History will be written at the start of the 2019 Adelaide 500 as the Ford Mustang races back into top-level Australian motorsport for the first time since 1989. With DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing the two teams tasked with replicating the Mustang’s success on Australian race tracks in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the 2019 season will feature a fascinating subplot as the sixth generation Ford Mustang aims to live up to the achievements of its predecessors. I’ve taken a look back at the trophy-laden history of the Mustang in the Australian Touring Car Championship in this edition of Supercars History.
1965 – 1973. ATCC Domination
Manufactured by Ford since 1964, the first generation Ford Mustang arrived on the ATCC grid in 1965 in the hands of Norm Beechey and Bob Jane. 1965 was the first ATCC championship contested with cars complying to Group C improved production regulations and was run over a single 40-lap race at Sandown Raceway. Jane qualified the Mustang on pole in its first-ever ATCC qualifying session before the race was won by the other Mustang of Beechey in a time of 56 minutes. The Mustang was supreme, and Beechy finished over a lap ahead of the competition. The 1965 ATCC title was the first to be won by a V8 engined car.
1966 came around and the ATCC was contested over a 20 lap race at Mount Panorama. Two Mustangs featured in the 1966 title fight, with Beechey remaining with the car and Ian Geoghegan entering the race. Beechey qualified in the Mustang and his Chevrolet Chevey II Nova, but elected to race in the more powerful Nova despite the Mustang setting the faster lap time. The race was won by Geoghegan who collected the Mustang’s second ATCC title in as many years, and his second of five ATCC titles.
The 1967 edition of the ATCC was run at Lakeside Park Circuit near Brisbane and once again featured Mustangs on the grid. Geoghegan remained loyal to the car, and he was joined by the returning Bob Jane, Paul Fahey, Rod Coppins and Greg Cusack to make it five on the grid for the 1967 race. Geoghegan won the title again, winning the race by 12 seconds from the Moris Cooper S of Brian Foley to make it two title wins in a row for Geoghegan and three for the Mustang.
It was to be more of the same in 1968 as Geoghegan took and his the Mustang’s fourth ATCC title in the 34-lap race at Warwick Farm Raceway in New South Wales. The final ATCC championship to be decided over one race featured seven Mustangs on the grid driven by Geoghegan, Jane, Fahey, Coppins, Fred Gibson, Bryan Thomson and Ian Dawson. Geoghegan won the race by over a minute from his nearest rival and over 90 seconds ahead of his nearest class rival.
1969 was the tenth running of the ATCC and the first to be contested over a series of races rather than just one single race. The series looked very different, but many of the main drivers were the same including ones in a Mustang. Geoghegan and Jane once again stayed loyal to the car and they were joined by Robin Pare. Allan Moffat also featured in the Ford Boss 302 Mustang. Geoghegan won his fourth ATCC title in a row after beating Alan Hamilton’s Porsche 911 by just one point. Hamilton did in fact score more points over the course of the five-race season, but due to a rule where the lowest points score was dropped, Geoghegan took the title. The Mustang won the first three races of the year, with Beechey now in a Holden HK Monaro GTS327 winning the final two.
1970 – 1972. End Of An Era
1970 was a historical year in the ATCC as Beechey’s championship victory in the Monaro made it the first year the ATCC had been won by an Australian-made car. Six Mustangs featured, driven by Geoghegan, Jane, Moffat, Pare, Chris Brauer and Tony Calvert but the car won just once all year in the hands of Geoghegan at Mallala Motorsport Park. Jane and Geoghegan finished 3rd and 4th in the championship respectively. Despite showing good speed, Moffat’s poor reliability cost him in the fight for the championship and he switched to the Ford XW Falcon GTHO Phase II before the final round at Symmons Plains. Pare, Brauer and Calvert finished lower down in the table.
Whilst Geoghegan remained in a Mustang in 1971, it was Moffat who was the car’s new star when he won three races at Symmons Plains, the old Surfers Paradise Raceway and Lakeside as the only driver to win in a Mustang that year. With the Ford Falcon and Escort also proving popular with drivers, just Geoghegan, Moffat, Calvert and John Harvey continued with the car. Moffat finished the year 2nd in the standings with Geoghegan 3rd, but both were some way off champion Bob Jane who had switched to a Chevrolet Camaro.
1972 marked the final year of CAMs’ Group C Improved Production regulations before the ATCC switched to a production-based Group C formula for 1973. Post-1972, the Mustang would no longer be eligible to compete in the ATCC and ridership of the car dropped before the season began. Mustang stalwart Geoghegan switched to a Falcon, leaving Moffat in his Boss 302 Mustang, Mike Gore and Robin Bessant as the car’s only drivers. The car won three out of eight races, all courtesy of Moffat in its final season. The victories coming at Symmons Plains, Sandown and Oran Park as Moffat finished the year 3rd in the standings.
With regulation changes making the Mustang obsolete in top-level Australian motorsport, the car had all but dissapeared from the ATCC by 1973. It wasn’t until 1985 that the name returned to the grid.
1985. The Mustang Returns
After 12 years of intense Ford v Holden Group C rivalry the arrival of FIA Group A regulations for the 1985 ATCC season marked the return of the Ford Mustang to Australian motorsport. Three third generation Mustangs featured, driven by Dick Johnson, Lawrie Nelson and Don Smith and although the car failed to win a race on its return, Johnson finished on the podium in eight out of ten races to finish the year 2nd in the standings as Jim Richards won the title. The Mustang was back, but there was some way to go until it could match the glory years of the late ’60s.
Dick Johnson remained the Mustang’s most successful driver into the 1986 ATCC season as Lawrie Nelson also remained in the car. Kevin Clark replaced Smith but the car failed to live up to the success of the previous year as Johnson struggled to 6th in the final standings without one podium finish. Nelson finished the season in 30th after missing the majority of the races and Clark ended 49th after racing just once at Lakeside. Despite the success of 1985, 1986 marked the beginning of the end of the Mustang’s second period in the ATCC.
1987 – 1990. The Final Years
As Dick Johnson switched to a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth for 1987, just Nelson and Ian Love remained behind the wheel of a Mustang. Nelson and Love would complete just a handful of races each in 1987 and 1988 before just Nelson continued infrequently featuring just twice in 1989.
By 1990 the Mustang was absent from the ATCC grid. The one race Nelson was due to start at Philip Island, he didn’t. It’s 2019 return will mark three decades since its last stint in top-level Australian motorsport, but the car comes with a history of success which DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing will be keen to emulate.
The Mustang’s return to Supercars is a fascinating one made even more important by the fact that it replaces the much-loved Ford Falcon. Only time will tell if it can live up to its early ATCC glory days, or if it will only come close like it did in the late 1980’s. I can’t wait to see the car on track.
What are your thoughts ahead of the Mustang’s imminent return to Supercars? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!