Allan tells the story of Graham Baker and PDL 1, the Mustang that became famous as Electric Blue and 185 mph! But it’s more than that. This is a story of a 66-year career you’re not going to believe.
Words: Allan Dick
Graham Baker — ‘Bucky’ — is probably the most “born to race” person in the world. His career and that’s what it is, a career, is remarkable. It started in August 1957 and in mid-2023 it is still going. It’s never stopped. That is 66 years of continuous and competitive racing. Thousands of events, thousands of podiums and at least hundreds, if not also thousands of cars of huge variety.
Why has it taken so long for this story to be told?
On Monday, February 20 this year I looked at the Facebook page of Graham Baker – he had posted that over the past weekend, he’d won all three of his races in the classic meeting at Teretonga driving a GT40 replica owned by Christchurch man Raymond Hart. Those three wins over two days at Teretonga took Graham’s tally since the beginning of last year to 73 consecutive races; over 50 percent of them podium finishes and with just a single retirement.
Work that out — 73 races in just over a year is an average of one and a half races every weekend! Who else does that?
It’s a pretty impressive record, but when you consider Graham was 83 years of age in October last year and he’s been racing, virtually without a stop since he was a teenager, it’s remarkable. It puts him right up there with Ken Smith — even ahead in terms of longevity.
Graham has spent the past 40 plus years living mainly in the USA but in New Zealand he remains a legendary figure — the man who tamed PDL 1, the Mustang that was to become famous as “Electric Blue and 185MPH!” The posters carrying that message at both ends of the old single-lane bridge over the Awatere River on SH1 just north of Seddon were landmarks.
Oddly though, while that image remains embedded in New Zealand motor racing lore, the Mustang had a variety of colour schemes. It was white when first imported and raced by Paul Fahey, then it became orange when it was bought by PDL but still driven by Fahey. With Graham Baker driving, it was purple with ‘lace’ trim at first, then green with ‘lace’ trim. It was only “Electric Blue” after Baker when it was driven by Leo Leonard and only for a comparatively short period.
As impressive as that record of 73 consecutive races is, there are another two records of which Graham is very, very proud. At the big Bay Park New Year’s Even meeting of late December 1972 when driving PDL 1, he won all three big saloon car races defeating the likes of Canadian/Australian Allan Moffat, and the cream of New Zealand talent; Paul Fahey, Red Dawson and Rod Coppins.
That was satisfying enough, but then at the next big Bay Park meeting Easter 1973 he again won the three big saloon car races from fields that again included Moffat, Fahey etc., but then also won all three Formula Ford races in his own Titan — those results, six out of six in two totally different cars, is probably a record in New Zealand motor racing history.
The fact that he was able to be successful in two such totally different cars at one meeting, is a story in itself to be told later.
Christchurch in the sixties was a remarkable place. It was still traditional Christchurch - posh, snobby, correct, very English and what school you went to could make or break your career. But by the late sixties it was overlaid with a certain sense of “slickness” — it was a car sales era that spawned many characters and hard cases. Cars, the selling of them, the repairing of them and wheeling and dealing in them became a major and very trendy business but an industry no less. Christchurch was very much the home of white shoes, white belts and fast living.
Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola were invented for Christchurch at that time. The Christchurch car dealer was a national legend. An institution.
Social life was lived at a thousand miles an hour. Coker’s Hotel was where deals were done, hook-ups made and cars were commodities to be wheeled, dealed and money made from. Deals done in the wee small hours in a Jack and Coke haze were sometimes forgotten by noon the next day.
But cars were also to be raced.
The Canterbury Car Club opened Ruapuna Park in November 1963 and it was probably the Bic Flick lighter that ignited an incredibly active scene that inspired so many stories, stories today that would raise eyebrows. Motor racing became a socially accepted activity and a form of entertainment. Dealers whipped cars off their yards on Friday night to race them and put them back on Monday morning.
Sometimes they even gave them a quick coat of water-based paint to disguise them — murdered tyres were the giveaway.
And among the big names that flourished, and motor racing fans looked up to were the Baker Brothers — Graham, Murray and Dave.
They had all caught the racing bug — Graham was affected the most. It was to become his life. And still is.
Continue reading in our September/October 2023 issue of Classic Driver Magazine - Out Now!