IT’S that time of year where the Supercars circus throws back to a bygone era, with the running of the Sandown 500 Retro Round.
WORDS & IMAGES: Mark Walker
Over the years many legendary designs have been replicated on modern machinery, with the simple lines resonating with fans.
Unlike the now common intricate computer cut wraps, period designs were more basic, with the emphasis on the sponsor’s branding rather than machine cut vinyl bells and whistles.
One of the more memorable and eye-catching cars of the late 1970s were the Ron Hodgson Torana A9Xs, most famously piloted by 1976 Bathurst 1000 champion Bob Morris to the ’79 Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) crown.
En route to that title win, Morris was victorious at venues such as Oran Park, Lakeside, Adelaide International, as well as Sandown, the site of the 100th ATCC race ever to be contested.
Fast forward to Sandown 2019, the venue for the 1,024th to 1,026th Championship races, Truck Assist TEKNO Racing is looking to channel some of Morris’s success, with a tribute to the famed design.
The event is a throwback for the branding on the car as well, with Truck Assist swapped out for National Transport Insurance, which commenced trading in 1971, with the brand’s retro green logo in fitting with the Torana’s hues.
With the rapid uptake of colour television when the cars originally came online in 1978, the team were looking for a livery that would stand out from the crowd.
Unimpressed with the options presented, the final design came from Morris’s pen, as he takes up the story.
“Ron Hodgson who owned the team had an advertising agency associated with the business, and they came up with some designs.
“Ron asked me ‘what do you think of these designs’, and I told him I don’t think any of them are any good.
“They were brown and yellow, and things that were pretty subdued and didn’t stand out.
“My reasoning was that you had to have something that would stand out, so you could recognise the car on television without reading the signage, but by seeing the colour and knowing which car it was.
“Well Ron said, ‘you come up with something’, and I came up with that, he said ‘yeah, it looks great’, and away we went!
“I just think that colour scheme really stood us apart from the other cars at the time.
“It wasn’t until Garry Rogers had a similar colour scheme later… I guess the best form of flattery is imitation!
“Of course, later Dick (Johnson) went to the green car… people say green cars are bad luck, but we didn’t find it bad luck at all, we won so many races when we went to that colour scheme.
“I think it’s fantastic (on the sides of the Supercar), I’m looking forward to seeing it on the television, and I’m hoping it can get a great result, and the colour scheme brings the team luck.”
One of the most intricate parts of the livery was the rainbow Channel 7 logo, representing the availability of the colour vision being broadcast at the time, with the design later being repeated on Johnson’s Falcon.
Morris, throughout his distinguished career carried backing from the TV network on his various race cars dating back to 1973.
“The guy who did it was a friend of mine who worked for Channel 7, he is long since gone sadly, but it was all done by hand,” said Morris.
By the end of 1979 there were two Ron Hodgson Torana A9Xs to wear the green and blue livery, with Andrew Cannon now the custodian of both chassis, with the roll call of the car’s pilots presenting a who’s who of world motorsport.
“We had a lot of people drive those cars in those colours, Dieter Quester, who was a European Touring Car Champion, Derek Bell, who won Le Mans five times, John Fitzpatrick of course, Allan Moffat drove in those colours, one of the guys who did drive the car, but not quite in those colours was Johnny Rutherford, who won the Indianapolis 500.
“So, there was a lot of history in those cars.
“The cars definitely had an interesting history, and the fact that we were able to beat the factory team (to the 1979 Championship) with our own car, especially when (Peter) Brock was at the top of his game… it wasn’t just a one-lap wonder, it was a yearlong effort.
“Not many people were able to achieve that, and I was pretty happy to be able to do it.”
All told, at the end of the ’79, Morris led home Brock and the might of the HDT to the ATCC crown by nine points, while also claiming the Amaroo Park based AMSCAR Series in the same season.
Morris’s win that year at Sandown was far from a walk in the park, as he explains.
“It was a hard-fought battle with Brock at the start, and then when his tyres went away, his teammate Johnny Harvey came at me.
“I wound up winning that race after fending off both of them, which was a pretty hard way to do it.
“It was a great win at Sandown, I love the Sandown track, I was always fairly quick in whatever car I was driving at Sandown.”
Still working full time, Morris retains a keen interest in the sport.
“I watched the Gold Coast, and I thought it was pretty interesting, I watched all of Bathurst, which I thought was a really interesting race… it’s a totally different race now to when we were competing, but the cars are different, the track is different, everything has evolved.”