If ever you could see the physical manifestation of innovation, ingenuity and the act of making something great from what you have at hand, Simon Ward’s 1976 Holden Gemini drag car is it.
The vehicle is a feature of the new “Red Alert – A Tribute to the Holden Red Motor” display, which will be launched this Sunday, 12 March at Maffra’s Gippsland Vehicle Collection, 1A Sale Rd, Maffra, from 9am.
A regular on Gippsland’s drag tracks between 1993 and 2010, the car won 42 first place and five runner-up trophies, and with a vehicle weight of 1004 kilograms, recorded times of 6.4 seconds and 175km/h for the standing 1/8 mile.
“This will be the first time in over six years the car has been displayed and it will give the public an inside look at the inner workings of the car and how it was made and developed. I can do that now that I have retired from racing – it’s certainly not the thing to do while you are in competition,” Mr Ward, from Bairnsdale, said.
After buying the Gemini from his nephew in 1992 for $50, Mr Ward fitted it with the engine out of his HJ Holden ute, which was used (and still is) on the road as his daily work vehicle. It was a 202 Holden red motor, which Mr Ward had turbocharged, and that was refined from its years of use on the road.
“I put that in, along with a three-speed Holden gear box and a Datsun differential from a very old Datsun, a 260c from the 1960s, which I found at the tip,” Mr Ward said.
“In those days, I sourced most of the parts I needed from the Bairnsdale tip. All the wheels, shock absorbers, fuel lines and other small odd things like relays and electrical wiring.”
Mr Ward also paid a visit to the local paint shop and bought a range of unsold mixed up paints that were on hand. He mixed three or four together and came up with the unassuming maroon colour that the car has been ever since.
“I took it to a drag track in Bairnsdale in 1993 and it was runner up in its first outing. The drags were running a lot slower then, of course, but it was still a tough competition, whichever time bracket you were in,” Mr Ward said.
“After the car had been racing for a little while, people saw the potential of the vehicle and I picked up some good sponsorship. That’s when I started putting some real effort into it – some expensive parts and a lot of time.”
The expensive parts included a lenco four-speed American gearbox that “gave the car a lot of reliability”.
“The car became so fast I had to modify it to meet a new set of safety requirements, which added a lot of extra weight to it. I then had to bring the horse power up to compensate for that weight and keep the car running at those speeds,” Mr Ward said.
“I can’t remember being beaten in the last five years of competition with the car. But in the early days, the trophies were mainly runner ups, more so because of my driving faults. It was very rare that the car let me down.”
Along with his handmade and modified parts, Mr Ward’s home workshop also included a number of handmade machines and tools that he designed so he could do all the work on the vehicle himself. These included a turbocharger balancer so he could modify and change the turbocharger to his own specifications.
“Everything on the car, I made, and it has been my design,” he said.
“It’s been my love, and it turned out to be a successful combination.”
Mr Ward said a lot of people will have fond memories of his Gemini, as it was a popular vehicle on the track.
“The car is very non-descript; funny looking even. I was never fanatical about the look. I was fanatical about the performance. People liked my car because it always looked like the underdog compared to the vehicles it was competing against. But once it got out on the track, it performed well.”
The GVC will also be displaying a replica turbocharged Holden engine from Mr Ward’s first drag vehicle, a blue LC Torana GTR, which he began racing in 1975, and which Mr Ward has just finished building. The original Rajay turbocharger has been repaired, and accessories from the original engine have been included.
Red Alert – A Tribute to the Holden Red Motor, will be launched at the GVC in Maffra from 9am to 2pm on Sunday, March 12. There will also be a display of vehicles in the grounds of the GVC, and everyone is welcome to bring along their special vehicle, all makes and models. Entry to the grounds is by gold coin donation and entry to the museum is discounted to $8 for the day. Kids under 15 are free.