Australian motorsport legend Harry Firth has died, aged 96.
Firth was best known for his role as team manager for both the Holden and Ford factory teams in Australian Touring Car racing throughout the 70s and 1960s, along with his success like a driver during the early years of ‘The Great Race’.
Known as ‘The Fox’, Firth teamed track of Bob Jane to win the 1961 and 62 Armstrong 500 races at Phillip Island, before the race moved to Mount Panorama in Bathurst for 1963.
Jane and Firth made it three-in-a-row at Bathurst in ’63, and Firth teamed track of Fred Gibson to win the Gallaher 500 in 1967; Firth’s fourth and final Great Race victory.
The Fox earned his nickname through crafty displays as both a driver and team manager, a good example of which was the ‘misplaced’ racing number on one of the Ford Works Falcons at Bathurst in 1968.
Firth later said he deliberately placed the car’s racing number off-centre on the front doors to attract attention from the car’s lower-than-standard ride height.
Harry was also well known for fashioning engineering solutions to prepare road cars for the stresses of motorsport.
In 1969, Firth jumped ship from Ford to Holden along with the Holden Dealer Team (HDT) was formed around his leadership.
The move paid off, with the Holden Monaro GTS of Tony Roberts and young rally driver Colin Bond winning the Hardie-Ferodo 500 from the team’s first year.
Another young driver named Peter Geoffrey Brock was also recruited by Firth to get for HDT in 1969, and three years later Brock won the 1st of his nine Bathurst ‘Great Race’ crowns.
The pair shared a low point in Firth’s career as team manager a couple of years later in 1974, when Brock and co-driver Brian Sampson’s Holden Torana SL/R 5000 L34 expired while leading the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 by six laps.
Firth maintained that Brock disobeyed his orders to reduce speed and conserve the car, creating the engine to cry ‘enough’ on lap 118.
Brock maintains which he did, the truth is, follow Firth’s orders despite his resistance, which caused one bank of the engine to run lean. The pair still hadn’t settled the score from 1974 before Brock died in 2006.
He continued as an icon of Australian motorsport until failing health saw him lead a quieter life over the last few years, though firth’s run as HDT manager ended after the 1977 season.
He wrote and sold ‘bush-style’ poetry which celebrated Australian Touring Car racing through the 60s and 70s, and was actually a regular attendee at such events as being the annual Australian Muscle Car Masters at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Harry Firth was awarded an order of Australia Medal, Australian Sports Medal and CAMS Membership of Honour, and also in 2007 he was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall Of Fame.