Bathurst 1000 – Or, Australia’s Most Apparent Case of Tall Poppy Syndrome

Mount Panorama! Brock! Holdens vs Fords! They went to Shanghai once! These are the things we (well a small minority actually but bear with me) think of with pride when we think of V8 Supercars. But there’s a sinister history behind all of this.

Ford GTHO Phase III. Image taken from themotorreport.com.au

Ford GT-HO Phase III. Image taken from themotorreport.com.au

See, back in the day, Australia had a real touring car championship, the original Bathurst 1000. It featured some of the coolest Australian cars of all time, the monster trifecta comprising of the one-time fastest production four door car in the world, the Ford GT-HO Phase III (random fact: ‘HO’ stands for ‘handling option’), the hero of the true-blue (or red?) Aussies, the Holden Torana, and some other car called the Chrysler Charger which didn’t even have a V8 but which had cool carburetors or something. These three managed to bring about a ‘supercar scare’ in tabloid media, scaring weaker, fun-hating individuals into successfully lobbying for their discontinuation. Stupid vocal backbenchers.

Ford Escort Cosworth. Image taken from v8supercars.com.au

Ford Sierra Cosworth. Image taken from v8supercars.com.au

Still, the race soldiered on through the seventies, with Monaros, ‘Hardbacks’, etc. battling it out amongst each other for brand pride. However, in 1985, the guys at Bathurst decided to adopt a new standard, the International Group A specification, for their race. All of a sudden, local cars weren’t big fish in a small pond any more, they were competing with the best in the world. Foreign marques started to compete, so that in addition to the famed V8 Holdens piloted by Brock, we had BMWs, Jaguars, Toyotas, among others. For the first time, turbocharged cars were in, and, boy, did they make their mark.

Ford’s Sierra Cosworth, their turbocharged pocket-rocket made specifically to win Group A races, were the first to dominate. With its comically huge rear wing that would embarrass even modern-day Excel tuners and a powerful turbocharged engine, it showed the world what a large car company could do if they wanted to win a damn race. At Bathurst, fans accepted this as simply a Ford-dominated phase of the Ford vs Holden rivalry (conveniently forgetting that the Escort Cosworth is European through and through; why not – Commodores were basically bigger Opel Omegas with American V8s at the time). However, fatefully, Nissan wanted in on the action too, and 1989 saw the now-infamous Skyline GT-R.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. Image taken from autoguide.com

Nissan Skyline GT-R R32. Image taken from autoguide.com

Now, Nissan is a completely Japanese car company. It had little racing presence in Australia. It certainly wasn’t synonymous with meat pies. But upon launch, the Skyline GT-R was, sadly for local fans, better than any Australian racing car in every way. It was not nicknamed (ironically by an Australian magazine) ‘Godzilla’ for no reason. With four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, plus a demon-level turbocharged engine that put atmo V8s to shame, it unsurprisingly dominated the competition, both here and in overseas touring car races. Around the world, weight penalties were added specifically for them, and towards the end of their Australian racing days, GT-Rs was running with an extra 100kg compared with local cars. And yet they still won. Fans were not happy. Attendants that drove home in Japanese cars were booed if their cars weren’t already egged.

We did it! The Skyline GT-R's total race time was finally beaten in 2010. image taken from speedcafe.com

We did it! The Skyline GT-R’s total race time record in 1991 was finally beaten in 2010. Image taken from speedcafe.com

What happened next is an amazing show of foreigner hatred. After 1992, they changed the rules so that only  V8 Falcons or V8 Commodores were in any practical sense eligible for the fastest class. A lower class, guaranteed to be slower than the local heroes, only allowed cars with 2.0L atmo engines. In short, we stuck a big middle finger at the evil foreign Nissans, and other foreign marques, taking all the wins from our hard working local cars. Six years later, they realised that fans only wanted to see the V8s, so they cut away the 2.0L class, and with it, any pretense that the race wasn’t an exercise in Closed-Eyed Aussie Pride and nothing else. Did this cutting of the competition slow progress of our racing falcodores? Well, the Skyline GT-R’s fastest overall race time at Mount Panorama was beaten … in 2010, almost two decades later. Judge for yourself.

It was just three years ago that different marques were allowed back in, despite protestations and a warning that other car makers “won’t gain anything” from Holden’s racing boss. As a precaution, only four-door sedans were allowed (read: current generation Nissan GT-R still can’t join). This time, none of them won, so it’s okay.

-Z

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