Beechey, Geoghegan & Jane: The racing Mustangs of 1965
Norm Beechey's '64 Mustang in typical pose at Warwick Farm. (Image from: autopics.com.au)
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Beechey, Geoghegan & Jane: The racing Mustangs of 1965

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By MarkOastler - 22 August 2012
Norm Beechey's '64 Mustang in typical pose at Warwick Farm. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

Ford Australia boss Bill Bourke's decision to import small numbers of the new Ford Mustang from the USA to Australia in 1965 - and convert them to RHD for a few well-heeled Aussies to drive on local roads - was a typically shrewd marketing decision (see Joe Kenwright's story on these rare imported Fords).

Bourke wanted Australia to get a taste of the euphoric 'Mustang-mania' that was sweeping across the USA at the time, as Americans in their hundreds of thousands scrambled to buy one of Ford's sensational new pony cars.

With the impending local launch of the new make-or-break XR Falcon series in 1966, Bourke wanted to maximise the positive image rub-off the new Mustang could bring to his new Aussie Falcon using the clever 'Mustang-bred' marketing theme he adopted.

What Bourke probably hadn't counted on, though, was the massive free kick his marketing campaign received from three of Australia's biggest names in motor sport at the time - Norm Beechey, Pete Geoghegan and Bob Jane - when all three chose to race Mustangs in 1965.

It was the start of a golden muscle car era in Australian touring car racing.


Norm Beechey's 1964 Mustang Hardtop

Let's get one thing straight. Norm Beechey was NOT the first driver anywhere in the world to win a race in a Ford Mustang, as is so often claimed.

There were examples of the all-new Ford Mustang competing and winning in US drag racing, Canadian touring car racing and European road rallying in 1964, following the new car's North American launch in April of that year.

So these events occurred a long time before Beechey's debut win at Calder Park on January 24, 1965. Even so, his achievement in just getting his hands on a Mustang - any Mustang - in 1964, at the height of the car's frenzied release in the US, was commendable.

And, with minimal preparation time, turning it into a first-up race winner and ATCC champion, too.

Stormin' Norm celebrates after his 1965 ATCC win at Sandown. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

Beechey's decision in 1964 to chance his racing future with the new Mustang was based on a resolute and typically single-minded belief in the performance credentials of the powerful new American V8 coupe, which was clearly at odds with the local touring car brains trust at the time.

Beechey reasoned that with new 'Improved Production' touring car rules set to replace the existing Appendix J regs on January 1, 1965, previously dominant cars like the Jaguar Mk II and his own red-hot EH S4 Holden would quickly become obsolete, particularly due to a major clampdown on the excessive over-boring of engines to boost capacity.

The new Mustang Hardtop (the Fastback version was considered a 'sports car' by the FIA and not eligible for Improved Production), with its compact unibody construction, low kerb weight and powerful V8 engine, had all the makings of a championship winner, provided Norm could get his hands on one.

In reality, Beechey would need a miracle to make that happen and it came in the form of then Ford Australia marketing boss (and later MD) Bill Bourke, who just happened to be dining at an adjacent table in the same Melbourne restaurant one evening.

Given Bourke's 'Mustang-bred' marketing plans, Beechey's timing couldn't have been better. He left the restaurant with a personal letter of introduction to Ford in the US from Bourke, requesting assistance in sourcing a new Mustang for Beechey to bring back to Australia.

Naturally, Norm was chasing the High Performance (271hp) 289 version of the Mustang Hardtop with four-speed manual gearbox, front disc brakes and limited slip diff.

What he got was a slightly used Ford company car that Ford's racing partner Holman-Moody was using for promotional work, because Ford was so overwhelmed by customer demand for its new car it just did not have anything available straight off the assembly line for the intrepid Aussie to buy.

Although it had drum brakes all round (which was very common in the mid-1960s), it was at least a Mustang Hardtop in the High Performance 289 V8 manual specification and thanks to Bourke's influential letter, Ford released the car for Beechey to purchase.

Armed with his new mount, Beechey didn't leave California without a visit to Carroll Shelby's huge Shelby American facility at LA airport, where he ordered a full-house 'Cobra' spec 289 Windsor small-block V8 armed with a quartet of twin-choke downdraught Webers on a special manifold.

Pete Geoghegan's '65 Mustang is arguably Australia's greatest touring car. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

The free-revving Cobra V8 didn't disappoint on the dyno sheets with a claimed 375 bhp, which was amongst the strongest peak horsepower figures for these Cobra engines at the time and some serious squirt from a sub-5.0 litre production-based, cast-iron small block V8 in 1965.

The new car and engine arrived in Melbourne in December 1964, leaving precious little time over the Christmas/New Year period to prepare for its competition debut at Calder Park in late January.

Beyond the usual stripping down, crack-testing and careful re-assembly of all mechanical components, plus setting up the suspension, making exhaust systems, fitting oil coolers etc, a lot of attention was focused on trying to make the four-wheel drum brakes - particularly the harder working fronts - hang in for a full race distance without dying from heat exhaustion.

The car's widened steel wheels, with their fully welded centres for maximum strength, would not have aided this cooling process as they tended to trap lots of heat within the rims. These were later replaced by American Racer five-spoke 15 x 7-inch wheels cast from lightweight magnesium.

Use of sintered metallic linings, drilling-out backing plates for ventilation and directing cooling air into the drums using large aluminium air scoops and ducting were pretty much all that was allowed.

Not that it mattered to Beechey, because the Mustang - looking resplendent in its blue and white Neptune Racing Team colours - raced away to a dazzling win and new lap record on debut at Calder. Beechey backed it up with another win at NSW's Catalina Park a week later, where Pete Geoghegan actually rolled his prized Ford Cortina trying to stay ahead of the rampaging Mustang!

The Neptune Racing Team driver also wrapped up the prestigious 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship at Sandown, plus the South Australian Touring Car Championship and the NSW Touring Car Championship.

When the front disc brake hardware he'd ordered finally arrived from the US, Beechey and his new pony car were clearly the class of the new 'Improved Production' field, while his main rivals Pete Geoghegan and Bob Jane hurried to get their new Mustangs up to speed.

Geoghegan and Beechey Mustangs clashed often in 1965-66 era. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

Pete Geoghegan's 1965 Mustang Hardtop

Stormin' Norm Beechey may have been the first to blood a V8 Ford Mustang in Australian motor sport, but it was arch rival Pete Geoghegan who showed Beechey and everyone else the sheer brutality of Ford Mustang dominance.

Beechey's Mustang (nor any other Mustang) defeated Geoghegan's 1965 Mustang from the moment they first clashed at Calder Park in August of that year. In total, Geoghegan won 68 races from 74 starts - an astonishing win ratio of more than 90 per cent - before his '65 was replaced by a new '67 model two years later.

If raw statistics are the tools by which greatness is judged, than this '65 Mustang is arguably the greatest Australian touring car of all time.

Geoghegan and Bob Jane, who both had eyes the size of dinner plates and gravel rash on their chins after witnessing Beechey's debut performance at Calder, had not long after jumped on a plane together bound for Los Angeles, California.

They were simply following in Beechey's footsteps, armed with similar letters from Ford Australia to validate their claims to a pair of new Mustangs. The Aussies were also given the red carpet treatment through Shelby American Inc's vast warehouse of go-fast bits needed to turn their new steeds into Beechey beaters, ideally before the 1965 ATCC at Sandown in April.

Geoghegan's Mustang started life on the production line at Ford's San Jose, California plant as a 1965 Mustang Hardtop ordered with a four-speed top loader gearbox, nine-inch 3.5:1 rear axle assembly and the rare factory K code option (10.5:1 solid lifter 271hp Hi-Po V8).

But unlike Beechey's take-it-or-leave-it experience the previous year, Mustang production had caught up to the point that Geoghegan was not only able to order a brand new car through a local Californian Ford dealership but also specify certain features as part of a special build order.

These included deleting all the usual body sound deadening/waterproofing compounds and heater-demister system to save weight, fast-ratio steering, big Kelsey Hayes 10.5-inch front disc brakes with four-pot calipers, meaty 10-inch rear drums from the giant Ford Galaxie and the optional engine bay 'export brace' that improved chassis strength between the front spring towers and the firewall.

Like Beechey, Geoghegan also placed an order for a full-house Shelby Cobra race engine, after being advised by US race engine guru Keith Black to specify an Engel 338 roller camshaft in the build.

Bob Jane's '65 Mustang had a short racing career of less than a year. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

Black's advice proved sound, as Geoghegan's piping-hot 289 fed by 4 x 48mm twin-choke downdraught Webers on an aluminium Cobra inlet manifold showed a phenomenal 394 bhp @ 7000rpm on the dyno!

This was around 20 more horses than Beechey's already impressive 375 bhp example, which at the time was amongst the strongest figures seen for one of these engines. According to Geoghegan, the same Engel roller cam was adopted soon after by Shelby American for its Cobra 'crate' engines.

Not only did Shelby American install this beaut race engine in Pete's new car but also fitted several other go-fast bits shared with Shelby's GT 350 R Mustang Fastback race cars (that were dominating SCCA sports car racing in the US at the time) including a Detroit Locker diff, unique Pete Brock-designed Shelby dash pad with integral centre instrument pod, beefed-up suspension parts and a set of magnesium 15 x 7-inch American Racer wheels.

So, what finally rolled onto the ship bound for Australia was the closest thing you could get to Shelby GT 350 R with a Hardtop roof - some would say even better, because it was packing a 400bhp quad-Weber Cobra engine under the bonnet!

Under John Sheppard's fastidious preparation, the Mustang was nowhere near completion in time for Geoghegan's expected showdown with the Beechey and Jane Mustangs at Sandown in April so he raced the Cortina instead. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait.

It wasn't until August at Calder Park when Geoghegan finally made his long-awaited debut in the Mustang against the well sorted Beechey and Jane cars, looking as sharp as a pin in the white, red and blue colours of the team's new sponsor, Total Oils.

On that day, in the main touring car event on the program, Pete immediately stamped his authority on his foes with a convincing debut win. As outlined in the beginning of this story, it was an ominous sign of things to come.

Overall, the stunning result from those 74 starts included the 1966 ATCC crown, state touring car championship titles in NSW, Queensland and Victoria amongst many other victories and touring car lap records at every track Pete and his '65 Mustang competed on.

Jane's Mustang was destroyed in a huge crash at Catalina Park in late '65. (Image from: autopics.com.au)

Bob Jane's 1965 Mustang Hardtop

Sadly, Bob Jane's first Mustang (he later raced a '67 and a '68 ex-Shelby Trans-Am) is remembered more for its relatively short eight-month competition career and fearful demise than for any racing achievements, which included pole position on debut at the 1966 ATCC at Sandown Park.

As mentioned in the profile on Geoghegan's Mustang, Jane had flown to the US with Pete to get his hands on a Mustang in early 1965. And like Geoghegan, Bob was able to secure a new 289 cid V8 four-speed manual Hardtop and was given free access to Shelby American's race shop to fill his shopping trolley with whatever high performance parts he wanted.

However, unlike Geoghegan, who commissioned Shelby to build him a race engine before shipping the lot back to Australia by sea freight, Jane elected to air-freight his new car and container-load of Ford and Shelby parts back home asap.

His ambitious plan was to get the car race prepared in Melbourne in time for the 1965 ATCC clash with Beechey's Mustang at Sandown Park in April.

Under team manager John Sawyer, the Bob Jane Racing Team met the tight deadline getting the car ready in time, complete with a full-house race engine built locally running a quartet of Weber twin-choke side-draught carburettors as opposed to Shelby's down-draught arrangement.

Jane's new Mustang was certainly fast, taking pole position for the ATCC clash while Beechey was forced to start rear of grid after suffering some mechanical gremlins in qualifying. Unfortunately Jane had to withdraw from the big race due to engine trouble, leaving victory to Beechey who stormed through the entire field and set a new lap record in the process.

Only a few months later, Jane's Mustang was destroyed in a spectacular 200km/h crash at Catalina Park in November. The speed and violence of this accident, reportedly triggered by a broken rear axle, involved multiple barrel rolls along and eventually over a wooden sleeper fence which could have seriously injured - or even killed - Jane.

Given that his race attire that warm Spring day comprised an open face helmet, slacks and a shirt-sleeved polo shirt, his escape with just cuts, bruises and an injured left elbow (caused by his arm being flung out of the window and hitting the road as the car rolled!) was miraculous.

Fortunately for Bob, what was left of his steaming, crumpled Mustang landed right side up. Jane doesn't remember much of the accident, other than the windshield shattering and when it finally came to rest looking down to see one of his four Weber carburettors sitting on his lap - and on fire!

 

All images are sourced from autopics.com.au