This magnificent Ex-Grice/Richards JPS Team BMW 635CSi has spent the past two decades virtually untouched and with several states separating its insides and its outsides. In 2017, it’s set to hit the track in anger again for the first time since 1984. And if all goes to plan (we are talking about historic cars here), its first outing will be at Phillip Island in just a few weeks over the 17th to the 19th of March.
In 1980, Group N and Group A regulations were two years away from replacing Group 2 in the European Touring Car Championship. BMW needed to move out of their iconic 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’ and wanted to build a new race car based on their six series. They gave the job to Werginz Motorsport in Austria, who built three Group 2 635CSis to satisfy homologation requirements and go racing.
This car is one of those original three, and in the first phase of its career, it raced extensively across Europe in the European Touring Car Championship.
Frank Gardner was aware of the developments in Germany, knew that BMW’s new cars were a good fit for Australian Group C rules and believed they could be competitive. He was sent to BMW Motorsport in Germany in 1981 with Alan Grice, an open cheque book and instructions to do a deal on a car. When he got there he was put in touch with this car, which he bought, returning to Australia with the car and a mechanic.
With a very short window to prepare the car for competition and comply it to Group C regulations, it was stripped and painted in the now-iconic black JPS livery. This was a change for Alan Grice, who at the time had secured Craven Mild Racing sponsorship that he had to give up for the incoming JPS sponsorship. This led to the formation of JPS Team BMW – an icon of Group C and Group A racing in the mid-‘80s.
The car was designed to be an endurance race car, rather than a sprint car. It was light on fuel, gentle on brakes and tough as nails, so it had all the qualities it needed to do well at Bathurst.
Grice was the lead driver for the car and competed in the 1981 Better Brakes 3.5-Litre Series before claiming seventh in the 1981 James Hardie 1000 driving with David Hobbs. This result was particularly impressive as he had an off and was stuck in the sand trap for six laps. He acknowledged and apologized for the mistake, down to his aggressive style, but this was an event that would ultimately lead to problems in his relationship with Gardner.
Frank was not happy with Grice’s driving style and ended up taking both the car and the sponsorship from Grice despite it originally being Grice’s sponsorship and deal. This left Grice back in a commodore in 1982, securing a Re-Car sponsorship. Gardner employed Jim Richards, who would stay with the team until its run ended in 1987.
The car continued on in 1982, but its days as the team lead were numbered. Major changes were on their way into the regulations, so Gardner was building a new car to comply with them. It remained the lead car until May, when the new car was finished and Richards moved across to that. That sister car can also still be found on Australian race tracks, and joined us at the Phillip Island Classic last year. Read more about it here.
This machine would be allocated to New Zealand’s 1967 Formula 1 World Championship winner – Denny Hulme.
Hulme drove the car in the 1982 James Hardie 1000 with Stephen Brook, but would hit the cutting during an off and drop out of the race early. The car was sold to Braddon Motorworks in Canberra, who sent it directly the Bathurst College for repair, where it was repaired and sold again, this time going to Michael McMichael of M&H Motors in Adelaide.
McMichael took it to Malaysia, racing it successfully there for two years until another accident saw it with damage to its right-hand front corner. He brought the 635CSi back to Australia, repaired it and took the drive line out of it to put into another project car. That project was never finished, so the driveline ended up above his office. The balance of the car was sold to Anthony Freeman in Melbourne, who put it into storage.
That’s how things stayed until 2003, when Dean How bought the car.
“I’m in an independent BMW spare parts & service business. I put my own hoist in the business specifically to house my Torana, so it lived there and became quite well known.”
“One day a customer came in and told me about a black BMW race car that he’d seen up in Black Rock. He gave me vague directions, with no actual address, so I went up there after work that evening and just wandered the streets until I eventually found it. I knocked on the owner’s door and asked if he would sell it.”
“He knocked me back initially, but I got his number and just huffed and huffed and about three months later we did a deal. I picked up my trailer, fetched the car and sent it straight to Bathurst, where it went on display in the museum. I had the Torana, and couldn’t afford to run both cars.”
“The 635CSi had no engine, no gearbox and no brakes– it was a rolling shell with its original wheels, suspension, steering and crossmember.”
“When I bought it from Tony in 2003 I began a fifteen-year process of working on Michael McMichael to get its bits back. He didn’t want to sell them to me because he was concerned that I only wanted to sell the car and make some money out of it.”
“It took about 10 years for him to finally start believing me and dribbling bits out to me. I’ve been able to buy the engine, throttle, exhaust, rear brakes, differential, coolers & pumps.”
“When I finally earned Michael’s trust I was in the office one day and my secretary walked up to me and handed me an envelope with my name on it marked as private. Inside it was the car’s original log book with all of its entries and a note saying I trust you, so here you go – this must stay with the car. I had no idea where it had come from until I spoke with Michael and he asked me if I’d received his gift.”
“The front brakes are an interesting story. McMichael had put them on a toy race car that he was building at the time and which he sold as an unfinished project. I got a phone call from him one day, some ten years after him selling it, saying hey, I’ve found the brakes – the car was listed on My 105.”
“I called the owner and asked him if I could come have a look at the car, but could he please have it up on jacks with a wheel off. I got there and there were those big beautiful calipers. I told him I’d like to buy the car, and why, and he wanted ridiculous money for it so I ended up declining.”
“The car went to someone else, who called me up and said “I believe the brakes on this car belong on your car”, so I was able to buy them in the end!”
“The only thing I’m missing now is the original gearbox, which Michael has. We just have to come to an agreement.”
“I’ve had the car in the Bathurst museum since I bought it and, aside from running it twice in the Heritage Hot Laps at Muscle Car Masters on a standard motor and brakes in 2005 and 2006, it’s stayed there. I sold my Torana in November to fund the 635CSi’s rebuild and racing, and brought it back to my garage at Peninsula BM to start preparing it.”
“The car was absolutely flogged out after its racing career. Back in 1982, when it became the secondary car, all of the best bits went on to the Richards car and it got the hand-me-downs. Its time in Malaysia was hard on it, and it’s seen three decades since then!”
“It took me from November until mid-January to strip the car, inspect and clean everything, take stock and then order parts from all across the world. It’s now being put back together again with as much of the original kit as possible. All of the internals will be rebuilt or new if they have to be.”
“It’s an incredibly original car, and is basically as it was back in the day. Inside the paint is from the original build in 1980 and outside it’s wearing the original paint from Bathurst in 1982. All of the chrome molds are exactly as they were and untouched – I want to keep it as an original time warp as much as I can with it still being a safe and functional race car.”
“We go out and we race, but we’re not racing for sheep stations. It’s about giving, and showing people who haven’t seen the sport what it was like in its golden age and preserving the history and the passion. I believe that we’re just custodians and we’re only going to own the car for a short time – it will go on to live its life and continue racing with its new custodians.” – Dean How
We can’t wait to see this magnificent old BMW back on Australian race tracks.
The Heritage Touring Cars series will return at the 2017 Phillip Island Classic over the 17th to the 19th of March. Be there!
Thanks to Dean How for unearthing the car’s history and sharing it with us