IN THE 1960S, SMALL BATCHES OF FORD’S NEW MUSTANG WERE IMPORTED INTO AUSTRALIA, AND IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE OUR TOP RACING DRIVERS WERE BLOODING THE NOW-ICONIC PONY CAR ON LOCAL TRACKS. STREET MACHINE LOOKS BACK AT SOME OF THE GREATEST MUSTANGS TO HAVE RACED IN AUSTRALIA
IN 1964 Norm Beechey decided to gamble his racing future on Fords’s new Mustang, resolutely believing in the performance credentials of the new American V8 coupe. The new Mustang hardtop, with its compact unitary construction, light kerb weight and powerful small-block V8 engine, had all the makings of a championship winner.
Beechey flew to the US to purchase a brand-new Mustang with the High Performance (271hp) version of the 289ci small-block V8, four-speed gearbox, front disc brakes and limited-slip diff.
However, due to overwhelming customer demand, the best he could get was a slightly used company car that Ford’s racing partner Holman-Moody was using for promo work. It had drum brakes all ’round, but at least it was in the Hi-Po V8 manual specification.
Beechey also visited the Shelby American facility at LA airport, where he ordered a full-house Cobra-spec 289 armed with four twin-choke downdraught IDA Weber carburettors on a Shelby manifold. At the time, its 375hp on the dyno was one of the biggest numbers seen from a sub-5.0-litre, production-based cast-iron V8.
The new car and engine arrived in Melbourne late in 1964, and plenty of attention was focused on making the four-wheel drum brakes last a full race without being crippled by heat-related fade.
Fitting rock-hard sintered metallic linings, drilling out the backing plates for more ventilation, and directing cooling air into the drums with aluminium ducting were the only mods allowed.
The Mustang raced away to a dazzling win and new lap record on debut at Calder Park in January 1965. Beechey also wrapped up the prestigious single-race 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship at Sandown, plus the South Australian and NSW Touring Car Championships. The Mustang era in Australian motorsport had begun.
IF STATISTICS are the measure of greatness, then this car is the greatest Australian touring car of them all. From the day they first clashed at Calder Park in August 1965, Norm Beechey’s Mustang never defeated Pete Geoghegan’s. In total, Pete won 68 races from 74 starts – 55 of them in a row!
Geoghegan’s legendary pony car started life on the production line at Ford’s San Jose plant as a 1965 Mustang hardtop, ordered with a four-speed Top Loader gearbox, nineinch 3.5:1 rear axle assembly and the rare factory K-code option (10.5:1 solid lifter, 271hp Hi-Po V8).
To save weight, this special order included deletion of the heater system and the usual sound deadening/waterproofing body compounds. It also got quicker-ratio steering, big Kelsey-Hayes 10.5-inch front disc brakes with four-pot calipers, 10-inch Galaxie rear drums and an optional ‘export brace’ that tied the front spring towers to the firewall.
Geoghegan followed Beechey’s lead in also purchasing a Shelby Cobra race engine, after being advised by US race-engine guru Keith Black to specify an Engel 338 roller camshaft in the build.
Black’s advice proved sound, as Geoghegan’s 289 small-block, fed by a quartet of 48mm twin-choke downdraught IDA Webers on a Cobra manifold, pulled 394hp at 7000rpm on the dyno.
Pete had Shelby install the race engine in his new car, as well as several other go-fast bits shared with Shelby’s GT350R Mustang fastback racecars, which were dominating US sports car racing.
These included uprated suspension, a Detroit Locker diff, a unique Shelby dash pad with integral instrument pod and a set of super-light magnesium 15x7in American Racing wheels.
Geoghegan’s Mustang was, in effect, the closest thing you could get to a GT350R with a hardtop roof – but packing a more powerful 400hp quad-Weber Cobra engine!
It wasn’t until August 1965 at Calder Park when Geoghegan finally made his debut against the well-sorted Beechey car and Bob Jane’s short-lived 1965 example. And on that day, in the main touring car event, Pete demolished the competition. It was an ominous sign of much greater destruction to come.
THE replacement for Pete’s ’65 arrived in 1967 with an update to the latest-model hardtop, which in five seasons would deliver three consecutive ATCC titles and win 89 races from 144 starts.
What started life as a Wimbledon White 289 V8 automatic hardtop on Ford’s Californian assembly line was quickly transformed into what would become Australia’s most feared touring car. The C4 auto tranny was swapped for a Top Loader and multi-plate clutch, behind a John Sheppard-built 289ci Windsor V8 fed by a quartet of Weber 48mm twin-choke downdraught IDA carburettors. Like its Shelby predecessor, this locally developed small-block was punching out close to 400hp at 7000rpm.
Geoghegan made a dazzling debut with a well-judged victory over arch-rival Beechey’s Chevrolet Nova in the single-race 1967 ATCC at Queensland’s Lakeside Raceway. The number of rival Mustangs grew rapidly, but Geoghegan remained untouchable when he raced away to his third successive ATCC title (and fourth overall) at Sydney’s Warwick Farm in 1968.
The following year the big fella claimed his fifth and final ATCC crown when the Mustang was upgraded with a 302ci Windsor V8 and more refined slide-throttle fuel injection.
The much loved Geoghegan-Mustang combination continued to be a major force throughout 1970 and 1971, although another national title proved elusive. After five seasons, Pete’s pony car was well past its prime and was sold.
ALLAN Moffat’s Trans-Am Mustang was one of only seven cars designed and built by Ford’s Kar Kraft racing division in Michigan. Through his excellent contacts at Ford, Moffat was able to secure one of these seven cars to do battle in Australia.
Hand-built by Bud Moore Engineering in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Moffat’s Mustang was equipped with the finest competition components and was the closest thing you could get to a purpose-built racecar in a production car bodyshell. Its superbly designed rollcage had immense rigidity, its reconfigured suspension generated huge levels of mechanical grip, and masterfully subtle body re-profiling gave sharper air penetration at high speeds.
Its engine, Detroit’s toughest production-based small-block V8, was effectively a compact Windsor block mated to a pair of bigbreathing Cleveland heads. The ‘Boss 302’ had a rev tolerance of 8000rpm, tailor-made for Trans-Am races that ran for more than two hours.
It had a four-bolt forged steel crank and rods, high-comp pistons, ‘dry-deck’ head sealing, roller rockers and enormous induction. On Moffat’s car, four 51mm downdraught IDA Webers produced a peak of 485hp at his self-imposed 7500rpm limit.
Pumping close to 500hp in 1969 is mighty impressive. So too is a top speed of 173mph!
Moffat never won the ATCC title in his ‘Coca-Cola’ Mustang, however it finished its six-season career with a staggering 101 wins from 151 races. It also set touring car lap records at every circuit it raced on. Still widely regarded as the most famous and desirable Australian touring car of them all.
KIWI Jim Richards is regarded as one of the best tin-top drivers in the world, and his rise to fame in Australian motorsport started with a Mustang.
Back in Auckland, Jim bought a second-hand 1969 Boss 302 Mustang, and with talented mechanic/engineer Murray Bunn turned it into fire-breathing racecar.
With 14-inch-wide rear tyres, flared guards and belly-scraping ride height, the red Mustang looked mean, powered by a Bunnfettled 351 Cleveland V8 stroked to the 6.0-litre class limit. Richards enjoyed immediate success, claiming the 1973-74 NZSCC.
To defend his title the following year, the Mustang was upgraded with new bodywork and an eye-catching red/yellow paint scheme.
The 351 Clevo also got a useful boost in power from a set of Gurney-Weslake heads and Bunn’s own mechanical fuel injection U system. The engine was moved behind the front axle line to improve weight distribution, and the Top Loader gearbox was replaced by a BorgWarner T10.
It was in this configuration that Jim lost the 1974-75 NZSCC to Paul Fahey’s exotic RS Cologne Capri. He then shipped the Mustang to Melbourne for a 15-race Australian campaign. Jim immediately started winning races against the elite of Australia’s booming Sports Sedan category, and he wrapped up the 1976 Marlboro Series at Calder Park.
The Mustang wasn’t particularly powerful or lightweight compared to the top Australian cars, and its unsophisticated live rear axle suspension was largely road-car based. Over time, though, it dawned that the Mustang’s special powers could be largely attributed to the magician behind the wheel.
FORD had nothing in its local Falcon line-up that could be competitive at the ATCC in the 1980s. So reigning ATCC champion Dick Johnson and other Ford loyalists were left with the choice of the UK’s 2.8-litre V6-powered Sierra XR4i, or the 4.9-litre (302ci) V8 Mustang from the US.
On paper the Mustang was the more practical choice, given that Erich Zakowski’s Zakspeed team in Germany had homologated and built Mustang GTs for European Group A in 1983. And Australian touring car teams were more familiar with the Mustang’s small-block Windsor V8 and muscle-car mechanicals.
Johnson purchased two of the Zakspeed-built Mustangs in 1984. However, under the Group A rules, the Mustang was underpowered and overweight. The Ford V8’s 4942cc engine capacity required a minimum vehicle weight of 1325kg. A relatively narrow 11-inch tyre was the widest that could be stuffed under the standard wheelarches.
Johnson couldn’t get any assistance from Ford US in homologating a fuel injection system and other engine parts he needed to unleash more power. As a result, the carburettor-fed Group A Mustang started with around 300hp in 1985, which after constant development had improved to barely 350hp by 1986.
Against the benchmark BMW 635 CSi, which had the same power and tyre width as the Mustang but a smaller 3.5-litre six that allowed it to run a 1185kg minimum weight, it’s not hard to see why Johnson found little joy in the first year of the Mustang’s second coming.
In 1986, Johnson’s Mustang continued to show good reliability, but its lack of grunt left it with no answer to Holden’s new VK Commodore SS Group A and the new breed of fast turbocharged cars from Nissan (DR30 Skyline) and Volvo (240T). s