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Mouth-watering Selection of GM Cars at Goodwood
Lola-Chevrolet T222 1977
Mouth-watering selection of GM-small-block powered cars at Goodwood Festival
22.7.05. In celebration of the GM small-block V-8’s 50th anniversary, a sensational array of cars powered by the legendary engine, scorched up the tarmac at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, over the weekend of June 24-26, 2005. The range of vehicles ascending the hill spanned the full fifty years, with a 1955 NASCAR Chevrolet, Vauxhall’s “Baby Bertha” tin-top racer and the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette C6 convertible, to name but a few.
1955 NASCAR Chevrolet Racer
It was 50 years ago this September when American Herb Thomas won the Southern 500 at Darlington, driving a 1955 Chevrolet prepared by Smokey Yunick. It was Chevy's first superspeedway victory and the begining of a legend.
This year, a “new” 1955 Chevrolet NASCAR race car has taken shape at GM’s Performance Division Garage – a special project between GM Performance and Heritage facilities. Carrying Thomas’ famous number 92, it replicates Yunick’s original preparation and race specification as closely as possible.
Faithful recreation of Herb Thomas's race-winning Chevy
“The re-creation of this car is based on a 1955 Chevrolet “one-fifty” utility sedan. The replica has a standard bench seat, “three on the tree” manual transmission, manual drum brakes, bias-ply ties with tubes and a small-block V-8 hopped up the way it’s believed Smokey would have done it. The engine of the original racer is currently in the Don Garlits Museum in Florida, while the car itself has disappeared.
Modern concessions to safety include a full roll cage, five-point safety harnesses, a fire suppression system and a dual circuit brake system. The current popularity of the classic 1955 Chevrolet made the parts and services necessary for the race car re-creation readily available.
Positive camber and plenty of body roll!
Junior Johnson, winner of 50 NASCAR races and six Winston Cup championships as a team owner, acted as a consultant on the build and specification of the car. NASCAR also provided research, reference photography and a copy of their 1955 rule book to help make the replica race car “pretty close” to the actual Chevrolets raced in 1955.
To cap it all, Johnson drove the number 92 Chevy up the Goodwood hill, in front of 100,000 appreciative fans.
Junior Johnson with the recreated '55 Chevy
Labelled “The Last American Hero” by writer Tom Wolfe forty years ago, Robert “Junior” Johnson grew up farming and running moonshine in Norh Carolina during the late 1940s. He got his first break in racing at nearby North Wilkesboro Speedway. From that moment on, Johnson dropped the reins to the mule he used to plough his family’s garden and drove his way into National Association of Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) history.
From his initial race, the 1953 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, until he quit driving in 1966 at the tender age of 34, Johnson won 50 NASCAR Grand National (Nextel Cup) races including the 1960 Daytona 500. Some have called him one of the most talented drivers to ever take the wheel of a stock car.
“Baby Bertha”- an extraordinary Vauxhall
One of the most ferocious and famous British national race cars to take to the Goodwood hill, has one of the most unusual names: Baby Bertha. Created by Vauxhall in 1974 to compete in the British Super Saloon Series, Baby Bertha was based on the Vauxhall Firenza but fitted with a full-race 5.0-litre Repco-tuned Holden V-8 producing 500 bhp.
At the Goodwood Festival, the car was driven in memory of Gerry Marshall - Baby Bertha’s legendary driver, who passed away on April 21, 2005.
Baby Bertha was fast out of the box in the hands of Marshall and achieved one of motor racing’s most enviable records. In three seasons of competition, it retired only twice, finished second once but won every other race it started (more than 40 races) and assisted Marshall in winning the Super Saloon Championship two years running.
The fabulous Baby Bertha - now restored to its former glory
The stock Firenza body centre section (floorpan, roof and bulkheads) was married to high-downforce front and rear body sections with a space frame chassis. It carried unusually sophisticated suspension for the time: fully independent front suspension with pushrod-operated spring/damper units, and a de Dion rear suspension with a Salisbury differential and inboard disc brakes at the rear.
Design and build of Baby Bertha was by Bill Blydenstein, with Frank Costin, and the car was raced under the Dealer Team Vauxhall banner. After Baby Bertha was retired from top-line competition in 1978. It last raced at Thruxton Circuit in Southern England in November 1981 and finished second, driven again by Marshall.
Since 1981, the car has been fully restored to its original condition. At some time, the Holden engine was removed for use in another race project but Baby Bertha remains GM Powered, with a 5.0-litre small-block V-8, tuned by Alan Smith and still retaining Baby Bertha’s original Lucas Fuel Injection.
Gerry Marshall (1941-2005)
Through a stunning racing career spanning four decades and 623 victories, the terms to describe Gerry Marshall – words like racy, flamboyant, vibrant, hilarious – are nearly as numerous as his collection of trophies earned in virtually every imaginable type of European race car. And those terms merely address Marshall ’s reputation off the track.
Considered by motorsports enthusiasts as one of the best drivers of all time, Marshall ascended to a level of international recognition during the 1970s, an era dubbed the “golden age for motor racing” by many fans. Racing under the Vauxhall banner, Marshall earned fame behind the wheel of such memorable vehicles as his original “Old Nail” Firenza, the 480bhp V-8 Holden-powered Ventora dubbed “Big Bertha,” and its descendent, a Repco-Holden V-8-powered 5.0-litre Firenza named “Baby Bertha” that inherited the mechanical components of the original “Bertha” following the Ventora’s brake failure at Silverstone in 1974.
He won two Forward Trust Saloon Car Championships in the early 1970s. Rarely beaten, Marshall took back-to-back Tricentrol Super Saloon titles in 1975 and 1976. He achieved his most significant international victory in the 1977 Spa 24 hours with a class-win and second overall.
Marshall ’s driving style was characterised by his sideways, on-the-edge cornering style in any car, large or small, front or rear drive.” That breathtaking, devil-may-care driving style may have wowed the fans with its look of wildness but was actually piloted with extraordinary car control, skill and judgment.
Other starring GM small-block-motivated race cars at the Goodwood festival included:
Bocar-Chevrolet XP-5 1959
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 IROC 1972
McLaren-Chevrolet M1B 1965
Sadler-Chevrolet Mk3 1958
Story: General Motors/Andy Kirk
Photos: John Colley, Peter Burn, Andy Smerdon