Australian motor sport legend Harry Firth died of cancer at Golf Links Palliative Care in Frankston on Saturday evening, eight days after his 96th birthday.
Firth was a champion driver of the 60s – winning Bathurst in 1963 (with Bob Jane) and 1967 (with Fred Gibson), its Phillip Island predecessor in 1961 and 1962 (with Jane), the 1964 Ampol Round Australia Trial (with Graham Hoinville) and the Australian Rally Championship in 1968.
But he was even better known as a team manager in the 70s, autocratically guiding the embryonic fortunes of both Ford and Holden in Australia, and was a mentor to emerging talents Colin Bond and Peter Brock.
After developing the Ford Cortina GT and the first Falcon GT, in which he won the ’67 Bathurst 500, Firth claimed he was sacked by Ford Australia in 1969 for being too old and defected to Holden – or at least the unofficial factory-backed Holden Dealer Team.
For most of the following decade, Firth and the HDT produced numerous championships and two more Bathurst wins (1969 and 1972) for Holden from his tiny workshop in the Melbourne suburb of Auburn, along with a now-iconic range of performance cars – the Monaro 350, Torana XU-1, Torana L34 and Torana A9X.
Firth earned his nickname of ‘The Fox’ for his wily ways and cunning interpretation of the technical rules, especially during the HDT years of 1969 to 1977.
But then the poacher turned gamekeeper, returning after a year off to become the sport’s national chief scrutineer until retiring for good at the end of 1981.
Firth was recognised for his contribution to motor sport with an Order of Australia Medal, an Australian Sports Medal and CAMS Membership of Honour, and in 2007 he was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall Of Fame.