurst with instructions to "Go as fast as you can", with Firth in his hotted up Holden Monaro secretly following Perkins the entire way and noting that the Torana was getting away from Firth while he doing 125 mph (201 km/h). The team also ran their regular 6cyl car in the Series Production races that weekend, giving Firth a valuable guide in how much faster the V8 engined car was compared to the six (the V8 lapped over 5 seconds faster), and how it would compare to the V8 powered Ford XY Falcon GTHO Phase 3's. The V8 Torana proved to be not only faster than the Phase 3's, but around 5 seconds per lap faster than the team's 6cyl XU-1 Torana driven by Peter Brock.

Government Reaction[edit]

The article quoted New South Wales Transport Minister Milton Morris as saying that he was appalled at these cars being sold to ordinary motorists and that "if manufacturers are making these supercars available to the general public because this is a condition of eligibility for the Bathurst 500, then I think it is imperative that race organisers closely examine their rules."[3] Green went on to say that the models would introduce new standards of handling and control in Australian high performance cars and he quoted HDT boss Harry Firth as saying that the proposed Torana V8 model would be "the best handling, safest car on the road."[3]

While Firth was insistent that the V8 XU-1 handled better than the 6cyl version, HDT driver Peter Brock who also raced the car in Sports Sedans, later claimed that while the V8 was a lot faster in a straight line, its handling was terrible and he reported that in testing, the first time both he and Colin Bond gave the car full acceleration it broke the windscreen due to the V8's much greater torque.

On the following Wednesday Mr Morris said he would "seek a national ban on such cars"[4] and the following day the Queensland Minister of Transport, Mr Hooper joined in calling for a "national ban on the registration of popular make high-performance cars capable of speeds in excess of 130 mph".[4] In another announcement on that Thursday, Mr D Thomson, secretary of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), stated that regulations would be changed to discontinue all "series production car" races and allow manufacturers to race specially modified race vehicles derived from a production vehicle.[5] Thomson also said that the Bathurst 500 "had created large problems, one of the greatest of which was the marketing of the 'super-cars'".[5]

The Backdown[edit]

On Friday, 30 June, a spokesman for General Motors-Holden's announced that the company had abandoned its plans to build and race a V8 powered Torana "because of concern expressed by government leaders".[6] On the same day a spokesman for the Ford Motor Company stated that "We are considering the situation" and a spokesman for Chrysler Australia Ltd claimed that "The Charger R/T is not a super-car".[6] The following day Ford announced that it would not continue with production of its new GTHO and that the company would seek Government guidelines for the production of performance cars.[7]

On the same day Chrysler said that it had abandoned development of a V8 competition version of the Charger R/T and that it would "withdraw from "direct participation" in series production racing, including the Bathurst 500". Chrysler also reported that the V8 Charger was not intended for the 1972 Hardie-Ferodo 500, though Chrysler factory backed racing brothers Leo and Pete Geoghegan did test a ute fitted with a 5.6 L 340ci V8 engine and with the R/T Charger's wheelbase at the Mallala circuit in South Australia. The Geoghegan's reported that the extra weight of the V8 gave the car severe understeer and required earlier brake points. As a result lap times in testing were around 2-3 seconds slower than when the car was fitted with the lighter Hemi six, though it was expected that the long straights and more open nature of the Mount Panorama Circuit would better suit the more powerful V8 engined car. Pete Geoghegan also road tested the V8 ute on the country roads around the town of Mallala and reported that while the top speed was an improvement over the Hemi-6, the extra weight of the V8 did not stop the front of the car feeling 'light' at high speeds.[7]

While there was government outrage that the "Big Three" were to produce such supercars for sale in Australia, it was pointed out that those who could afford to do so could still buy high powered imported sports cars such as those made by Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar that came with performance capabilities that rivalled or surpassed the proposed Australian cars. While these cars were somewhat more expensive to buy in Australia, it was argued that drivers had as much chance of having a fatal accident in a high powered import as they did in an Australian made car.

The Aftermath[edit]

Following the shelving of the so-called "Supercars", the 1972 Hardie-Ferodo 500 went ahead under Series Production rules. The race was won by Peter Brock in a 6cyl LJ Torana GTR XU-1 for Firth's Holden Dealer Team. The following year, CAMS introduced the Group C touring car rules which would last until the end of 1984. The Bathurst 500 was also increased from 500 miles to 1000 kilometres from 1973.

Evan Green, the journalist/racer who started the Supercar Scare, was also a television motorsport commentator for Channel 7 in Sydney who were the broadcasters of the Bathurst 1000. For many years after 1972, Green was shunned or given short answers by HDT boss Harry Firth whose team had carried out all the development of the V8 Torana. Firth also claimed that he personally lost some A$55,000 of his own money on the cars, with all 4 prototypes meeting their end on the crash pad at Holden's Lang Lang proving ground. This was also true of factory Ford driver Allan Moffat who had been heavily involved in the testing and development of the Phase IV Falcon (4 were actually built and 2 are known to survive as of 2015). While Firth would later claim that Green was "No friend of mine" following the Supercar scare, Moffat softened his stance over the years and allowed Green to interview him both in the pits and also in his Melbourne workshop.

Unlike Ford and Holden, Chrysler Australia chose to pull out of racing after 1972 (though Ford did also after 1973, but returned in 1976). Chrysler did introduce both the 5.3L and 5.6L V8 engines to its luxury sedans, though both were heavily de-tuned. Ford would continue to produce its V8 powered Ford Falcon GT range until the GT was discontinued after the Ford XB Falcon, though the Falcon would continue with the V8 until Ford pulled the plug on it in 1983. Although the 5.0L V8 was already part of the larger Monaro and Kingswood range, Holden would ironically introduce the V8 to the Torana range in 1974 with the Holden LH Torana SLR/5000.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bill Tuckey, Australia's Greatest Motor Race, 1981, page 162
  2. ^ John Wright, Classic metal: Holden EH S4 Retrieved from www.uniquecarsmag.com.au on 21 January 2012
  3. ^ a b c d e Evan Green, "160 MPH 'Super Cars' Soon," The Sun Herald, Sunday 25 June 1972, pages 1 & 19
  4. ^ a b Qld joins bid to ban fast cars, The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, 30 June 1972, page 3
  5. ^ a b 'Super-car' era to end soon, The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday, 30 June 1972
  6. ^ a b GM-H quits power race, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 1972, page 1
  7. ^ a b Evan Green and Peter Allen, 'Big Three' all drop high-speed supercar plans, The Sun Herald, July 2, 1972, page 3 & 27.