New Zealand Saloon Car Championship was first staged in 1960. It was
won by Harold Heasley, driving a Humber 80.
in New Zealand during the late 1950s mirrored that of other parts
of the world; single seater and sports car racing was considered
the only pure form of the sport. However, despite its beginnings
as little more than a novelty class, the fact spectators could relate
to the cars meant saloon car racing, or touring car racing as it
was also commonly referred to, was fast gaining popularity, and
very quickly, national championships were being established all
over the world for these unlikely race cars.
cars competing in the early years of the New Zealand Saloon Car
Championship were little more than mildly modified road cars, the
category actually had very few rules, unlike championships being
contested in Australia, Great Britain, and other countries at the
time. Initially, Jaguar MkI and MkII saloons were the cars to beat,
before the Lotus Cortina arrived on the scene. But very quickly,
teams began to realise that the absence of regulations meant they
could mix and match powerful engines with small, lightweight cars.
The 1966 championship
was won by Dave Simpson, driving a Ford Anglia fitted with a Lotus
twin-cam engine. His nearest rival was Paul Fahey, also driving
a Lotus Anglia. Both machines featured heavily modified bodywork,
including radically altered noses, as well as fabricated fast-back
additions to the rear roofline, all to improve aerodynamics. Other
drivers, such as Rod Coppins, opted for V8 power, fitting a small
block Chevy into a MkII Zephyr. These cars were commonly referred
to as Allcomers, which essentially translated to 'anything goes'.
For the 1967
season, the Allcomer cars got even wilder, and even faster. However,
Motorsport New Zealand had already begun to recognise that, although
wild and popular, the Allcomers were quickly drifting away from
that one key factor that set them apart from single seaters and
sports cars; the spectators could relate to them as the cars they
themselves drove on the road. And as such, they took action.
The 1966 season
saw two separate championships take place alongside one-another.
With the Allcomers being the headline act, MSNZ introduced a second
championship, for FIA Group 2 touring cars. Group 2 regulations
were already in wide-spread use throughout the world, and used for
the British Saloon Car Championship, European Touring Car Championship,
numerous European national championships, and were also used as
the basis for the Improved Production regulations used in the Australian
Touring Car Championship. Furthermore, the Sports Car Club of America
established a new sedan racing championship in 1966 which it called
the Trans-American Sedan Championship, or Trans-Am, for short. The
SCCA used FIA Group 2 regulations for the Trans-Am.
The New Zealand
Group 2 championship attracted an interesting and varied field of
cars, including the popular Mini Coopers, Lotus Cortinas, and Ford
Anglias. But it also attracted New Zealands very first circuit racing
Mustang, imported by Ivan Segedin. Segedin was often the fastest
car in the Group 2 championship, but reliability problems kept him
from taking the overall title, which went to Jim Mullins, followed
by Brian Innes, both of whom were driving Mini Coopers.
The wild Allcomers
retained the top billing for the 1967 season, but the Group 2 championship
continued to show its strength, attracting big grids and close racing.
Barry Phillips won the championship in his Lotus Cortina, and once
again the series attracted some interesting entries, including Carlos
Neate in his Nissan Skyline GT.
1967 season, the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship took on a completely
new flavour. MSNZ had long been looking to rid the series of the
Allcomers, citing escalating costs and speeds. But they were also
concerned the cars bore little if any resemblance to the vehicles
race goers could purchase from their local dealerships. They briefly
considered promoting Group 2 as the sole championship formula, but
instead decided on FIA Group 5.
By 1967, Group
5 regulations had taken over from Group 2 in the British Saloon
Car Championship. Group 5 were something of a middle-ground between
the outgoing Allcomers, and Group 2. The cars themselves were production
based, but as they were in Group 2, they had to retain the factory
engine and driveline, but greater freedom was allowed in areas such
as engine size, brakes, and other areas.
For the 1968
championship, there were four classes, based on engine size:
0 - 1,000cc
1,001 - 1300cc
1,301 - 1,600cc
1,601 and Over
The new championship
formula enjoyed strong support, with Paul Fahey, Red Dawson, Rod
Coppins, and Frank Bryan all entering Ford Mustangs, while reigning
champion Robbie Francevic imported a Ford Fairlane, powered by a
big block 427 cu.in motor. The smaller classes were also strongly
supported, with hoards of Mini Coopers, Anglias, and Lotus Cortinas.
Over the next
few years, the engine size regulations were tweaked somewhat, and
new entries continued to arrive. In the big capacity field, the
Fords were joined by various Camaros, Ford Falcons, and Holden Monaros,
while in the smaller ranks, the hugely successful Ford Escort RS1600
model became the high-benchmark. Drivers such as Fahey, Jim Richards,
Jack Nazer and Don Halliday all enjoyed great success with Fords
pocket-rocker racer. Others, such as Alan Boyle, opted for a different
route, and built a very fast Vauxhall Viva, while Rodger Anderson
built an equally quick BMW 2002. Meanwhile, in the 1 litre ranks,
the Mini Coopers dominated numbers, if not always the results, as
a handful of Hillman Imps challenged for the top placings.
Group 5 worked
well in New Zealand, producing some incredible racing and some legendary
cars. Event promoters also spotted a golden opportunity during this
era, as New Zealand rules finally ensured the cars were of similar
spec to those competing in other countries. And as such, a steady
stream of international tin-top racers were brought to New Zealand
to take on the best of the local contingent. Drivers such as Norm
Beechey, Allan Moffat, Pete Geoghegan, Frank Gardner, Brian Foley,
Bryan Thomson, Ron Grable, Joe Chamberlain, and numerous others,
all raced their cars in New Zealand at various times during the
late 1960s and early '70s, attracting huge spectator numbers, and
thrusting saloon car racing into the top echelon in local motor
In 1973, regulations
were changed for the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship. Group
5 were dropped in favour of a locally brewed set of rules called
Schedule E. Schedule E, in many ways, reverted back to the old Allcomers
era, where teams were offered far more freedom. Teams could now
fit any production car engine into any bodyshell, and pretty soon,
V8 motors were being shoe-horned into Ford Escorts, Capris, Vauxhall
Victors and the like. So too, bodywork freedoms were also opened
up. The 1974 season saw the continuation of the outgoing Group 5
machinery still dominate, albeit, updated slightly to take advantage
of Schedule E wheel size rules, before the new breed of Schedule
E cars began to take over.
Cars and Historic Saloon Cars was created to celebrate the late
1960s and early 1970s era of the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship
under Group 2 and Group 5 rule. Historic Muscle Cars uses its own
set of unique regulations, based partially on MSNZ T&C, partially
on the cars that raced in period under Group 5, but also influenced
by some of the international machinery that raced in New Zealand
in period. Historic Saloon Cars uses MSNZ T&C, as well as FIA
Appendix K, and CAMS Historic Group Nb and Nc regulations, to ensure
a more period correct and historic grid.
Cars and Historic Saloon Cars was created specifically to promote
enjoyable racing, with an emphasis on period correctness. There
is no championship, and race results are not awarded in any way.
The main focus is on car presentation, respect for other cars and
drivers, and the celebration of the late 1960s and early '70s era
New Zealand Saloon Car Championship.
by Pat Lambert.