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1978 The Ford Cobra

1978 was a season of ups and downs for the Moffat Ford Dealers Team - reasonably good in its own right but unsuccessful compared with 1977.
The few successes that came that season were overshadowed by the failures of the new Cobras at Sandown and Bathurst where both cars retired.

A number of factors were significant as reasons for the sudden change of fortunes, not the least of which was the improvement of the opposition. While the Holden Dealer Team seemed to benefit from a new Team Manager, Moffat's team seemed to miss the expertise of Carrol Smith.

Peter Brock led a Torana attack that went about destroying lap records and the extra pace saw the Falcons being stretched to their limits, resulting in mechanical failures unheard of twelve months earlier.

Nevertheless. there were some bright spots which came out of the season, particularly in the sprint races in which Allan was defending his Australian Touring Car Championship title.
Moffat and Bond went to Symmons Plains for the first round using the same two cars which had scored their first 1-2 finish the year before, but the result was far from the same.
Allan kept with the pace in practice and scored a front row start but shortly before the start trouble started when an engine part broke and had to be replaced.
The repair was completed as the cars lined up on the grid but the head gasket silicone had insufficient time to dry properly and after only a lap oil was pouring through and Allan retired in a cloud of smoke.
Colin Bond kept the other car going back in the field at a conservative pace to come home with fourth place..

Oran Park was an almost identical story as Allan retired once again with a blown engine after harrowing race winner Brock while Colin took another fourth place, keeping the car in one piece.

It was already obvious that the Falcons could not keep the Toranas' pace without breaking, so at Amaroo, both the Falcons were fitted with roller rockers, an item which Moffat believed should be allowed as an endurance feature, but which were refused by the powers that be.
The move was not exactly according to the rule book but Allan felt he had to do something to bring his case to general notice.

As it turned out the race was a thriller with Allan leading to the second last corner where Allan Grice pulled a desperate passing move which put him in front and Moffat into the wall.
Moffat finally finished second after driving a great race in changing weather conditions and, when all was said and done, nothing came out of the roller rocker affair.

   But one week later. . .
Everything came to a head at Sandown, close to the CAMS headquarters and historically the place for protests and counter-protests.
Moffat put in a detailed protest against the Holden Dealer Team cars which finally resulted in the team being disqualified for a couple of races while Moffat himself also fell foul of the law.
He had used plain bearing in practice but found he needed the roller bearings to be competitive on race day and had them fitted overnight to both Dealer Team cars, while most of the other Falcon teams also ran them.
Allan won the race after another superb drive but after all the court room battles were fought he was also disqualified.

The ruling body refused to budge on its stand not to allow the roller rockers and strangely the subject was never raised again and the issue died a natural death when a successful, and legal, alternative was discovered.
In the meantime, Moffat produced a series of tee-shirts with a photo of the team and a caption reading "The Roller Rockers" to cash in on the furore and relieve some of the pressure by turning the affair into something a little humourous.

They missed the Calder and Wanneroo rounds because of the disqualification before coming back for a long distance race at Oran Park in June with one car to be driven by both Moffat and Bond, which eventually retired from the race.
Allan's ATCC title was lost already but he came back in the penultimate round at Lakeside to deliver another fine victory against the Toranas.

Two months later in Adelaide, Moffat and Bond ran away with the Final round of the Championship, scoring their first one-two victory to remind everyone of their dominance the previous season.
It was a great morale booster for the team, running the familiar Falcons for the last time, soon to be seen in the new Cobra colours.

In the meantime there were two other meetings.
The first was a special sprint series at Amaroo which had Moffat leading the points into the final heat of the day, in which he was pushed off the track by a spinning Bob Morris.
Colin Bond, however, was also in fine form and came through for the victory, just as he did in Adelaide.
The second event was the opening round of the Manufacturers' Championship at Oran Park which Bond was to miss because of a conflicting rally date.
Moffat drove the sole team Falcon but retired again, leaving many doubts about the reliability of the Falcons, which had failed to complete a long distance event.

In August, Ford announced its new Cobra with a run of Bathurst Specials. These would debut at Sandown in the traditional curtain-raiser before the big event on the Mountain. Concept of the car was devised by none other than Edsel Ford, grandson of Henry Ford II, working in Australia as Assistant Managing Director of Ford Australia.
Edsel's position in Australia is part of his grooming for the top spot in America when his grandfather retires and his love for motor racing has never been concealed.

The name and looks of the new car also reflected the young Ford's high regard for the Shelby Cobra, an American deviant of the Mustang series which was also produced and raced in the white with blue stripes colour scheme which is now the trade mark of Australian Cobras.

Basically the car was a Falcon which in racing trim would be little different to the old Moffat cars, but offering a few improvements which Ford and Moffat hoped would improve reliability to match the existing speed of the Falcons.
A large capacity water radiator was incorporated in the new Cobra and fitted with two thermatic fans to try to arrest engine temperatures, which were increasing with the higher revs now necessary to be competitive.
Spring towers also came in for some bracing to cure some fiexing and stress cracking problems. Reinforcement plates and additional braces were hoped to do the trick.
A support bracket was also added for the steering idler.
The final, and probably most important feature added to the Cobra, was an oil radiator for the transmission to solve some gearbox problems which had afflicted Falcon racers for some years at intermittant periods...

In view of this it is almost tragic that Moffat should retire from the Cobra's debut race at Sandown with gearbox failure. The Sandown race was also a disaster for Colin Bond who made numerous pit stops throughout the race with a broken exhaust, difficulty selecting gears, and an engine that ran mostly on seven cylinders.
He eventually pitted for good, but not before Edsel Ford had left his viewing place in the Press Box.

It was a bad debut for the Cobra and, to make things even worse for the Ford camp, Brock and John Harvey finished first and second with a staged finished that looked like it was taken from a 1977 Moffat script.

And so it was on to Bathurst.
Two days of sorting out preceded Friday's official qualifying session and a special Indianapolis-type timed, one lap screamer to go for pole position and the first ten grid places.
Bond's car was already in trouble. It bottomed out at the top of the circuit and put a hole in the sump. A self-tapping screw fixed the hole but he bottomed out again at the same place and had to pit for a new sump, by which time rain was falling.

Moffat and Bond were all fired up for the special one lap runs, hoping to gain some sort of phsycological advantage by heading up the grid.
Allan went out and completed a very quick lap but at the end of it he was breathless and apparently overcome through the effort and nervous strain of the whole affair.
Bond undercut his time - 2-20.9 as against Allan's 2-21.6 - to be next fastest.. Then Peter Brock went out and cut a 220.0 to get the pole position ahead of both the Cobras.
Saturday's practice was untimed and intended as a final sorting out session before Sunday's race but Moffat ran into trouble with his engine and was forced to change the unit overnight.

The first few laps of the race were electric as both Allan and Colin made good starts so that Bond and Bob Morris were racing for the lead on the first corner of only the second lap with Allan sitting right in behind the pair of them.
As they braked for the corner Morris and Bond touched which sent the Torana a little sideways and everyone caught their breath at the thought of a repeat of 1969's big pileup.

Luckily Morris caught it and the two Ford's raced away in the lead but Moffat later slammed the driving tactics of some of his opponents, obviously aimed at the Torana driver.
The pair of Cobra's continued in the lead for a while, Moffat holding the front running until lap 31.
Unfortunately for the Moffat team, Bond was forced to pit with a repeat of Moffat's Sandown gearbox problems. It progressively tightened up and stuck in top so a change was all that could be done, One hour in the pits was lost putting in a wide ratio box as there were no spare close ratio units, but Bond was now right out of the hunt.

Three more stops to replace punctured tyres dropped him back even further and when the engine dropped onto seven cylinders again, possibly because of the head gasket or a broken valve spring, the Number 2 white and blue car was wheeled away for good.
Allan's second pit stop saw more adventure in the Dealer Team pits as Jackie Ickx took over the wheel and started the car up, only to have the thing burst into flames from spilt fuel.
A nearby official received third degree burns and was taken to hospital but the blaze was quickly extinguished and Ickx went on his way.

The episode, however, brought another blast from Moffat, this time aimed at the governing body for not introducing the more modern and safer refuelling equipment available overseas for years. He obviously felt for the innocent official who was burnt because of something which Allan himself had been campaigning for for some time without anything being done.

Anyway, even with Ickx back in the race Moffat's problems were far from over.
Ickx found the Cobra's braking to be far from effective enough to stop him at Hell, the slowest corner on the track, and spun up the escape road.
The Belgian then spent more time searching for reverse gear, getting first gear three or four times before finding the right one.
He returned to the race but it was not for very long.
The Number 1 Cobra had also developed an engine problem which apparently was not easily solved and, with the added complication of the faulty gearbox and braking problem, that car was wheeled away for the last time too.


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