Seth Reinhardt look at a very special example of a classic Australian Touring Car:
The Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) Group A SS VL ‘Walkinshaw’ Commodore has polarised public opinion since day one. An evolution of the moderately successful Group A VL, its radical looks and Holden’s sudden and shocking departure from Aussie hero Peter Brock’s beloved HDT made it a pretty easy car to hate.
Such feelings are misguided, however, as the Anglo-Australian creation become the backbone of the Group A series, with many ‘Walkys’ filling the grids.
In 1990 one took the top step at the Bathurst 1,000 in what is surely one of Holden’s more popular wins. Then in 1992, the swansong year for Group A, Larry Perkins proved to everyone that the freedoms given to the Walky made it startlingly quick with a win at the Sandown 500 and was second on the grid at Bathurst. The Walky may have been plastic, but she was no pig!
Built by the successful and hard-working privateer family the Callaghans in 1988, using a new motorsport VL Commodore body shell and the best bits available, chassis #AVL 044 22 11M is a magnificent example of the model.
The car received its CAMS logbook on the 19th of September 1988 and went to the Tooheys Bathurst 1000 as a fresh, un-proven car run by a team of keen amateurs. She was off on an adventure that would carve its name in the Group A history book nicely. No one, not even the Callaghans and especially Tom Walkinshaw, would have predicted what was to come!
#442211M was the first of 17 Group A VL Walkinshaws that started the 1988 Bathurst Tooheys 1000, with high very expectations placed upon them. The media and public were abuzz with the car’s potential and contemporary reports of the VL's styling and mechanicals were on all sides of the spectrum; from hopeful to horrific.
Unfortunately, history will show Bathurst 1988 was an absolute disaster for Holden and HSV, with all the big name teams dropping off through the race. Virtually everyone in a Group A Walkinshaw had a shocker.
Everyone except for the beautiful, bright yellow VL piloted by Brian Callaghan and Barry Graham, who managed an amazing 6th overall. They were the first Holden home and, of course, the first of the 17 VL Walkinshaws that started! Go the Callaghans!
The die was set and #442211M was on a roll, with Brian campaigning her mostly in Sydney events with the odd trip interstate.
The 1989 Bathurst 1000 was another highlight, with an 11th overall result that put her fourth of the VL Walkinshaws home from 18-starters, behind greats like Grice, Perkins, Walkinshaw, Percy and Crompton et al in the works cars. Not too shabby for privateers.
The Callaghans raced #442211M up until Bathurst 1993, when she had an unfortunate meeting with an on-steam Dick Johnson in his V8 EB Falcon at Reid Park, ending her illustrious career in an abrupt way.
The Callaghans stripped the body and repaired the damaged rear of the car (it had an EB Falcon imprint) and as her days of being a front-runner had passed, there she sat, waiting for David Holc and Stan Adler to come looking for a new project.
David, who has the famous Ex-Forbes GIO VL Walkinshaw Commodore and is very well versed in what makes a winning “Walky”, was quick to see that the Callaghan Commodore had all the original bits and just needed a good mechanical restoration to get her back to A1.
With Stan’s support, the Callaghan VL was massaged back into potential winning form. With two other VL Walkys in their stable, the car was put up for sale through Ecurie Bowden, where Ex-RX7 pilot and 2014 Group C Champion John Douglas spotted her, calling David Holc for his expert opinion on the car’s credentials. Pretty quickly a deal was struck and the mighty Callaghan VL now calls Tasmania home.
“I began my motorsport activity in the late ‘60s in an FJ Holden improved touring car. I then moved into sports sedan racing in self-built FJ Holdens with turbocharged Holden engines and then V8 Chev engines.”
“I raced in go-karts for several years until the historic Group N category was introduced, for which I rebuilt one of my old XU1 Toranas. That car allowed me to win the state championship several times.”
“My most beloved motorsport memories are from the Group C era, when the likes of Brock, Moffat, Grice, Johnson and Masterton would all by vying for the same piece of corner at the same time. This period of racing developed my interest in the Heritage Touring Cars series, so I began looking for a car to enter in it.”
“The Berklee Exhaust RX7, a local car with genuine Group C history, became available, and I was able to acquire it. I began a restoration process that took several years to complete.”
“As the birthdays are now coming around faster than a quick lap of Bathurst, we decided to enter the Heritage Touring Cars series with the RX7 in 2014 and were delighted to be on the pace from the first meeting at Phillip Island.”
“Come the last round of the year at Sandown, the rear outer hub sheared the axle spline. Thankfully we were able to make a very temporary repair that enabled us to obtain enough points to capture the 2014 Group C Heritage Touring Cars Championship - a very satisfying result!”
“In 2015 we sold the Mazda to Phil Vorweort, but retained the desire to compete in the Heritage Touring Cars series. Having conquered Group C a change to Group A was on the agenda.”
“Good race cars with undeniable provenance are now hard to come by, and we were very pleased to become aware of a very clean VL Group A that had just been restored and had not yet been in competition.”
“Discussion took place, negotiations were made and I became the happy owner of the ex-Brian Callaghan VL Walkinshaw.”
“This car was the first VL home of 17 entered in the Bathurst race for 1988. It was custom built by Brian and his crew, with all parts sourced from Harrop and Perkins and it still has the original parts fitted!”
“Our first race in Group A was at Phillip Island just a few weeks ago, and I drove the car for the first time in qualifying on the Friday. We placed the car 18th, and by the end of the weekend had improved to third place in Group A. A great result!”
“Next time out we head to Morgan Park, which is a favourite track of mine. The ambience is great and the officials are very good. The fact that last time I raced there I won the round, set a new lap record and won the John French Trophy helps as well!”
“The VL Group A will be a totally different beast around the circuit, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
“The Heritage Touring Cars series draws competitors because of the passion evident in all who participate. And it’s this passion for the period and the vehicles that raced in it that inspires us to prepare the car in Tasmania, tow it to the ferry in Devonport, pay exorbitant fees to get across Bass Strait, hook it up again and then tow it as far away as Morgan Park.”
“When we get to the track we compete with a group of people who share our enthusiasm for the era and compete not only at an extremely high level, but with a commensurate degree of respect. There’s always racing room allowed for others, and the heritage of the genuine historic vehicles with which we share the track is appreciated and respected.”
“Now that I have what I consider to be a competitive Australian historic Group A vehicle, I am hopeful of maintaining a presence on the race tracks of Australia until I am not able to get into or out of the best viewing seat of any spectator area in the land!”
The Heritage Touring Cars series will return for Sydney Retro Racefest at Sydney Motorsport Park over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend this 11th and 12th of June.
Thanks to John Douglas for taking the time to chat with us and share his story and that of the ex-Brian Callaghan VL Walkinshaw.