Special car returns to Teretonga

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The Team Cambridge Monaro at Teretonga Park in 1970. It returns 52 years on at the Mobil 1 Classic SpeedFest at Teretonga Park near Invercargill during the weekend of February 19-20. Photo: Ian Peak

A CAR which ran at Teretonga Park in Invercargill in the Mercury 1000 Series in 1970 is returning to the country’s oldest motor racing circuit after 52 years.

John McKechnie will bring the Team Cambridge Monaro south for the Mobil 1 Classic SpeedFest to be held during the weekend of February 19 at Teretonga Park.

This will be the car’s only appearance in the South Island this year.

The car has a terrific history and how McKechnie went from first seeing the car, to becoming its owner and racing it is quite a story.

As a teenager, McKechnie was a surfer and had no interest in motor racing.

A surfing trip to Port Waikato changed his life when his mates persuaded him to stop at Pukekohe on the way.

“I got out of the car and heard the most beautiful sound. It was the Team Cambridge Monaro. I loved it because it was a typical kiwi family car.

“Three of my mates’ families owned one and my neighbour had one. It was a saloon, not a muscle car. It had flares, the Cambridge colour scheme, mags, webers and bonnet air scoops. I never went surfing again and I decided there and then I am going to get that car. I didn’t know that it would take me 42 years though.”

McKechnie saw the car racing in different drivers’ hands during the next while and then it disappeared.

“I bought a Monaro at one stage and sold it but one day I spotted a Monaro on an online auction.”

He found photos of when George Bunce, one of the Monaro’s former drivers, had it and identified it as the Team Cambridge Monaro due to the fact the petrol filler was behind the rear window. Successful with his bid, the work started.

A series of remarkable coincidences then helped McKechnie restore the car.

He discovered Rowan Harman, who worked for Bob Jane at the Calder Park Thunderdome in Australia, had the Moon manifold and 4 x 48IDA webers from the Monaro and then found a couple of wheels at a Pukekohe swap meet. He then tracked down a front wheel and had three of the four original wheels.

The rear wing the car raced with was specially imported from the United States by original driver Spinner Black.

It was an unusual shape but McKechnie managed to find the same ones were used on Vauxhall Trans am Firenzas in South Africa. The car maintains its original door and quarter panels and seats but for years the car sat idle as no-one could fit an engine.

“When I sold my HT Monaro, it was the wife of the guy that bought it that noticed that the engine mounts had been changed. The engine had been set down and back and she noticed that the mounts had been changed… all the guys for the past 30 years hadn’t noticed… a change of the front axle would have solved the problem. I just found a correct sump to get the 327 to fit properly.”

The car had sat around and deteriorated and it took five years for McKechnie to restore it. “I have restored it to entertain and for people to enjoy.”

The last part of an incredible story explains why the car is only coming south to race at Teretonga Park.

“It is coming south to honour Invercargill man Alex Brown,” McKechnie said.

“Alex went to Wigram when Spinner Black was racing the car and it was at that meeting that another racing legend, Red Dawson, repeatedly hit the Camaro. Alex was involved in the fix and eventually ended up working for Spinner in Morrinsville. He got to know the Monaro intimately and when I was restoring it, he was a lot of help.

“The car was the first one that Alex was involved with in motor racing. He also sorted the Camaro steering issues and it went on to win the Saloon Car Champs and Mercury Series. Alex is a very gifted person and I am bringing the car south to honour him.”

It is a remarkable story, which will be celebrated when the Monaro rolls out of the pits to make its second appearance at Teretonga Park, 52 years after its first.

McKechnie is a member of the Historic & Vintage Racing Association and several cars from that group will run as part of the Historic & Classic Saloons Pre 78 at the event, the first time any of the association’s cars have run in the South Island.

Mobil 1 Classic SpeedFest, Teretonga Park, Invercargill

  • Tickets available – Auto Centre, Tweed St, Invercargill, and E Hayes, Dee St, Invercargill.
  • Gate sales will be dependent on pre-sales and any changes to the rules under the traffic light settings in force on the date of the event.
  • Spectators will not be allowed on the infield.
  • Vaccine passports are required for entry. Children under 12 are exempt. Children 12 years and 3 months and over will need a vaccine pass.
  • Please show courtesy to our gate staff who are just following instructions.
  • Check out the Southland Sports Car Club facebook page for updates.
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