SATURDAY SLEUTHING: RESTORING DICK’S LAST MUSTANG

Bowden brothers Chris and Dan with Dick and Steven Johnson with the second DJR Mustang at Team Johnson. Pic: Instagram / Team Johnson

THIS week’s edition of Saturday Sleuthing is looking at the only Ford Mustang that Dick Johnson raced in a Bathurst 1000 – and he’s currently helping in its restoration.

When his usual Ford Falcon was rendered ineligible for touring car racing by Australia’s adoption of international Group A regulations, Johnson purchased a pair of V8-engined Ford Mustangs from German outfit Zakspeed in 1984.

Although Johnson campaigned both machines over his two seasons racing Mustangs in 1985 and 1986, only one of the cars ever raced in the Bathurst 1000.

That Mustang is now owned by the Bowden family, who have entrusted Team Johnson with putting the car back to how it was when Dick last raced it.

“We’ve got Stevie, Dick and Nick giving her a bit of love,” Chris Bowden told V8 Sleuth.

“The end game with it is to get it period correct to 1986 and then we can get her out and give her a couple of runs in the Heritage Touring Cars.”

Castrol 500 at Sandown, 1985. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

Johnson campaigned the other German-built Mustang throughout the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship before giving this car its race debut at that year’s Sandown 500 with Larry Perkins co-driving.

The all-star pairing endured a luckless run through the year’s two big enduros: an early lead at Sandown evaporated with a broken axle after 22 laps, while niggling mechanical issues saw them finish four laps off the pace in seventh place at Bathurst.

You can watch the car’s race unfold on the Bathurst 1985 DVD featuring the full race day broadcast on Channel 7 – including all the stuff that happened during the ad-breaks! Click HERE to buy a copy from the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

This car served as Dick Johnson Racing’s #17 entry for all but a couple of races for the remainder of Johnson’s time racing Mustangs and was responsible for his sole victory with the iconic model.

Johnson drove the car to victory in the touring car support race at the inaugural Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide in 1985, the dominant display helping to secure a big-dollar sponsorship deal with Shell for the 1987 season.

James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst, 1985. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

Where the Mustang had been to fight for victories in Australia’s first season of Group A, the rise of turbocharged cars and the homologation of the SS Group A version of the Holden Commodore left the Ford – which had received virtually no homologated improvements – trailing in their wake in 1986.

Johnson managed a best finish from throughout the entire ATCC of fourth place at Amaroo Park in the season-opener, while his sole podium finish of the entire year came on Queensland soil: he and Gregg Hansford claimed third place in the BP 300 enduro at Surfers Paradise Raceway.

A trouble-free run at Bathurst netted the pair a distant fourth place behind a pair of Holdens and a turbocharged Nissan, before Johnson switched to a turbocharged car of his own for the 1987 season in the form of a Ford Sierra.

South Australia Cup, Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, 1985. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

This car then went to Western Australia where it was raced by Ian Love – father of current Porsche aces Jordan and Aaron – for the next few years.

It passed through the hands of several other owners through 1990s before returning to Johnson – via Ford Australia’s motorsport boss Howard Marsden at the turn of the millennium.

“We had the other cars here – the XD, XE, the Sierra and that – he said ‘I think we need to get that car back,’” Johnson told the V8 Sleuth Podcast last year.

“So he went and bought it for us; I have no idea what they paid for it.”

Surfers Paradise ATCC round, 1986. Pic: an1images.com

The car remained among his collection of former racecars until they were sold to the Bowdens.

A rebuild of the car – which had its interior and underside resprayed by a previous owner, who’d also installed an ex-DJR, Group C-spec, 351 cubic-inch Ford V8 – had long been considered by the Bowdens, and it was a logical decision to entrust Team Johnson with the job.

“They jumped at the opportunity, which is great. We all want the same goal,” Bowden said.

“Steve really enjoys it and Dick …  for me, one part of it that I’ve seriously enjoyed is Dick, Roy (McDonald, longtime DJR mechanic) and Dyno’s (Dick’s brother David) abilities to recall what was there, and their ability to source those parts – usually that does my head in!

“These guys, they know 100% what’s meant to be there, they get it really quick and they get it at a price I probably couldn’t because my surname’s not ‘Johnson’!

James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst, 1986. Pic: an1images.com / Dale Rodgers

“It’s fun – restorations can be pretty taxing – and the boys … it’s their art, so they’re very well versed in it.

“We’re more than happy with their services, and I think everyone (who owns an ex-DJR car) should follow suit; it should be the case where it’s hard to get a job with them because they’re booked out in advance.”

Another link to the past and present of DJR and DJR Team Penske will be under the Mustang’s bonnet.

“We got Steve Amos from Mostech, who do the DJRTP race engines and have done for a long time, to build us a period-correct 302 Windsor – all under Dick’s watchful eye,” Bowden added.

Will Dale began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport for the next six years, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.