Saturday Sleuthing: Terry Finnigan’s Sony Commodore
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By V8 Sleuth
Privateers for many years were the backbone of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, particularly during its time known as the Australian Touring Car Championship.
While the sport now sees a grid full of professionally run teams and cars managed and engineered by full-time teams with scores and scores of staff members, the owner/driver privateers are still fondly remembered by many race fans.
And one name that springs to mind is Sydney-based privateer Terry Finnigan.
Finnigan ran Commodore touring cars during the Group C, Group A and V8 Supercar era and today on Saturday Sleuthing, a reader email has prompted us to go and find his last Sony-backed Commodore race car.
Reader Mitchell Newman was one of many fans of the privateers and remembers the car well.
“I was standing with my mates at the top of the Mountain in 1996 when Terry debuted his new Sony car and promptly smashed it into the wall over the run down the Esses!” he writes.
“I recall that it was fixed and Terry was often a top-running privateer in the first year the series raced under the V8 Supercars banner in 1997. But I kind of lost touch on him and his car when he stopped racing V8s a few years later. I’d love to know what became of it.”
Well the good news Mitchell is that the car is still very much around and on the way back to restoration.
The car was actually the third Supercar built by Finnigan, constructed to replace the VN/VP he had driven from 1991 to 1996.
The body shell he used for it was in fact the shell that Holden presented for homologation of the new VR model Commodore in late 1994 and was built up into a VR race car using a Chevrolet engine, though utilising the running year from the VP he’d stepped out of.
Media reports at the time said the car’s construction was completed in just 10 weeks with one major shakedown run at Eastern Creek before it made its racing debut at the AMP Bathurst 1000 as the #27 Sony Autosound entry with Finnigan joined by South Australian privateer Stuart McColl.
The car’s Bathurst debut started on the wrong foot in Thursday afternoon practice when Finnigan lost control and crashed the car heavily coming off Skyline. The rear of the car was extensively damaged and repairs kept the car off the track until Saturday.
On race day the duo started from 19th on the grid and climbed as high as ninth place in the wet early race conditions before gearbox problems sidelined them on lap 37.
The new car had a minor upgrade to VS specification for 1997 and Finnigan followed the full Shell ATCC trail except for the trip south to Symmons Plains.
The season highlight was Eastern Creek where the car finished a brilliant seventh overall for the round.
Finnigan was joined at Bathurst by Terry Shiel, the duo achieving a strong 10th placed finish, before the car again ran in 1998 with Finnigan and Peter Gazzard teaming up at Bathurst.
The team’s Sony backing disappeared in 1999, limiting the race schedule undertaken by Finnigan’s team. He elected to pair up with former Gibson Motorsport driver Darren Pate, who brought backing to allow them to compete in a range of rounds as well as Bathurst.
A little known fact about this car’s history is that in February of that 1999 season, Finnigan gave the car a shakedown run at Eastern Creek as part of filming for an episode of the popular TV series ‘Home And Away’!
Summer Bay never looked so good!
The car was placed on the market in 2000 as times changed in the sport and it increased in professionalism, thus starting to push the privateer drivers and their cars more so towards the-then new Konica V8 Lites Series.
Finnigan sold his VS Commodore to Matthew Hunt, who made his debut in it at the 2001 Bathurst Konica Series non-championship 30-lap race on the Saturday afternoon.
Hunt competed again in the 2002 Konica Series, racing in four of the five rounds plus the non-championship race at Bathurst in October.
He made one further appearance in the car at Eastern Creek in 2003 before it was again placed up for sale.
The car did not find a buyer and re-appeared, again in Hunt’s hands in both the 2005 and 2006 Touring Car Challenge, a series for old V8 Supercars, Group A cars, Future Tourers and Super Tourers.
Hunt eventually sold the car in 2011 and it went through various owners before eventually being purchased by Andy and Gary Kirwan.
Kirwan told the V8 Sleuth at the time that you could see a range of modifications had been made to the chassis, which help validate this shell’s role in Holden’s homologation of the VR Commodore for racing.
The car changed hands again earlier this year and is now owned by Heritage Touring Cars competitor Jeff Trembath, who intends to restore it back to the Sony livery as Finnigan raced it.
We look forward to seeing this striking black and white Commodore back on the track in its original colours sometime soon!
Saturday Sleuthing will take a break next weekend for the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown but will return on Saturday June 25 with a story on a former Holden Racing Team Commodore.
If there’s a car you’d like to see featured in an upcoming story you can get in touch with the V8 Sleuth via any of the following methods: