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Minis conquer Mt. Panorama at Bathurst in 1966

On Sunday, October 2, 1966 they ran the 500 mile Gallaher 500" at Mt Panorama circuit at Bathurst.

The race was still to be run in price classes. Amongst these were Fiat 850's, Morris 850's, Mini Coopers, Datsun Bluebirds, Cortinas, Hillman Imps, Vauxhalls, Belletts, Coronas, Skylines, Renaults, Valiant V8's, Holden X2's, Volvos and Triumphs. Anybody who had been watching the S Types during the year knew damn well that you couldn't match the flying bricks.

The British Motor Corporation whose Public Relations boss, Evan Green, later joining GMH, put together a magnificent team of talent for their new S Type Coopers. They paired from three top International rally drivers with the best Australian Mini heroes - Rauno Aaltonen with Bob Holden; Paddy Hopkirk with Brian Foley; Timo Makinen with John French. Makinen withdrew to a European rally being replaced by Steve Harvey.

Some of the marvellous Australian men in their Minis were Harry Firth with Ern Abbott, Ron Hodgson, one of the first ever to race a Mini in Australia, partnered Bob Beasley. Fred Gibson was with Bill Stanley, Bo Seton with Barry Arentz, Frank Matich with Frank Demuth, Charlie Smith and Ron Haylen, Bruce McPhee with Barry Mulholland, Rick Radford and David Bye. They came thick and fast.

People forget these days of modified production cars full of sound and fury, just how close were the days of series production racing at Bathurst. In the first 1966 lap virtually every car was engaged in a door to door scrap. It was last minute braking, white knuckle on the limit cornering squeezing every last ounce out of suspension and brakes, always teetering on the edge of disaster. Within half a dozen laps from the start the sixteen S Types occupied sixteen of the first twenty places. It was like a ten lap sprint.

Something had to give and it did. On Lap 6 Paul Mander's Cooper belted the fence and lost just two laps in repairs. On Lap 7 one of the BMC cars, driven by John French, hit a Valiant in Murray's Corner - bent a wheel dropping from 10th to 20th. Lap 10 Foley passed Aaltonen. The two started pushing each other - literally - down Conrod, adding 5 miles per hour to their top speed, and skating away from the pack behind them. Another 1275 Cooper driven by Rick Radford missed his braking at the end of Conrod. He biffed the fence and ran to the pits for a crowbar, loosing half an hour doing bodywork only to find he also smashed the battery.

At 11.17 Aaltonen came in for his first pit stop. One new tyre and driver change. Most of the Coopers were running R7 Dunlop racing tyres. The car was so far in front that Bob Holden went out still in the lead. It was to be another thirteen years - in 1979 - before another leader, in this case Peter Brock, was able to make his first pit stop and driver change without loosing the lead. Just after midday Ron Haylen's Mini had caught Bob Holden's. They started a fierce argument all the way around the circuit, out braking each other, swapping the lead, the two Minis hurtling themselves over Skyline without braking and with a rear wheel cocked in the air.

Holden and Haylen were lapping around 3:12 - something had to give. On Lap 65 Haylen's right front Pirelli blew out in McPhillamy Park Corner. This left Holden a lap and a half clear of Gibson. With three hours to go Aaltonen was back in the car and still in the lead. Frank Matich was using everything he could put together to catch them, chucking the little white Mini from fence to fence and recording the fastest lap of the race, a 3:10.

At 4.13, Aaltonen got the flag. The Cooper S Types filled the first nine places outright. With the victory going to Rauno Aaltonen, and Australia's own, Bob Holden.