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camaro 3
Photo: Terry Marshall

For the 1971 season the car was fitted with 1967 doors, whereas it had worn 1968 doors during the 1970 season; the difference being the 1967 doors have the small front quarter windows. Late in the 1970 season, the Camaro was also retrofitted with its original RS grille with hideaway headlights, which had been replaced by a regular grille throughout much of the season. The RS grille remained for the 1971 season.

Red Dawson returned for the 1971 championship with his Mustang, which had tied with Coppins for the title the previous year, while John Riley was back for a second term in the ex-Paul Fahey Shelby Mustang. An interesting addition to the series was the Brian Foley Porsche from Australia, being leased by Jim Palmer. Although a 4.2 Class car, it would almost certainly battle for outright glory at some of the more technical tracks. Meanwhile, Fahey returned with his magical Alan Mann Racing Escort, now boasting more power from a larger 1800cc FVC fuel-injected motor.

Although Fahey hinted on occasions of the potential the little Escort had during the 1970 season, few could have predicted just how dominant he would be in 1971. From the 16 individual races that made up the ten-round championship, Fahey scorched to victory in nine of them. He won all four of the opening races, and of the races he finished throughout the 1971 season, he finished in the top three every time. He was relentless and his rivals never stood a chance. He was simply untouchable on the tighter tracks like Bay Park, but even at the high-speed Pukekohe venue where the V8s should have had his measure, he kept on winning. Such was Fahey’s ability to carry speed through the corners, he gave away very little on the straights. He had the championship sewn up before the final round.


Partway through the season a new threat arrived. American SCCA Trans-Am and A/ Sedan racer Joe Chamberlain brought a 1969 Camaro over with which to contest the Bay Park event in late December, as well as the New Zealand Grand Prix two weeks later. Ian Rorison had purchased the Camaro from Joe, and as such, when Chamberlain returned to the United States, the Camaro stayed here. The brilliant Dennis Marwood, who’d driven the Rorison-owned Eisert Chevrolet Formula 5000 the year prior, stepped aboard the Camaro to tackle the last half of the championship. And he grabbed several victories.

Meanwhile, Coppins got away to a slow start, and lost considerable ground to Fahey by the time the championship reached the halfway point. The second part of his campaign was much improved, however, and he ultimately finished the championship in the runner-up position. Better yet, he went on to win his second South Island Mercury $1000 Series on the trot.

Come the 1972 season and the now elderly Camaro was dusted off for another campaign, but it was really showing its age while his rivals had, for the most-part, adopted new machinery. Red Dawson, Rod’s great rival, fronted up with a beautiful new second-generation Camaro, and Fahey was now full-time in the 1970 Mustang he’d debuted the previous season to contest nonchampionship events.

For Coppins, however, the sparkly new gold paint scheme his Camaro now wore (in reference to Winfield cigarettes) couldn’t mask the car’s shortcomings against a barrage of more modern machinery. Somehow, though, Rod stayed more or less in the hunt. Although the Camaro wasn’t fighting for victories anymore, throughout the first half of the season Coppins was able to notch up podium finishes on a regular basis.

He retired from the opening round at Pukekohe with engine failure, but finished second to Fahey at Wigram, albeit the Mustang fully trounced the Camaro. He placed second in the opening heat at Teretonga, before scoring his breakthrough victory in Heat 2 after Marwood spun and Fahey blew an engine. Marwood and Fahey also struck trouble at Levels, allowing Coppins to finish second to Dawson in Heat 1, while he placed third in Heat 2.

As had been the case the year prior, an American SCCA A/Sedan was shipped across to contest the December Bay Park epic, as well as the New Zealand Grand Prix. This time around it was a spectacular 1969 Pontiac Firebird, a genuine factory car built to contest the SCCA Trans-Am series. American all-rounder Ron Grable accompanied the Firebird and drove it in its two Kiwi adventures. Although two years old by the time it arrived in New Zealand, and while not offering a great account of itself in either encounter, Coppins could see this was a vastly superior car to the one he had, and quickly did a deal to purchase the car. To that end, the Firebird re-emerged in gold Winfield livery for the second half of the championship, with Rod at the helm. Indeed, he’d race this car to a second New Zealand Saloon Car Championship the following season.


Meanwhile, the Camaro was sold and headed south to Dunedin where its new owner, Bruce Jenner, would campaign the car in the hot bed that was the Open Saloon Car Association (OSCA). OSCA regulations were far more liberal than those of the National Championship. Jenner left the Camaro largely as purchased, but was still competitive against the feral OSCA fleet, which included the likes of Clyde Collins’ V8-powered MkIII Cortina, Trevor Crowe’s V8-powered Toyota Corolla, and Kevin Haig in a 1967 Shelby Mustang.

Gradually Jenner put the Camaro on a diet while the wheels and tyres got fatter, as did the flares that housed them. And despite the tough competition in the flying OSCA ranks, Jenner finished second in the 1975 championship.

Jenner then took the Camaro to Rick Diehl at the PDL racing team in Christchurch. Diehl had just transformed the famous PDL Mustang from its production-based platform into its new and improved ‘Electric Blue’ guise, which bought it another two years of competitive racing action.

Diehl began updating the Camaro, fabricating a new tube-frame forward of the firewall to support the front sub-frame, designing a new front suspension, and fitted a substantial new roll-cage. In addition, Robin Officer, who’d crafted the beautiful aluminium flares for the PDL Mustang and the similar pieces on Jack Nazer’s Chevrolet-V8 propelled Vauxhall Victor, shaped up new flares for the Camaro. However, Jenner’s funds ran dry before Diehl could complete work on the redesigned front suspension, and he ultimately had to complete the work himself. The geometry was compromised as a result, and the Camaro handled like a wild stallion. Regardless, he backed up his achievements from the previous season, and finished the 1976 campaign in second once more.

The Camaro was then sold to Neil Robertson, as Jenner himself moved to the United States. Robertson promptly crashed the car first time out at Levels and decided to step back from racing. The Camaro sat for over a year without seeing any action, until Robertson loaned the car to 1974 OSCA series champion Lawrence Bruce. Robertson, however, stipulated that at season’s end, Bruce would either buy the car, or find someone who would. But with Bruce unable to make the purchase, the Camaro sat unused for another year.

In 1979, the Camaro found a new owner in John Osborne. Osborne was making the transition up from Class B (having previously campaigned a Ford Escort) into Class A. And he was faced with plenty of opposition, including the Chevy V8-powered Ford Capris of Inky Tulloch (ex-Paul Fahey RS2600 now repowered) and Ian Munt, Ross Cameron in the ex-Red Dawson Camaro, Gary Jenkins’ V8 Victor, Jack McIntyre’s V8 Cortina, and Rod McElrea’s Mustang. Wellington driver Wayne Huxford brought his V8 Capri from the North Island to race against the OSCA machinery, even though he wasn’t eligible for points.

Osborne battled the Camaro and its illhandling for the first part of the season. Indeed, in one race, he wrestled it with such force the steering wheel broke in half! To that end, he set about curing the front suspension geometry, and finally got the Camaro handling as it should, and ultimately went on to win not only the 1980 OSCA Class A Championship but the Overall Championship.

For the 1981 season, the competition further intensified with the arrival of Trevor Crowe’s newly built Oldsmobile V8-powered Toyota Starlet, while McElrea purchased McIntyre’s V8 Cortina. Meanwhile, the brilliant Graham Baker, who’d started the season aboard the vintage PDL Mustang, switched to yet another Chevy V8 Capri; this the car built by Brent Bullivant in the North Island.

For sure, the opposition machinery was shrinking in size, and big bulky American muscle cars like the Camaro were disappearing from front-line competition. But Osborne remained fast and competitive, and again swept to an OSCA Class A championship. Crowe, aboard his Class B Starlet, took the Overall championship, which was based on Class results, and not outright results.


Osborne also took the Camaro to the North Island during the 1981 season along with several other OSCA pilots, to battle the emerging North Island Sports Sedan contingent. He placed second to Huxford in both heats at the Manfeild encounter after Baker blew his motor in practice. Osborne and Baker then continued on to Bay Park, where the OSCA/Sports Sedan fleet was joined by Australian visitor Peter Fitzpatrick in a Porsche. But the big Camaro didn’t feature.

Back at Manfeild, Osborne joined Baker, Tulloch, Munt, McElrea and Crowe, taking on the North Island Sports Sedans. Osborne chased the battling V8 Capris of Huxford, Baker and Tulloch in the opening heat, and finished sixth in the handicap, behind winner Baker, who won from Huxford, Tulloch, Crowe, and Brian Friend (V8 Torana). In Heat 3 he placed fifth behind Huxford, Baker, Munt and Friend, after both Crowe and Tulloch retired.

And then in March 1981 the OSCA travelling road show returned to Manfeild once more, this time also accompanied by Jenkins. In Heat 1, Osborne finished sixth, behind Tulloch, Huxford, Baker, Crowe and Friend, while in the reverse-grid Heat 2, following start line carnage, Osborne ultimately placed second to Tulloch, after several cars were eliminated.

Although thoroughly spectacular, the Camaro had truly reached the end of its competitive life. Afterall, it had been racing hard since 1968, and was now battling a new breed of modified sedans. To stay relevant, Osborne would need to downsize.

At the conclusion of the 1981 season, Osborne set about joining the likes of Tulloch, Huxford, Baker, Munt and the other V8 Capri campaigners. He was good friends with Danie Lupp, son of famed Jaguar racer Sybil Lupp, and stayed with Danie in Wellington during his North Island racing escapades. Danie owned the former Halliday brothers Capri RS3100, although he’d purchased the car without an engine. He fitted a Chaparral fuelinjected Formula 5000 unit and attacked the North Island Sports Sedan contests. When the Chevrolet V8 suffered a massive failure he installed a V12 Jaguar engine. One night while staying with Danie, and after enjoying a few drinks, Osborne somehow agreed to purchase the Capri, which would become the Camaro’s replacement for the 1982 season.


Meanwhile, the Camaro was placed on the market, where it remained for some time. It was almost purchased by a speedway team and would surely have met its demise on the local bullring dirt ovals, but Osborne prevented this. Fortunately, Chris Cullen bought the car, with plans to run it in the 1982 OSCA series. However, circumstances ultimately prevented this, with the Camaro remaining in Cullen’s ownership until the late 1990s, by which time he’d fully rebuilt it and repainted it red. The car, as acquired by Osborne, was in poor condition, having been raced hard for more than a decade, but Cullen’s care during his ownership saved this important piece of Kiwi motor racing history.

With plans to move to Australia, Cullen placed the Camaro on the market, and it was eventually purchased by Tony Boyden, and returned to North Island ownership for the first time since Rod Coppins sold it to Bruce Jenner in 1972. Boyden, like Cullen, has been a careful owner, and further raised the presentation of the old racer. Although Boyden raced the Camaro regularly during his early ownership, these days the car makes infrequent appearances. It is, however, in very safe hands.

It has often been claimed, quite incorrectly, that when the Camaro was rebuilt by Rick Diehl for Bruce Jenner in the mid-1970s, very little remained of the original car when it finally emerged from its transformation. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, OSCA regulations required the original floor be retained. Tube-frame cars were not allowed. And while modifications were made to the transmission tunnel, and a new sub-frame support was fitted, along with the much wider Robin Officer flares, much of the original car remained intact, including the steel front fenders. Indeed, when Boyden purchased the car, it still rode on the American Racing 200-S ‘daisy’ wheels as fitted when Spinner Black was racing the car in the 1960s; albeit they’d been widened significantly.

Although Tony Boyden has no plans to sell, if he or a future owner wished to return the Camaro to the guise raced by Black or Coppins, this would be more easily achievable than many people realise.

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