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Thread: Article: Robbie Francevic's 427 Fairlane

  1. #1

    Article: Robbie Francevic's 427 Fairlane

    Name:  Robbie Francevic Fairlaine 1.jpg
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    One of the great things about running this website is that, every now and then, someone will reach out and offer a little gem they think may, or may not, be of interest to Roaring Season members and visitors. Many of the amazing photo collections that appear on this site are perfect examples of this; amateur photos taken with a basic camera, that the owner has had hidden away in boxes for decades, thinking nobody would be interested in seeing them. The fact is, this stuff is pure gold, and its like Christmas every time someone tentatively offers up something they have.

    Such was the case just recently, when I got this wonderful email:

    “Hi Steve -

    Didn't know if / where this sort of thing might go on your site, but if you're interested, this is a pic of Robbie Francevic and Tony Kriletich (outside Robbie's place from what I remember).

    I’ve got pics of Tony working on the Custaxie somewhere.... and some 8mm of races.
    As a young thing I spent many hours hanging around the garage watching him boring and grinding. Tony is my Uncle.

    Cheers
    Paz”

    Here is the photo Paz had attached to the email. How incredible is this! What an absolute gem. Australian members and visitors to this site will remember Robbie Francevic as being the tall, hearty Kiwi who, in 1985, rocked up at Round 1 of the Australian Touring Car Championship, the first under the new international Group A regulations, driving a boxy silver Volvo 240T. Although seemingly the most unlikely of race cars, it quickly established itself as one of the main contenders, and Francevic himself as a driver of huge talent. The combo went on to win the ATCC the following year.

    Well, ten years earlier, in his homeland of New Zealand, he’d already made a name for himself by racing with, and winning in, unlikely race cars. In late 1966, Robbie Franicevic (note, his name was spelt with two ‘I’s, the first of which he dropped in 1967, when having gone to the US to race, found the American’s struggled to correctly pronounce his name) appeared at the opening round of the 1967 New Zealand Saloon Car Championship in a large, grey, ungainly machine that typically bucked the trend. That 1967 championship was to be the last one held for the popular Allcomer sedans, a category that had spawned madly and wildly throughout the 1960s, as a result of being strangled by very few rules.

    The previous season, the 1966 championship was won by Dave Simpson, driving a Ford Anglia which featured a heavily revised nose for improved aerodynamics, and fastback ‘breadvan’ roof, and was powered by a twin-cam Lotus motor. Paul Fahey, Simpson’s nearest rival in the championship, raced a very similar car. The theory was that the best package, as had already been proven, was to fit a powerful motor into a small, nimble, lightweight bodyshell, and as the 1967 season loomed, so that was the direction most competitors took. Except for Robbie Franicevic.

    Franicevic appeared with a bulky looking Ford Customline, featuring a one-piece ‘droop-snoot’ nose, a chassis that had been relocated on top of the floor to lower its centre of gravity, and was powered by a monstrous 427ci Ford Galaxie motor. The combination of the Customline body and Galaxie motor saw it dubbed The Custaxie. The big grey machine (which was soon painted a more attractive white with red/blue stripes) was the brainchild of Tony Kriletich, Robbie’s god mate.

    Franicevic’s 1967 campaign got off to a pretty good start, as he earned runner-up spots in the first three rounds (of 7) to Paul Fahey (Mustang), Jack Nazer (Breadvan Lotus Anglia), and Fahey again, before the Custaxie, which was fitted with a limited slip diff from Round 4 onwards, won the remaining four rounds, carrying Franicevic to the championship.

  2. #2
    Name:  Robbie Francevic Fairlane 2.jpg
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    Before the 1967 season even got under way, the Motorsport Association of New Zealand announced that this would be the last year for the Allcomer cars, with the international FIA Group 5 regulations being drafted in the following year. With that announcement, virtually all the Allcomer cars, including the Custaxie, had nowhere to race, and their owners would need to find themselves replacement machinery in which to enter the 1968 championship.

    As the 1967 season finished, and the year rolled on, so the rumblings grew from all quarters that Group 5 regulations were not the best way forward for New Zealand saloon car racing. There would be four classes contested: 0 – 1,000cc. 1,001 – 1,300cc. 1,301 – 2,000cc. Over 2,000cc. Although there were some impressive showings by small capacity cars in the UK and Europe, most notably the Lotus Cortina’s and Mini Coopers, most considered the Over 2,000cc class would provide an outright winner. And indeed, most that competed in this class opted for the tried and tested Ford Mustang; including Paul Fahey, who’d imported his Shelby built model in 1966 to run the final season with the Allcomers, Rod Coppins, who’d bought the reigning Australian Touring Car Championship winning car off Pete Geoghegan, Red Dawson, who’d bought the locally built car campaigned the last two seasons by Ivan Segedin, and Frank Bryan, who’d imported a 1967 model race car from Shelby.

    But much interest surrounded the reigning NZ Saloon Car Champion, and what he’d be armed with to defend his title. He and Kriletich boarded a plane for the US in June 1967, where Franicevic would take in some dirt track speedway racing, with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). ARCA President John Marcum arranged a Ford Galaxie stock car, along with a truck and spares for Franicevic and Kriletich, and the big Kiwi put in some impressive performances, claiming several top 5 results. He received additional support from Air New Zealand and Champion Spark Plugs.

    Perhaps it was the experience with the 427ci Galaxie on the tight little US bull-rind ovals that prompted the decision to race a similarly powered Ford Fairlane in the 1968 NZ Saloon Car Championship. The announcement was made late in 1967. The big block 427 was said to be good for 550hp, which would make it the most powerful car on the NZ racing circuit, by some considerable margin. Continuing the stock car theme, the Fairlane was fitted with wide steel wheels, rather than the mag wheels most other competitors chose. The 427ci Fairlane model had replaced the Galaxie in Nascar competition for 1967, which included a handful of road course tracks as well as the numerous ovals, so the choice did have some merit. Franicevic and Kriletich had learned the year before that bucking the trend, and trying something different, could produce the rewards they were after.

    The opening round (of 8) of the 1968 NZ Saloon Car Championship kicked off at Pukekohe, on November 4, 1967. And as the big and impressive field of Group 5 machinery blasted off the line for the first time, the Francevic (having now dropped the ‘I’ from his name) Fairlane was not among them. It was ready, but it didn’t race. Under Group 5 rules, the Fairlane was not actually homologated to race, and rightly or wrongly, MANZ stuck grimly to the letter of the law. The Fairlane was also absent for Round 2, the Auckland Car Club run event, also held at Pukekohe.

    Bay Park hosted their annual Christmas event on December 30, 1967, with Aussie hard-charger Norm Beechey brought across with his Chevy Nova as the main draw card. Although a non-championship event, all the leading local teams were in attendance, including Francevic, finally getting to run the Fairlane for the first time. As it transpired, it was an unhappy day, as overheating issues dogged the big machine, and it failed to reach the finish in either encounter.

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    Name:  Robbie Francevic Fairlane 3.jpg
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    The New Zealand International Grand Prix meeting played host to Round 3 of the Saloon Car Championship, and with homologation papers at hand, Francevic and the Fairlane made their first championship appearance. Having missed practice, Francevic started off the back of the small field, and had powered his way up to third behind the Mustangs and Fahey and Bryan after one lap. But then the overheating issues reared up again, and the Fairlane was out by lap 6.

    The tiny Levin track hosted Round 4, and the big Fairlane belted around in practice with smoke trailing along behind as oil leaked from out the rocker covers. In the opening heat, Francevic ran fourth behind Dawson, Fahey, and Coppins, before pushing Coppins back a spot. But then he dropped off the track, and slipped down the order. In the second race he ran third for a time, before being displaced by Aussie visitor Brian Foley, in his Mini Cooper. Then the Fairlane dropped out altogether, with a holed piston.

    Francevic missed the Wigram event, for Round 5, while waiting for a replacement piston to arrive from the US, but returned for the next round at Teretonga, where again the overheating issues continued to haunt the team. Francevic qualified fourth, but retired from both the championship race and the non-points paying invitational with overheating. The final two championship rounds at Timaru and Ruapuna produced no further joy.

    At the annual Bay Park Easter event, in April 1968, with Aussie Mini Cooper drivers Don Holland, John Leffler, and Lynn Brown all in attendance, Francevic battled with Holland, and in cool conditions, scored a much welcomed second place, behind Fahey, and in the second heat, in wet conditions, the big machine took its first race win. However, in a third race, the motor blew.

    A week later, at the Dunlop Half Hour event at Pukekohe, the Fairlane was back, this time sporting a fairly drastic approach to the ongoing overheating issues, as the grill, headlights, and front bumper were all removed, leaving the rather large frontal area of the car a great black hole with a radiator mounted in the middle.

    In the opening preliminary, Francevic emerged in the lead, after Coppins had taken avoiding action following a wild spin by Leffler at the opening corner. Francevic held the lead throughout the first lap, before Fahey passed him on lap two. Then the gearbox blew, and Francevic was out for the rest of the event. And with that, the big, spectacular Fairlane was not seen again.

    Sadly, its fate was as unfortunate as its competition career. It was converted to a road car, and eventually met its demise in a garage fire. But it’s a car that has always interested me, and I always enjoy stories of those who choose to beat a different path, in an effort to get ahead. The Fairlane ultimately proved unsuccessful, and Francevic and Kriletich pulled the pin after just one season. Perhaps they felt ultimately the potential wasn’t there. Perhaps the ongoing drama’s had worn them out. Regardless, it was an exciting car, and a great addition to the NZ racing season, albeit, briefly.

    Thanks to Paz for sending me the beautiful opening photo in this article. My knowledge of this car is frustratingly limited, and I hope that this article will generate some discussion on the subject, so we can learn more. But it at least gives me an excuse to pull together some of the fantastic photos our Roaring Season members have contributed, and I’ll be sharing more of these, for everyone to enjoy.

    At the end of the day, racing is about winning. But sometimes, great cars are not always winners.

  4. #4
    Semi-Pro Racer Jac Mac's Avatar
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    Always wondered why the transmission of this car had bronze bush's in the cluster, would have been from the G-Box failure toward the end of its competition life. Dont know for sure whether it still had the 427 in it when Woodsy bought it as write off after the garage fire, would have been too easy to stick a 332 or other FE engine to recoupe some $$$ on sale. The Detroit Locker & 31 spline axle spent some time in one of PJW's early stock cars, front calipers & discs ended up on my OSCA Cortina ( interestingly these were 65 Mustang 4 pot stuff which might not have been those originally fitted to the Fairlane either), Trans parts went to PDL & what was left of the body shell is under some new John Deere tractors at the display yard, body was beyond any form of repair after the fire.

    Checked some part numbers today, only disc brake rotors & calipers that appear to have been available at the time would have been the mustang ones I mention above, Larger Lincoln types that were used on T/A mustangs etc were post 1968>
    Last edited by Jac Mac; 08-26-2013 at 07:10 AM.

  5. #5
    Semi-Pro Racer kiwi285's Avatar
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    Here is a photo taken of the car at Pukekohe at the 1968 NZIGP meeting.

    Last edited by kiwi285; 08-23-2013 at 07:01 AM.

  6. #6
    Whether you were turned on by Robbie and his sometimes antics, the Fairlane was a breath of different air. From the get go a number of people said that it would not suit our tracks, and in the end were known to say "I told you so". Were they right, or was there just a huge amount to learn to become competitive? We will never know. I just remember feeling very let down that all the effort was for nothing.

  7. #7
    As can be seen with many cars, sometimes one season is not enough.I also feel let down it was not there for another year.With Mustangs you could always check Trans Am specs., Spencer Blacks Camaro took a whole season before it won a championship. The list goes on.This car could have been made competitive...then. Now, would make excellent grid filler in HMC.

  8. #8
    World Champion
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    Great article Steve , fantastic photos and words

  9. #9
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    [QUOTE Steve Holmes
    Robbie Franicevic (note, his name was spelt with two ‘I’s, the first of which he dropped in 1967, when having gone to the US to race, found the American’s struggled to correctly pronounce his name)[/QUOTE]
    It was New Zealanders as much as Americans who mispronounced his name. Everyone put the stress on the second syllable (Franicevic) when it should have been on the first (Franicevic) - dropping the first "i" brought the pronunciation closer to what it should have been

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Holmes View Post
    Name:  Robbie Francevic Fairlaine 1.jpg
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    ...Robbie Franicevic (note, his name was spelt with two ‘I’s, the first of which he dropped in 1967, when having gone to the US to race, found the American’s struggled to correctly pronounce his name)
    It was New Zealanders as much as Americans who mispronounced his name. Everyone put the stress on the second syllable (Franicevic) when it should have been on the first (Franicevic) - dropping the first "i" brought the pronunciation closer to what it should have been

    (My previous post won't delete!)
    Last edited by David McKinney; 08-23-2013 at 10:46 AM.

  11. #11
    Semi-Pro Racer Steve Emson's Avatar
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    Good article. I remember watching this car as a kid, thinking it just never seemed to get sorted out. Interesting it won in the rain. That was not the car, that was the driver. I always assess ability with a drivers rain performances. I rated the driver in our top 3 drivers in my own rating system. You had to be on your toes to win against RF.

  12. #12
    When I got his autograph at the 1968 GP, he has proudly written 'Ford Fairlane' under his name - and 'Robert', not 'Robbie'

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Clark View Post
    When I got his autograph at the 1968 GP, he has proudly written 'Ford Fairlane' under his name - and 'Robert', not 'Robbie'
    I remember his father always calling him Robert.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Rod Grimwood View Post
    I remember his father always calling him Robert.
    And did yours call you Rodney?

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Oldfart View Post
    And did yours call you Rodney?

    Mum did but only when I was in the shit, so answer probably is 'yes'

  16. #16
    Semi-Pro Racer kiwi285's Avatar
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    That's right John, cars that weren't necessarily race winners in period can now be seen on track and, driven with verve, still be up there with the best of them, putting on a great show and allowing us to remember some of the great cars that raced here.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jac Mac View Post
    Always wondered why the transmission of this car had bronze bush's in the cluster, would have been from the G-Box failure toward the end of its competition life. Dont know for sure whether it still had the 427 in it when Woodsy bought it as write off after the garage fire, would have been too easy to stick a 332 or other FE engine to recoupe some $$$ on sale. The Detroit Locker & 31 spline axle spent some time in one of PJW's early stock cars, front calipers & discs ended up on my OSCA Cortina ( interestingly these were 65 Mustang 4 pot stuff which might not have been those originally fitted to the Fairlane either), Trans parts went to PDL & what was left of the body shell is under some new John Deere tractors at the display yard, body was beyond any form of repair after the fire.
    Thanks Jac, awesome info. Do you know roughly when the garage fire happened? Did you ever see the car when it was a road car?

  18. #18
    Semi-Pro Racer Jac Mac's Avatar
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    The car had arrived in the yard prior to my starting work there , that was ~1973/74 IIRC so at a guess somewhere around 1971 thru 72 maybe a bit earlier. Cannot remember ever seeing the car on road, was somewhat surprised at time to find it was 'the' car & in southland. Thru family connections I now know the previous owner, will make some enquiries about the car next time we meet, never know, he might have some pics.

  19. #19
    Thanks Jac, yeah be great if they did have some photos. I'd love to know what it looked like as a road car. When Francevic first raced it, it was a current model Fairlane, a 1967 model. Not sure if he bought it brand new, but if not it would have been near-new. But there can't ever have been too many 66/67 shape Fairlane hardtops in NZ.

  20. #20
    Superb Bill Pottinger photo here from Teretonga in 1968. Paul Fahey and Frank Bryan have just shot past in their Mustang's, and Rod Coppins leads this high-speed train including John Ward, Barry Phillips, Francevic, and Tony Lawrence.

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