Bathurst Marina Project

To compete at Bathurst in any car takes the efforts of an entire team, but it was primarily the work of three individuals that led to the Leyland Marina 6 Coupe of Neil Byers and Peter Molesworth taking its place on the grid on the morning of Sunday October 6, 1974.

Neil and Peter were members of the St George – Port Hacking Automobile Club and had both competed in a variety of club cars at local events. Neil had his first taste of Mount Panorama at the Easter meet of 1973, after which he decided he must return to The Mount. As the Easter meet was not being run again, this only left the “1000” in October, so a plan was hatched for 1974.

During the 1960s Noel Delforce worked as pit crew, with his brother Russell, for Charlie Smith who raced in Appendix J with a Morris Major, then later an Austin Freeway. He started his apprenticeship as a fitter machinist with BMC Australia in 1964 and was involved with building the race engines for the Bathurst class-winning Mini Cooper Ss of 1967 and 1968. 

In 1974 he built the P76 V8 engines for the Evan Green/John Bryson World Cup Rally car and Green’s Southern Cross Rally car. He also built and raced a Wolseley 24/80 and later a V8 Marina sports sedan. 

With his experience at race engineering, strong contacts at BMC (later Leyland) Australia and driving experience, and being friends with Neil since the 1960s, Noel was a natural choice as the second member of the Bathurst Marina project. 

He was working in Leyland’s Experimental Department at the time and used his contacts there to gain support for the Bathurst effort. No money was forthcoming but the team was supplied with a brand new Marina Coupe shell and some spare parts.

However, there was a snag. Noel describes himself as a somewhat flamboyant race driver, which got him into trouble with ARDC Clerk of Course Fred Pearce once too often. Fred was Clerk of Course at both Amaroo Park and Bathurst and accepted Neil Byers’ entry for the 1000 on the condition that Noel was not driving.

The people at Leyland who had helped pave the way for the Marina project were less than impressed to learn that “their man” Noel was not allowed to run and, in fact, had the project not been so far along it would have been scrapped, at least as far as Leyland’s involvement was concerned.

Peter Molesworth at the time was a poker machine mechanic and knew little of the Bathurst Marina project until just prior to the start of the 1000, when he got a call from Neil: “Hey Pete, want to co-drive for me at the Bathurst 1000 in a couple of weeks?” As you could imagine, a yes was not long in forthcoming. The only hitch was that Peter had to contribute $300 to top up the project’s funds. This done, he was off to Bathurst to race in the 1000 as a rookie.

The Car

Number 34 appeared on the official entry list as a Morris Marina, but it wasn’t actually a Morris, as the model had been renamed a Leyland the previous year. 

The Marina was equipped with a 2.6 litre OHC six-cylinder E-series engine, borrowed straight from the six-cylinder P76, mated to a Borg Warner three-speed floor-shift gearbox similar to that used in the E38 Chargers. 

It was actually a combination of two cars: a written-off Hertz rental car and the brand new shell. The write-off was bought from a wrecker after it ended its life upside down in a creek at the bottom of a ravine in the Snowy Mountains. 

The body shell, thanks to the inside help, was walked down the production line where extra welds and reinforcing brackets for body strength were added at the direction of the engineers from Experimental. All body  sealing was deleted, as was the sound deadening material, and the body was given only one coat of Chrystal White paint. The end result was a body shell some 80kg lighter than a production model. 

Some suspension components that were “lying around” were bolted on and the shell was pushed onto the trailer, to go straight to the spray painters for some bright red “go fast” stripes.

The whole project was nearly over before it really began, when Neil forgot to tie the car down properly and it rolled off the trailer as they were going along the main street of Marrickville. 

Luckily it came to a stop without hitting anything and so, with the help of some willing patrons from a nearby pub, the car was reloaded onto the trailer then off to the painters. It was masked and painted that night, arriving at the Byers residence in the early hours of the morning where assembly began.

Noel hand-picked an engine block, crankshaft, rods, pistons, head, etc from the factory and built the blue-printed engine. As the block left the factory with no engine number stamped into it, Neil contacted Leyland to get one allocated; since it was needed for the CAMS logbook. 

The rules for Group C at the time allowed for a change of carburettor but required the standard inlet and exhaust manifold. A 2” SU carby replaced the standard 1¾” and a straight-through exhaust was fitted that exited just in front of the rear wheels. In hindsight, Neil admits, they may have been better off sticking with the stock carby. 

The gearbox and rear end were taken straight from the wreck, as was all the interior trim and wiring, while the up-rated front torsion bars and lever arm shocks were courtesy of the Leyland Experimental Department. 

The rear springs and shocks were stock, apart from having the springs lowered. The only modification made was the addition of a Panhard rod. There was no rear sway bar fitted. Selbys Suspension made up a front sway bar, reset the rear springs and made the Panhard rod. Bond Roll Bars built and fitted the alloy roll cage. 

“Dry” tyres were Goodyear racing slicks on 13” x 7” widened steel rims, but there weren’t any special hand grooved wet weather tyres; only a set of Olympic Reflex 13”x 6” radial street tyres on stock Marina 13”x 5½” rims. 

Brakes were stock, except for using the Hardie Ferodo 1103 material disc pads on the front. These brake pads and the rear shoes lasted the whole race.

The original fuel tank was considered too small for a long distance race. The maximum size allowed was 120 litres and had to be a bladder type tank or a proper foam-filled racing tank to prevent leakage in an accident. These can be very expensive but Neil had a flash of inspiration and bought a fibreglass bladder-type fuel tank for a Cessna light plane from a small aircraft maintenance company at Bankstown Airport. This was then mounted to a frame in the boot, held down with a couple of seat belts. It was later discovered that the tank was some 40 litres over size, but nothing was said and no one checked it so that’s how it ran the race.

There was also a minor problem of the car having a front track some 10mm over that listed on the homologation papers – which turned out to be a mistake from Leyland when homologating the car – and the optimum camber alignment in the steering resulted in the car sitting about 20mm lower than the minimum permitted height. Again, the team was lucky that nobody ever checked, so the car ran as it was. 

A day or so before leaving for Bathurst the team went to Oran Park for a shakedown test. They found the car went well but was way down on horsepower, which Noel couldn’t explain. 

So, it was off to Bathurst, two drivers with no “1000” experience and a model of car that had never been circuit raced anywhere in the world, let alone over a 1000km distance. The total cost of the project to get it on the grid was a mere $2,500 – a poultry sum even back then.

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