Ex-Longhurst/Cecotto Benson & Hedges BMW E30 M3 Set for Speed Festival


Ex-Longhurst/Cecotto Benson & Hedges BMW E30 M3 Set for Speed Festival

Above photo by Steve Duggan of SDPics. Images kindly provided by Rick Allen.

The Ex-Tony Longhurst/Johnny Cecotto Benson & Hedges BMW E30 M3 of Rick Allen will make its second appearance in the Heritage Touring Cars series this June, when it joins a stacked grid of classic Australian muscle at the Sydney Classic Speed Festival over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

Frank Gardner’s last shot at Bathurst with an M3, the car was built brand new for the 1992 Tooheys 1000 by Frank, for drivers Tony Longhurst and Johnny Cecotto.  It was Tony’s third and final number 25 B & H M3.

It began life as a BMW Motorsport shell, provided by BMW to Frank. As such, it’s probably the last Group A M3 built, with the iconic racer all but finished in Europe by the time the ’92 Bathurst event came around.

The ’92 Tooheys 1000 would be the car’s only official Group A race, but it didn’t disappoint.

Longhurst cracked the Tooheys Top 10, qualifying 9th after being 5th fastest during practice. In the main event, he and Cecotto, who successfully competed in grand prix motorcycle racing as well as Formula 1 and touring cars, would come agonizingly close to climbing the podium, finishing fourth.

The car would compete once more at Bathurst when Steve Soper co-drove it with Tony Longhurst in the 1993 race.

The Benson & Hedges team would only run the car for about 15 months and in 1994 it moved on to Peter Jones and John McLean. At this point, it had been sympathetically converted into Sports Sedan specifications, which involved putting it on a diet after its Group A days by stripping out some bits and pieces and installing a lightweight bonnet and perspex side windows.

The car would be driven by Cameron McLean and Peter Jones in ’94 and ’95, with Cam taking it to win the 1995 Australian Sports Sedan Championship. It was sold after that to a BMW dealership in Sydney and did not race again.

“That’s how I bought it in 1998, and how it stayed until about June 2016, when I decided to take it racing again.”

“I’ve been a car nut as long as I can remember. I must have been three or four when I started to realise my interest, and I’ve never had any doubt that I’d eventually be heavily involved in cars.”

“I became keen on racing fairly early as well. In 1968 I went to my first race as a spectator. Ten years later, in 1978, I bought my first race car, which I owned for seven years.”

“That was a Group C car – the ex-Ron Hodson, Bobby Morris-driven Torana XU-1. I regrettably sold it in 1985 and today the car has actually ended up with fellow Heritage Touring Cars driver, Chris Bowden.”

Torana XU-1

Image thanks to Bowden’s Own

“I first became aware of BMWs back in the era of three-litre CSis and CSLs, and since then they’ve always tickled my fancy. When they started to race BMWs here in Australia, in the Group C and A days with 635s and then M3s particularly with Jimmy Richards, I became even more interested. Then when Frank and Tony started to run the 2.5-litre M3s, that really got me thinking.”

“I kept my eye on the 2.5-litre cars and during 1993 made some preliminary moves to find out what Frank was planning to do with them after they had finished the season.”

“At the end of 1994 I was very fortunate to buy the sister Benson & Hedges car from John Blanchard. That was the number 20 car and was the car in which Denny Hulme sadly died during the 1992 Bathurst 1000. In 1997 Kevin Underwood, who was living in England at the time, made me an offer for the car that I couldn’t refuse. It has been with Kevin ever since and is now in New Zealand with him.”

Benson & Hedges BMW M3

“Not long after that, the number 25 car came up for sale. I grabbed it just about as quickly as I could get my hot little hands on it!”

“I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to spend time with cars which have enjoyed some level of historical significance. All three of my cars were used in the Australian Touring Car Championship, and between them competed in six Bathursts. I believe that the history is worth protecting and keeping alive through competing and bringing the cars out for others to enjoy.”

“It’s a bit of a shame that the 25 car in particular doesn’t have more period history on the track, but that, to a degree, actually adds to what’s interesting about it. Under normal circumstances, the car would never have been built – this was Frank’s last tilt with an M3 to try and win at Bathurst.”

Benson & Hedges BMW M3

“Beginning last year, I spent about five months returning the car to the same specification as when it raced back in ’92. There wasn’t too much to be done and it just needed to be brought back to the letter and the spirit of the category. It has not been fully restored and it still bears the scars from earlier days of racing.”

“Our first meeting in the car was the recent Phillip Island Classic, which marked 30 years since my last race. I’d run the car in super sprints and track days over the years for fun and to give it an outing, but that was my first go under race conditions since the ‘80s.”

“It was really, really interesting!  A little scary blowing out 30 years’ worth of cobwebs and getting used to the category’s rolling starts, but really, thoroughly enjoyable. And I did better than I ever would have thought – only spitting it off once and generally having a blindingly good time.”

“It’s wonderful to be involved with a group of like minded people, who treat the cars with the respect they’re due, and quite special to race alongside legends like Jim Richards and John Bowe. When I was dicing with John at Phillip Island, I remembered that he and Tony had had a few dust ups back in the ‘90s.  I had the thought of him thinking “Oh no, not a bloody yellow M3 again!”

Everyone is willing to lend a hand, making for great camaraderie in the series. Jason, part of the crew for Peter Jones, who now races the first JPS M3 with help from John McLean, pitched in over the weekend at Phillip Island. That was very much appreciated.”

“It was fantastic to receive a lot of encouragement from fellow M3 nuts Dave Towe and Bill Cutler.”

“I also enjoy sharing the classics with fellow fans of the era. Not everyone thinks that the latest and greatest is the be all and end all. These cars are from a somewhat simpler era, when race cars were a reasonable representation of the road cars. Supercars these days are such complex beasties, and they’re seemingly pumped out on production lines in such a way that I’m not sure they have the same romance to them.”

“The Group C & A cars have different sounds and looks and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. As it was in the period, we have no hope of keeping up with a Sierra or Godzilla in a straight line, but hopefully we get a little closer to them in the twisty bits – having one car better here and another better there makes for interesting racing.”

“It’s great to see younger people out with their fathers, sharing the experience and hopefully lighting that spark inside them as well. I hope we see younger blokes coming through to pick up where we leave off – you can’t be totally frozen in time.”

“I’m really very lucky to have my car, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. It may be similar to losing a limb. I felt a lot like that when I sold the #20 car. The #25 car isn’t going anywhere soon. I don’t believe I will receive an offer I can’t refuse for this one.”

“It really is a silly thing, quite mad I suppose, but these M3s get under your skin. 19 years is a long time to have an attachment to something that’s just nuts, bolts and bits of tin etc, but it’s way, way more than the sum of its parts.”

“We call ourselves owners, but really we’re just lucky enough to be custodians for a time. Hopefully the cars will keep going and move on to the next person, who will enjoy them, take care of them and then move them on again.”

“In the meantime, I’ll get out, have fun and hopefully people will get a buzz out of seeing the cars run around”.

“And if I can be a little bit cleverer, maybe I’ll get closer to those things up front!”

Thanks to Rick Allen for chatting with us and being part of this story. Images kindly provided by Rick Allen

Phillip Island images by Steve Duggan of SDPics

Benson & Hedges BMW M3