From ‘rock star’ to long-time guardian of Ford’s racing flame.
DICK Johnson became a national identity in 1980 when, while leading Bathurst, his ex-police Ford XD Falcon – literally home-built and home-funded – was taken out by a rock on the track. A spur-of-the-moment ‘telethon’ raised $72,000, a figure immediately matched by Edsel Ford II. As a frustrated Allan Moffat left the Ford fold, Johnson became the blue knight.
“That was just bestowed on me, unintentionally,” reflects Johnson, now 71. “I was sorta the last man standing amongst those that were competitive. I’ve always been a loyal person and once I got into the Ford side of things, that’s where I’ve remained … There was no-one else really trying to hold the [Ford] mantle and I thought, for the good of the category, there needed to be somebody there.”
The son of a Holden salesman, Johnson raced an FJ, EH and XU-1 in his 20s before switching to Falcons in 1976 and becoming synonymous with Ford as the successes mounted. He stuck solid with the Blue Oval brand through Group C, Group A and V8 Supercars.
Johnson was never the official Ford representative, but he earned great relationships with Ford hierarchy such as motorsport manager Howard Marsden, Motorcraft division boss Doug Jacobi and motorsport marketing man Peter Gillitzer.
Beginning in the mid-’80s, Johnson attempted to respond to Holden’s off-track success with HDT and HSV. His Ford Falcon SVO projects produced some admirable prototypes, but the only sniff of success came in 2004 with the DJR 320, of which just 25 were built.
“My only regret on that side is that it cost a lot of money to get nowhere,” he says. “I think we had a name that was recognised through the motoring world and they could have made something of it – as Holden did with Brock. But the DJR 320s were really good cars, they’re still fought over.”
Understandably, he’s saddened by this month’s events. “Ford used to have assembly plants in every capital city in the country and now we’re going to having no manufacturing plants, everything’s imported and they’re going to these ‘world cars’ that are very similar to each other.
“It’s very disappointing because it was always great to have your local brands here. The Falcon’s been a car that, with the Holdens, really held the whole thing together.”
Johnson is a man who has stripped countless cars to their bare shells and analysed the core engineering in building them up to be tough endurance racers.
“I can honestly tell you – and just with what short experience I’ve had with cars manufactured outside of Australia – you just don’t realise how good these current cars are that Ford has been building here. It’s a credit to the ability of the Australian engineers and the way that the factory is operated. Those latest Falcons are ripper cars. The quality is equal to anything in the world.”
Falcon legend Dick Johnson says his DJR Team Penske will definitely be racing Falcons again in 2017 – but after that? “We’ll just have to see what rolls out. One never knows what the Car of the Future’s going to bring.” Will it be a Ford? “I would hope so, or I won’t be able to go to a race meeting – they’ll be throwing pies at me.”