1953 Holden 48-215 race car

By: David Dowsey, Photography by: Stuart Grant

Presented by

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The humble model that started the Holden legend also gave plenty of famous Aussie drivers a leg up

From Unique Cars #288, Jul/Aug 2008 

Holden's Humpy Heroes

If you’re not a one-eyed Blue Oval fan you probably have a place in your heart for a special Holden. Depending on your age it may be Norm Beechey’s iconic yellow GTS 350 Monaro, Brocky’s Bathurst-winning XU-1 or one of Mark Skaife’s HRT Commodores.

If you are a little, um, older you may recall seeing the Holden that started it all – not only on the road, but also on the race track – the 48-215. Stories of three-wheeled daring-do in the ‘Humpy’ at the hands of Firth, Beechey, Jane, Stahl, McPhee and Seton are legendary for any Aussie who followed Appendix J Touring Car racing in the 1950s-60s. One young lad who was captivated by the 48-215 was historic racer Gary Poole.

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Gary Poole continues to make a splash in his Humpy race car

Not only does he now own our featured ‘FX’ racer – and bits and pieces from dozens of others – Poole has spent considerable time chasing down and chatting to his heroes in a search for comprehensive 48-215 knowledge. And he can rattle off anecdotes at will: "Harry Firth was running a 48-215 late in 1959," he begins. "He remembers the development of the car. (His) FX was sold to Bob and Bill Jane, and another was prepared. (According to Harry) the first run in the new car was at the Templestowe Hill Climb and Bill wanted Harry to drive it to sort it out. Norm was there in his PK 752 car, but Harry managed to beat his time by a fraction."

| Read next: Holden 48-215 review

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Gary Poole’s race car was cobbled together from a host of FX parts collected over the years

Poole says that Harry recently passed on some tricks he had learned preparing and running Humpies and was amazed with the motor racing legend’s recall. Poole also has a special affinity with fellow FX campaigner Rob Jamieson, who he has known of for decades. "Robbo recalls purchasing his (FX) from a little old lady. Mrs Absalon’s car had 67,815miles on the clock when he bought it for £325 in 1960. He then brought it home and spent lots more making it into a race car." Rob’s trophy shelf shows many placings in the Touring Car classes of the early-’60s against the stars of the day: Beechey, Jane, Stahl, McPhee, Seton and the like.

| 2019 Market Review: Holden 48-215, FJ-EK

"V8 Supercar team owner Garry Rodgers remembers his first race car was his road 48-215 (OL 606)," Poole continues. "He used to spend all his pocket money getting it ready. He told me, ‘Those were the good old days, when big crowds flocked to race tracks to see the cars being driven by everyday people out for a bit of fun and adventure’."

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Poole also recalls hearing stories of some interesting ‘rule-book readings’ back in those days: the removal of springs from back seats, fibreglass spare wheels and the like. One Tasmanian team, he was told, came unstuck with an extra battery located under the reduced-sprung rear seat. A late night test out on the road with a few mates onboard saw the car nearly catch fire as the battery shorted-out.

Then there is Max Stahl who, like Warren Weldon and many others, had the odd roll-over in a 48-Series car.

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Owner Gary Poole behind the wheel of his beloved ‘Maranello Red’ FX

"Max told me, ‘The first time I rolled at Catalina Park, Norm Beechey came up to me and put his big arm around me, saying, ‘Don’t worry Max. Remember if you can’t win, be a crowd pleaser’. Norm himself suffered the same fate in early-1964, rolling the PK 752 car at Calder, making front page news." Many other great local racers cut their teeth on the FX, and let’s not forget either that Peter Brock gained his CAMS licence in a 48-215.

Poole, a go-kart racer as a kid, vividly recalls spying Rob Jamieson’s FX being tested on public roads near his house in the early-’60s. He has had a passion for old Holdens ever since, his first ‘buy’ being an FJ model.

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The iconic 48-215 has been thrilling Aussie race-goers since its introduction 60 years ago. Graham Moore gets a bit loose at Katoomba in 1964

But it was in the early-’80s, when the Appendix J group was reformed, that Poole realised his dream of competitively racing an FX Holden could come true. So he purchased a bare rolling body and began restoration with a view to turning it into a racing car.

"Being a country plumber, I have seen everybody’s backyard over the last 20-30 years and naturally I have bought all the FX and FJs home and kept the parts," says Poole. "I am pretty glad I have done that; I have a good resource of spare parts and panels. We were also lucky to purchase a lot of new/old stock from Holden dealers around the area."

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Harry Firth and Norm Beechey were fierce FX rivals in their day; here they're shaking hands after another battle at 1962 Templestowe Hillclimb

The shell – a rare 1953 Business Sedan, body #633 – was purchased in Melbourne in very good condition, partly restored and with no rust.

"There is one other car known in Australia; there are not many left. FX and FJ historian, Don Loffler from Adelaide knows only of one other 48-215-257 still going. The Business Sedans were a limited run of approximately 650 built in June/September 1953."

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With a bit of tuning the relatively lightweight FX was a formidable competitor – ‘Pete’ Geoghegan raced this black beauty with much success in the 1950s and ’60s

The car’s running gear was accumulated over time between his plumbing jobs. The current ‘grey’ six-cylinder motor was built in Ballarat in 1990 with a 3.75inch bore, 11.1 high compression pistons, larger valves, lightened flywheel and a bigger harmonic balancer. Boasting 3.0inch SU carburettors and running on Avgas Poole says it produces around 150-160bhp.

Braking-wise the car is fitted with competition linings and a power booster, but with drum brakes, Poole reports that it does get hot.

"The trimming was completed in Melbourne, the wiring was done by Frank Brewster, the local panel beater painted the car and the aluminium work was done by Peter Blanch who did the fuel tank and cage. I would just fiddle around and recondition things too."

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Beginning with a rare (and rusty!) ’53 Business Sedan, Gary Poole has created a race car any of the Aussie legends would have been happy to compete in

Poole’s ‘fiddling’ wasn’t all done in his backyard shed either. He spent considerable time in Antarctica with work, and whiled away the hours producing parts for his FX back home.

The car gradually took shape using new/old stock parts and was painted in SS Commodore Maranello Red. Poole has been progressively modifying and upgrading it over the last 25 years.

"I raced the car up until 1993 but then I got married and had children. The car was then stored for about 13 years but at the Peter Brock Tribute at Sandown (in 2006) a lot of people made comments about the car so I thought I might get it out again."

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Being a ’53 model, Poole’s 215 is equipped with telescopic shockers which made it a lot easier, suspension-wise, to develop than the earlier lever-type shocker system that he says is troublesome when pressed into racing trim. But that didn’t mean that he was satisfied…

"Over the last 20 years I have been trying to develop the suspension, trying to get the bump steer out of the car and to make it handle a bit better. Just recently I have had ex-HDT members Ian Tate and Anthony Dove look at it and it’s finally sorted out.

"We looked at spring rates, re-valved the shockers – I used Harry Firth’s suggestions here and there – and eliminated the nasty bump steer that had made the car a handful at 100mph."

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 ‘Grey’ motor puts out healthy 160bhp

It didn’t all go his own way though; in 2005 a workshop fire destroyed the CAMS logbook, photo scrapbooks and a few small parts for the FX.

"I was lucky that the majority of our spares had been relocated some years earlier to another shed with the race car," he says.

"During the logbook replacement process, I asked CAMS how many other 48-215 race cars were still around; it was surprising that only a handful still existed, a small few in each state.

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"Rob Jamieson and Ken Zinner brought their (48-215s) out, making three in Victoria including mine. Rob and I still have our cars; Ken’s old car is currently campaigned by Rob Southouse in Melbourne."

Poole has spent a lifetime living with 48-215s and if it were possible, he would need another one to finish everything he wants to achieve with them – he is even considering making a replica of Norm Beechey’s old FX racer.

I’m already walking away from him when he starts again: "It needs a new coat of paint so I was thinking of black this time, what do you reckon?" 

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Brock's special race 48-215

FX expert Phil Munday prepared a special race 215 for Peter Brock in what was his last competitive outing before his fatal collision in 2006’s Targa West Rally.

Munday and his Melbourne-based team put the car together from a wreck with the assistance of ex-HDT members Ian Tate, who worked over the ‘grey’ motor, and Anthony Dove, who did a lot of the fabricating.

Uprated to 2.4 litres and with an 11.5:1 compression ratio, Wade Cams camshaft, Mitsubishi conrods, Vauxhall steel crank and Triple 44mm SU carbies the engine produced 140kW at 6500rpm. Also boasting a straight-out exhaust, XU-1 hydraulic clutch, Muncie four-speed gearbox and 3.9:1 diff Brock described the speed of the 900kg 1953-model sedan as "close to XU-1 performance".

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Handling was enhanced by the addition of Koni telescopic shocks, Koni coils at the front with a custom leaf spring arrangement down-back, Girling front discs and rear Holden XU-1 drums and 15inch Ajax wheels shod in sticky Dunlop Racing 550L-15 rubber.

Brock did us all proud at 2006’s Goodwood Revival with a fine fourth place in Race One of the St Mary’s Trophy.

| Read more: Peter Brock's Holden 48-215 race car

 

1953 Holden 48-215 race car specs

Body: four-door sedan
Weight: 990kg
Drivetrain: front eng, RWD
Engine: 138ci ‘grey’ in-line six
Transmission: three-speed manual
Power: 160bhp
Performance: 400m – 15secs. Top speed – 190km/h-plus

 

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