Fiat 125/125S: The Bathurst Class Wars

28 April 2014
On the limit! The Ron Kearns/Gerry Lister Fiat 125S up on three wheels (maybe two) and pushing very hard through The Dipper on its way to third place against the 4 BBL Hemi Pacers in Class D at Bathurst in 1970.

Given the widely praised sporting prowess of the Fiat 125, it’s not surprising that it posed a genuine threat to the dominant Mini Cooper S at Mount Panorama. In the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500 the Fiat 125 driven by Bob Forbes and Peter Finlay came close to finally knocking the mighty Mini off its unbeaten pedestal in Class C. It was the Fiat 125’s finest moment on the Mountain.

And it achieved that after a spirited fight-back, following the infamous multi-car pile-up caused by Bill Brown rolling his Falcon GT-HO at Skyline on the first lap. For a few frantic moments the top of the Mountain resembled an instant wrecker’s yard, which was blocking the track and threatening to stop the race. Confusion reigned and Forbes and his Fiat were stuck right in the middle of it.

“Bob sensibly hopped out with his fire extinguisher because we had been told that if a red flag was waved to stop the race on the first lap, the race would be re-started on the grid,” Peter Finlay told Shannons Club.

This intriguing photo taken at Skyline in 1969 captures the chaos and confusion moments after Bill Brown’s spectacular first lap crash triggered a massive pile-up in the Hardie-Ferodo 500. Note Bob Forbes standing at the front of his parked Fiat 125 with another driver, thinking that the race would have to be stopped. As other cars kept threading their way past, though, it soon became apparent that the race was still very much on!

“So when he realised the red flag had not been shown and the race was still on, he jumped backed in and trundled back to the pits to check out the car. Everything was fine so we sent him back out quick smart, but this put us a long way behind many of the Class C cars.”

And so began a determined recovery by Forbes and Finlay, driving the wheels off their beautifully prepared Fiat 125 in a day-long battle that resulted in them finishing just over half a minute behind the class leader when the chequered flag fell (read more of Peter Finlay’s recollections later in this story).

It was the best performance shown by the potent Italian sedan in its three appearances at the annual 500-mile (800 km) race for stock standard series production cars, which as you’ll discover owed as much to its meticulous preparation as it did to some excellent driving by Forbes and Finlay and some slick pit work by their crew.

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