SUPERCARS’ decision to award a trophy for the best-performed driver across the upcoming quadruple-header at Sydney Motorsport Park got us thinking about the AMSCAR Series.
A centrepiece of northern Sydney’s much-missed Amaroo Park circuit, AMSCAR was a touring car series that sat separately from the Australian Touring Car Championship.
In addition to usually consisting of four rounds at a Sydney-based circuit, a striking parallel with the upcoming quad-header is that Sydney Motorsport Park is run by the Australian Racing Drivers Club, who operated Amaroo Park and were responsible for starting the AMSCAR Series.
CONTINUATION: Three new Group A Ford Sierra RS500s to be built
The ARDC had regularly held a track championship for touring cars throughout the 1970s at Amaroo Park, but the return in 1979 of outright Group C touring cars like the Holden Torana A9X and Ford Falcon XC led to the AMSCAR moniker being coined for the first time.
Parked for the next two years while Amaroo’s touring car series ran for up to 3.0-litre and 3.5-litre cars, AMSCAR returned for 1982 and ran all the way through until 1993.
The name was briefly revived by the ARDC in 1997 for a four-round series for privateer V8 Supercar runners, featuring races at both Amaroo Park and Eastern Creek.
The other thing that made the AMSCAR Series special is that only a handful of big-name drivers regularly took part, allowing Sydney-based privateers to get a bigger share of the spotlight.
All up, 53 rounds (some of which doubled as ATCC and Australian Endurance Championship rounds) and 127 races were held in that time.
There’s a variety of touring car legends and heroic privateers among the top five of the AMSCAR race winners list, with a pair of big-name Amaroo regulars sharing the top spot.
EQUAL No.5 – STEVE MASTERTON, JOHN BOWE, MARK SKAIFE, MAL ROSE
6 race wins
This quartet illustrates AMSCAR’s balance between privateer racers and Hall of Fame pilots.
Steve Masterton was a stalwart of the series’ Group C era in a succession of Masterton Homes-backed Fords, winning the 1981 ‘Better Brakes 3.5 Litre Series’ in a Capri before upgrading to a Falcon.
After a bruising and controversial 1983 series, the Sydneysider claimed the 1984 title with all six of his AMSCAR race wins coming that season, including a clean sweep of the three heats in the opening round.
Only half of John Bowe’s wins came in standalone AMSCAR races; the first three came in 1986 during the open-wheel convert’s maiden touring car season with Volvo.
The rest came in ATCC rounds that doubled as AMSCAR points-scoring affairs in 1988, 1989 and 1993.
Mark Skaife’s tally is almost the reverse; just one of his Amaroo victories came in an ATCC race.
Kept out of the winners circle throughout the 1990 series, the Nissan driver broke through for his first AMSCAR win in 1991 just a week after his maiden ATCC race win – both posted aboard the fearsome GT-R.
His next AMSCAR win came in the wet second heat of the 1992 ATCC season opener, while his other four wins came in standalone events across the ’92 and ’93 series.
Mal Rose was AMSCAR’s final champion, the victor of the revived 1997 series.
As such, all of his six race wins came in that season, and all in a row across the second and third rounds at Amaroo Park and Eastern Creek.
No.4 – TERRY SHIEL
9 race wins
Terry Shiel is another example of a privateer that outshone the big-name raiders to carve a place in the AMSCAR history books.
A touring car regular in the 1970s aboard a Mazda RX-3, Shiel was one of several rotary privateers to move to the new RX-7 when it became eligible in the 1980s.
Shiel won a couple of races at the end of the 1982 series and carried that form into 1983.
He faced strong opposition throughout the season from fellow RX-7 runner Barry Jones, Nissan Bluebird pilot Fred Gibson and Falcon racer Masterton, plus cameos from Allan Grice and Dick Johnson.
Despite a DNF and a DNS in the third round due to a multi-car crash early in the second heat, Shiel won seven of the other 10 races to take the overall series win – the first time the AMSCAR crown had been won by someone outside the big-name touring car stars of the era.
No.3 – BOB MORRIS
14 race wins
AMSCAR’s first champion, Bob Morris, claimed the Amaroo Park crown in the same year he won his sole ATCC title.
Morris was a lock to compete in the inaugural series, with his Sydney-based Ron Hodgson Motors team also backed by AMSCAR broadcast partner Channel 7!
To say he dominated the series is an understatement: Morris won all four rounds and 11 out of 12 races, the other going to his teammate for the weekend Allan Moffat.
However, Morris never got to defend his title: injuries sustained in the crash that prematurely ended the 1981 Bathurst 1000 curtailed his driving career.
His brief return to racing a few years later included a round of the 1984 AMSCAR Series – fittingly, he swept all three heats.
EQUAL No.1 – JIM RICHARDS, TONY LONGHURST
19 race wins
It’s apt that the top spot is shared by the two drivers who dominated much of the series’ existence.
The common link is Frank Gardner, whose JPS Team BMW outfit – based in the northern Sydney suburb of Terrey Hills – dominated the early years of Australian Group A touring car racing with machines that were perfectly matched to the tight Amaroo Park layout.
Jim Richards swept all eight races in 1985 aboard the black and gold BMW 635CSi, but the rise of turbocharged rivals meant he was limited to ‘just’ three wins in 1986.
Three more wins in 1987 were enough to net Richards his second AMSCAR crown aboard the sleek new BMW M3, and his remaining career wins came in Nissans and Holdens after a move to Gibson Motorsport.
Tony Longhurst was Richards’ understudy in the JPS days and actually won the 1986 AMSCAR title despite not winning a race in his BMW 325i, courtesy of a points structure that awarded more points per position for smaller-capacity cars.
He finally posted a pair of race wins in 1987 – the latter shared with Richards at the season-ending 100-lap endurance race – before JPS Team BMW was wound down.
Longhurst’s relationship with Gardner continued however, the former starting his own team on the Gold Coast with the latter signed on as an adviser and retaining the cigarette backing, albeit in Freeport and then Benson & Hedges hues.
Three wins in 1988 foreshadowed a dominant period across the next three years: Longhurst won all but the opening round in scoring the 1989 title, then swept the final round of 1990 to secure his third AMSCAR crown.
A move to BMW didn’t derail Longhurst’s success, and he won all but one race to secure the 1991 title.
While they proved his last triumphs at the Annangrove circuit, Longhurst was a force to be reckoned with aboard the 2.5-litre version of the M3 all the way until the end of the 1993 season.