Saturday Sleuthing: The First V8 Winner

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 21/09/2013
  • By V8 Supercars

It’s 20 years since the five-litre V8 rulebook – now known as V8 Supercars – was introduced. We have a great story about the special restoration of the car that won the first round of the ‘new era’ for Dick Johnson Racing in 1993 …

SATURDAY Sleuthing today rewinds back 20 years in terms of the car in focus, but it’s very much a current story with a ‘feel good’ factor related to what is unfolding with it today in 2013.

 The car we’re focusing on is DJR EB2 – the first ‘legal’ Falcon EB built by Dick Johnson Racing (the original was never cleared for racing) which won the first Australian Touring Car Championship round under the five-litre V8 regulations in 1993 at Amaroo in the hands of John Bowe.

1993 John Bowe at Amaroo

 This car has a long and storied history, which we will document in the coming paragraphs, but it’s recently been purchased by John Vergotis, who is embarking on a special restoration project.

 Andy Cantrell has owned this particular chassis for the best part of a decade. A battle with throat cancer has slowed him down in recent times and, while he’s given the cancer a kicking, it’s meant that work on the ex-Johnson car had slowed.

 Enter Vergotis.

2013 Vergotis Shell

He previously owned an ex-Glenn Seton Falcon AU and now races an ex-BJR Falcon in the V8 Touring Car Series, though is looking to sell the later and focus on a restoration project.

Just a few weeks ago he asked Cantrell if he could buy the ex-DJR EB and complete the restoration.

Cantrell had never stopped to ponder selling but agreed on one condition: that he will get the first drive when the car is finished.

Vergotis agreed and the car was delivered within days. There’s a whole pile of work to be done, but the wheels are turning on getting the car restored – and thus Cantrell getting what is sure to be an emotional first turn at the helm on-track.

“Andy’s health is coming along all right, he raced on the weekend but it took him three days to get over it,” says Vergotis.

“Andy is more than capable of doing the job, but this gets rid of the stress of the enormity of the job. He’s excited about it.

 “It’s a massive, massive task. There’s a lot of work to be done, I’m working on it every day at the moment, even it it’s just an hour every day. Bit-by-bit it will start to take shape.

“It was the right thing to do with the car. Garry Willmington has been a massive help of late as he’d had the car and still has some of the parts out of it from years ago.

“Really, the car should have been written off. But the cage was intact so I’m glad it wasn’t!

 “It’s been a shell for 13 years but I’ve managed to start to get onto the right people with the right parts. The only problem so far has been a diff housing. There’s a massive amount of fabrication work required.”

This particular car actually debuted in a race in late 1992 in the hands of Dick Johnson in Adelaide before competing in the end-of-season Nissan Mobil races in New Zealand.

1992 Johnson Adelaide

It became John Bowe’s #18 chassis for the 1993 ATCC and was driven by Paul Radisich and Cameron McConville at Bathurst that year.

Bowe retained it (with winglets added to the front spoiler as an EB II) in 1994 before he debuted a new car at Eastern Creek.

EB2 returned for Oran Park as the #19 Fuddruckers car in which Steven Johnson made his championship debut before he and Allan Grice used it at Sandown and it became the spare #19 entry for Bathurst only used on the Wednesday during practice.

1994 Steve Johnson Oran Park

Bowe stepped back behind the wheel of it for the end-of-season Adelaide Grand Prix support races as well, claiming a pair of race wins.

It was then sold to privateer John Trimble, who ran it under Daily Planet colours in the 1995 ATCC and then again in 1996 under AustJet colours in selected ATCC rounds as well as Bathurst.

1996 Trimble Eastern Creek

It was sold midway through 1997 to Sydney privateer Mike Conway, who ran it in the AMSCAR Series as well as some ATCC rounds and Sandown and Bathurst with Gavin Monaghan before converting it from EB II to EL specification.

He’d use the car over the next few seasons in selected championship rounds as well as Bathurst before things went wrong in the 2000 series opener at Phillip Island.

Contact with Mick Donaher sent the Falcon into the wall that badly damaged the car and sidelined it. In fact, it’s never raced since and ended up in Cantrell’s hands in the years that followed.

“I didn’t sell it to John for the money,” Cantrell told our V8 Sleuth this week.

“But getting the headspace was helpful. I’ve been struggling to do the stuff I want to do and I can’t spread myself too thin across the board with everything I want to do in life.

“I hadn’t advertised the car; John rang me out of the blue. If it were anybody else I wouldn’t have sold it. If anybody can do it, I reckon he can.

“In the meantime I’ll keep playing with my Seton car (the last EL built by Seton’s team in 1999), which I’m running in state Sports Sedans this weekend at Eastern Creek.

“The Johnson car has had a heap of different colours and liveries over the years. It was the oldest car running in the Shell Series when it last raced. It had been hit from pillar to post but I’m fairly fond of that car.

“If I hadn’t got that filthy cancer I would have had it done. I’d finished a new house, built a new industrial-sized building on acreage and all I had to do was do the things I wanted to – and then I got sick. But I’m getting there now.”

While there is plenty of work ahead to bring this ex-Johnson/Bowe racer back to life, there’s no doubt the passion of its new owner will see it over the line.

We look forward to seeing the restoration project of this important ex-DJR Falcon unfold!

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