Honda Civic: The $1000 Bathurst racer

23 June 2014
The Honda Civic’s fourth and final Bathurst 1000 appearance was in 1976 when the diminutive Japanese cars finished second and third in Class A. This is the third-placed Civic RS shared by rally ace Roger Bonhomme and multiple AGP winner Doug Whiteford, with the Bridgestone racing slicks generating enough grip through Hell Corner to lift the inside rear wheel clear off the deck. This was a familiar pose for racing Civics being driven at their limit.

The original Honda Civic released in Australia in 1973 was the right car at the right time. Its fuel efficiency in an energy crisis, combined with state-of-the-art technical design, quality engineering and attractive styling, made it a global sales phenomenon. It also proved to be a robust and cheap class contender in touring car racing, competing at Bathurst with the V8 big guns for a fraction of the cost.

An article that appeared in Sports Car World in 1974 highlighted how easy and affordable it could be for a Honda Civic owner to turn their dream of competing at Bathurst and other endurance races into a reality. SCW claimed that for as little as $1000 you could race-prepare a Civic that could “compete on equal terms with the Class A front runners (the legal ones, anyway).”

The article attracted great interest and changed a widely held perception that touring car racing had become too expensive for all but works teams and wealthy privateers. The Honda Civic opened many eyes to the possibilities available - all they had to do was look towards the rear of the grid.

What the big-hearted little Honda lacked in physical size and engine capacity it more than made up for with its impressive reliability, agile sure-footed handling and spirited performance during four appearances on the Mountain from 1973 to 1976.

During that time the Civic competed in Class A for cars with engine capacities up to 1300cc. Even though these tiddlers were dismissed by some as little more than ‘mobile chicanes’ for faster cars, the annual clash for Class A honours at Bathurst was just as intense as any other class or outright battle.

The Civic entered by Sydney Honda dealer Rolls Motors for the 1973 Bathurst 1000 was driven with great zeal by F3 open-wheeler drivers Ian Cook and Terry Finnigan. Unfortunately the car retired early due to engine damage caused by a non-standard carburettor adaptor.

The Class A cars also enriched the colourful mix of makes and models competing at Bathurst each year, when the annual 1000 km race was still true to its original charter in showcasing the diversity of the Australian car market. A diversity, it must be said, that is sadly lacking in today’s race.

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