By Tim Savell
The Super Saloon class emerged in Auckland in the late 1960’s, gaining national status in the 1969/70 season. At that stage the majority of Saloons were converted roadcars from the 1940’s and 50’s, with inaugural NZ Champ Trevor Gray racing a FJ Holden produced from 1953 to 1957.
As the class spread around the country a variety of innovations and ideas were tried. Just two years later, Ross Baker from Rotorua won the national title in the latest shape Ford Escort. Back then the road toll was around three times higher than it was now, and a ready supply of wrecked roadcars could be easily sourced to turn into Saloons. Everything from Minis to Ford Mustangs were utilised, and all were successful to varying degrees.
In 1974 Allen Ford prospered at the NZ title in a late 1960’s Monaro, becoming the first V8 winner of the title. The chrome mag wheels helped the #100a look a million bucks, but of more interest was the fact that the car had been converted to left hand drive. This was an innovation that was tolerated, and about the same time a rule was introduced to keep the cars relatively modern. Both of these changes are still allowed today, showing a clear line of succession over the last 40 years.
By the mid 1970’s the rotary-engined powered Mazda’s were coming to the fore, with Ron Kendall winning the 1975 title in an RX2. Holden had more success in 1976 and 1977 with Peter Martin becoming the first back-to-back winner of the title in an L34 Torana. And in 1978 Peter Woods swept all before him as he won the New Zealand, Grand Prix, North Island and South Island titles in his Ford Mustang packed full of American race parts. The tide was turning, and his opposition tried many avenues in their quest to play catch up.
In the 1978/79 season, wings emerged on Saloons in the lower part of the North Island. Tom Donovan 5v had a VW Beetle with small wing, and 62w Gary McKelvie had the largest of them all on his Chev Monza. Keith McArthur’s beautiful 23w Torana was adjusted with a wing, and the jury is out as to whether it enhanced the look of the car, or even aided the aerodynamics.
The 1979 NZ title was the last hurrah for the smaller engine cars, with Rotary’s finishing first and third, and Alan Jago placing second in a VW. As the 1980’s came around, a fearsome combination of Blondie Chamberlain (driver) and Peter Kuriger (chassis constructor) built a spaceframe chassis with a Torana body on it. The car wiped the floor at the 1981 NZ Champs, winning all three heats at Baypark. And from that moment on, the writing was on the wall for Saloons based on a transformed roadcar with a rollcage added. By 1990 there was only one car in the NZ championship field left that didn’t have a dedicated spaceframe chassis…..and the glorious era of the 1970’s spec Saloon had drawn to a close.