Crowd Pleaser

Undoubtedly, the Holy Grail for Australian Mini owners would be the Mini that won Bathurst in 1966. That of course is never likely to turn up, due to the fact the car was stolen in 1968 (see Issue 15).

Next in the desirability stakes would have to be one of the ex-Works rally or race cars. They are few and far between, and are not likely to come up for sale very often at all – although there are still a few not accounted for, so keep looking.

Arguably, third in line would be one of the other Minis that raced at Bathurst. Again, these are rarely found, and even more rarely in a condition for racing. Still, you can get lucky, as Clarissa and Troy Stapleton from Melbourne discovered.

Troy owns and races a Walkinshaw Group A Commodore, and wanted something for Clarissa to be able to enjoy racing with him. Clarissa is no newcomer to the sport either, as her dad was a one-time racer as well.

A few years ago, the couple bought a Morris Cooper with 1098cc engine, which Clarissa entered in a few regularity events.

The limitations of the Cooper, and also of regularities, soon saw the desire for something suitable for Group C racing, even if not spectacularly competitive.

Troy had a variety of cars in mind, but Clarissa was adamant that only one make and model would do. “Troy was looking for a car that raced at Bathurst, and I wasn’t going to accept anything other than a Mini”, she admits. “If I was going to replace my gold Mini, which I loved, I wasn’t going to go for anything but a Mini. He said he found a Gemini and asked what about a Corolla, a Celica, but I said no, it had to be a Mini. I drove him mad. Everything he came up with I said no, It’s got to be a Mini.”

Thinking that finding a Mini that raced at Bathurst would be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, Troy chanced upon the one featured here on www.my105.com.au - a website dedicated to racecars for sale.

“It was buried a few pages back on the site, because as new cars come on it gets further down the list,” he reveals.

The Mini was owned by racecar collector Andrew Murray in Perth at the time, and numerous emails were sent back and forth for Troy and Clarissa to confirm everything with the car was as it should be.

“The history of it is that good, it had the logbook and everything was confirmed, I thought we needed to get hold of this car”, Troy explains. “We didn’t really know exactly how much work it would need, and you never do until you get it, but I thought we’d take a punt and grab the car. Really, it was much better than we thought it would be.”

The Mini had originally been purchased by John Lord in April 1970, from Lancaster Motors in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood. The NSW registration was BAZ 934, and John initially used it as a road car.

However, that soon changed, as John explains. “I’d just bought the Cooper S, brand new, and I did one of Peter Wherrett’s Advanced Driving Schools at Warwick Farm. There were about 50 people in the group and I won the competition part of it, so I thought maybe I could do more with the Mini.”

“My father had raced in the period of Stan Jones, the 1950s, so I was always interested in doing some racing myself. In 1972 I was transferred to Melbourne, with the family business, Lordco Australia P L – makers of equipment for the oil and gas pipeline industry. I joined the Light Car Club, which my father had been a founding member of.”

Despite the promise of that initial course at Warwick Farm, it would seem that John did not race the Mini before moving to Melbourne. The Mini’s logbook was issued on 18 May 1972, using the company’s address in Abbotsford, with the first event being Lakeland hillclimb on 17 June.

Work commitments prevented John from entering a lot of events, so he concentrated on the Manufacturers’ Championship – racing at Sandown, Winton and Calder Park.

1973 was much the same, with only five events entered for the year. However, he also ventured interstate with the Mini, racing at Adelaide International Raceway in August.

This year also brought his first race at the Australian Mecca of racing, Mt Panorama at Bathurst, NSW – but not in the Mini, as he explains. “I had entered the Cooper S in Bathurst, but Honda bought my entry. They had been late in getting their entry in, apparently, so they bought my entry and I raced for them in a Honda Civic with Peter Janson. We did alright, finishing fourth in class (and 22nd out of 30 finishes - Ed).”

The 1970s was still a time when privateers could compete on equal terms with the big teams, and even part-timers like John could be competitive, particularly in the smaller car classes, where costs were a lot lower.

John only raced the Mini four times in 1974, but these were at Sandown in July, AIR in August, Sandown again for the 250-mile race in September (2nd in class and 17th outright), and Bathurst in October for the Big One.

“I don’t think I had any first places, but I was always at the sharp end of the class”, John reveals. “One time I was leading my class at Adelaide International Raceway (1974) for most of the race, but then the tyres wore out, so that was that.”

Bathurst that year was another potential class victory that got away. “I had Ray Molloy driving with me. He was a well-known Mini racer at the time, mainly in Sports Sedans, and a good pedaller. We were leading our class by three laps, when I had a brain fade. It was a wet weekend, and there was a bit of a ridge at the top of McPhillamy Park that channelled the water. I slowed down to what I estimated was about three-quarters race speed, but got it all wrong and crashed. The irony was I had already decided to come in for wet weather tyres on that lap.”

Thankfully, the Mini was not badly damaged - basically only one front corner, with the panel pushed back onto the wheel. So, it was repaired and repainted, with the yellow mid-section, then the engine was rebuilt by Graham Ritter Automotive. Additional engine work was done by Peter Manton’s engineer Neville Watts - resulting in 105hp

It was eleven months before John raced the Mini again, once more at the Sandown 250, finishing fourth in class and 21st outright. After that race, he was awarded the LCCA’s award for Most Improved Driver of the Year.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 22 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>37</plumshop> <plumshop>38</plumshop>

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