A brief history of Muscle Cars in NZ competition from 1967 to 1974

Ivan Segedin was the first person in New Zealand to race a muscle car (technically a ponycar), when his handsome dark blue Mustang appeared in late 1965, built up from a road car. The Mustang didn't live up to expectations on the track, but its charisma and presence won the hearts of many race fans. Visiting Australian Pete Geoghegan showed the potential one of these new muscle cars had, by beating the local teams in their wild Allcomer cars by a comfortable margin at the New Zealand International Grand Prix meeting, in January 1966. Later that same year, Paul Fahey imported a Shelby Mustang built up for competition use, and even though he chose to run the car to the more limiting Group 2 regulations that had been adopted alongside the Allcomers, he still beat the wild Allcomer saloons on two occasions during the 1966/67 NZ Saloon Car Championship.

Prior to the start of the 1966/67 season, Motorsport New Zealand announced this was to be the last for the Allcomer saloons, in an effort to bring a closer relationship between the types of cars appearing on the track, and those available in dealer showrooms. Replacing the Allcomers for the 1967/68 season would be the internationally recognised FIA Group 5 regulations, which would bring New Zealand saloon car racing largely into line with that of Australia, Europe, and the US.

Over time, New Zealand would adapt its own changes to the Group 5 regulations, but it was now on a similar enough of a playing field to the rest of the world it was possible for ambitious event promoters to import international cars and drivers to tackle the locals at selected events, and help bolster crowd numbers.

1968

The 1967/68 New Zealand Saloon Car Championship saw a raft of new cars being built or purchased offshore for the new regulations. Of the large capacity cars, Paul Fahey would run a second season in his Shelby Mustang, now adapted to suit the Group 5 rules. Red Dawson purchased Ivan Segedins Mustang. Two further Mustangs were imported, a new '67 Shelby for Norm Barry, and the 1966 Australian Touring Car Championship winning car of Pete Geoghegan, which had been purchased by Rod Coppins. Reigning NZ Saloon Car Champion Robbie Francevic took a completely different route, importing a big block Ford Fairlane.

Fahey was far and away the most successful driver in the big capacity class throughout the season, but he didn't win the 1968 Saloon Car Championship. The title was claimed by small capacity class driver Rodger Anderson, in a Mini Cooper. The new points system meant any driver from any of the classes could win the title if he gained enough points within his class.

Bay Park promoters took the initiative and brought Australian Norm Beechey and his magnificent Chevy Nova out for the Bay Park Christmas meeting, where the big Chevy managed to fend off a determined Fahey, and the rest of the Kiwis.

1969

More imports arrived for the '69 season, with Spencer (Spinner) Black debuting the first Camaro to race in NZ. Meanwhile, Dawson sold his troublesome ex-Segedin Mustang, and bought Norm Barrys purpose-built car, while John Riley had purchased the ex-Geoghegan Mustang off Coppins. Having missed out on the title the previous season, Fahey finally claimed gold. Again, the promoters of Bay Park had Norm Beechey race his Nova at their Christmas event, although this time the Kiwis put up a much better fight.

1970

For the '70 season, Fahey sold his Mustang to Riley, and imported an Alan Mann Escort, while Coppins took over the Spinner Black Camaro. Spinner, himself, had an HT Monaro constructed. The 1970 championship went down to the wire, with both Coppins and Dawson capable of clinching the title at the final round. Dawsons Mustang failed in practice, so he borrowed Rileys car. He then jumped the start, and was given a post-race 10 second penalty, which penalised him enough to make Coppins the champion. However, Dawson successfully protested the penalty, giving he and Coppins the exact same number of points. As they'd both claimed the same number of race wins, and second and third placings, they were celebrated as joint champions. Again, Bay Park were proactive in bringing out an international driver when they had Terry Allan and his big block '67 Camaro compete at their Easter event.

1971

Prior to the start of the '71 season, Fahey had imported a 1970 Boss Mustang, but he chose to campaign this car in non-championship races only, preferring his Escort as the championship contender, which proved the right decision, and he won the '71 championship. However, on the occasions he did race the Mustang, it proved to be a very quick car. Norm Beechey was again shipped out to race on NZ soil, though this time at the NZ International Grand Prix meeting at Pukekohe in his 1970 ATCC winning Monaro.

Meanwhile, Bay Park promoters were having a busy season, bringing Terry Allan out on two more occasions, at their Labour weekend event, and their big Christmas event. The Bay Park Christmas meeting would also see fellow Australian Bryan Thomson appear in his big block '68 Camaro, as would American Joe Chamberlain in his '69 Trans-Am Camaro. This car was purchased by Kiwi Ian Rorison for Dennis Marwood to drive throughout the remainder of the series. Plus, Tasmanian Mustang driver Robin Pare appeared at the Bay Park Easter meeting.

1972

Fahey sold his Mustang to the PDL Racing Team, who would maintain the car while he drove it. Dawson had sold his Mustang, and purchased a current 1970 model Z28 Camaro. But this season, Rod Collingwood won the title in a Mini Cooper, having been hugely successful in his class, while Fahey won the big-bore over 4.2 championship.

This season would see Allan Moffat appear for the first of many times, with his magnificent '69 Boss Mustang, while Pete Geoghegan was also present, with his 3-times ATCC winning Mustang GTA. This pair would compete at the Bay Park Christmas meeting and NZIGP at Pukekohe, as would American Ron Grable, in a Trans-Am '69 Firebird, which would be purchased by Coppins, and be his title contender for the next few seasons.

1973

The '73 season saw a drop in car numbers at several events, with Marwood only running a limited campaign in the Rorison Camaro. The title this year went to Coppins, after Fahey and PDL parted ways before the end of the season. High points of the year however, were the Bay Park Christmas meeting, and Pukekohe NZIGP, at which Moffat and Geoghegan returned, though Geoghegan this time had a 600hp XY Falcon. From Britain, was Australian international driver Frank Gardner, with a '67 Camaro he'd campaigned successfully in the British Touring Car Championship, and throughout Europe. And American Joe Chamberlain also returned for these events, with another '69 Trans-Am Camaro. Former small capacity saloon driver Jim Richards appeared at the end of the season with an exciting new '69 Mustang, sponsored by Sidchrome Tools.

1974

1974 was a season which hinted at the changes the future would bring, and the eventual down-fall of muscle cars at the sharp end of the field, with the appearance of slick tyres, albeit very basic ones, and the first new cars to take advantage of the ever-changing rules, which now allowed for any engine to be fitted to any car, such as V8s squeezed into Escorts. This was also the first season in which more radical, box-style wheelarches appeared, when Paul Fahey imported a 'works' ETCC Capri from Germany. But, for now, the traditional muscle cars still ruled. This season saw Graeme Baker drive the PDL Mustang, while John Riley had purchased the Marwood Camaro, and Kevin Haig, an OSCA driver from the South Island, took in several events in a Shelby Trans-Am Mustang. But it was Jim Richards who took the title, having come to grips with the new Mustang, to win his first championship. This season only Moffat appeared, again in his Mustang, which now raced in Australia as a Sports Sedan. The 1967 - 74 period of the New Zealand Saloon Car Championship was an all-too brief era in which heavy metal American and Australian V8 muscle cars fought for outright contention. Each of these cars oozed character, and brought punters to race tracks in their droves. They made the ground shake, and they made people cheer. All too quickly they were super-ceded by smaller, more nimble Anglo-American space-frame concoctions that were faster and more competent in every way, but not before they'd etched their place in history, and won the hearts of thousands of Kiwi race fans. Historic Muscle Cars was created to honour the 1965 - 74 muscle car era of New Zealand, Australian, and American motor racing.

Photos courtesy Mike Feisst, the peter Hanna Collection, Gavin Evitt, Warwick Clayton, Steve Twist