Generally on Saturday Sleuthing we tell stories of cars from the V8 Supercars Championship era of Australian touring car racing, but occasionally we delve back into the files for a car that covers the period of both the international Group A and local Group C tin-top eras of the 1980s.
Today we’re featuring the glorious black and gold JPS Team BMW 635 CSi Group C racer driven by the great Jim Richards in the early 1980s, a car that stands out in the memories of most given the very unique in-car camera TV system it carried at Bathurst in 1983.
A hole was cut in the roof of the German thoroughbred to allow a TV camera – mounted in the passenger’s seat area – to poke up through the roof and pan 360 degrees to capture amazing racing vision for viewers on their armchairs at home.
Sadly the car was an early retirement from the race and viewers only saw snippets of vision from the periscope camera, which never again appeared at Bathurst in that form.
Perhaps the best news though is that this special BMW has been restored to how it ran in those days, though owner, Kiwi Pete Sturgeon, is still keen to try and find a suitable camera system to make the car ultra-authentic!
And there’s no doubting the identity of his car – it still has the hole in the roof cut out for the camera from over 30 years ago!
The car’s original pilot Jim Richards will be behind the wheel of it this weekend as part of the celebrations marking BMW’s 100th anniversary (1916-2016) at the Phillip Island Classic historic event.
It’s also timely to feature this car given Jim’s son Steve’s recent deal to race a BMW M6 in the Australian GT and Endurance Championships, which supports the V8 Supercars Championship this year at Barbagallo, Townsville and Sydney Motorsport Park.
The car Richards Snr will drive this weekend at Phillip Island (March 12-13) was in fact the second BMW 635 model raced by the JPS team and debuted by Richards at the 1982 Castrol 400 at Sandown.
He and Brit David Hobbs finished sixth in the James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst but then the car sat around and skipped the 1983 Australian Touring Car Championship, team boss Frank Gardner of the belief the car wasn’t competitive in its existing homologation state and instead preferring to focus on the team’s turbocharged GT Championship car.
Concessions for the 635 given prior to the ’83 endurance races that included 15-inch wheels and a four-valve engine were enough to lure the JPS team back to the track in time for the longer races and Richards was rewarded with a runner-up result in the Castrol 400 at Sandown to Allan Moffat’s Mazda.
He and Gardner paired up for Bathurst, though the periscope camera-equipped BMW was an early retirement after looking like, quite literally, a dark horse for the race.
The periscope camera system made one more appearance in the Calder support race at the Australian Grand Prix in November ’83 where Richards finished fourth in a 40-lapper.
Richards again drove the car throughout the 1984 season, which was the last year of the local Group C regulations prior to the introduction of international Group A regulations for 1985.
There were no wins for the distinctive black and gold #31 BMW in that season and it had its last race in Group C trim at Bathurst ’84 where Richards and new teammate Tony Longhurst retired after 39 laps with engine dramas.
The JPS BMW team converted the car to Group A trim - which also meant removing the distinctive unique wheel flares - and it was raced in the opening round of the 1985 championship at Winton by Neville Crichton before being sold to Glenn Molloy and then Melbourne privateer Jim Keogh.
Keogh engaged now Volvo V8 Supercars team owner Garry Rogers as co-driver for the Sandown and Bathurst endurance races and the duo finished sixth in the 1000-kilometre endurance race.
The car later passed through the hands of a range of privateers and then Kiwi Jim Boult of Queenstown (formerly a partner in the now defunct Tasman Motorsport V8 Supercar team) put it back into its JPS colours.
Current owner Pete Sturgeon of Christchurch, New Zealand, purchased it in 2009 and, after being convinced to restore the BMW to Group C specifications, engaged former JPS Team BMW mechanic Pip Barker to undertake a two-year restoration to return the car to its glory years.
Richards has driven it before in both Group A and its restored Group C trim, but this weekend will be racing among a pack of 40 Historic Group A and C touring cars at Phillip Island.
“When he comes onto that front straight at Phillip Island I tell you what, it’s going to make people’s heads turn!” car owner Sturgeon told the Heritage Touring Cars website recently.
“I just think it’s a credit to both Jim and Pip convincing me to do that restoration.
“For me it’s about the cars and getting them out of their sheds and racing them for the public to enjoy as well. It’s a very special thing and we’re incredibly lucky to be the custodians of these cars.
“And for the guys to be racing with Jim as well I think is a real joy and honour.”
Saturday Sleuthing will take a break next weekend as the V8 Supercars take to Albert Park in Melbourne, but will return on Saturday March 26 with a special focus on an important car in the career of current V8 Supercars Champion Mark Winterbottom.
If there’s a car you’d like to see featured in the future, contact the V8 Sleuth via the following methods below: