THIS week marks 50 years since Ford legend Dick Johnson made his debut in the Australian Touring Car Championship – although it wasn’t in a Ford, and he didn’t end up taking part in the race!
Despite Johnson’s Holden Torana GTR being recorded as a non-starter at Mount Panorama on March 30, 1970 for the second round of that year’s championship, his participation in practice and qualifying means it is recorded as the first of his 204 career round starts in the ATCC/V8/Supercars Championship.
While our upcoming book on 40 years of cars built and raced by Dick Johnson Racing and DJR Team Penske – soon to go to print – focuses on the cars Johnson and his team campaigned from 1980 onwards, a chapter is devoted to cars like the Torana GTR that set him on the path towards touring car stardom.
With support from Shell and Brisbane Holden dealer Eagers, Johnson’s GTR was built from the second Torana to arrive in Queensland and was one of the first Torana touring cars to hit the racetrack, the 1970 Easter meeting at Bathurst marking an early interstate foray with the machine.
However, a broken gearbox after a handful of laps in practice – fast enough to qualify him 18th on the grid – meant the #22 Torana didn’t make it to the start line for the 20-lap ATCC race on Easter Monday.
Johnson had more luck in his next ATCC outing on home soil at Lakeside in July, coming home in sixth place to score a championship point.
He continued campaigning the car – later updated to LJ Torana trim – until the end of the Improved Production era at the end of 1972, then a couple of different Group C-spec Toranas in the following years.
Photos of Johnson’s early career in Holdens will feature in our limited edition book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page tribute to the brand’s racing heritage.
All up, Johnson made 14 ATCC round starts in Holden machinery, the last of which came at the Rothmans 300 enduro at Surfers Paradise in late 1976.
Johnson’s switch to Ford began that same year when he was recruited by late Brisbane Ford dealer Bryan Byrt to race his XA Falcon Sports Sedan.
His first championship start in a Ford came in 1976 at Sandown’s Hang Ten 400 enduro in a Capri with Graham Moore, the duo sharing the same machine at Mount Panorama three weeks later for Johnson’s first Bathurst 1000 start aboard a Ford.