Thursday 19 April 2012

Desirable muscle car. One owner since '88. Only driven on weekends.

The first time I saw Viv's hardtop was on the last stage of Rally Queensland at Imbil in about 2004. I was standing on the inside of a downhill, left hand turn and it came out of nowhere, slid through the lantana on the outside of the turn and then disappeared. It was such a bizarre sight, I wasn't sure it had really happened.

I finally met him last year - a genuine, old-school racer with a thousand stories to tell. I hung out, helped out as service crew at a couple of events, wrote an article that appeared in Gasoline magazine.

He was clearly both grateful and slightly amused that someone wanted to write a story about him, but gave me a lot of his time. Dan and I were very pleased with the finished article.

What I remember of my time hanging out with him is a lot of late-night hours sitting in a race seat on the way to Rockhampton, doing a lot of waiting and changing a lot of tyres. And that sick, sinking feeling when I realised that after 48 hours with only 3 hours sleep, I had sent him back out to a stage with loose wheelnuts. Fortunately, everyone survived that mishap.

For those who missed the article, here's a couple of excerpts and some of the photos:

Spectating at forest rallies is one of life’s more subtle pleasures. Everyone who loves cars understands NASCAR or drag racing at some level – you sit in a big stadium with drinks and chips and it’s an hour of non-stop action. Then you go home.

Watching rally, you sit on a tree stump on a bend of the road in the middle of nowhere. You eat your sandwiches a bit too early. You drink your water. You fiddle with your phone (still no reception). You have those little how-you-goin chats with the bloke beside you. He’s always better prepared, with proper chairs and an esky. You have to change logs because yours is now covered with ants. Your new log is covered with ants too.

Then suddenly, usually when you’re trying to remove a particularly nasty looking bug from inside your shirt or taking a leak behind a tree, there’s a flurry of noise, a crunch of gear change, a bit of rev-limiter bounce and a hail of gravel. This is gone in a second as the taillights of another blue WRX disappear down the stage. Dust settles. The cicadas start back up. You wait.  

“When I started, everyone drove their rally cars to events. Now it’s a rarity.” In the lead-up to Rally Queensland, the hardtop was taken on a 500k round trip for scrutineering, then driven an hour and a half to the rally the next weekend. Often, Viv tows a box trailer full of tools, fuel, tyres and spares behind the race car. I know people with street cars that wouldn’t do those kind of miles.

Which led to what I really wanted to know: what it’s like to drive? Viv is on record saying that pushing the big Falcon around forestry tracks is like sitting in your lounge chair, trying to drive your house.

70s Falcons are known for being front-heavy and prone to understeer, but Viv has obviously mastered the technique on the dirt, making it look every bit as surefooted as some of the purpose-built rally weaponry. She might be big, but the old girl can certainly dance.  

Walking from one end of the service park to the other, Viv can't take three steps without someone calling his name and shaking his hand. At one point in mid-conversation, he disappears. He's been dragged aside for a chat by Murray Coote, former Australian rally champion and Bathurst contender.

Other competitors recount his superhuman repair efforts – rebuilding the motor after holing a sump so he could drive home the next day, or the time he rolled the car on a mid-afternoon stage, took it home, fixed the panels and windscreen, changed the suspension and brakes and had it back at the service park by the midnight cutoff. Every time you hear this one the damage to the car is worse and the repair time is shorter.


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