B&H Returns to Pukekohe (Part 6)


“Hey Charger” was a marketing mantra from heaven which captivated the young upwardly mobile car buying fraternity in the early mid 70’s. It signalled the arrival in New Zealand of the most sexy shaped and potent sports coupe to ever be assembled on these shores. This was in many ways the high water mark of locally assembled performance, although the case for the Mazda Capella RX2 rotary coupe could also be argued as well….

The locally assembled Charger, while not being an all-out racer like its R/T Aussie assembled cousin, was still a formidably quick road car and readily available here. Equipped with the 265 Hemi and auto trans, the Charger 770 as it was titled, to quote Mark Webster from his excellent book “Assembly: New Zealand car production 1921-1998”, “It was a revolutionary car for local assembly (Todd Industries, Porirua) and demand was so strong, that a black-market developed for those wanting to queue jump. This was the only time an Australian Coupe was ever assembled in N.Z. Trevor Turner was the man to thank, Todd Motors Marketing Director, who went out on a limb to include this model in the locally assembled range to help give the Chrysler range a more sporty image here.” He certainly got his sums right and it became a road and race track legend throughout the 1970’s and beyond. At $4,975 dollars base price, it certainly wasn’t cheap in 1972 terms, but in the amount of bang for your bucks stakes, it was the hottest locally built iron off the show room floor anywhere in the country!

A seven victory winning streak in fact, from 1972 to 1978, was a marathon achievement for a machine of great charisma. Along the way it beat off challenges of some highly fancied opposition. The Fiat 125T twin cam (limited production factory specials), Leyland P76 with 4.4 litre alloy V8, Mazda RX2 and later the 5 litre Ford Fairmont V8 were all tough opposition and worthy opponents. But ultimately, none were able to end the winning streak of the mighty Charger - until it became obsolete in the very late 70’s.

Leo’s share of these wins, were two more victories in 1975 and ’77. Leo regarded his 1977 victory as one of the hardest when he and Garry Sprague struck braking problems early and had to fight back, driving to the absolute limit to gain victory, shades of his great 1970 triumph revisiting. The other great driving combo of the “Charger years” was of course Jim Richards and Rod Coppins, both skilled long distance racers. They won in both 1972 and 1973. Leo also won a final time in 1981 at the wheel of a Fairmont V8, but the flavour of the race had started to change by then, leaning more towards limited production, high performance saloons. This was the case of the SS Holden Commodore of the early 1980’s, which was a locally assembled high performance version, limited production run, built specifically for the intention of winning the B & H series of this era. In reflection, the halcyon days of torrid battles in totally standard production cars - with all their limitations had passed. And with the passing of that era, the true charisma and flavour of endurance racing, which required special skills to drive around the many limitations of basic 60’s and 70’s four door family sedans over 7 – 8 hours of hard racing, was gone.


Adapted from an original article by Gerard Richards