As they say: ‘It has been a long time between drinks!’
Of course, I have seen the ex-Ross Bond Austin-Healey 3000 a zillion times over the last twenty or so years, but it’s been over 40 years since I last sat behind its steering wheel.
That occasion was an interstate get together in January 1973 between members of Austin-Healey Owners Clubs, at Coffs Harbour, when then owner Ben Sellers threw me the keys. A writer from the now defunct Sports Car World magazine was doing an article and this was to be one of the featured cars. Ben asked if I wanted to drive the 3000 out to the photo shoot location.
It was the first time I had sat in the Bond 3000, let alone behind the steering wheel. While it was still a very quick car, to say that it was a bit used around the edges was an understatement. Yes, there were rattles, bangs and clunks, but there I was driving a car that had made history as the quickest sports car racing in Australia.
Needless to say that as a young and impressionable 22-year-old it left an indelible mark on my memory.
Scratching the itch
Flashback some ten years earlier and a 23-year-old Ross Bond had developed an interest in motorsport, in particular racing sportscars. He had an itch and to help scratch it he bought an MGA, joined the MG Car Club and became involved in what was known as ‘Scuderia Octagon’.
His first race in the ‘A’ was at Oran Park in February 1963, where he managed to finish 14th out of a field of 16. At the pointy end of the field was Fred Gibson in another MGA, albeit one that had received quite a bit of development. Ross’ car was prepared by Ken Webb, the proprietor of the BP service station at the Sydney suburb of Castle Cove – which, as an aside, was later owned by Frank Matich. Ken and Ross were to retain a successful working partnership for many years.
By the Warwick Farm meeting of 7 October 1964 Ross had moved towards the front of the grid in his MGA, but for the same meeting he also brought along a 1959 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk1, that was finished in white with a blue stripe.
“With the MGA I was getting really annoyed at being blown away by larger capacity cars.” Ross recalls. “So I thought that cubic inches was the way to go. I was reading an article in the American magazine Sports Car Graphic about running a six-cylinder Austin-Healey, a Sunbeam Alpine and a MGA around the Riverside circuit in California. The Austin-Healey won hands down and I thought that it was the way to go. Then, by coincidence, there was a 100/6 in a smash repairer’s not far from where I was working. So one of the blokes there took me out in the car and put it out through all the gears. I recall thinking how impressive it sounded and how much faster it was than the MGA I was racing at the time. There and then I decided that this was the car for me.”
“So I spoke to Ken Webb who was preparing the ‘A’ for me and he agreed. Ken searched around and found this Canadian delivered 3000 that had been converted to right hand drive. So we bought that, despite it having shot rear springs and an engine that wasn’t all that flash. I took both cars to the next Warwick Farm meeting and did some pretty miserable laps in it as it wasn’t handling or going, but I could see the potential in the car.”
At the pointy end
The 3000 certainly wasn’t first across the line at that meeting, as it was more an evaluation of how the car performed. That it was 10th out of 16 entrants in its first race and 2.3 seconds a lap slower than the MGA wasn’t of concern as both Ross and Ken considered that developing the 3000 was well worthwhile.
“Quite a few people laughed at me as they said that I should be going for a Sprite like the car Brian Foley was using. So Ken and I went back and did some work on the car and over time it gradually crept up the grid”, Ross continues.
What happened over the next few years showed the fastidious and constant development that Ross became known for, even to the extent of maintaining a meticulous record of press clippings, modification notes and results.
“Ken Webb was an interesting bloke to get on with, but he was an expert with cars”, Ross explains. “I was very lucky to have him, as after every race he would come over and we would brainstorm on how the car went or didn’t go. My time with the 3000 was one of evolution, with us constantly trying out different or new ideas to achieve a faster time.”
Initially, Ross ran the 3000 in its original white livery with a hardtop fitted, standard wire wheels and without bumpers. Soon, though, it was running with a cut-down windscreen, 5 ½” wires and twin 2” SUs. In this guise Ross won his first race in the 3000. Shortly afterwards the MGA was sold off.
The 1965 racing year saw the car’s colour changed to its now familiar blue over silver and it also sported the vertical grille of a 3000 Mk2 in place of original horizontal grille as fitted to the Mk1.
As the Mk2 3000 was fitted with triple SUs this allowed Ross’ car to do likewise, which eventually evolved into triple Webers. A Detroit Locker limited slip diff-erential helped Ross lower his times at Oran Park from 61.1 secs to 57 flat, while achieving a string of podium finishes.
Ross ran the 3000 at Bathurst in 1965 and 1966, but on the latter occasion managed to come off second-best in a tussle with the fence at Hell Corner.
However, the big event for 1966 was the Surfers Paradise 12-Hour, where the 3000 ran for 358 laps; finishing third behind the AC Cobra of Ron Thorpe and a very quick Daimler SP250.
It wasn’t long before Ross’ Oran Park times fell to 55.9 secs.
“We figured out that we could get some performance parts from Donald Healey in the UK. That included the alloy doors, seats and Minilites plus we flared the guards around the same time. All of which led to an improvement of two seconds a lap at Oran Park.”
At the time British performance supplier Derrington had available alloy cylinder heads for the 3000. “The alloy head may have dropped the performance a whisker”, Ross reveals, “but because it was so much lighter the car handled and braked better, by taking weight away from the front.”
“Apart from that, the next best weapon we had was the brake adjuster which again brought laughter from everyone. However, one of the best aspects of that car was the brakes and I recall one race when the 3000 was outbraking Bobby Muir’s Lotus 23B at the end of the straight.”
“Certainly one of the highlights was the meeting at Oran Park when Alan Horsley restricted the meeting to closed cars or tin tops. ‘Bugger that!’, I thought and borrowed a windscreen and hardtop from NSW club member Alan Jones. Actually, it wasn’t all that simple to drive, as what then happened was that after Robin Orlando Corner the car would lift its passenger side front wheel which would stay up until the dogleg a hundred yards further on.”
Ross saw the chequered flag first nine times in 1968 and lowered his Oran Park lap time to 52.8 secs.
The same year also saw Ross as the first president of the fledgling Austin-Healey Owners Club of New South Wales.
The 1969 Tasman meeting at Warwick Farm is still remembered as one of the wettest race meetings on record. However with names like Amon, Rindt and Hill on the card it wasn’t to be cancelled.
The sight of Ross and the 3000 coming down the Warwick Farm straight and into Creek Corner with spray everywhere was something to behold, and one that I will never forget. With its nose high under acceleration the whole crowd, without exception, would rise as one and cheer as he led the field. That crowd only rose with excitement from their Eskys twice that day – the other time for Jochen Rindt in a Lotus 49.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today – or download the digital version.
The BMC Experience Issue 11. Oct-Dec 2014 Magazine
All back issues of The BMC Experience are now available in digital format from www.pocketmags.com.