Thirteen Falcon GTHO Phase 3’s started in the 1971 Hardie-Ferodo, led by the works' cars of Allan Moffat and John French. Once again Moffat gained pole position, with a best lap practice of 2:38.9, 10 seconds faster than 1970, which did not encourage the Torana and Charger crews, who then had to hope on a series of mechanical failures from the big Ford’s to stand a chance. As it happened, although five of the Falcons did fail to finish, only one of these was due to mechanical problems, this being the car of Trevor Meehan, who suffered brake problems. Of the four retirements, the Gibson/Seton car had its differential fail after someone had accidentally put odd tyres
on the rear, the Beck/Rush car crashed, Bob Morris’s car overheated after a sheet of newspaper stuck over the grille.
And Bill Brown suffered yet another dreadful rollover, when his Falcon blew a tyre
at McPhillamy Park and rolled along the top of the fence, the car being virtually cut in two (see: Bathurst Memorable Moments
). It was a terrifying crash and TV viewers were treated to it’s replay time and time again during the afternoon. Allan Moffat led the race all the way and never looked like losing it, but to add to Ford’s triumph, Falcon’s also came in second and third (Barnes/Skelton and McKay), fifth (French) and seventh (Goss). The good result must have been very pleasing to Ford, not only for their sales figures, but also for Howard Marsden, who took over the leadership of Ford's racing activities just before Bathurst and was confronted with the fact that the reliability of the modified Cleveland engines was still fairly unknown. The engines did hold together, and very well too, so the months of time and effort put into them were not wasted.
The Buildup To The Race
In the weeks before the race there was considerable speculation as to the outcome of the 1971 Hardie Ferodo 500. Most people conceded that the Fords would be fastest but there was doubt about their ability to run the 500 miles without breakage. Such speculation was encouraged by Ford disasters at Sandown and Oran Park. The Holden and Chrysler camps were confident that their cars would outlast the V8s and even if this were not so they would be fast enough to stay within striking distance and make up their lap time deficits by spending less time on pit stops. But in their optimistic confidence they forgot two very important points. Sandown and Oran Park are not the same as 'Mt. Panorama; and Ford have Allan Moffat. Lap time predictions before the race had the Toranas and the Chargers doing around 2:46s and the Phase Three GTHO Falcons at 2:43s or slightly better.
The guesswork was accurate for the six cylinder cars but Moffat poled his works GTHO during the second practice session at the almost inconceivable time of 2:38.9 - and shattered the opposition completely. His team mates, John French and Fred Gibson completed the practice domination by putting their factory cars second and third on the grid. The first "other make" on the grid was the Geoghegan/Brown Charger which was in position eight and the first Torana on the grid was ignominiously eleventh. Although the interest centred on the outright clash, the three smaller classes were also worth studying. Class A had Doug Whiteford and John Leffler on equal fastest time, respectively for Datsun and Mazda. Predictably, this two way tussle endured right to the end of the race.
Class B was all Datsun 1600 and it was only a matter of whether the dealer entries could whip the "works" cars as they had done in 1970. Class C was something else. The Ford Escort Twin Cam, the Mazda Capella Rotary and the Torana GTR all put down close lap times and as far as the distribution of makes was concerned, this was the most open class of all. Ford must have regretted their decision to allow the privateers to represent them in this class, specially since they need all the promotion of Twin Cams they can get. Early on race morning, there was no threat of the gale force winds that plagued the practice sessions as the cars two-twoed their way down Pit Straight and around Shell Corner into Con Rod. Once again the starter's flag was repeated at Shell so the slower cars knew it was time to go. Immediately, Moffat blasted into the comfortable lead he would relinguish only very briefly during pit stops.
Ford "works" cars were first and second as they completed the first lap with Des West and Phil Barnes holding third and fourth for dealer entries. The first incident came five laps out. Kevin Bartlett, who had to replace a blown engine in his Sinclair Ford GTHO during practice, tore through the field early to move from 30th to an amazing fifth. But in doing so, he had a brief skirmish with Colin Bond in the Dealer Team Torana and Bond pitted to change a flat tyre and straighten a mudguard. A lap later Bartlett too, had a flat but he was not able to make it back to the pits and changed the wheel on the Mountain.
With the excitement of the first few laps gone, the race settled into the pattern of the long grind. The computer began punching out progress lap positions according to information provided it by a team of lap scorers who were to become a major headache for the press and TV personnel almost immediately. By way of example, at the end of three laps, the scorers had unaccountably missed the Toranas of Holland and Leeds completely (among other things), a mistake which was to compound itself further as the race progressed. Private charts, however, were beginning to give a picture of the classes. Whiteford led Class A for Datsuns with Laing-Peach (Datsun) and Leffler (Mazda) battling it out behind. Roxburgh gave Datsuns the lead in Class B from Don Smith and Bruce Stewart in the WH Motors cars. Gary Cooke led Class C in a Capella from Ross Hewison (Escort) and Mai Brewster (Torana).
In Class D, Bond's Pit Stop put Brock in the lead and although second appeared to be Chivas in the Charger, it was here the lap charts were already mad, with Geoghegan, Beasley, Holland and Leeds not appearing on the print-out at all. With only 10 laps gone, the Hardie Ferodo Information Centre was invaded by irate Pit Managers who wanted to know why the P.A. and TV information did not show their boys in their rightful places. How do you answer questions like that? Still early in the race, Scott McNaughton scored a punt in the backside of his Torana from Graham Ryan on the way up the Mountain and speared off into a resident's front yard. He was out and so, very nearly, were the resident and his son who were watching from their front fence. Both were rushed to Bathurst hospital, but fortunately only had superficial cuts and bruises and shock.
Moffat opened a substantial lead on team-mate French during the first two hours - lapping steadily around 2 min. 46 sees. But the third factory Falcon with Fred Gibson and Barry Seton sharing was in trouble. After having a tyre deflate on them the crew put on a tyre of slightly different size and the diff was unable to take the additional strain. They were among the first retirements. Most other cars were going well however, except for the Meehan/Cooke GTHO which had a severe brake problem and had replaced two complete sets in the first 30 laps before finally running out of both patience and replacements and calling it a day. Near the factory cars were the Fords of Phil Barnes (for Byrt Ford), David McKay (for Finnie Ford) and Bob Morris (for Mark IV Car Air Conditioning).
The devastating wind of practice had sprung up again and was making things most uncomfortable for all concerned - especially the drivers. Papers dropped by spectators began to present a hazard and Moffat spent one period shortly before his first pit stop with the radiator partially covered by a Victoria Bitter beer carton. Not so lucky in this respect was Bob Morris who also scored a paper blockage ten laps before a scheduled stop. His crew signalled to him and he kept close watch on the temp gauge which rose only slowly, so he continued. Shortly before the stop however the engine gave up through over-heating and it was later found that the temperature gauge had been faulty.
Doug Whiteford relinquished his Class lead about half way when he rolled the little Datsun. The damage was not great and he was later able to continue although he could not qualify as the car continued without a windscreen. Jim Laing-Peach now led still from John Leffler, with Les Came third in another Mazda. In Class B, John Roxburgh held out Bruce Stewart and in Class C Gary Cooke and Wayne Rogerson, both in Capellas led the Toranas of Brewster and Wade. Doug Chivas blew a head gasket in his Charger leaving that class to Brock and Bond with Geoghegan and Beechey in the dice as well. And Moffat went on and on. Still the official lap charts appeared to be way out, if the computer information was anything to go on and already there were team managers fumbling in their wallets for $10 protest money.
At this point, the unfortunate Bill Brown, victim of the 1969 first lap fiasco, did his slow-roll trick again. But there was no humor in it. The Falcon blew a tyre in McPhillamy Park Bend and rolled along the top of the Armco. Watchers, live and on TV, were sure he would be badly hurt but the roll cage, crash helmet, and seat belt combination did their job again and he was cut free from his upturned car, shocked, bruised and sore but otherwise brand new. Bob Skelton took over the Byrt Ford car from Phil Barnes and held third outright in a close dice with David McKay. John French, all set for second, suffered fuel starvation late in the race for a double pit stop that dropped him a lap and let Skelton up.
Colin Bond, despite his early unscheduled stop was leading Class D and in fourth outright, indicating that the Toranas might have been closer to Moffat had it not been for some bad luck. Moffat crossed the line alongside Bob Skelton, who was exactly a lap behind. He had dictated the terms of the race from the moment he put a wheel on the Mount. But the others were not disgraced. The Toranas and the Chargers were fast and reliable and probably deserved a better result. Datsuns cleaned up the small car classes but they shared the honors with Mazda who won Class C with their Rotary engined Capellas, and were second and third in Class A.