MEETING BOB HOLDEN for the first time at last month’s VHRR Classic event at Phillip Island was a bonus.
I’ve admired Bob since I was a kid. He’s in his 80s now and he’s still mixing it convincingly with the fast guys in his swift Corolla.
My dad first pointed Bob out to me, probably at Fishermans Bend, in the late 1950s. Dad was a Holden man, so it was no surprise that ‘Holden-in-a-Holden’ grabbed his attention. And Bob Holden’s flying FE was no ordinary ‘twin-SUs/ Lukey-exhaust’ job. It was a standout car – an ex-taxi, still resplendent in taxi black, it was probably the first competition Holden using a Phil Irving-designed Repco ‘High Power’ cylinder-head.
Good for a top speed close to 200km/h, it made its mark in touring car competition with Bob pedalling.
What my Dad hadn’t noticed about Bob was that he was actually a Peugeot man. His Holden period was pretty much an aberration – he’d competed in Peugeot before the FE and he was back in Peugeots after the FE (ultimately pursuing a distinguished racing career in a range of cars, generally four-cylinder – including winning Bathurst in 1966 in a Morris Cooper S with some help from Rauno Aaltonen).
With identities like Bob Jane, John Reaburn, Leo Geoghegan and Norm Beechey continuing to fly the battle flags for Holden, Bob’s return to Peugeot probably passed pretty much unnoticed.
Bob’s explanation of how the Repco FE came about shed some interesting light on the reality behind his move.
In 1957 while employed at Repco Research with Charlie Dean and Phil Irving, Bob virtually destroyed his Peugeot 403 while driving home from a weekend’s hillclimb action at Broken Hill.
With Repco management With Repco management having just put the kibosh on their test car being used for motorsport, Dean cheered young Bob up by donating its ‘High Power’ engine bits to him, suggesting he build a Holden race car. Which he did, successfully (apparently to tide him over until he got himself back in a Peugeot).
My dad would have been well disappointed to learn that it wasn’t passion for Holdens that put Holden in a Holden – more like a blend of pragmatism and opportunism.
It wasn’t that Dad and his mates had anything against Peugeots – like a lot of his traditional motoring-enthusiast peer group, he was still respectfully digesting the reality of Ken Tubman’s stunning 1953 Redex Trial victory in a Peugeot. It’s just that blokes like Dad knew that ‘proper’ cars here had sixcylinder motors.
There would have been even more for them to digest if they were aware of comment from certain observers that the combustion chamber design and the valve gear arrangement of the new ‘true-blue’ Repco head for Holden sixes bore a striking resemblance to the design of Peugeot’s four-cylinder heads.
Another VHRR Classic highlight, an impossibly rare Scarab – the ill-fated American Formula 1 car from 1961 – reminded me that Peugeot DNA turning up in other people’s performance equipment is far from being a parochial Australian issue.
The Scarab’s powered by a venerable Offenhauser motor.
The California-built ‘Offy’ was the engine-of-choice for Indianapolis 500 cars for generations. It however was fundamentally a rip-off of the design of the Peugeot engine that claimed a bunch of Indy 500 victories in earlier years.
Since GM’s recent sale of its Euro-operations to French giant Groupe-PSA all this stuff is suddenly small beer indeed. Forget petty debates like: “Which went better, a genuine Aussie Holden or a foreigner, the Peugeot?” or “Did the Repco head work because it copied Peugeot?”
Die-hard ‘proper-car’ Holden men now have to swallow a huge new reality – anything arriving in our showrooms from next year wearing Holden badges will be built by the same outfit as Peugeot.