As Bathurst approached in 1966 there was only one real contender, the 1275cc Cooper S, and just about everybody knew it. The only cars that were beating the Minis in racing around the country weren’t eligible for Bathurst because of the minimum production requirement.
BMC again went all-out, with three factory-entered cars and two drivers, this time Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen, to partner local drivers Brian Foley and Bob Holden respectively. Timo Makinen was intending to come, but had to stay in Europe to meet other commitments, so his place to partner John French was taken by Steve Harvey.
AMI again entered a mix of Triumph and Toyota cars, while Nissan Motor Company entered two new Datsun Bluebirds and brought out Japanese star drivers Moto Kitamo and Kunimitsu Takahashi to drive one of the cars. But they were never under any illusion of taking a surprise outright win, instead being focussed on a class victory.
With no official Ford entry, and no production Ford realistically in the running, there were some interesting drivers in a Cooper S for the first time.
Most notable was Harry Firth, who had masterminded Ford’s “creative rule interpretations” the previous year.
Firth knew the only car entered at Bathurst in 1966 that stood any real chance of winning was the Cooper S, as he explained a few years before his death.
“The only reason we decided to run the Mini was that Ford decided they weren’t going to run... and other people made some offers which didn’t please me. The chap with the Mini, Adrian Bryan, (a Holden dealer in Adelaide) said I’d like you to drive a Mini for me, and I said, ‘yeah alright Adrian, I’ll do that’. ”
“We got the Mini and ran it around a bit. Then I went off to America and left a list of things to be done, but when I got back nothing had been done. That was only three weeks before the race. So, it was all very hotch-potch, but the Mini was pretty good and I had another chap driving with me, Ern Abbott, who was a known Mini peddler, middle class, but he was alright.”
Also piloting Minis in a one-off appearance were Bruce McPhee/Barry Mulholland, Barry Seton/Barry Arentz and Frank Matich/Frank Demuth.
Of the nineteen cars entered in Class C, seventeen were Cooper S. Their only possible competition was from the V8 Valiants and a lone Holden X2 (a twin-carb sports version of the HR) in Class D. So, it really was basically a question of which Cooper S would win.
While BMC had also entered Minis in Classes A and B in 1965, the following year they concentrated solely on the three Cooper S for the outright win.
But there were still a handful of drivers, driving the 998cc Cooper and a couple of Mini De Luxe entries chasing the cheaper classes. In total, of the 55 cars entered, almost half the field, 24 cars, were Minis of some description.
Bob Holden managed to talk Evan Green into letting him have his allocated Mini overnight a few days before the race. Assisted by the guys at Lynx Engineering, he stripped the engine down and completely rebuilt it, balancing everything that he could and making sure all the components were matched and within the finest tolerances.
“I was just looking for an edge, and the edge happened to be that it had to be as perfect a car as you could possibly get”, Bob explained. “I knew they weren’t really that perfect. They were nicely-built little cars, but they weren’t on the edge, the limiting edge of being perfect…What had all been done at the factory was pretty well spot on, but the balancing was the critical thing on them.”
Bob Holden drew number 13 for the race, but Rauno Aaltonen was not pleased, as Bob recalled recently. “I always ran number 13, whenever I could, because it was a number that I knew no-one else would want.”
“Bruce McPhee was the same, and he always liked to run number 13, too. We had an arrangement that if we ever ran in the same races he would use number 113.”
“But Bathurst was different. You didn’t choose your own number; it was drawn out of a hat. And that’s what happened; I drew number 13 out of the hat and two years later Bruce drew number 13 - and he won that year.”
“I wasn’t at all superstitious about the number but Rauno was really upset when they pulled number 13 out for us. He would have been on the next plane home if he could. It took me some time to convince him that it was okay, and it was my normal race number, anyway.”
Once again the race would be started in class order, and once again that was the wrong decision. Although car numbers were still drawn randomly, grid positions within classes were at least decided by practice times.
There were only seven Class D cars in the race, and when the flag fell there was a mad scramble toward Hell Corner, which at the time was named Gallaher Corner in deference to the new major sponsor.
By the end of the first lap the pole-sitting Weldon/Slattery Studebaker was fifth, behind the Nougher/O’Keefe Valiant and three Minis – Aaltonen, Smith and Brown. After two laps the order was Aaltonen, Smith, Brown, Hodgson, Foley, Matich (all in Minis), Nougher (Valiant), then the Minis of French, Stacey, and Mander, then the Valiant of Boddenberg/Cooke.
After six laps Minis held the first sixteen places outright. As the commentator of the official film of the event said, “at this stage anything that’s not a Mini is news”.
On lap seven, the BMC team suffered its first problem, when John French collided with a Valiant at Murray’s Corner. He was quickly in the pits and dropped from tenth to twentieth.
On lap ten Foley got past Aaltonen and the Works Minis began to put their “towing” tactics to use down Conrod Straight for the next fifteen laps.
Then on lap 25 Foley brought the number 28 Cooper S in with oil pressure problems. Hopkirk went out for three laps, then coasted in with centre main bearing failure and was out of the race.
On lap thirteen, Frank Hann rolled his Cooper S, and two laps later Frank Matich was in the pits with a blown tyre, after running in fourth spot.
Ron Hodgson was next Mini retirement, when he ran off the track at XL Bend at the top of Mountain Straight. He hit a tree, but luckily was unhurt.
Meanwhile, in Class B there were four 998cc Coopers in the field of fifteen cars, that had earlier held the first four spots in class. The lead changed numerous times, and on lap twelve the Prisk/Martin Cooper had a lengthy pit stop with valve problems.
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The BMC Experience Issue 19. Oct-Dec 2016 Magazine
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