Saturday Sleuthing: Nissan's Bathurst Record Bluebird
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By V8 Sleuth
Saturday Sleuthing this week is one for Nissan fans, as we track down one of the Japanese manufacturer's most iconic cars from its history in Australian touring car racing.
It's a car that has sat idle for almost 30 years, until it very recently roared back into life for a very special reunion with its former driver.
That car is the Nissan Bluebird Turbo - specifically George Fury's 1984 Bathurst pole-winning car.
The Bluebird raced in the Australian Touring Car Championship from 1982 to 1984 (it debuted at Bathurst in 1981), and today's featured car is the third and last Bluebird built by Nissan Motorsport.
While we now associate the Nissan Motorsport name with the modern-day operation run by Todd and Rick Kelly, in the early 1980s the factory Nissan team was a fully in-house effort, overseen by former Ford motorsport boss Howard Marsden.
The Bluebird was a giant-killing car in the era of 'Group C', and the 1.8-litre, turbocharged sedan was more than a match for the big Falcons and Commodores of the day.
Our featured Bluebird was fully built in Australia in 1983 - while it was a Japanese body, Nissan manufactured the rest of the car in-house locally.
Fury contended for the Australian Touring Car Championship that season (where a points system weighted towards the under-three litre class cars, which included the Bluebird, helped it nearly win the title), though our featured car debuted in the endurance portion of the season.
According to the car's CAMS log book, it debuted at the Oran Park 250 enduro - and won first time out!
The Nissan team had planned on running all three of its Bluebirds that weekend - one for Fury, one for John French and one shared by Fred Gibson and Gary Scott, though Scott crashed in practice and he and Gibson took over French's car for the race.
Sandown was a let down as Fury lasted only 11 laps before turbo dramas sidelined him and then the former rally driver qualified on the front row alongside Peter Brock at Bathurst.
But the challenge went west quickly when he lost second gear after just one lap. He limped back to the pits, it was repaired and he and Scott finished a delayed 26th.
However there was a ray of sunshine at the end of season Australian Grand Prix support race at Calder, which Fury claimed victory at over a decent, though not full-strength, touring car field.
The car's logbook showed it spent 1984 domiciled as the 'Sydney special' at the now-defunct Amaroo Park Raceway and its popular AMSCAR Series.
Scott drove the Bluebird as #16 and was a major contender in the track championship, finishing fourth overall and two race wins.
He also helped back up Fury in the final round of the ATCC at Adelaide International Raceway (finishing fourth) before returning to Amaroo to win the wet Silastic 300 endurance round.
The logbook shows the car next ran at Bathurst and Scott joined Fury again on driving duties - and it was here that the Bluebird achieved some special history.
Fury's Bathurst pole was undoubtedly the Bluebird's greatest moment, and stands in history as the fastest ever touring car lap on Bathurst's original (pre-Chase) configuration at 2m13.85s.
It was also the first pole for both a Japanese and turbocharged car in the history of 'The Great Race'.
1984 marked the end of the Group C era, and Fury won in the car's farewell to major Group C racing at the Calder AGP meeting - two successive wins in the same event.
But the car returned in 1985 as Nissan boss Howard Marsden lent it along with trailer and support van to Gary Scott, who kept racing it in the Sports Sedan/GT Championship carrying #104 with backing from Armstrong Nissan in Queensland.
It then returned to Gibson Motorsport who rebuilt and restored the car to its former glory - reportedly with help from a couple of young blokes named Glenn Seton and Mark Skaife!
Gibson retained the car until 2001 when it was purchased by Terry Ashwood, who displayed it in his Trackside Restaurant in Gosford alongside a range of other special cars he bought from Gibson's collection.
Ashwood sold the car to its current owner, Brian Henderson, in 2013. Henderson also owns the ex-Skaife Nissan Gazelle Group A car, which he bought from Ashwood three years ago.
The Bluebird returned to the track last month at Winton, and who better for Henderson to hand the keys to for the special occasion than George Fury himself, who even wore his race suit and helmet from Bathurst 1984!
"George initially had to be cajoled into coming and driving it, but once he thought about it a bit more he really looked forward to it, and rolled up with his original race suit and helmet," beams Henderson.
"It looked like it was 1984 all over again!
"He was just genuinely excited to be there. I met him before he saw the car, he walked down through the people and then almost walked through them when he saw the car, all warmed up and ready for him!
"He had a big smile on his face and he was good. He enjoyed driving it and was happy with how everything had been done. He was with the car again a few weeks ago and we have another test day coming up for him to have a good half a day in it."
Henderson also plans to race the car in the Heritage Touring Cars historic category when time permits - we'd certainly love to see it!
After spending the best part of three decades as a display piece, it's great to see another important car in the history of our sport getting back on the track doing what it always did best - and in the hands of its original driver.
Many thanks too to Australian Muscle Car Magazine and its publishers Chevron Publishing for the use of the historic Bluebird images for this story.
Next week we will get warmed up for the Wilson Security Sandown 500 with a story on the whereabouts of the Falcon EB that Dick Johnson and John Bowe took to victory in the race 20 years ago in 1994.
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