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Monday, 23 November 2015 00:00

Pony power: Ford Mustang's racing pedigree


When the sixth generation of Ford's iconic Mustang goes on sale in Australia as a fully imported right-hand-drive showroom model, it will represent the obvious replacement for the all-Australian Ford Falcon in V8 Supercars when the latter goes out of production in 2016.

Roger Penske appears to be leading the fight to get the Mustang onto the V8 Supercars grid when the Gen2 regulations pave the way for the two-door coupe to replace the Falcon. Through Penkse's NASCAR links, DJR Team Penske and Prodrive Racing Australia are in talks with Ford Performance in the United States of America for funding to race the Mustang from 2017.

If the Mustang does replace the Falcon as Ford's front-line weapon in Australia's premier tin-top racing category, it will be history repeating itself for the third time.

The following feature appeared in V8X Supercar Magazine issue #80:



Touring car great Stormin' Norm Beechey was the first driver to blood the mighty Ford Mustang in Australian motorsport and it was a stunning debut, racing away to a first-up win and new lap record in his freshly imported 1964 model Hardtop at Melbourne's Calder Park in January 1965.

Powered by a full-house Shelby Cobra race version of the 289ci (4.7-litre) Windsor small-block V8, Beechey's typically bold decision to chance his racing future on the imported American pony car paid big dividends as he went on a race-winning rampage in the early months of 1965.

Norm not only won the 1965 championship at Sandown (when the ATCC was decided by a single race) but also wrapped up the NSW and South Australian championship titles.

Beechey's Neptune Racing Team Mustang proved so brutally effective as a race winner that his arch rivals at the time were left with no choice but to rustle up some Mustangs of their own.

Ian Geoghegan and Bob Jane both promptly headed to the USA to buy their own 1965 Mustang Hardtops, which included a visit to Carroll Shelby and a shopping trip through his high-performance warehouse to source all the bits they'd need to succeed.

Jane's car was completed just in time for the 1965 ATCC clash and although it promptly took pole position it succumbed to an overheating engine in the race. Sadly, Jane's 1965 Mustang was destined for a short career after it was destroyed in a fearful 200km/h crash at Catalina Park only a few months later.

Geoghegan's new Hardtop, though, was destined for greatness. Armed with a 400hp Cobra race engine and numerous other Shelby components, the John Sheppard-built Mustang blew Beechey and Jane into the weeds on its debut at Calder Park in August 1965 and just kept on winning.

In the space of two electrifying seasons, Geoghegan won 68 races from 74 starts – an astonishing winning ratio of more than 90 per cent. This avalanche of victories included the single-race 1966 ATCC at Bathurst, the NSW, Queensland and Victorian titles plus lap records at every track Geoghegan and his Mustang competed at.

The Geoghegan/Mustang magic was destined to continue when Pete's mighty 1965 model was replaced with the latest 1967 Hardtop.

Armed with a John Sheppard-built 289ci (4.7-litre) Windsor V8 fed by a quartet of Weber twin-choke carburettors, Geoghegan made a dazzling debut when he raced away to a well-judged victory over arch rival Norm Beechey's Chevrolet Nova in the 1967 ATCC held at Queensland's Lakeside Raceway.

Like its predecessor, the speed and reliability of Geoghegan's new 1967 Mustang on debut was an ominous sign of things to come. Although the number of Mustangs on the ATCC grid continued to grow, Geoghegan was simply untouchable when he claimed his third successive ATCC at Sydney's Warwick Farm in 1968 (his fourth in total).

He claimed his fifth and final crown in the same car in 1969 when it had been upgraded with a larger 302ci (4.9-litre) V8 with slide-throttle fuel injection.

Unlike his four previous titles, though, Geoghegan's last ATCC victory came in the first year Australia's premier touring car title expanded to a multi-round series with races held in most states. This included the nail-biting finale at Symmons Plains in Tasmania, when he beat Alan Hamilton's Porsche 911TR to the crown by a single point.

Geoghegan continued to race his much-loved Mustang in the 1970 and 1971 ATCC battles, when it sprouted large wheel-arch flares to house the fatter 10-inch wide tyres permitted for the Improved Production cars by that stage.

Even so, the ageing Mustang faced increasingly tough competition from potent new muscle cars like Beechey's HT Monaro GTS 350, which in 1970 became the first Holden and first Australian car to win the ATCC. And Bob Jane's exotic seven-litre big block Camaro ZL-1, which won the 1971 and 1972 titles.

Arguably Geoghegan's greatest competition, though, came from another Mustang driven by Allan Moffat, which is widely regarded as the most famous and desirable Australian race car of all.

Moffat's 1969 Boss 302 Trans-Am, resplendent in the bright red paint of his sponsor Coca-Cola, was one of only a handful built by Ford's factory teams to tackle rival Chevrolet in the 1969 US Trans-Am series.

Hand-built by Bud Moore Engineering, the 1969 Boss 302 Mustang Fastback used only the best competition components. It featured the latest Boss 302 race engine, superbly designed roll cage and suspension and even subtle body re-profiling for better air penetration at high speeds. It was the closest thing you could get to a purpose-built race car in a production car body shell.

Although Moffat never won the ATCC title after four years of trying, the mighty Boss finished its six-season career in Moffat's hands with a staggering 101 race wins from 151 starts. It also set lap records at every circuit Moffat raced on and was involved in many thrilling battles with Geoghegan's 1967 Mustang from 1969 to 1972.

A change in the touring car rules for 1973 saw the creation of a new class called 'Production Touring – Group C', which in effect combined the old Series Production and Improved Production classes into one new category. As these cars were to compete for the ATCC and Manufacturers Championship, Moffat's Mustang was consigned to the Sports Sedan ranks. The first Mustang ATCC era was over.



Ford fans expecting a repeat of the Mustang's 1960s dominance when the pony car returned in the 1980s were to be disappointed.

The switch from home-grown Group C to the FIA's international Group A rules in 1985 may have opened the doors to more makes and models from overseas, but it did nothing to help Australian cars.

Overnight Holden's VK Commodore became an underpowered and overweight slug as its 308ci (5044cc) V8 placed it in the over-5000cc engine group, which meant it was burdened with about 180kg of ballast to bring it up to a hefty 1400kg minimum weight. The tight new engine restrictions also knocked the power output back to around 300hp.

Holden performed a partial fix for 1985 by slightly de-stroking its V8 from 5044cc to 4987cc, which dropped the Commodore into the under-5000cc division to get a crucial 75kg drop in minimum weight (1400kg to 1325kg).

By comparison, Ford Australia found itself in a similar situation to the mid-1960s as it had nothing in its Falcon line-up that could be remotely competitive. So reigning champion Dick Johnson and other Ford loyalists were realistically left with the choice of two imports – the UK's 2.8-litre V6-powered Sierra XR4i or the 4.9-litre (302ci) V8 Mustang from the USA.

On paper the Mustang was the more practical choice given that Eric Zakowski's Zakspeed team in Germany had already homologated and built Mustang GTs for European Group A touring car racing in 1983. And Australian teams were more familiar with the Mustang's venerable small-block Windsor V8 and muscle-car mechanicals. Johnson purchased two of the Zakspeed-built Mustangs in 1984 with a view to finishing what Zakowski's team had started by making the compact V8 American coupe into a race winner.

However, the Mustang faced the same handicaps as the Commodore in being underpowered and overweight. Under Group A rules, the Ford V8's 4942cc engine capacity required a hefty minimum vehicle weight of 1325kg but like the Commodore an 11-inch tyre was the widest that could be stuffed under the standard wheel arches.

However, while GM-H was able to address this power-to-weight issue by building a much tougher and more powerful 400hp version of its 4.9-litre V8 for 1986, Johnson could not 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 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 much lower 1185kg minimum weight, it's not hard to see why Johnson and other Ford runners found little joy in the Mustang's second ATCC era.

Not surprisingly, Jim Richards and his JPS BMW, in winning seven of the 10 rounds, dominated the 1985 ATCC. Johnson, despite not winning a round in his Mustang, finished a fighting second overall through dogged consistency more than anything else.

In 1986 Johnson's Mustang showed good reliability but the crippling lack of engine power left it with no answer to Holden's new VK Commodore SS Group A and the new breed of blisteringly fast turbocharged cars from Nissan (DR30 Skyline) and Volvo (240T). Johnson had to settle for being a regular top-10 finisher in the ATCC on his way to sixth overall.

The Mustang's second ATCC era failed to provide the overwhelming success and excitement of the first, thanks largely to Group A's restrictive rules and Ford's lack of interest in developing the car.

Fortunately, should the Mustang replace the Australian Falcon in Australian touring car racing for a third time it will not face the same handicaps that it did under Group A.

V8 Supercars' more equitable technical rules, based on engine, chassis and aerodynamic parity for all makes and models, could well see a revival of the Mustang magic of the 1960s.