- This thing started it! The Ford Cortina GT500

    Part 1 - How a Motor Race Started One of the Biggest Car Controversies Ever

    The Improved Production era of the Bathurst 1000 caused the rise of the "Homologation Special" which set off one of racing's biggest controversies

    NOTE: Once again, this article got too long and I had to break it up into parts LOL. I made a DriveTribe to write about cars so if I nerd out, that's what we get... anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this and part 2 will be out shortly!

    It was 1965, the Armstrong 500 mile saloon car race had grown into a nationwide event in the five years since its inception. The first "Homologation Special" entered the race, the Ford Cortina GT500. It dominated, but little did Ford know that the GT500 set in motion what would become one of Australia's biggest controversies only seven years later.

    In 1960, Armstrong York Engineering organized a 500-mile race for standard production cars. The race was little more than a club meeting, it was held on Victoria's Philip Island racetrack, and almost every entrant was a privateer entering their daily drive. The core concept of this race was a 500-mile race for standard production cars. Add-ons like a cigarette lighter or a different center console were prohibited - only standard sedan cars were allowed to race.

    There was no outright winner until 1965, with prizes handed out based on class wins, however the first to cross the line to complete the 500 miles was a private, year-old Vauxhall Cresta driven by John Roxburgh and Frank Coad. The only manufacturer to enter works car that year was the British Motor Company entering two Morris Majors and three Austin Lancers... In other words five of the same car under different names.

    Morris Major or Austin Lancer? Nobody knows... because they were the same car...

    Morris Major or Austin Lancer? Nobody knows... because they were the same car...

    The race almost died out after 1961, but clever marketing from the sponsors, Armstrong York Engineering, promoted the race as "the viewer can choose which car to buy from their performances in this race" and from then on, public interest dramatically increased and big companies began to run cars, the Ford Motor Company entering in 1962, and winning.

    The biggest thing about 1962 was a regulation change. In 1960 and 61, the classes were according to engine size, class A being under 750cc, and going up from there. The regulations changed in 1962 to the cars being classed by price, class A was under $900, and so on until class D which was $1201-$2000, with the budget cap so as the race wasn't dominated by exotic sports cars.

    1963 was very important for a multitude of reasons. Philip Island was ruined, the track surface being so bad and bumpy that even rallying would be a hard task. Armstrong moved their race to the famous Mount Panorama track in Bathurst and struck a deal with the Seven Network to broadcast the first and last 10 laps of the race on television and radio in New South Wales. Popularity was ever-increasing, and the first signs of trouble with the system were beginning to emerge. Ford brought a new Cortina to the race, a hybrid of the stock one, and the Colin Chapman Lotus Cortina. They named it the Cortina GT and sold just enough copies to gain access to the race in class C, and the car dominated the race, winning class C and earning "first across the line honors". Chrysler also specifically engineered a limited-edition Valiant AP5 to gain access to the race under class D and won their class. Class B was also won by a specifically engineered racing car, the Mighty Mini, which had a grand battle with the original Cortina for the class win.

    Two Mini's engaging in battle

    Two Mini's engaging in battle

    By this stage, the population of Bathurst doubled every October when the race was held, and the phrase "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" began to stick. In 1964, the Cortina GT crossed the line first again, this time the Mark II, while the Mini Cooper won Class B again.

    1965 was an important year with many rule changes. The first was that the outright winner would officially be recognized as a winner, while the second was important. The amount of necessary assembled vehicles was reduced from 500 to 100 for race entry, further incentive to bend the rules, and that's just what Ford and BMC did.

    The Morris Cooper S was in the pipeline for some time, but BMC's managing director for Australia decided to assemble the 1275cc cars locally for easy entry to the 500, as it was now a nationwide event. Ford didn't want to relinquish its dominance to the little Mini, so they made the Ford Cortina GT500. The GT500 was engineered by one of Australia's greatest engineers, the wily old fox - Harry Firth, one of the few men who beat the great Jack Brabham at his own game. His golden rule was "there is no substitute for cubic capacity" was put to work on the GT500, in both engine and fuel tank size. The Mini had outright pace, but the GT500 only needed to pit for fuel once throughout the whole 500-mile race, and it was that which won them the race, even though the winning car of Barry Seton had a crash with, you guessed it, a Mini, early on.

    1966 was the year Bathurst went international, Irish tobacco company Gallaher sponsored the race for the first time, and international manufacturers like Toyota, Datsun, and Prince began to show, with international drivers like Japan's Kunimitsu Takahashi, Flying Finns Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen, and the smiling Irishman Paddy Hopkirk, all but one with nicknames. Ford pulled out because it wanted to, so Mini dominated, the Cooper S taking out the top nine outright spots, but Ford would be back in 1967.

    If you can't tell, there's an Irishman in there, a smiling Irishman! Rally ace Paddy Hopkirk

    If you can't tell, there's an Irishman in there, a smiling Irishman! Rally ace Paddy Hopkirk

    The pressure was there for manufacturers to perform well on what was now a worldwide stage, and rules were being bent more and more out of shape, stay tuned for part 2!

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