1987 Year In Review

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John Lindell
John Lindell headed up Holden's Motorsport division in 1987.
Bugatti EB110
Bugatti in name only, the EB110 had much more in common with the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

1987 TVR S
TVR celebrated 40 years of operation in 1987, and had 120 orders on the books for the cheaper "S" model.

GM Sunraycer
John Harvey as lead driver would take the GM Sunraycer to victory in the worlds first cross-continental solar power race, from Darwin to Adelaide.

Holden and Motorsport

The creation of the Holden Motor Sport Group at the end of 1987 formalised a process which had been conducted on an almost ad-hoc basis with Brock's HDT Special Vehicles operation. The Group's responsibilities fell into three main areas. Firstly, it was responsible for the conception, development and execution of the Group A SS, the car which allowed Holden to go touring car racing on an international level.

In addition the Holden Motor Sport Group was responsible for meeting the technical needs of teams campaigning Commodores on the race track. A number of teams, such as Larry Perkins', Les Small's and Tom Walkinshaw Racing, followed active development programs with official Holden's engineering and technical support. For other Commodore teams Holden Motorsport became the source of components and technology in much the same way as BMW Motorsport was, at the time, servicing the numerous teams running BMW M3s in Europe.

Finally, the group was also ultimately responsible for Holden Special Vehicles, a company then owned by Tom Walkinshaw under the terms of a contract awarded to TWR by Holden's Motor Company. Holden Special Vehicles completed the final assembly of the Commodore Group A SS, and the fitment and marketing of aerodynamic, suspension and engine performance kits developed by TWR for the entire Holden passenger car range.

In effect the 1987 arrangement worked like this: Holden Special Vehicles took over the role of Peter Brock's HDT Special Vehicles as the final assembler of hot Holdens sold through Holden dealers with full factory warranty and approval. Special Vehicles product was developed jointly by TWR and Holden Motorsport, with the latter having overall responsibility for homologation and certification.

When initially setup Holden Motorsport had three full time staff looking after areas of responsibility that Holden's Reliability Manager and former staunch Brock supporter Ray Borrett used to have to try and cover on his own - in addition to his normal duties. Even so, Holden's motor sport department was tiny when compared with those of other manufacturers, particularly Europeans such as BMW, Fiat and Ford, or Japanese such as Toyota and Nissan.

Romano Artioli Saves Bugatti

There wasn't much left of Bugatti following the German occupation of World War II, and the marque faded into obscurity. That was until 1987, when Italian tycoon Romano Artioli purchased the Bugatti name and built a modernised factory in Modena. Artioli’s masterpiece EB110 was a V12 supercar beast, but owed much of it’s inspiration to fellow Modena residents such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and De Tomaso, and only in name was it a Bugatti.

It would prove elusive to even the most well heeled of society. Unfortunately for Artioli he found it difficult to sell the vehicles in a market with too many competitors and too few millionaires. The company was wound up in 1994 after only making 154 of the supercars - and it is reported that Michael Schumaker is the owner of one!

Nissan Tries To Survive In Australia

Nissan Japan invested $300 million into their Australian operation in 1987 - these funds to eliminate debt that included accumulated losses of $200 million - a debt that cost Nissan Australia $50 million in interest payments in the 1985/1986 financial year. The 1986/1987 loss - reported at $115 million - was obviously not good news for an organisation of Nissan's size. Holden made worse dollar losses, but GM-H was huge by comparison. Also, Holden had the investment in its engine plant which had turned sour in its first few years at huge cost to the company, and was also going through the very expensive process (redundancies the most expensive) of reducing its workforce from 25,000 people to 9000 people.

Nissan had no such problems. It was simply not selling enough vehicles and not getting enough money for those it sold to cover expenses, foreign exchange pressures and the servicing of rising debts. The plan, which history was to prove easier to say than achieve, was to turn the trading position around within two to three years to get the company back into profitability. In effect, the cash-injection was similar to that used by Holden to wipe its slate clean and give the company a chance to trade its way out of trouble without the terrible handicap of not only having to find money to cover the normal day-today business expenses, but to find the money to pay the banks as well.

According to media reports of the time, "...the capital injection gives the company a chance to focus on the products and processes needed to gear up for Nissan's future, and to build up the strength of the network it needs to distribute and sell those products." That meant that not all the money went towards squaring the ledger with the bank managers. There was enough left over to finance the plans that were then in place to get Nissan on a competitive footing - and that meant a new car, a new engine, new transaxle, new production processes, a new partner, new export market, new people and new head office.

Project Matilda

Ivan Deveson was then GM, and he set out a series of changes which he believed was to be the best chance Nissan had of surviving in Australia. Today we know it was not enough, but even with the benefit of hindsight, who would argue with the changes made? The structure of the company was changed to bring together the two separate entities of manufacturing and marketing and administration. Each of these areas had been running as separate companies - one at Clayton and one at Dandenong. Not only were they joined together as one legal entity, the head office was moved to a new $5.5 million building at Clayton so the organisation was physically under the one roof. This move was paid for by the sale of Nissan's Dandenong head office and some surrounding land. The joining of the two entities was seen as vital to the smooth running of the company. It streamlined the management structure and eliminated much of the waste associated with moving management between Clayton and Dandenong for meetings.

The 12 key management areas of Nissan were changed so that they reported to Ivan Deveson directly - he also building a team of key advisers (both Japanese and Australian) around the office of managing director to avoid his becoming bogged down in detail to make sure the relevant actions were taken. Two key men were poached from Holden - Sam Walsh (to supervise new product development and the suppliers' role in those vehicles) and Robert Beasley - to co-ordinate forward projects, including "Project Matilda". A coup for Deveson was the appointment of Bruce Black to take charge of manufacturing engineering at Clayton. Bruce Black was director of manufacturing of GM-H and was lost to the industry in the mid 1980s, when he became managing director of the packaging people, J. Gadsden. Ivan Deveson managed to lure Black back into the motor industry with the challenge of getting Matilda up and running.

A long-range plan was nearing completion in 1987 to make Clayton one of Australia's leading, cost-efficient car making complexes. Short-term problems associated with getting enough workers and in ordering of parts were being overcome. One aspect of the solution, the swap of workers from Holden's Dandenong plant, was being seen in the international automotive press as a world first. Nissan also upgraded its training techniques at Clayton to reduce bad workmanship and improve work satisfaction. Many of the techniques were copied from the successful Nissan Smyrna plant in Tennessee. The area previously used to assemble Volvos was turned over to manufacture transaxles for Matilda and for any other local car makers who were willing to buy them. They were manual transmission only and many of the parts were imported - especially in the early stages - but the introduction of transaxles was significant as the last big-ticket component to go into local production.

As for "Matilda" (Pintara) itself, Australia was the only country in the world making a derivative of Matilda and it was this unique model that was exported to the Japanese market. Clayton was reorganised to build the production volumes necessary to supply the needs of Nissan Australia, Ford Australia and Nissan Japan and this reorganisation included a new engine for Matilda which was still under development during 1987 in Japan - and not yet on any market. Apart from about $150 million in export packs that were sent to New Zealand from 1987 to 1992 (as well as exports of alloy wheels and other castings) Nissan had its sights set on being a major exporter. The idea was that the "Matilda" would account for about 40,000 units a year and would generate significant export credits. Nissan's product sharing with Ford was getting under way in 1987. Matilda, of course, was the big one. But plans were in place for Ford dealers to get the new (re-badged) Nissan Patrol.

Chrysler Swallows American Motors

American Motors shareholders voted overwhelmingly on August 5, 1987, to accept Chrysler's proposed purchase of stock for US$4.50 per share. The vote finalized Chrysler's takeover of American Motors only 24 hours after the merger was approved by the U.S. government's Federal Trade Commission. Chrysler Chairman Lee A. lacocca and American Motors President Joseph Cappy appeared together at a press conference to announce the takeover, as well as the formation of the Jeep-Eagle Division of Chrysler Corporation to market what used to be American Motors products.

The new division took its name from the fabled four-wheel-drive Jeep, of course, and from the AMC Eagle, the tough little compact that pioneered full-time four-wheel-drive for American passenger cars back in 1980. From 1987 the AMC-built Renault Medallion (based on the European R21) and Renault Premier (a larger car unique to the U.S.) were badged Eagle as well. Ironically, the very week that the name change was announced, the first Premiers were being delivered to the press, still wearing Renault nameplates.

Cappy kept his job, with the new title of "group vice president - Jeep-Eagle marketing". Former top AMC execs Martin Levine, David Kerr and Michael Savod also found analogous positions within the new Chrysler division, while former AMC Group Vice President Francois J. Castaing, and former AMC Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John P. Tierney found top slots as vice president of Jeep and Truck Engineering, and chairman of Chrysler Financial Corporation, respectively.

Paul Keating's Budget

Paul Keating's budget took a lot of industry observers by surprise when it translated into renewed buyer confidence. The Holden Commodore and Mitsubishi Magna saw significant jumps in daily sales rate very much at the expense of the Ford Falcon. Falcon sales dropped nerly 2000 units in August 1987 which translated into a drop from 305 units a day to 247 units a day. Commodore, on the other hand, jumped 34 units a day against a sagging market to record 214 units a day. The Mistubishi Magna, with the benefit of the wagon showing up in the figures, saw its daily rate increase by 11 units a day to 140 units a day. The Magna's main competitor, the Toyota Corona/Camry lost sales ground while Pintara/Skyline improved - as did Holden Camira.

In the small car area, 1987 saw the Laser/Meteor slip back in the face of the then new-model Pulsar-Astra, but the Toyota Corolla seemed to benefit from the activity - and some special finance packaging from the factory - and gained ground against the market decline. The Pulsar jumped from 12th place to ninth place in the market and Astra from 15th place to 10th place. Collectively, with 1484 sales, they were just behind Corolla. In terms of market share, Ford was not enjoying 1987. Its share dropped from a very high 31.47 in July to 27.11 in one month alone (August) - a drop of more than three percentage points. In fact, Ford single-handedly accounted for the weaker market.

Holden picked up the best of the share going begging with a jump of more than two percentage points to 20.75 percent. Toyota held its own and Mitsubishi almost held its own. Nissan recovered the ground lost in July by firming to 9.21 percent in August - an increase of about 1.5 percentage points. Nissan did much better in car share but also had a big leap of more than two percentage points in commercial market share - largely at the expense of Ford and Mitsubishi. In market rankings for the year, Holden's increasied its leadership over Toyota while Daihatsu managed to better Suzuki and Mercedes bettered Volvo.

40 Years of TVR

It was during 1987 that UK sports car manufacturer TVR Engineering celebrated their 40th year of production, and released a new lower-priced model of promise designated S Convertible. The "S" was first exhibited at the 1986 Birmingham Motor Show as a design exercise, but when 62 firm orders (with deposits) were taken by the end of the October show, production was taken seriously. By November 1987 TVR had more than 120 pre-launch orders for the new S-type which featured more rounded lines than its predecessors. Powered by Ford's 120kW 2.8 litre injected V6 the S-type had a power to weight ratio that bettered many Italian supercars, and offered 0-100km/h acceleration of the order of seven seconds, and top speed of more than 210km/h.

The GRP bodywork was produced in ceramic moulds and fit and finish was of a very high standard. The car had an immensely strong multi-tubular steel backbone frame with double wishbone front suspension and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The total car weighs only 900kg, and could be trimmed as a fully open sports car, as a targa or completely closed. In the UK the TVR S Convertible cost the equivalent of AS31,188 and it's going success was guaranteed.

GM's SunRaycer

1987 would see GM's "SunRaycer" take out the world's first cross-continental solar race, run from Darwin to Adelaide. The event was a triumph in marketing and technological terms with GMH making a significant contribution to the SunRayeer's success. Racing champion John Harvey was the lead driver. That year there was much controversy at Mount Panorama. Although Peter Brock would cross the finishing line 3rd, he would be declared the winner after the Ford "Texaco" Cosworth Sierra's were disqualified. This would be Brock's 9th, and last, win at the Mount.

1987 would also see the passing of Professor Julius Sumner Miller. Born on May 17, 1909, Sumner Miller quickly became known as a scientific evangelist, popularizing  a subject that had most school children yawning with boredom. He had studied under Albert Einstein, then went on to work in various children’s programs in the US and Canada, including a stint with Disney Studio’s being cast as “Professor Wonderful", something he quite literally was. But here in Australia he would become famous for his catch cry, and show, “Why Is It So?” which enjoyed an enormously long run on television, being aired from 1963 to 1986. If you are a child of the 1960’s or 1970’s you will no doubt remember with fondness his famous introduction, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, my name is Julius Sumner Miller, and physics is my business."

During the 1980s Sumner Miller appeared in a famous series of Australian television commercials for Cadbury chocolate, using his stock phrase "Why is it so?", demonstrating a simple scientific principle, and describing how each block of chocolate contained "a glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk". Click here to view one of the many Cadbuy Dairy Milk Chocolate Ad's This phrase became so well known that it led to the slang "Cadbury", used to refer to a person who gets drunk easily (i.e. after drinking "a glass and a half" of beer). The ads were sufficiently popular to be played for some years after his death, and since he was demonstrating real principles of physics (albeit briefly) they never damaged his credibility. Unfortunately Miller died on 14 April, 1987, of leukemia. Australia, and the world, lost a wonderful man.

Formula One Championship:

Nelson Piquet (Brazil) / Williams-Honda

1987 Bathurst Winner:

Peter Brock, David Parsons & Peter McLeod / VL Commodore

NRL Grand Final:

Manly-Warringah (18) def. Canberra (8)

VFL/AFL Grand Final:

Carlton (15.14.104) def. Hawthorn (9.17.71)

Melbourne Cup:

Kensei (L. Olsen)

Wimbledon Women:

Martina Navratilova d. S. Graf (7-5 6-3)

Wimbledon Men:

Pat Cash d. I. Lendl (7-6 6-2 7-5)

The Movies:

  • Moonstruck
  • Wall Street
  • The Last Emperor
  • Fatal Attraction

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - The Last Emperor
  • Best Actor - Michael Douglas (Wall Street)
  • Best Actress - Cher (Moonstruck)

Gold Logie:

Ray Martin (The Midday Show, Nine)

The Charts:

  1. Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley
  2. La Bamba - Los Lobos
  3. Locomotion - Kylie Minogue
  4. Run To Paradise - Choir Boys
  5. Faith - George Michael
  6. Old Time Rock n' Roll - Bob Segar
  7. Electric Blue - Icehouse
  8. Slice Of Heaven - Dave Dobyn
  9. Got My Mind Set On You - George Harrison
  10. Bad - Michael Jackson


  • Andy Warhol (American Pop Artist)
  • Rudolf Hess (Hitler's 2IC that tried to broker peace with England)
  • John Huston (Movie Director)
  • James Baldwin (American writer)
  • Julius Sumner Miller (Scientist with flair)
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