While Dick Johnson Racing is flat chat preparing a brand new #17 Falcon for David Wall to drive at the Perth 400 in a few weeks’ time, today on Saturday Sleuthing we thought we’d look at an old #17 – which is actually still on the track and racing this weekend in Sydney.
Our V8 Sleuth Aaron Noonan’s email box is bursting with messages from fans asking about old cars and this particular #17 is one that was first asked about back in 2011 and quite a few times since!
Greg Maude was one reader who has asked about the location of the green DJR Mustangs – so today our Sleuth brings us the story on one.
Don’t worry, we’ll cover the other one somewhere down the track soon!
Back in the mid-1980s after the end of the local Group C touring car rules, Dick Johnson opted to purchase a pair of Zakspeed-built Mustangs from Germany for the introduction of the new Group A rulebook.
Today we’re focusing on the first car, which is now racing on in the hands of Bill Pye in the Heritage Touring Cars Championship for Historic Group A and C touring cars.
This car was brought into Australia in late 1984 and actually taken to Bathurst by Johnson as a back-up for the team’s primary entry, #17 Palmer Tube Mills Falcon XE.
That year’s James Hardie 1000 classic was the last for Group C cars, though Group A entrant were added to the field in their own class as a prelude to their introduction full-time the following season.
Running in a white Palmer Tube Mills livery carrying the #71, the car qualified 48th but was only entered in the case of practice problems with the Falcon and did not take the start of the race.
It became Johnson’s #17 ‘green machine’ for the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship, finishing second in the Championship to the BMW of Jim Richards thanks to eight podium finishes from the 10 rounds that year – however none of them were a victory.
This car became the team spare and Johnson into the second of the two Zakspeed-built Mustangs for the 1985 endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst, where he was joined by former Holden Dealer Team ace Larry Perkins as co-driver (who had quit Peter Brock’s Mobil squad mid-season).
However, the original car did go to Bathurst that year and, rather than being simply a T-car used in practice, it was actually entered as the #18 Mustang with Perkins and Johnson nominated as drivers.
Perkins qualified it in the Hardies Heroes Top 10 Shootout and, rather than pull the car from the run-off (despite only intending to race it should disaster befall the #17 entry) it was kept in the run-off and Perkins qualified eighth fastest before it was withdrawn and all cars behind it moved up a spot on the grid.
An interesting sidenote to this car’s history also occurred at Bathurst that year with Ford legend Allan Moffat – out of a drive following the withdrawl of Mazda and thus debuting as a Seven Network TV commentator that year – driving the #18 Mustang during practice as part of a test of all of the top Group A cars for that year’s TV telecast.
Ironically, his son James would end up driving a Falcon for DJR many years later in 2011 and 2012!
The Mustang we’ve featured today was then retained as a spare car for 1986 by DJR, however it was repainted in the black and gold of JPS for the Nissan-Mobil 500 series in New Zealand at the start of that season run in Wellington and at Pukekohe.
Kiwi Neville Crichton joined Johnson as co-driver and they finished runners-up to Brock and Moffat’s Mobil Commodore VK on the streets of Wellington (the debut of Moffat with the HDT) and then failed to finish at Pukekohe with distributor drive failure stopping their challenge.
The car returned to Australia and remained as the team’s unraced spare for the remainder of 1986.
With the turbo-charged Sierra Cosworth coming for 1987, the Mustangs were sold off and this particular car was sold to Kiwi Robbie Ker and returned back across the Tasman.
Johnson went across at the start of ’87 to co-drive with Ker at the Wellington Nissan-Mobil 500 street race, however the car was involved in an accident in practice and was withdrawn given the heavy damage.
Ker competed in Group A in New Zealand for the next few years (including competing in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship round later that year in Wellington with the car in plain white colours).
The Mustang had bigger wheels and tyres and its guards flared over the next few years and then raced as a Sports Sedan in NZ.
It passed through the hands of a range of owners before it was tracked down and purchased by enthusiast Ross Donnelly in 2006, who commissioned Kiwi Ken Hopper to restore it prior to returning it back to Australia to have the familiar 1985 Palmer Tube Mills livery applied.
It returned to the track in 2008 at the Muscle Car Masters in Sydney and was then sold to Bill Pye, who has become an instant front-runner in Heritage Touring Cars – the recently applied and quite apt banner under which Group A and C touring car racing is now run.
Pye has been a regular front-runner in the Heritage Touring Cars Championship since he bought the Mustang, which will be in action this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park.
The HTC category has its own five-round series with Round 2 this weekend part of the Sydney Retro SpeedFest – where Pye will take on the likes of the GIO Group A Nissan GT-R, Sierras, BMWs, Commodores and many more.
It’s always good to see an old race car back in its original livery, but it’s even better to see it back out on the track!