On Saturday, November 16, 1963 the New Zealand motor-racing establishment converged on Blenheim for the start of the 1963/1964 season on the street circuit out at Renwick. There were a lot of questions to be answered at this meeting because plenty had been happening during the winter months.
For the followers of single-seater racing there was the question of just how good Jim Palmer really was. He’d done his apprenticeship in a steady stream of small single-seaters, each one better than the previous, but for this season, the still 21-year-old was in the ex-Angus Hyslop 2.5-litre Cooper-Climax, and he was up against the more experienced Tony Shelly in a 2.5-litre Lotus-Climax – a car that was considered better than the Cooper.
However, for saloon-car enthusiasts there were all manner of perplexities. Saloon-car regulations were still loose, with gaps wide enough to drive a double-decker bus through, as we raced pell-mell towards the anarchy of Allcomers.
By this stage, there were many hybrid saloons already racing in New Zealand, but the fastest and most successful cars were those that retained a degree of originality. The season before had been dominated by the epic battles between Ray Archibald’s 3.8 ‘works’ specification Jaguar Mk II and Ernie Sprague’s Mk III Zephyr, a car he’d modified in great secrecy at his workshop in Timaru.
For the new season Sprague was back, and the Zephyr was angrier looking and promising to be faster than ever. Ray Archibald had seen the end of the competitiveness of the Jaguar and opted to contest only selected events.
But the question mark that hung over saloon-car racing all winter, concerned the small shipment (six) of Lotus-Cortinas that the Ford Motor Company had landed and had offered to ‘selected’ drivers. When we (the motor racing disciples of the era) heard this we were agog, expecting the season to be dominated – both in terms of results as well as visually – by these cars.
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