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Larko’s groundbreaking V8 touring car

Repco Supercars Championship fans know Mark Larkham as the television ‘propellor head’ imparting his expert engineering knowledge and conveying it in simplified terms, but back in the mid-1990s he was ahead of his time.

After spending the best part of three seasons in Australia’s leading open-wheel category then known as ‘Formula Brabham’, Larkham elected to build his own Ford EL Falcon to contest the Australian Touring Car Championship.

However, it wasn’t as simple as this.

Larkham aimed to develop the most advanced touring car of its kind by transferring some areas from open-wheelers to the new Mitre 10 EF Falcon.

Some aspects of its design have since been utilised today and although it didn’t work at the time, the Falcon previewed the way of the future. One of these concepts was the monocoque inside positioning the driver towards the centre.

It made a delayed debut at Round 3 of the Australian Touring Car Championship at Mount Panorama, but the Mitre 10 entry was best by problems.

Larkham failed to enjoy much luck in his early ATCC career as compounded by heavy crashes at Phillip Island and Mallala.

When a move to Stone Brothers Racing in 1997 left Larkham’s chassis sitting dormant it was sold to the privateer Colourscan Racing concern in mid-1998.

The end was nigh, though no one knew it.

A tap from Craig Lowndes at the inaugural Adelaide 500 sent Danny Osborne and the ex-Larkham Falcon into the wall heavily rendering it effectively written off.

Although certain items have remained in both Larkham’s and Osborne’s possession, while the shell was sent to the Brisbane North Institute of TAFE for young panel beaters to learn their craft.

“It’s kind of sad in a way but I take 100 percent responsibility for it,” Larkham stated to back in 2015.

“We tried to do way too much too soon but I learnt a very valuable life lesson. There were plenty of good ideas in that car that emerged later on.

“The roll cage was beautiful. It was lighter than anything at the time. Everything on that car came from a blank sheet of paper. I’ve still got most of the drawings. Pretty much every component we designed from scratch.

“It didn’t win anything but in terms of ideas it was ground-breaking. It wasn’t until 10 years later that we centralised the driver in V8 Supercars. The DTM (German touring cars) later used a driver cell concept similar to what we had.

“Having been in an open wheeler, I thought why couldn’t we have it like a tub with quick disconnects and everything could come out?

“The seat was mounted to the roll cage and not to the floor, which was common then. We used carbon manganese tubing that they were just starting to use in the British Touring Car Championship. It was lighter and stronger than chrome moly.

“The car was designed specifically to be a racing car. It had an extremely low centre of gravity but it did compromise reliability. We grossly underestimated the loads a V8 Supercar encompasses from kerbs and hits with other cars.

“The car was designed from a theoretical load point of view. In practice though it wasn’t correct.”