IT MIGHT be hard to imagine, but there was a time when the Great Race wasn't on the Bathurst sporting calendar.
The Bathurst 1000 can trace its origins back to the Armstrong 500, an endurance race that first begun back in 1960 at Phillip Island.
After three years at the Victorian track - which is well known today for hosting a round of the MotoGP every year - the event was after a new home.
According to John Smailes in his 2019 book Mount Panorama Bathurst - The Stories Behind The Legend, Phillip Island's track surface was breaking up badly and the then bridge from the mainland was not capable of bearing the weight of the road-building equipment needed to repair it.
So the Bathurst Light Car Club arranged for the senior management of Armstrong York - the company that had conceived the race to promote and prove its products - to check out Mount Panorama.
And so the Armstrong 500 (that being 500 miles or roughly 805 kilometres) came to Bathurst in 1963.
It has since had ten naming-rights sponsors, a change of distance and over 60 drivers having had their names engraved on its trophy, with 17 of them multiple winners.
But for the first Armstrong 500 at Mount Panorama, bragging rights went to Bob Jane and Harry Firth (the duo were competing in Class C), who were driving a Ford Cortina Mk.I GT.
The win for the Victorian duo marked their third consecutive win as co-drivers, with Jane going on to win the 1964 edition alongside George Reynolds, while Firth would win 1967 with Fred Gibson.
There were four classes on the day:
- Class A: For cars that cost less than £900. This class comprised of cars including Fiat 770, Morris 850, Triumph Herald and Volkswagen Beetle.
- Class B: For cars that cost between £901 to £1000. It featured cars such as 1.5 litre Ford Cortina, Morris Cooper and Morris Major Elite, Renault R8 and Simca Aronde.
- Class C: For cars that cost between £1001 to £1200. It included cars such as Ford Cortina GT, Holden EH S4 and Holden FB.
- Class D: For cars that cost between £1201 to £2000. Cars in this class included Chrysler Valiant, Ford Zephyr, Humber Super Snipe, Peugeot 404, Studebaker Lark, Vauxhall Velox and Vauxhall VX 4/90.
The race become the first Ford versus Holden head-to-head fight, with Jane and Firth winning by a lap over the first EH Holden of Ralph Sach and Fred Morgan.
A fair bit of time was spent in the pits and yet Firth and Jane completed their 500 miles in 28 minutes less than they'd taken in a Falcon at Phillip Island, and 13 minutes less than their race record in the Mercedes.
The third consecutive win for the co-drivers all came in a different model, with the last two coming in a factory Ford team.
Second place was the closest Holden would get to a win until the breakthrough in 1968.
Channel Seven was broadcasting the race and they had just four cameras and they were able to cover only the bottom of the track according to Smailes' book.
On the last corner of the last lap, the cameras captured the drama in Class A as the battle between Barry Ferguson's Volkswagen Beetle and Lindsay Little's Morris 850 ended when the Mini rolled.
It popped back on its wheels to stagger across the line, second.
Chrysler got its first class win with the Valiant of Tony Reynolds and Tony Allen, with Geoff Russell driving the factory prepared Ford Zephyr again narrowly missing out on the Class D win.
The new Morris Coopers saw the Mini break out of the entry level class and gave Doug Chivas his first class win, co-driving with Ken Wilkinson in Class B, defeating the 1.5 litre Cortinas, ominously just a lap behind the Valiant and the Zephyr.
In the small class, Volkswagen again defeated the Morris 850s with Ferguson and Bill Ford taking first place ahead of the Mini of Don Holland and Little.
Fifty-seven cars started the first race at Bathurst, with all but twelve managing to finish.
For all its vertical gain and undulations, Mount Panorama was by the far the fastest circuit, so not surprisingly, it never returned to Phillip Island.
Not many would've thought that the race's move from the Victorian island to the Central West city would have such a lasting impact, with the Bathurst 1000 becoming one of the most iconic events in the Australian sporting calendar.
The race would remain a 500-mile contest until the end of 1972, becoming a 1000-kilometre endurance from 1973.
The race was traditionally run on the Labour Day long weekend in earlier October, before moving to the weekend after the long weekend from 2001.
Since Jane and Firth's first win 57 years ago, many drivers have come and gone, who have created their own iconic moments that are still spoken about until this very day.
Many would agree the Peter Brock is the greatest driver ever to grace the fabled track at Mount Panorama, winning the Great Race on nine separate occasions in the space of 15 years.
New Zealand driver Jim Richards and fan favourite Craig Lowndes are not too far behind with seven, although it seems it'll take a legendary driver to equal or even overtake Brock's total.
But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's race will be completely different to all the rest.
Let's hope for the many fans that will be tuning on to watch Sunday's Bathurst 1000, that it'll be a race to be remembered for the action on the track.
Sunday's Bathurst 1000 will start at 11am.