Up to the mid-1970s privateers still stood a chance of doing well at Bathurst. The last of the “real” privateers to win the Great Race was John Gosse, who with Kevin Bartlett scored an emotional victory in 1974 in his much-campaigned and self-prepared Falcon hardtop coupe.
That year also saw privateers take out two of the smaller car classes: Ray Gulson/David Crowther won the 1301cc – 2000cc class in an Alfa 2000 GTV; and Gary Leggatt/Peter Lander won the up to 1300cc class in a Cooper S – the very car on these pages.
Up until 1971 Bathurst was divided into classes according to retail prices, and until 1969 Minis, both Cooper and Cooper S, had dominated their classes. In 1970 and 1971 the Mini’s lack of development meant it was uncompetitive with such cars as Holden’s GTR Torana, Ford’s twin-cam Escort and Mazda’s rotary-engined RX2.
Not surprisingly, only one Mini competed in 1970 – that driven by Arthur Olsen and Lynne Keeffe. In 1971 there were only two Minis entered, which finished down in 6th and 10th places in their class.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the “Supercar Scare” of 1972, Bathurst received a strange class formula that year, which meant the Cooper S would have been completely uncompetitive, so none were entered.
Gary Leggatt, in his first Bathurst enduro, was one driver who thought he had the answer, entering a FIAT 850 Sport Coupe, as he explained. “I’d raced an 850 before that, but the way the new rules for that year worked was you multiplied the engine capacity by the price and if it came in under, I think it was 3000 pricing units, then you were in Class A and the FIAT Sports just got in under that, so we were in Class A.”
Unfortunately for Gary, every other Class A car was either a Mazda 1300 or Datsun 1200 and the little FIAT was completely outclassed, being the last car classified as a finisher. But, finish it did, which, when some 25 cars didn’t, is still impressive enough.
The following year sanity prevailed and Bathurst was finally separated into classes based entirely on engine capacity. The Cooper S was again competitive in its class, up to 1300cc, and seven were entered in the race.
As part of the fallout from the Supercar Scare the previous year, Bathurst was now for Group C Improved Production cars, rather than standard Series Production cars. This meant that a fair amount of modification was permitted, within certain strict parameters.
This was also the first year the race was metricised and increased from 500 miles (805km) to 1,000km. While drivers had been able to compete solo in 1970 to 1972, a minimum of two drivers was again required from 1973.
Gary Leggatt was in one of those Minis, alongside Bob Wedd, as Gary explained. “There was a bloke who had a business in Canterbury Rd, Bob Wedd, and had a Cooper S, so I asked him about buying it. He said he wasn’t ready to sell it, but his wife also had a Cooper S and she was happy to sell it to me, so I bought that and Bob and I entered Bathurst in that car.”
Bankstown Leyland dealership Fourways Motors paid the entry, and Leggatt set the fastest qualifying time for the class, and a class record, at 3m 00.9s – nine seconds faster than the fastest time in 1966 – but was still back in 42nd place on the grid.
Under the rules for Group C, carburettors were free, provided they were on the original manifold, and Leggatt was running Reece Fish carbies.
Leggatt started the race in the Mini and was leading his class when it all went wrong on lap 28, as he continued. “I was driving and coming into the bend at the end of Mountain Straight (Griffin Bend) I slipped off the edge of the track. I didn’t want to jerk it back onto the track so I was just gently bringing it back, letting it come across in a sort of easy wash, thinking it would be back on the track in a few more feet and then there was an almighty bang. Hidden in the grass beside the track was a concrete drain that went down into a pipe and I’d dropped down into that – tore the wheel off and bent all the front and basically wrote the car off. Poor old Bob never even got a drive. I walked back down to the pits and all these blokes were whistling and cat calling and laughing and so-one, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Leggatt was far from finished with Minis and needed another shell to rebuild his race car, which came from an unlikely source, as he explained. “I worked at the airport and one of the girls at work had a Pommy 850 Mini that she’d run into a tray back truck, and bent the front and pushed in the A-pillar and all that. It was listed as a write-off, but I bought that and then we fixed the front and the A-pillar and got it all sorted. That car had sliding windows and with Bathurst we couldn’t run that, so we put the doors and bonnet from the other car onto it. The car was red, so that’s how it came to be red and white, because I couldn’t afford to repaint it.”
For Bathurst in 1974, Leggatt entered the car under his own name and brought Peter Lander in as co-driver. Lander had driven a FIAT 128 SL the previous year with former Mini racer Lakis Manticas, finishing second in class and sixteenth outright.
For 1974, Leggatt was again on class pole, with a time of three minutes flat. There were five Cooper S and one Clubman GT, for Jim Stewart/John Byers – the first entered at Bathurst, although the model was already three years old, because most people thought the car was less competitive than the Cooper S.
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The BMC Experience Issue 20. Jan-Mar 2017 Magazine
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