View Full Version : Bryan Thomsons L88 Camaro

Steve Holmes
10-07-2011, 12:50 AM

The single race Australian Touring Car Championship at Bathurst in 1966, saw reigning ATCC champion Norm Beechey debut his brand new Chevy Nova II, freshly imported from the US. It was a heck of a place for a race car to make its debut, particularly as the big Nova was fitted with 4-wheel drum brakes. To hedge his bets, Beechey also trucked his Mustang out to Bathurst, the car that won him the ATCC in 1965, at Sandown Raceway.

In qualifying, the Mustang circulated 2.2sec faster than the Nova, but, crucially, the Mustang was a full 2.8sec slower than pole man Pete Geoghegans Mustang. So Beechey decided to race the Nova. The new car would almost certainly run out of brakes long before the the end of the 20 lap ATCC encounter, but he figured its bigger 327ci motor with its extra horsepower over Geoghegans 289, would allow him to build enough of a buffer while the brakes lasted, to still be in front at the end. Good idea, in theory. By mid-point, Beechey had a 10sec lead, and if the race had only been 15 laps long, he would have won the title. But he didn't.

But the big Chevy had proven itself real contender, and the old Mustang was sold off, to Bryan Thomson. Thomson raced the Mustang throughout the remainder of 1966, then took the car to the UK in 1967. By 1968, having returned to Australia, the Mustang was showing its age. Thomson competed in the ATCC at Warwick Farm, qualifying 20th, 8sec off pole. So he started looking for a replacement.

Steve Holmes
10-07-2011, 12:54 AM

Thomson was from Shepparton, Victoria. His local race track was Calder Park, a 1.61km circuit with a fairly simple layout, containing four corners, linked by two long straights, and a couple of squiggles. The front straight doubled as a drag strip. So when Thomson found a 396ci big block powered '68 Camaro drag car being sold by local drag racer Neville Thompson, he pounced.

Norm Beechey held the Touring Car lap record at Calder, at 49.2sec. Thomson figured that as his Camaro could do 11sec mile times, and that as Calder was made up of two long straights, his Camaro, converted to road race trim, would be competitive. Not a particularly scientific approach, but a pretty good guess none the less.

Thomson employed Graham Ritter, of Melbourne, for a year, where he worked as Service Manager at Thomsons Alfa Romeo and Volvo Dealership, and on the Camaro, converting it from drag car to road race car. The 396 big block was good for around 520hp. Initially the Camaro was red with white SS396 striping across the nose, but then Thomson had it repainted Alfa yellow, at which point he also had the wheel arches rolled out for fatter rubber. Peter Fowler would come on board from late 1969 to help Ritter, then took over running the car when Ritter wanted to move back to melbourne.

The ATCC became a 5-round championship in 1969, replacing the single race format of previous years. Thomson raced at the opening round, at Calder Park. He battled early with Bob Janes Mustang and Alan Hamiltons Porsche, but wasn't on the pace of Geoghegan, Beechey, or Allan Moffat, who'd just imported a new Kar-Kraft built Trans-Am Mustang. So, Thomson decided he needed more power.

In July 1969, Thomson, along with Neville Thompson and Peter McPherson, flew to the US, and purchased a 427 crank and con-rods, a set of open chamber LS1 alloy heads, an 850cfm Holley carb, and a set of exhaust manifolds, which they somehow stuffed into their luggage. The new parts effectively turned Thomsons Camaro into a 427 L88, with power being boosted to around 620hp, and 880Nm torque. Pretty impressive for 1969. New rear disc brakes would helped reign in all that power at the end of each straight.


Steve Holmes
10-07-2011, 01:05 AM

Thomson now owned probably the most powerful Touring Car in Australasia, but the increased power tortured equipment, with the Camaro destroying an M21 gearbox every time it went out on track. So Thomson had Peter Holinger build him a special M22 box, which helped with reliability.

Thomson raced the Camaro until 1971, running a limited campaign in the ATCC, his best result being a second placing in the final round at Symmons Plains, a lap behind race winner Jim McKeowns Porsche. But the cost of running the Camaro, against ever incresing oposition, forced Thomson to sell the car. Eventually, he moved to a new emerging motorsport category, Sports Sedans, which were gaining a strong following at Calder Park and at Oran Park in New South Wales, and had Peter Fowler build him a V8 powered Torana. Sports Sedan regs allowed a large number of freedoms, good prize money, and in cars that were cheaper to build and run than the Camaro.

The Camaro was sold to Tasmanian Don Elliot, for his driver Robin Pare to steer, replacing the aging Mustang coupe the pair had been running for years. The pair ran the Camaro throughout 1971/72, before it was sold to Peter McKinley, who campaigned it in 1973/74, after which Peter Sportelli purchased the car. Sportelli replaced the big block with a 350ci small block Chevy, and raced it until 1984, at which point it was retired. From 1973, the Camaro was forced to compete in the Sports Sedan class.

Sportelli tried to sell the car in the early 1990s, for A$10,000, but had no takers. Eventually, he set about having the Camaro restored, which including buying back its 427 motor, and magnesium 15 x 10 American Racing wheels. The restoration was completed in 2007, and the Camaro has appeared a few times at historic racing events, and is currently for sale.


Special thanks to Chris Bowden and Ellis French for their help putting this story together.

10-09-2011, 10:54 PM
As seen at the Lakeside 50th Anniversary meet this year.





Steve Holmes
10-11-2011, 03:38 AM
Thanks Tony, it sure is an awesome looking car.

10-11-2011, 07:25 AM
Sounds amazing. I wish I could win Lotto.

Rod Grimwood
10-11-2011, 08:15 AM
Form a single line Tony, i may share if it's a big Lotto