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Dick Johnson’s successful decade begins with Tru Blu

The Ford XD Falcon pictured above (currently on display in the National Motor Racing Museum at Bathurst) didn’t start the story of Dick Johnson, but most definitely led to sustained success for the Queenslander.

The 1980s was the decade of Dick Johnson, he achieved five Australian Touring Car Championships, two Bathurst victories and even went to Silverstone in 1988 to dominate the Europeans, however this ended with a failed water pump.

But all this sustained success began in 1980 when Johnson fully exploited the new Group C rules at the time. Ford didn’t want the XD part of the new generation, but determination from two privateers ensured it did start on the grid at Symmons Plains.

Garry Willmington and Murray Carter were both avid Ford supporters, so drove the development of the new Falcon model. This included homologating the XD to the weight of a taxi pack variant.

Encouraged by the early performances of the XDs, Johnson tried to purchase Willmington’s example, but this was knocked back forcing his small team to build Tru Blu I.

Debuting at a state event at Lakeside, Johnson entered Amaroo Park’s CRC 400 where he gave the mighty Holden Dealer Team a mighty fright approaching Australia’s biggest race at Bathurst.

It came to fruition, Johnson partnered by John French dominated the early running of the 1000, though of course we all know what followed….

‘The Rock’ provided initially heartbreak, but then joy as the generosity of the Australian public was demonstrated with money being donated and Ford Motor Company’s pledge to match the amount dollar-for-dollar as well as a new Falcon bodyshell.

Describing the Falcon after its first test Johnson described it as a lot stiffer than its predecessor.

“The other car never felt this good,” he remarked.

“The suspension has been changed in design a little bit, we’ve changed the engine so it’s giving us a bit more power and the brakes. We’ve spent a lot of time on the brakes and they have worked out extremely well.

Well didn’t Johnson repay the faith as he went onto build Tru Blu II and win the 1981 Australian Touring Car Championship.

He took victory in five rounds, including at an intense Lakeside finale to edge HDT’s Peter Brock by eight points and win his first touring car title. This was only half the job, Bathurst was next.

After entering the 1980 event as the underdog, Johnson was now favourite to end the HDT domination.

Sure enough Johnson and French were declared victors after the race was shortened due to a large pile up at McPhillamy Park on lap 121, securing Ford’s first victory since the famous 1-2 of 1977.

Reflecting on how much the donations gave him drive to succeed in 1981, Johnson explained the responsibility he felt to repay for the generosity he received.

“It gives you that little more incentive to try a little bit harder, which we do because we feel obligated to do so for the people that have done something for me,” he said.

“I don’t think I ever realised that many people were interested, but gee it’s a good feeling to know that there is.”

In fact, the fan financed XD backed it up to win the 1982 ATCC for Johnson, before the team moved to an XE model for the endurance events.

It is now part of the Bowden collection and can be viewed at the National Motor Racing Museum at Bathurst, while Steve Johnson has paid tribute to his father’s title winning creation by building a modern incarnation for Touring Car Masters competition.