Don Holland Group N Mini

Unlike most Group N racing Minis, though, this is not just any old car that has been modified to meet the current rules. This Mini has History – with a capital H.

Don’s first race was at Warwick Farm in 1961, driving an Austin-Healey., and setting a lap record. His first race in a Mini was the 1963 Bathurst 500, in a Morris 850, finishing a very close second in class.

He bought a Cooper in 1964 and raced a variety of Minis in Series Production through the 1960s, including first in class at Bathurst in 1966, ’67 and ’68. One car he had was that raced by Brian Foley/Paddy Hopkirk at Bathurst in 1966, which broke its centre-main bearing – allowing Don to buy it from BMC, “at the right price”.

He was also racing a couple of lightweight Minis in the Sports Racing Closed category through this period, with the second one becoming well known for its 1426cc engine – claimed at the time to be the largest capacity Mini engine in the World, and taking six class wins from six starts at Oran Park and Warwick Farm.

Don raced that car as part of the BMC Works racing team, then the Leyland team. Unlike the Works team in the UK, though, he said the support in Australia was a very limited affair. “There was a $500 sign-on fee from Castrol and a $500 fee from BMC. There was also a performance payment from Castrol, but nothing from BMC. They used to help out with parts at cost, even if they weren’t for the race car, and some free parts for the race car, that sort of thing, but it wasn’t a paid sponsorship.”

We had more on Don’s racing career back in Issue 2, April-June 2005.

Late in 1969 he began work on a new car for Improved Production racing. By this time the Sports Closed category was replaced by Sports Sedans, and there were a lot tighter restrictions, making the super-lightweight Minis no longer competitive. Meanwhile, Improved Production had taken over from Series Production as the premier category, although Bathurst continued to be run under Series Production rules until the Supercar Scare of 1972 saw it switch to Group C in ’73.

While still based on production cars, there were a lot more freedoms in the areas of brakes, cylinder heads, body panels and suspension. Don’s new car featured fully rose-jointed suspension, sway bars front and rear, front wheel arches cut out, 12”x7” wheels and, for a short time, an eight-port alloy cylinder head.

Doors, boot and bonnet were all alloy, as Don reveals. “The cars were homologated to FIA Group 2 so they could run the alloy panels, Perspex windows and a lot of other changes. Evan (Green) brought in four sets of alloy panels, one set for his rally car, one for my race car, one for Jim Smith and one for John French. I don’t think Jim or Frenchy used them, because I think that’s when they both got out of Minis, so it was just my car and Evan’s.”

To qualify for the Group 2 rules, the cars were made to look like British Mk2 Minis, with the UK Mk2 grille and bonnet badges. The alloy boot lid, being from the UK, also featured the longer English number-plate holder. However, being Australian-built Minis originally, they both still had the Mk1 taillights and boot badges.

“Mine was the sister car to Evan’s rally car”, Don continues, “and they were built at the same time and painted up the same. Evan came up with the colour scheme, or someone in the art department at Leyland did, but I always thought it was Evan. There were three cars racing in the Leyland Works Team, and they were mine, the MGB of Iain Corness and Jim Smith’s Rover.

It should be pointed out that despite the visual similarity in the cars, this was not the Leyland Young Lions Team, which was run by Gus Staunton after Green left Leyland, as Don continues. “The Young Lions team was in 1971 and was different. I had switched over to the Torana by then. The factory had closed down the Competition Department, and the Young Lions couldn’t use the Leyland blue, which was British Standards French Blue, that we used so they painted their cars Mediterranean Blue.”

Don said the situation with the Leyland Works Team was virtually identical with the BMC set-up, including the sponsorship arrangements. It was basically just a change of colour scheme, the name having changed in 1969.

Minis were generally no longer outright contenders, but still more than held their own in their class, and Don had many class wins in his new car, particularly at the three main tracks he raced it at – Warwick Farm, Oran Park and Amaroo Park.

However, not everything went to plan, as Don reveals. “The car was written-off after I hit Bib Stillwell’s BDA Escort, when it spun in front of me at Warwick Farm. The track was a bit damp, and Richard Knight was driving Stillwell’s Escort, and he spun then rolled backwards back onto the track and I hit him. Back in the pits, Stillwell carried on and asked why I hit his car instead of going around it. People who remember Warwick Farm will recall a big gumtree right there. I had a choice of hitting the tree or hitting the car. I chose the car.”

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 28 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>50</plumshop> <plumshop>51</plumshop>

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