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Sandown emerges as the traditional Bathurst warm up

Following a two-year sabbatical, Sandown’s traditional endurance race for production cars returned as this time a new era begun as a three-hour event.

In 1968 the Australian motorsport landscape was changing following the Ford XR Falcon GT’s success at the Mountain the previous year. Fred Gibson and Harry Firth guided their factory GT to victory starting off the muscle car era.

It proved a crucial event for Holden as it marked the first victory for its Monaro 327 GTS and kickstarted Norm Beechey’s association with the marque when he debuted his Improved Production version.

Developed in response to Ford’s GT, the Monaro proved more than a formidable opponent as it kickstarted a rivalry lasting until the death of the Holden brand in racing at the end of 2022.

Rally drivers Bob Watson and Tony Roberts took the Monaro’s first victory, but the race did highlight the big coupe’s brake flaw as the duo’s crew needed to stop the winning entry after it crossed the line.

A young Alan Jones partnered by Clive Millis in a similar Monaro took second, while long-time Porsche distributor Alan Hamilton and Tom Roddy completed the podium in a 911 Sportmatic.

Ford did not appear at the ‘Datsun Three Hour’ in 1968, but arrived the next year after launching its XW Falcon GT-HO. It’s fair to say it dominated the pre-Bathurst event as Allan Moffat and John French led a 1-2-3 for the Blue Oval, while the newly former Holden Dealer Team ended its race in a ball of flames after Spencer Martin ran out of brakes at Turn 1 crashing into the safety fence.

Discovering this fault mixed with Ford’s factory team using Goodyear race tyres for the first time ensured Holden took back-to-back victories at the Mountain, this time courtesy of HDT.

Another change of direction for the Australian motorsport landscape occurred when HDT’s Harry Firth transferred its racing program to the new compact Torana GTR XU-1 model in 1970.

Chrysler was also coming to the fore by employing Beechey to contest Series Production events in a Valiant Pacer 4 Barrel alongside Leo Geoghegan.

The small Torana was always going to struggle at Sandown as it’s notoriously known as a horsepower track and this came to fruition as Moffat took his second victory driving solo one lap ahead of Colin Bond leading the Holden charge.

Beechey was third ahead of Peter Brock, with Doug Chivas and Graham Ryan taking fifth in another Chrysler.

Of course, Moffat went on to win at Bathurst as the factory Toranas experienced valve faults.

Next was another change of format to 250 miles, which also encompassed a major shift for motor racing in Australia.