The Ex – Jack Sears, Willment Racing Team, British Saloon Car Champion 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 ‘R-Code’ Lightweight

The Ex – Jack Sears, Holman & Moody, Willment Racing Team, Winner of the 1963 British Saloon Car Championship

1963 Ford Galaxie 500 ‘R-Code’ Lightweight

The Ford Motor Company needs no introduction whatsoever. Innovative in design from the start and a household name around the globe, from the Monte Carlo Rally to the Le Mans 24 Hour and Formula 1; Ford and their engines have been a dominant force in all areas of motorsport history. This strong heritage very much lives on today in the thriving and competitive world of Historic motorsport where Ford and Ford powered cars continue to lead the way.

In the late 1950s, around the hype of the Space Race, Ford launched their latest model, the Galaxie. Following on from the Fairlane as the latest ‘full sized Ford’, the Galaxie was first produced in 1959. The big Ford soon found its way into competition applications, from NASCAR to drag racing, and the need was felt to produce a model of the Galaxie 500 which would be more competitive with the likes of the Super-Duty Pontiacs. 

Ford introduced a 1963 1/2 model, known as the R-Code with a lower, fastback roofline and new 427ci big-block V8 engine. Often equipped with two 4 barrel Holley carburettors and solid lifter camshaft, the 427 produced 425hp. Despite the increased power and better aerodynamics of the half year model, the Galaxie 500 was heavy and this weight was felt to be holding it back. Around 210 ‘Lightweight’ editions of the R-Code 427 were produced, only available in Corinthian White with red vinyl interior. 

The R-Code lightweights were specified with a four speed Borg-Warner T10 gearbox, 4.11:1 rear axle ratio, heavy duty suspension, fibreglass bonnet, boot and front wings, along with aluminium bumpers, transmission cases and bellhousing. They were also stripped of anything excess, meaning no spare wheel, tools, sound deadening, and most of the trim was missing. The sum of the efforts for lightening the full size Ford resulted in a saving of 170kg. Alongside the NASCAR and drag racing exploits in the U.S.A., it was not long before the Galaxie would make its way on to the tracks of Europe.

It was in mid-January 1963 that Jack Sears had received a telephone call from Willment’s new team manager Jeff Uren, a former saloon car racing rival, who explained that the freshly established Twickenham based outfit were purchasing from America a “full-house Holman & Moody NASCAR Ford Galaxie with which they intended to confront Jaguar in the British Saloon Car Championship”. And they wanted Jack to drive it.

Chassis number 3N66R143030 was one of a select few Galaxie 500 which were dispatched to Holman & Moody in North Carolina. Produced at the Norfolk Ford plant, 143030 was built as a fastback R-Code Lightweight in the Corinthian White with red vinyl interior. Holman & Moody prepared the full size Ford with a host of tweaks. From strengthened pick up points, welds, roll cage, wishbones and dual dampers to their own 427ci engine with medium rise intake manifold and Belanger Brothers Y-piece fabricated exhaust primaries feeding to oval side exit pipes which cross through the chassis rails.

143030 would be the first of three destined for the British saloon car racing scene, delivered to Willment in the spring with the other two being destined for Sir Gawaine Baillie and Alan Brown. Included in the extensive documentation file accompanying this Lot is the original Holman & Moody receipt, No 814, dated June 20, 1963, and confirming sale to “John Willment Automobiles Ltd, 161 Chertsey Road, Twickenham, Middlesex, England” with the recorded price being $3,342.98.

‘Gentleman Jack’ had discussed the Willment proposition with his wife Cicely and decided to take a chance, signing for the new Ford team because “It sounded like fun…”. The new NASCAR-style ‘Lightweight’ 7-litre Ford Galaxie 500 had been completed by Holman & Moody, and it was driven to New York airport to be delivered by air in time for the major BRDC International May Meeting, at Silverstone.

The Galaxie made it for practice on Thursday, although the Firestone racing tyres did not. Keen to get some exploratory miles in the new car, Sears had the Willment team pump up the road tyres to 50-60 psi for the initial run. Despite this, the tyres did not fare well and one burst leaving him parked on the grass watching “Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori and Gawaine Baillie waving at me as they hurtled past in their Jaguars”. One can imagine the dismissal given to this new super size Ford by Lofty England and the rest of the Jaguar outfit…

However, when the Firestones did arrive in time for qualifying practice on Friday, the form changed. “Without trying terribly hard I then qualified on pole position, faster than all the Jaguars. I tried a standing start on one of Silverstone’s infield runways. It seemed Ok. But a second start left the clutch slipping. I owned up to Jeff Uren who said that was OK because they had a spare clutch they could fit for the race. But as a precaution Jeff phoned Holman & Moody in Charlotte and asked how much punishment we could expect the clutch to take. Holman told him that first gear on a NASCAR Galaxie was very high as they did rolling starts, but that I should not dump the clutch at the start, because it would not tolerate it”.

Sears recalled in his biography ‘Gentleman Jack’ with Graham Gauld “I must say I made a very leisurely start, I mean it was really leisurely, and into the first corners the three Jaguars were leading, with Graham Hill followed by Roy Salvadori and Gawaine Baillie.

“In that first race I had drum brakes with metal to metal linings so they didn’t fade and were actually quite good, better than you would believe. I found the Jaguars were not out-braking me, so when we left Chapel Corner and came on to Hangar Straight I felt, gosh, this thing is really flying, I think I can pass them.

“To my surprise I passed all three Jaguars in the one manouevre. I had no time for waving or anything like that; I had my head down concentrating but now was the moment of truth as I hit my braking point for Stowe. To my surprise they didn’t come past me but just followed me.

“I put my foot down on the exit from the fast uphill left-hander at Abbey and the Galaxie just pulled away from the Jaguars. By the end of the second lap I had a comfortable lead though was still worried about the clutch, so left the Galaxie in fourth gear for the rest of the race – I never changed gear again….”. 

Sears won in fine style, with the white and red Galaxie breaking the long run of Jaguar’s saloon car success and he “felt like I was walking on air”.

Journalist Gregor Grant’s race report in Autosport magazine began “When the ‘tourers’ lined up, it was an unfamiliar sight to have an American V8 in pole position, with Jaguars ranged alongside. When Kenneth Evans dropped the Union Jack, Sears made a very calculated start, easing in the clutch gently, and getting the monster rolling before unleashing over 400 very hairy horses.

“The Jaguars had an initial advantage, but down Hangar Straight, Sears opened up the big Yank, to storm into the lead. There was simply nothing that (Graham) Hill, Salvadori, Mike Salmon and Co could do about it, beyond hope that something would break, or the Ford run out of its drum brakes. Jack Sears was allowing for all this, immediately setting about building up as big a lead as possible before Jeff Uren in the Willment pit would give him the ease-up signal.

“With Sears streaking away from the Jaguars interest was focused on a stirring battle (behind him)….”. “At half-distance Sears had built up a lead of over 20 seconds from Salvadori, with (Peter) Dodd in third place a long way back. Sears eased off considerably after putting the touring car record up to 92.42mph and rolled comfortably home to victory, first ever for a car other than a Jaguar.”

It was just two weeks later that the Willment Galaxie returned to the track, this time at Aintree for a 102 mile race. David Pritchard reported for Autosport: “The presence of Jack Sears with the enormous Ford Galaxie made the outcome almost a foregone conclusion except that, in this long-distance race, Jack had a very real problem in the shape of tyre wear. This being so, he had no thought of record breaking or showing the real pace of this monstrous vehicle, and was wisely content to nurse the brute through the corners and to turn the wick up on the straights only just far enough to keep the opposition at bay.

“The race was, therefore, dictated by Michael Salmon in the 3.8 Jaguar, which led the first half-lap, and thereafter sat in second place relentlessly keeping on the pressure every time Jack tried to ease up… an enthralling tactical exercise from which both drivers emerged with the greatest possible credit.”

After the wide open expanse of Silverstone and the flowing Aintree circuit, the Willment team were faced with a little more of a challenge for the big Galaxie in the confines of Crystal Palace on Whit-Monday. On paper, the under 2-litre Cortinas, the small Minis and of the course the Jaguars looked to stand the best chance, rather than the Galaxie “looking as big as an aircraft carrier” in the words of Sir John Whitmore. 

By the Crystal Palace, Sir Gawaine Baillie’s own Galaxie 500 Lightweight had arrived and one report described the race: “Whatever people may have thought about the big Ford Galaxies on the twisting Crystal Palace circuit was soon dispelled by Jack Sears, who took an early lead from Roy Salvadori (3.8 Jaguar) and Graham Hill in a similar car. The Jaguar drivers tried all they knew, but Sears and his seven litres of V8 Galaxie were absolutely uncatchable.”

Having identified the existing drum brakes as a short coming on the Galaxie, Ford homologated disc brakes for the front. Consisting of a vented disc and large, three piston callipers, the homologation option was completed on the 1st August 1963. 

With the new front disc brakes fitted, it was to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix meeting. “Down went the flag, and Sears thundered off in the huge Galaxie, followed by Salmon (Jaguar) and Baillie (Galaxie). For two laps Salmon gallantly held second place, but then the 7-litre barouche boomed past, and that was that!… Nothing could live with the titans, Sears and Baillie pulling well away from everyone else, and Salmon easily out-racing the other Jaguars by 1-2 secs per lap (until) the ninth lap, Salmon’s engine gave up the ghost and he abandoned.  Sears took the chequered flag to win… easily.  He was followed by Baillie, who had closed up to within 5.2 secs, but (Mike) MacDowel in the leading Jaguar was over a minute behind…”.

Jaguar general manager Lofty England did his best to hamper the full size Ford’s progress by “having a quiet word” with the Royal Automobile Club governing body and race scrutineers on repeated occasions. The Willment Galaxie overcoming his customer’s 3.8-litre Mark II saloon cars, was not popular with the British manufacturer.

The scrutineers had certainly been over the American Galaxie at the May Silverstone meeting, and Robert Grant of Autosport later wrote “The Galaxie met with many queries from the scrutineers. Jeff Uren is the first to admit that scrutineering is an unenviable and tough job, but what he does complain about is their inconsistency. As is common knowledge, a great fuss arose over the Galaxie’s roll-cage, amongst other items, resulting in it being weakened so much (to prevent it illegally stiffening the chassis unit) that in the event of an accident it would have been quite useless. 

Despite cables, etc, from America to the scrutineers, after much argy-bargy the Galaxie was withdrawn from the Brands Hatch Six Hours, causing disappointment (to say the least) to the entrants, drivers, organizers and – last but not least – the general public on whom, let’s face it, motor racing depends a great deal.”

“Success followed success… Jack Sears won every time he finished with the Galaxie. Bob Olthoff also scored a first with the car and Graham Hill a second at Oulton Park. One other gentleman has scored a win with the Willment Galaxie and that was Sir John Whitmore at the recent Rhodesian Grand Prix meeting – a result which should give those who regard him as solely ‘a Mini man’ something to think about…”.

At Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday, Michael Kettlewell reported: “…the 20-lap Group 2 saloon car race had an added attraction whereby Jim Clark took over the Alan Brown entered Ford Galaxie, thereby giving Jack Sears in the Willment machine something to think about…The traffic jam around Druids (hairpin) was a sight not for the nervous and it was a wonder that nothing untoward occurred.  It was Clark ahead of Sears, the two Ford Galaxie pilots wrestling at the wheel, working as never before. The Jaguar pilots, too, were right on the ragged edge, Salvadori leading Hill and Salmon by a whisker.

“The splendid spectacle of Galaxie drivers working really hard ceased on the ninth lap when Sears trickled into the pits with a flat tyre, leaving this year’s likely World Champion in a commanding position. So Clark emerged winner from Hill and Salvadori…”

Future World Champion Graham Hill also took a turn at the wheel of the Willment Galaxie at the Oulton Park Gold Cup in September 1963. Hill qualified in second place, behind Dan Gurney in Alan Brown’s Galaxie, with Jack Sears this time in a Lotus Cortina along with Lotus works driver Trevor Taylor on the second row.

Autosport reported: “Dan Gurney made a thunderous start with rear wheels spinning madly, but Graham Hill in his gigantic bolide took it easier and was out-accelerated by Sears and Taylor, and Adams’s Jaguar. However, on Knickerbrook Straight, Hill boomed past the trio in the Willment device to take second place.

“Gurney was completely master of the race, using the immense acceleration of his drum-braked monster to the limit, with a conspicuous absence of wheel-winding and tearaway cornering – in fact the perfect example of a polished performance. Less familiar with the Galaxie, Graham Hill was not exactly hanging around, but gradually fell back to be pursued by the incredible Lotus-Cortinas of Sears and Taylor… Gurney gradually overwhelmed the rest of the field, and when he crossed the line at the end he was 31secs in front of Hill, and the only others on the same lap were Sears, Taylor and Salmon.”

The title deciding round of the British Saloon Car Championship was at Snetterton as part of the Autosport Three Hour meeting. The Willment Galaxie was this time piloted by Jack Sears who proceeded to qualify the Galaxie in pole position, beating his own lap record by five seconds! In fact, Sears’ lap time of 1 minute 45 seconds was quicker than the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagotos in the main three hour race.

South African driver Bob Olthoff also trialled the Willment Galaxie in qualifying. He set a best time just 0.8 seconds slower than Sears, and still well under the previous lap record. Jeff Uren, Willment team manager, elected to put Sears into their Cortina for the race and for Olthoff to drive the Galaxie.

Michael Kettlewell reported: “Although Olthoff got his Galaxie ahead for the first couple of laps, Jack Brabham (in the rival Alan Brown-entered Galaxie), using all the track as only he can, caught and passed him and stayed comfortably ahead for the remainder of the 20 laps…the race continued its course, the Galaxies walking away with it, as is their custom these days; they lapped the slowest car, an 850 Mini, every two-and-a-half laps. With second place seemingly in his pocket, Olthoff’s monster died at Sear Corner with transmission failure, so the South African’s exciting and hair-raising ride terminated…”

With the British Saloon Car Championship season at an end and Sears the champion, the Willment team made the trip to South Africa for the winter. The first outing there was at Kyalami on the 2nd November 1963 for the 9 Hour endurance race, where Jack Sears co-drove with Australian Paul Hawkins. While the race was being dominated by the Ferrari 250 GTO of David Piper and Tony Maggs, the Willment pair were lapping competitively and well outperforming their predicted lap speed. 

This brisk pace meant they topped the Index of Performance standings, although progress was hampered briefly when Hawkins was called into the pits by the Clerk of the Course. The Galaxie resumed in third place and later had a lengthier stop for fuel, tyres and brakes. Trouble hit, however: “Just as dusk was falling the Galaxie, with Sears driving, started belching smoke as it came through Jukskei Sweep and finally stopped at Clubhouse Bend with a blown cylinder gasket, a fine performance had come to an end…”.

Back at Kyalami for the Rand Grand Prix non-championship Formula 1 meeting, Olthoff again drove the Willment Galaxie. He led away from the start, only for the fan belt to fail after 13 laps and then retired when the engine overheated. 

By the 28th December, the Willment Galaxie was repaired and at East London for the 1963 South African Grand Prix meeting. This time the Galaxie was piloted by Hawkins, and he spent the 15 lap touring car race being pursued by three Lotus Cortinas. In the end it was Olthoff who took the flag first in Willment’s Cortina, with Hawkins on his tail in the Galaxie. 

One week later and into 1964, Hawkins was back behind the controls of the big Ford at Killarney in Cape Town. He finished second in the heat before ending up third in the final behind a pair of Lotus Cortinas, concluding its South African tour for that season. 

The Willment team returned to England with their cars, and set about preparing for the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship season with Jack Sears due to defend his title in the Galaxie. The first round was held at Snetterton where Sears sustained a damaged wheel as a result of a small collision allowing Jack Brabham to take the victory in Alan Brown’s Galaxie. 

Easter Monday Goodwood was a different story though, with Sears taking a comfortable win and setting a new lap record of 1 minute 35.2 seconds at an average of 90.76mph in the process. Following Goodwood was Oulton Park where the Galaxie ran out of brakes. Aintree was the next weekend, and Sears again took a commanding victory having made a large gap over Sir Gawaine Baillie’s similar Galaxie off the start line.  

On the 25th April, the Willment team attended a much lower profile meeting in the form of the Maidstone & Kent Automobile Club’s annual Silverstone National event. Sears took the heat win with ease, and repeated the feat in the final with the Galaxie ahead of the Lotus-Ford powered Ford Anglia of Norman Abbott, and the Cortinas of Jackie Stewart and Bob Olthoff in third and fourth.

Next was to May Silverstone, which again saw the pairing take the top honours. This time, he had Dan Gurney to contend with, at the wheel of Alan Brown’s Galaxie, but emerged ahead. After Silverstone was Crystal Palace, and Sears again was at the forefront of the race until a tyre on the Galaxie burst, allowing Jim Clark and Peter Arundell in the Team Lotus Lotus-Cortinas to take first and second. 

The team returned to Crystal Palace for the national Jaguar Drivers’ Club meet on the 13th June. In the 15 lap race, Sears pulled away into the lead with Olthoff in second behind the wheel of the Willment Cortina. Having passed Olthoff, Mike Young reined in the Galaxie with his Superspeed 1650 Anglia and tried everything he knew to pass Sears, but with no avail. Sears held on to win by 0.2 seconds.

Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday Monday was the scene of Sears’ next display of dominance in the Galaxie, with a lights to flag victory. From there it was to Oulton Park, where the fight for the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship would be settled. Sears set off in front and built a fair gap ahead of the two works Lotus-Cortinas before the Galaxie suffered ignition failure. The Galaxie retired on the grass near Knickerbrook corner and with that, the title chances evaporated. It was Jim Clark, current Formula 1 World Champion, who beat Sears to the championship after a victorious 2-litre class season in the works Lotus-Cortina. 

As well as these British races, Sears and the Willment team had also made the trip to Europe on occasion for selected rounds of the European Touring Car Championship. At Zolder, Belgium, in May, Sears won his race in the big Galaxie ahead of a Jaguar 3.8 and Eugen Bohringer’s works Mercedes-Benz.

The Willment Team again made the trip to South Africa for the 1964-1965 Springbok season, with their Cobra accompanying the Galaxie on this occasion. The cars were now painted in the new Willment livery of red with white centre stripes, the reverse scheme to how it had been previously. 

The Springbok tour started at Kyalami for the 9 hour race in October, where the Galaxie was co-driven by Paul Hawkins and Frank Gardner. The 7-litre V8 ran its bearings in practice which necessitated a pre race rebuild, only for the engine to then overheat in the race. Undeterred, the Willment team changed the thermostat and head gasket in time for the Galaxie to rejoin the race at 7pm to applause from the South African crowd. 

Next was the Rhodesian Grand Prix at Bulawayo on the 29th November, where Hawkins won the supporting race to the Grand Prix in the Galaxie. Hawkins drove again for the Rand Gran Prix meeting at Kyalami on the 12th December and took victory once more, holding off one Jackie Stewart in a Lotus-Cortina. 

At the 1965 South African Grand Prix meeting at East London, it was Olthoff’s turn to take the wheel. He led the saloon car race before dropping back thanks to a lack of brakes. The Willment Galaxie was obviously a favourite of Olthoff’s though, as agreed to buy the car from the Willment Racing Team with the ambition of winning every saloon car race in his native country.

Running as a Willment entry through 1965, Olthoff scored outright wins in the Galaxie in consecutive races at Kyalami, another at Roy Hesketh and three times in one meeting at Marlborough, with further wins at Kyalami and Roy Hesketh along with class victories at Kyalami, Roy Hesketh and Killarney. Olthoff finished the season with another outright win at Kyalami, and this impressive tally resulted in him becoming South African Touring Car Champion for the 1965 season with the Galaxie.

The big Galaxie only had the one outing in 1966, with a win at East London, before Olthoff bought a McLaren-Elva sports racing car. The magnificently successful Galaxie then moved into retirement, and formed an important part of Bob Olthoff’s own personal collection, “for old time’s sake”. 

In 1988, Olthoff was finally persuaded to part with the Galaxie. It was to go to British ownership, with none other than Jack Sears himself, also “for old time’s sake”. The original invoice from ‘Bob Olthoff Racing (Pty) Ltd trading as Bob Olthoff Aircraft Sales – Solitude Airfield, Eikenhof’ to Jack Sears accompanies the car in the history file. Dated May 26 1988, it details the price paid as £25,000 and that a quantity of spares and components removed from the car over the years were included.

When repatriated to England and in his possession, Sears set about restoring the car to running order. In July 1990 the engine was rebuilt by The Engine Shop of Maids Moreton, Buckingham, with the 427 top-oiler cylinder block bored and honed to +.040-inch oversize. The camshaft bearings were renewed and cylinder deck resurfaced. The crankshaft was ground 10/10 undersize and fitted with brand-new bearings.

A matched set of con-rods were aligned and crack tested with new big-end bolts fitted. Pistons were found to have been “lightly used”, +.040 fitted with new rings. A new Iskenderian 505 Magnum camshaft was ground specially, copied from a 1963 original, and new Iskenderian cam followers and moly-chrome pushrods were fitted.

A new heavy-duty drive high-capacity oil pump with extended pick-up, increased-capacity oil sump as per original, double roller-chain camshaft drive with new cam and crank sprockets were adopted, while the 427 cylinder heads were reconditioned with bronze guides, re- profiled valve seats, new valves, retainers and double springs.

The original H&M inlet manifold was fitted with a new four-barrel Holley carburettor while the crankshaft damper and flywheel from the original were balanced as a unit and installed together with a fresh clutch disc and reconditioned clutch cover.

In the mid 1990s Mike Brown, who was Jack Sears’s original engineering manager within the Willment team in period, and his company Rally Service Ltd of Hayes, Middlesex, carried out work on the Galaxie, as specified in documents also retained within the file. Mr Brown recalled: “Since the car was raced by Jack, Bob Olthoff had carried out some modifications. The front brakes were enlarged and the rear inner arches cut out to accommodate larger rear wheels. When Jack had us renovate the old girl we had aluminium tubs rolled up for the inner arches and added a small-bore exhaust so Jack could drive her on the road…”.

Sears had also contacted the DVLA to regain the original registration, BML 9A. Confirmation was received on the 12th June 1989, to Mr J.G.S. Sears at Uphall Grange and it read: “Because of the very special place your Ford Galaxie has in British motor history it has been decided, very exceptionally, for the vehicle to be registered under the number BML 9A”.

The big Galaxie remained with Sears for the rest of his life. Along with the limited road use, the Galaxie also became a veteran of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it went up the hill on no less than four occasions at the world-renowned event. Another outing saw it take pride of place in the rotunda at the Royal Automobile Club in London, reportedly only just fitting through the entrance doors!

Today, the Galaxie remains remarkably original; from the fibreglass panels, to the ‘trick’ double damped front suspension, the large homologated front disc brakes, the Belanger Bros fabricated exhaust headers, the red vinyl interior, and even the minuscule fire extinguisher mounted on the centre console. Furthermore, the history file contains the original Holman & Moody invoice to John Willment Automobiles Ltd, bill of sale from Olthoff to Sears, and correspondence from Jeff Uren confirming the idyllic provenance. 

The Galaxie is nothing short of a game-changer, an icon and landmark of saloon car racing not just in Britain but internationally. A Holman & Moody prepared R-Code Lightweight for John Willment Automobiles Ltd, forming the beginning of a relationship which went on to huge success with the GT40 project, with whom it won so many races at the hands of many a great driver. 

Jack Sears won every race he finished in the Galaxie, claimed one British Saloon Car Championship and narrowly missed the second to no less than Jim Clark, Bob Olthoff dominated on his way to winning the South African Touring Car Championship, Sir John Whitmore won in it, Paul Hawkins won, Graham Hill took a second, and Frank Gardner encountered mechanical woes. For a car of this pedigree to then live such a long life in the collections of the two who claimed the titles is almost unheard of, and as such it has been preserved in wonderful condition.