The opening of the Aldo Scribante racetrack scheduled for the 24th November 1974 was an event all of us motorsport types in Port Elizabeth had waited for since the closure of the St Albans track in 1969. Five years was a long time for us not to have our own track. For most folk, that day was about the anticipation of the occasion and good racing….BUT…..

…..for a few, there was a race within a race…. a challenge made a month before had to be settled in the first scratch saloon car event there that day.

After Ranger Part One… forward to 1972 and my training period coming to an end in the GMSA Service operation.  Qualifying from the division could be a bit tricky, we could find ourselves being allocated to anything from Warranty admin to Parts Department or the absolute pits, Dealer Merchandising. No….I had not joined the company for anything other than being involved in vehicles and I had to make an effort for that to happen one way or another.  I resolved to take the situation head-on and being a committed product guy I put pen to paper and wrote a five page tech comment on our product compared to competitors….. a no-holds-barred view of how I saw shortcomings and what needed to be done to get things back on track.…a very passionate, though in hindsight, somewhat naïve and simplistic view. The memo was passed to the G Manager of the service division, Gordon Wesson. There was that pregnant pause of about a week…..people did not do this stuff in those days and worse, a youngster calling a spade a shovel could result in things getting nasty quite quickly.  To say I was fearless is wrong… was more like an unshakeable and very basic view that if something is not right…fix it.

The fact that my scribblings could be read as a full-on swipe at Engineering??…well it wasn’t of course, I had absolutely no political ambition… but as it turned out, that was the way folk would see it.

The inevitable call came the following week. Walking into Wesson’s office, being met with “Clark…. what are we going to do with you?” and hearing what had happened since the report, made me appreciate that wonderful Afrikaans expression “nou speel jy met die leeu se bal”*  I nearly did empty my bowels on the spot. The memo had found its way to the American MD, Bob Price and from there, on to Embree Kennedy the Chief engineer and from there to his heads of engineering department.  The question asked by Price was simple “is what is written here, on the money or not? …..I guess, despite my rather simplistic memo, the answer to that was somewhat rhetorical because I was offered a job in Engineering as experimental engineer mechanical.  All Gordon said was “well done….. but of course you know you are going to be as popular as a pork chop in a S……..” .     Given that I had inadvertently upset engineering two years before I realised it would initially be a rough ride.

* “Now you are playing with the Lion’s nuts”… somehow does not carry the same meaning.

I was lucky because the men I then reported to in Engineering were proper engineers.….I was advised to get a project under my belt ASAP in order to put “my money where my  mouth was”…that way I could generate the acknowledgement necessary amongst my peers to survive. I did just that…the 3800 GT project covered in previous posts was a self-starter project that made it onto the product plan within nine months of starting in engineering. That got some attention and the recognition necessary ….well at least from those of my peers that were of normal disposition. I am eternally grateful to Gary Windram and Peter Villet for having the patience to deal with one very single minded and very difficult employee.

Why am I telling you this? ..well because hidden in the whole picture was the elephant in the room… there was still that group of people who had taken the Ranger from us a few years before and I was savvy enough to know that the hatchet had not yet been buried, I was clearly still public enemy no 1. On arriving in Engineering I had established that the group in question considered themselves to be the hot-shots in a rather minimalist quick-car activity there was in the division. The story could be made very complex but to keep it simple, the GManager of Test and Experimental, shall we call him ‘Jo’, and the prime instigator in the removal of the Ranger (he had waited for Jim Ewen to leave for the ‘States to make his move) was the leader of this clan. He was a powerful figure and a key man in the newly established motor sport activity with the Dealer Team…you know, the type you have to be ‘on sides’ with to register on his radar….rightly or wrongly, I was just too stubborn to do that. I had never sacrificed my view on things ‘to be part of the gang’ as it were, so I was prepared to take the consequences.

We lived through the tumultuous years of 1972/’73 and the Chev Dealer Team with the Can Am race cars, GMSA engineering being a support structure to the activity….all of us contributed in one way or another…I had spent three months seconded to the team to assist in prep for the race cars. When the whole CDT thing closed down in early 1974 and during the aftermath of the Fuel crisis, GMSA through ‘Jo’ provided support through engineering to many privateer racers still running GM products. One of these was Bob Thomas running a 2.5 Firenza in the Transvaal and who had surprisingly won that championship the previous year at the heyday of the Can Am racers.

Significant though, is that I had run my Opel for long enough and had proved my capability well enough to offer my services to run a regional Firenza race car in the East Cape. I wrote specifically to ’Jo’ requesting that I be given the chance. The request fell on deaf ears and the available hardware channelled to the local dealer instead….surprise, surprise.

Then that knock on my flat door at 2am in October of 1974…It was Ashley, now the owner of the Ranger in his private capacity and working for Lionel Rowe at Rowes Service Station… he was seriously bent out of shape and in need of a cup of coffee. “Paul we are in shit…I have challenged Bob Thomas and his Firenza to a showdown at the opening of the new track”…OK that sounded good…. but we had to get that coffee and find out what had really happened. The ‘we’ he referred to was the ‘royal we’ because with GMSA not being interested in my services on the race car front, I had done the next best thing and aligned myself with Lionel Rowe as one part of a three man independent race car team. We had three cars: Lionel the Broadspeed Anglia (111), Ashley the Ranger (112), and my Opel Kadett (113).

I knew that there had been a gathering of the racers from the North and dinner with Hunts the dealer and the Engineering group that evening.  Surprisingly Ashley had been invited to the shindig based on his previous contact with Hunts. From what I could gather it was a pleasant enough affair with the objective to finalise some plans amongst the racers and to get the Championship winning Thomas Firenza to PE for the opening of the new Aldo Scribante racetrack in November. It is not known as to exactly how the challenge was initiated but the story goes that someone in the Thomas camp made a comment to the effect that there was a need to get the fastest 2.5 Chevy in the country to PE. Ashley is, believe me, a very laid-back gent but he took umbrage to the comment and simply told them that bringing the car was OK but that the fastest and most powerful 2.5 Chevy was already in PE. That set the cat amongst the Pigeons and the challenge laid down by the Thomas team… which Ashley responded….. positively.

By the time we had finished that cup of coffee the decision had been made. There were three motivating factors. Firstly, Ashley was not about to back out of the challenge, secondly the GM engineering folk involved were the group that had ‘thieved’ the Ranger from me in the first place, giving the car to the dealer who had benefitted from our hard work without so much as a thank you. Lastly and most telling, our team, that is Ashley Lionel and myself were ‘on our game’ at that point.  Three weeks before we had been called upon to come up with a solution to the Broadspeed Anglia having  cracked a piston. With those specialist Cosworth parts not readily available he was not able to run in the last round of the  ECape and Border saloon car championship to be held in Oudtshoorn. Lionel was leading the championship at that point but without doubt would have lost to Don van Ginkel in his 1440 mini had he not defended his position. We then took the establishment on with the Kadett and in a separate story which in many cases defies conventional motor sport logic, Lionel brought the trophy home……redirecting that energy to the Ranger racing project was a doddle.

Ranger Q mile car in Rowes livery.

112 – The Ranger in ¼ mile set-up and no longer in Hunts (GM Dealer) colours but Rowes Service Station Livery – This had to be converted to a track racer in a month.

We now had to convert this ¼ miler into a full-on race car in less than five weeks and take on what amounted to a SA championship winning car supported by none other than GM, my employer. For many reasons this was going to be another all-out affair, I have never shrunk from controversy and this looked like a sure way of making a point for exactly the right reason.

Lionel, Ashley’s boss was that superstar Eastern Cape multiple saloon car champion …..He was immediately recruited as official driver. 

1160 Kadett Aldo

113 – The 1160cc Kadett which carried Lionel to the 1974 Drivers Championship…without question the only time in history that an Opel Kadett won a championship on behalf of a Ford Anglia, and to say that we had done that for the most iconic Anglia in history was pretty cool….but the point is that the adventures with this little machine three weeks earlier had been the catalyst to fire up the Ranger project.

Work on the car commenced immediately.  We now had to get down to sorting the suspension and brakes. The engine was to be left as-is with changes to valve timing and a long overdue visit to the Dyno.

The Broadspeed Anglia

111 – The one and only ex Fitzpatrick/Briggs Broadspeed Anglia….The Owner/driver?….  the one and only Lionel Rowe. This pic taken shortly after Lionel had won the E Cape and Border Champs in 1974 and right before prepping the Ranger for the Challenge.   

Driving the new track as soon as we could, reinforced the view that suspension settings for the car would be better fixed on the hard side due to the fact that the surface was virtually bump-free..a decision that worked a treat. Springs and shockabsorbers were a complete thumb-suck based on the history of other cars we had built collectively. Apart from careful set-up sorting out bump steer and squaring-off the car to make sure all wheels were in the right place, we knew we had no time to test the package outside of the test day, a week before the race. New race slicks were contributed from Lionel’s Anglia project…not quite as big (wide) as we thought to be ideal…. but good enough.

Brakes we knew were going to be the weak link and we had neither the time or funds to fit a unique racing set up……so we decided simply to optimise the standard package and make do with what resulted from that. The Ranger ran the stock Opel Disc/drum set-up and the same front discs as I used on my Kadett. This package was available with vented discs on higher performance Opels in Germany and I had located a set ready for installation on the Kadett…they found their way onto the Ranger pronto. Front pads DS11 and Rear linings AM8 …(the standard race set up at the time) & generous ducting to front discs. Steel wheels were located and widened to a 9inch spec and the car sent in for bodywork to clear the new rubber.

The work took about four weeks with Ashley the superstar in getting most of the work done. The car was ready for a shake-down the week before the race. In the last posting I referred to my ability to soak up tech info and this paid dividends in planning the test day. Going out and aimlessly securing a lap time by optimising the package was not what was required…we had to have a target….for no other reason than to make sure we were going to be competitive on the day. To do this I had approached Ford man John Barnes, at that time running a Formula Ford in national competition…there were two bits of info he had that could help us. Firstly he was the only reference point for a race car having run at the new Aldo Scribante track and the Thomas Firenza home track, Kyalami. Better still and coincidently, his lap times were within a second of the Firenza at Kyalami…from memory somewhere around a 1:43 second lap, making a direct comparison effective. Translated to PE and Aldo he was circulating in the 1:14 second bracket. After some discussion we figured that if we got into the 14’s we were in the game.

RANGER Practise day - PDM CLark

112- Flat out heading for Chevy sweep – The Ranger in race trim in first practise on that memorable day. Temperatures were up and we had to remove the grill to keep things cool.

Lionel is just one of those drivers that gets on with things,  not only is he a first class racer but he had a natural ability to simply get the most out of any given package,  he would never sweat the small stuff and waste time, something for which I was eternally grateful. After a morning’s work setting up cambers and sorting criticals, he went out to post some times. A few laps saw him into the 14’s and back to the pits…..his comment…. “I can go a lot quicker, I’m not using max rpm, the clutch has an over-centre condition when you really buzz it…please take it for a run.” I knew of the condition, it was a product issue on that particular clutch and the mods we had made had not worked.

This is where that karma stepped in to change the course of the next week. I was in two minds as to whether I should take the car out because I knew the condition well. I very nearly decided not to but wanted to see at what rpm the problem happened just in case we could not get it fixed.… I’m glad I did… first lap out and shifting at around 6800rpm out of third approaching hanger bend, the engine let go in the biggest possible way. It snapped a con-rod pretty high up close to the piston on #3 cylinder.. that flailing rod virtually cut the engine in half and destroyed everything except the cylinder head. We were now in the dwang, with no time to get the same quick bits together in time for next week. There was, however, an option and I played that card as soon as I arrived at work on Monday. The thought that we could have just put the car on the trailer and had that engine destroy itself on race day was a sobering thought.

By that time in engineering I had established a good working relationship with the design engineers and it was to them that I went, cap in hand and to the guy in charge. I knew that the 4 cylinder development work carried out by the engine group had spawned a lot of used special parts kept in the junk room ready for disposal. I needed a set of Forged pistons and a race spec camshaft both of which I knew lurked in that room. The interaction was interesting because the whole team knew what was going on and the word was out that the challenge was on. Complacency is a hard friend though and I soon realised that these guys had no problem letting me have the parts “because they do not work that well anyway”…. on the other hand I was absolutely confident that the bits would not only work in our engine but bet on a moderate power increase.

There was a potential snag, I had to get the parts released by my friend ‘Jo’ and due to the situation that existed I fully expected that the request could be turned down. It was not ….and again for exactly the same reason… was clear from general talk that we did not have a chance against the championship winning car from Johannesburg. Given my history to that point, there were a good few folk that were just waiting for that to happen.   Oh! And for the sake of clarity, I was given the parts with no requirement to return them, as they had served their purpose…….

So, a set of 283 V8 forged pop-ups arrived, raising the C ratio from the 10.5 to 12:1 and the Isky 300 degree cam complimented the roller rockers perfectly. A hurried engine build on the Tuesday and Wednesday required that we replace the engine block from the spares we had, as well as crank, rods, and sump destroyed in the explosion.  We started the machine up on the Thursday ready for a Dyno run that evening. After a one hour run-in and check, amazingly no adjustments were required. I had retarded the ignition timing 2 degrees in anticipation of some knock occurring with the raised CR but that just turned out to be the final setting and as predicted…power was up, this time from 156Bhp at 6200Rpm to 163 at 6500 Rpm.

This was especially significant as the old ‘tractor’ engine had now crossed the 200bhp mark and was  producing 204 Bhp at the flywheel. This was the first time I had had an opportunity to do any work on that engine in four years. With the help of the engineers at Repco, we had also solved the clutch problem.

It is perhaps important to mention just one more complication to this whole story, the Ranger as a product had gone out of production along with the Opel Rekord in 1972. GM had rebranded all product under the Chevrolet banner and the Firenza carried that Chevrolet tag on the track from then on. 1973 had seen the emphatic arrival of the Can Ams as race cars and Bob Thomas in the 2.5 Firenza had taken the Transvaal saloon car championship that year from under the noses of the Dealer Team V8’s, due to the Can Ams being AWOL doing their round the country demos. There were going to be a few Firenzas racing on opening day and I got the distinct impression from in-house commentary that no one was even concerned about the Ranger being a threat at all.


We arrived at the track that day, the 24th of November 1974 to find that temperatures were up quite considerably from the previous week and engine cooling became an issue early in practise, forcing us to remove the radiator grill and make some ducting to the rad. We also had not had time to re-machine the oil line feeds on the block to take the oil cooler, so we ran without. Fortunately the replacement sump, suitably baffled, carried about a quart more oil than the original, the races for the day were relatively short 8 lap events and we were using the best oils available….. It had to work…

Lionel, the absolute professional was sent out in practise to shadow the Firenza, we ran two sessions, the first to get the feel running about 100m to 150m behind the opposition and the second to post a time. We were on the money….. after four laps Lionel came in, a broad grin on his face “ we’ve got him down the straight and round the back but not under brakes, I feathered the throttle everywhere and they probably still think they have the advantage.” At that stage the Firenza, as predicted, was running 14’s and the Ranger in the 15’s. Lionel asked not to pole quicker than the Firenza. The point to prove was not only who could win the challenge but was considerably more specific than that…… who had the fastest car, that was the challenge, if we could, we had to do this down the straight. On this point I was like a dog with a bone.

It worked like a movie script, Thomas polled at a 14.5 and the Ranger immediately behind the Firenza on the grid at a 15.1. Lionel was incredibly relaxed…believe me, that had a very calming influence on the rest of us, but as the cars lined up on the grid I again reminded him of the requirement.

Flag car Aldo Nov 1974

Pole man Ray Emond in the Key Chev Can Am – turning in to Hunts Hairpin. This is the Third Works Car – built in 1973. Known as the “flag car”  & run by Basil van Rooyen and Frank Gardener in the nine hour that year.. I had a strong personal tie to this machine having been part of the team who built it a year earlier.

The BDA Escort – Ivor Raasch front row man and winner of race one. This car represented what Ford was about over the years and unquestionably the fastest racing Escort in SA. Sounded brilliant being buzzed to 9500Rpm.

The grid that day had the ex Dealer Team/Ray Emond Can Am on pole, Ivor Raasch in the BDA Escort second, third the privately modified Can Am of Andre Brandt and fourth on the grid the Thomas Firenza, fifth I cannot recall but it was a Ford, with the Ranger sixth right behind the Firenza***. The flag dropped and the Ranger immediately tucked in behind fact in its boot lid. It was a long half minute before the cars reappeared rounding the Chevy sweep with the Ranger still right up behind the Firenza..into BP and onto the straight…. Thomas clearly knew his number was up because he ducked right, the line to keep the door closed for the right hander into Ford corner ……then that most beautiful event…..The Ranger simply sailed passed on the left, right in front of us, there was absolutely no question as to that horsepower issue and so quick that Lionel hardly had to close the door to the right hander.

***This is also significant for that period in time….Four GM cars and only two Fords in the top six.

This next picture shows the result on that 2nd lap, this is the Chevy sweep ¾ the way round the lap…. and the Hemco badged Thomas Firenza is already about four car lengths behind the flying Ranger. The Emond Can Am had some minor niggly needing attention in the pits. Lionel overtook the Brandt Can Am and finished second overall to the BDA. GM pulled the Thomas Firenza after four laps and parked it on the trailer. There was nothing wrong with the car at all…..but some excuse about a  stabiliser bar having broken… embarrassment ran deep…This was Irony at its best, because unbeknown to anybody else there, this was now the second time in two months that Rowe’s Service Station had put works cars back on the trailer.

Ranger Aldo Nov 1974

Nearing the end of the second lap through Chevy sweep….. and the scrap is all but over…The Hemco Thomas Firenza is already well behind the flying Ranger. Lionel setting-up to overtake the Brandt Can Am to take 2nd

The rest of the day and two races later the Ranger had come from nowhere to be the third fastest car there, only the Emond Can Am and the Raasch BDA Escort consistently quicker, the best lap times for the day for the three cars a bit of an eye opener:

Ray Emond Can Am 1:11.8     Ivor Raasch BDA Escort 1:12.6   Lionel Rowe Ranger 1:13.6.

To be only two seconds a lap off the Can Am was a surprise indeed but the track is a handling/driver circuit and the Lionel/Ranger combo was something special. To have been part of this was just one of those days when one believes in the correct order of things.   I had no illusions as to the fact that luck had played a major hand…there were just too many events that critically worked our way and could quite easily have changed the outcome. The bottom line though was that we had two competitive cars running as fast as they could on the day….no excuses.

As I have expressed before, the GM clan were pretty loud about motorsport when they were at it and the hospitality tents were brimming with guests that day. Think about this….this is the Generals home town and a high profile event. From all the ra-ra built up by our PR people and the press the previous week, nobody was in doubt that this was going to be a Chevrolet day. With the ‘works’ Can Am there, the ultimate result was not in doubt…… but for the wheels to literally fall off that way in the first race did not go down well. For the remaining races that day the Emond Can Am did the business, the BDA second and the Ranger third. I must admit there was that part of me that would have preferred to have been running a legit GM racer……but that was not of my doing.

There was one more hurdle to overcome…I had to go back to work on Monday….we had just nailed the official GM works outfit and despite the fact that we had done this with all involved having eyes wide open….It was clear by the time we left the track, that objectivity was not going to be high on the list of what I was to expect.

I arrived at work as normal at around 7:30 and steeled myself….I had a choice….entry through the workshops at the ground floor adjacent to the car park (normal) or walk up to the front entrance and a quiet entry to the offices. I chose the former simply because I was not about to show any trepidation and very glad I did, because an orchestrated confrontation had been organised ….as I entered the open workshop doors a group of workshop techies known to be ‘Jo’s’ group stood on either side of the central entry lane and gave me a slow hand clap clearly arranged to intimidate. I had to walk through that lot and the entrance to the offices where ‘Jo’ was standing ready for a full-on skirmish….the glare I got was expected and so were the words “I want you in my office in ten minutes”

Emotions that day were a massive mix of elation and frustration and I was way passed worrying about consequences… I was ready for a fight if it was going to materialise and that is what happened. The confrontation was short and sweet and I knew I had the upper hand on purely moral grounds. To the question “what do you think you were doing? You embarrassed the company”  I was ready. “no, you knew what was happening, you allowed this to happen…you backed the wrong horse, …you embarrassed yourself” …. and the contemptuous response was “I want all the parts you borrowed back here by Wednesday”.   No problem… I walked out the office.

Rightly, I felt empathy for Bob Thomas, a really nice man caught up in the turmoil…but at the end of it, we had responded to a challenge and it was a matter of doing what was necessary…..Job Done.         I would be lying if retribution did not feel good at that point. In hindsight, given the same circumstance would I do it again?       Absolutely…in a heartbeat.


Just a footnote and something that came to mind for the first time since this all happened and is as a consequence of seeing Bruce’s wonderful pics again after so many years. Just take a look at those three Rowe’s cars and ask yourself whether they represent a smartly run operation or not. The three months of September, October and November of 1974 remain a time of great accomplishment for the three of us. Let me just say this….most will not even understand the real achievement and degree of difficulty involved…to Lionel and Ashley, you two were an inspiration and thank you for the privilege.


 The Story of the Kadett in Oudtshoorn will be published in future tales. In this one Lionel put a few other works cars back on the trailer….