The 1976 Hardie-Ferodo was the first time the race had genuinely attracted international interest, mainly because of the entry of Australia's own three times former world champion Jack Brabham
, who had teamed with the legendary Stirling Moss
, the pair driving a Torana. Other internationals included expatriate Australian Vern Schuppan partnering Allan Moffat, and English long-distance ace John Fitzpatrick driving with Bob Morris in the Ron Hodgson Torana.
There were two other Falcons entered, the Brian Wood car being crewed by Murray Carter and Ray Winter and the John Goss/Jim Richards car. Practice looked good for Ford with Moffat getting pole position with a incredible time of 2 min 25 sec. Goss was there too, with fifth fastest, while Carter was back on 13th position.
The race started on a very dramatic note when Jack Brabham's Torana was stuck on the grid with jammed gears, and was then rammed very hard from behind. This incident effectively put Brabham and Moss out of the race, but the car reappeared several hours later simply for appearances. Eventually the motor blew while Moss was at the wheel. It was, incidentally, the first time Stirling Moss
had driven on slick racing tyres
Things didn't look too bad for Ford when, at half distances, Moffat and Schuppan were 40sec in front and doing it easily. Suddenly the crankshaft pulley on Moffat's car failed, cooking the engine and putting a disappointing end to a fine effort. Neither of the other two Falcons lasted the distance, but were still classed as finishers. Goss was credited with 29th outright after retiring with a broken clutch with 129 laps to his credit.
Actually Jim Richards did most of the driving, as Goss himself was ill on the day. The Murray Carter/Ray Winter Falcon blew its engine after 148 laps and was credited with 17th outright. The eventual winner, in a very exciting finish was the Morris/ Fitzpatrick Torana which crossed the line in a very sick state just ahead of the also ailing Colin Bond/John Harvey Torana. Fastest lap was shared between Moffat and Brock at 2min 28.4sec.
Moss and the Mountain
had been clandestine on the matter of his return to motor racing. But in the end he was beaten by a popular press for whom Stirling Moss
was stilI very much a story. When they heard rumours that he was to return to racing, they lost no time in turning that rumour into print. The British press proclaimed that Moss's return would be at the Bathurst 1,000 km Series Production (Group 1) Touring Car event "over the daunting road circuit at Mount Panorama, near Bathurst, NSW." It was widely known that, each year, the Australian Racing Drivers' Club did its best to attract overseas drivers and works cars, but it seemed that only the odd Japanese entry (which ensured "international" status) was interested.
But things were changing. The soul Australian racing - the titanic Ford versus Holden battle was still at the fore, but the rise of class-winning Mazda Rotaries was changing the landscape. The 1976 event had less works support from Ford and GMH
, less powerful V8s and better-known International drivers. In 1975 Frank Gardner and Tim Schenken co-drove for the Holden Dealer Team (although Shecken drove an Alfa 2000 GTV with Paul Bernasconi in the big one), and for the 1976 event the ARDC decided to pay appearance money to the Australian-domiciled Jack Brabham, to Vern Schuppan and to Britain's John Fitzpatrick.
Their offer to Stirling Moss
co-incided with Moss' insurance company terminating its ban on his racing. Stirling Moss
turned 47 on the 17th September 1976, and even by the standards of the day that age was considered "veteran" for anyone contemplating an international race. But, in justifying his decision to accept the ARDC's offer, Moss pointed to the fact that he was younger than the late Graham HilI, and that HilI was stilI racing in his 46th year. He also, quite rightly, pointed out that Fangio himselfwas stilI winning at age 46, and was stilI capable of winning when he retired in 1958. For his part, Moss has no doubts that it was the right thing to do.
For one thing, he thought he would never have retired from racing had he not been forced back into a car so soon. The Press were pushing for a decision, and Moss made a few tentative laps at Goodwood before he was ready for them. He found he was able to lap quickly, that he was comfortable, and that he hadn't lost his nerve. At the time, however, he did feel that he'd lost his power of concentration. He'd be quick for two laps, and then, for no reason, suddenly leave his braking a few feet too late. He stilI had the reflexes to extract him from the moment - but the signs were clear: he was no longer the driver he used to be.
In retrospect, Moss felt that he would have regained
the same energy that had ranked him as one of the best racing drivers of all time. Before the Bathurst race Moss was attending Grands Prix in the role of the CBS film-maker and the Citibank PR man, and it was noticed by many motoring journalists and commentators that he spent little time actually watching the racing. When quizzed as to why he remained so distant, he replied "I can't stand to watch it, I know I could be doing better than half the blokes out there, and it frustrates me so much."
He of course did return to racing, at the 1976 Bathurst 1000, driving with Jack Brabham
in a 400 bhp Holden Torana V8. At the time, he said of the circuit..."That's the sort of track I always used to perform best on - the Dipper, its long, undulating, Con-Rod straight, its rotten wooden fences - that's a road circuit". Moss must have forgotten that he visited Mount Panorama in 1958 and deemed it the most dangerous circuit he'd ever seen...