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Obscure touring car models of the 1980s

As Repco Supercars fans welcome a new set of regulations in the form of Gen3, discussions about potential manufacturer entries from outside the Ford and General Motors world arise leading to some interesting models being mooted.

Jaguar was one with its stunning F-Type, another was BMW, while Nissan and Toyota have each been bandied, but the latter has confirmed it is not interested for now.

Back in the 1980s each of these manufacturers competed in touring car racing globally alongside Ford and General Motors in what was one of the most open eras witnessed.

The Repco Garage is going to reflect on the 1980s and highlight its top five most obscure models used in the Australian Touring Car Championship during the decade.

Split between the uniquely Australian Group C and international Group A regulations, it proved an exciting time for the sport before Ford vs Holden took over in 1993.

  1. Toyota Corolla Levin

Driver: Alexandra Surplice

One of the leading woman touring car drivers during the early 1980s in an ex-factory Toyota Corolla Levin, Sydney librarian Alexandra Surplice drove one of the fastest 1600cc entries in the championship. Originally driven by Mark Thatcher in the 1979 Bathurst 1000, Surplice contested many races including at the Mountain quite successfully. The Corolla Levin preceded the model’s future class success at the Mountain.

  1. Mazda 323

Driver: Murray Coote

Mazda 323 and touring car racing surely don’t go together, right? One of the rare front-wheel-drive touring cars at the time, it proved a solid testing bed for Murray Coote and his burgeoning suspension company. Racing in the under 2.0-litre class, it was moderately successful in Queensland before getting a second life as a Group A rally car.

  1. Mitsubishi Colt

Driver: Ian Burrell

Another small hatchback turned into a touring car, Ian Burrell’s Eastside Mitsubishi-sponsored Colt had to be one of the most unlikely models to feature on the grid. Contesting mainly Victorian rounds, there is not much information on the Colt apart from video of it being lapped during many Sandown 500s.

  1. Volvo 360 GLT

Driver: Mike Minear

Just the one season for Mike Minear in the class-positioned Volvo 360 GLT rather than the round winning European imported 240 T. Minear approached Volvo to take on 39 world speed and endurance before contesting the 1985 Australian Touring Car Championship and finishing runner up in the STP Rookie of the Year award. The Volvo came up for sale not too long ago and has said to have been purchased by an overseas buyer.

  1. Nissan Gazelle

Drivers: John Giddings/Mark Skaife

Built by Gibson Motorsport and originally raced by John Giddings, the Nissan Gazelle was taken over by Mark Skaife in 1987 where he won the Under 2.0-litre Australian Touring Car Championship beating Toyota’s factory team. The Gazelle is still around to this day after a painstaking restoration.