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Thursday, May 23, 2024


A HOLDEN was not supposed to win the 1990 Bathurst 1000.

In fact, Commodores weren’t even part of the equation as pundits ranked the contenders prior to the race.

Yet at the end of 161 laps, Win Percy and Allan Grice passed the chequered flag first to claim a famous triumph, the fledgling Holden Racing Team snatching Australian touring car racing’s biggest prize in the factory squad’s first year of operation.

Percy made up ground after bogging down at the start. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

In 1990, turbocharged cars dominated the championship season’s shorter race format.

At the core of the period Group A regulations was a minimum weight/tyre width/engine capacity formula, one which favoured high-power turbo cars and put the VL Commodore Group A SS SV, with its naturally-aspirated five litre V8 engine, on the back foot.

Long races swung the balance back towards the Holden runners, but at Bathurst the two best Commodores were still pitted against almost a dozen top-quality Ford Sierras and the brand new, four-wheel-drive Nissan Skyline GT-R.

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Despite the Holden’s power and weight disadvantage Percy and Grice qualified the HRT’s #16 car sixth, the latter doing the bulk of the driving while the Englishman nursed a shoulder injury sustained prior to the event.

Come race day, one-by-one the turbo cars faded from contention through unreliability or an appetite for blistering tyres.

Grice and Percy celebrate on the podium above a sea of Holden faithful. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

The Grice/Percy car marched into the lead just past half distance, fending off the challenges of Paul Radisich/Jeff Allam in the best remaining Sierra and Larry Perkins/Tomas Mezera in the former’s privately-run Commodore to claim a popular triumph.

The victory is depicted among all of Holden’s Bathurst 1000 wins to date in Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page hardcover book paying tribute to the marque’s rich competition history spanning over seven decades.

The winning car – a chassis named TWR 023 – took victory in its second tilt at the Mount Panorama classic, and erased the terrible memories of its debut two years earlier.

The car was built by Tom Walkinshaw Racing in England in 1988 and made two appearances at race events there before it was air-freighted to Australia for Walkinshaw and Allam to race in the Bathurst 1000 in the factory Holden Special Vehicles squad.

The car qualified outside the top 10 and made it just five laps into the race before the rear suspension failed.

TWR 023 was repaired and remained in Australia and was scheduled to form half of a two-car HSV assault on the 1989 Australian Touring Car Championship, although this never eventuated.

The shell was part of the inventory when HRT was formed for 1990 and was built into a race car once again (renumbered as HRT 025) for the endurance races.

TWR 023 made its first Bathurst start in 1988. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

After retiring from the Sandown 500 with brake problems and winning at Bathurst, Percy raced the car for the final time at Adelaide in the touring car support races at the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.

With the new VN Commodore eligible to race for 1991, the Bathurst-winning VL was pushed aside at HRT’s workshop before being shipped back to England in the mid-1990s, where it joined an array of iconic TWR cars in the team’s museum.

In 2002, amid the impending collapse of the TWR empire, HSV brought the car back to Australia where it has remained ever since.

The car was purchased in 2016 by Eggleston Motorsport who have brought the car out for public display several times since, ensuring Holden fans will be able to enjoy an important car in the company’s racing history for years to come.

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