Two legends of Australian motorsport were on-track at the Silverstone Classic over the weekend, with four-time Australian Touring Car Champion Jim Richards behind the wheel of the famous Group C JPS BMW 635CSi.
“The car has gone through a complete metamorphosis, you could say,” said Richards.
“It started out as a Group C that I drove in 1983 and 1984, and then it was turned into a Group A car. Many, many years later it was turned back into a Group C car, and we’re racing it around Australia and New Zealand.
“Now we’ve had this chance to race it at Silverstone, which is fantastic.
“It’s terrific to be able to take it overseas. Group C was only an Australian class, it wasn’t international like Group A, so to demonstrate it to the fans at Silverstone was a brilliant opportunity.
“A lot of fans have never seen these cars in action before, especially in England. It was exciting to make this weekend a ‘first’ for a lot of people.”
Heading into the weekend, Richards wasn’t expecting to be a front-runner, given both his lack of experience at the famous British Grand Prix venue, and that he was destined to run with later, faster Super Touring cars.
But, he said it was all about putting on a show for the fans and introducing them to a hugely unique part of Australia and BMW’s motorsport history.
“Let’s put it this way, back in 1969 I went over to Silverstone and drove a Broadspeed Ford Escort around because a friend of mine had bought it. So I’ve only done a few laps around the very old Silverstone layout.
“But with these cars, you don’t drive them at ten-tenths. You respect their age, and the same goes for the driver.
“The event itself was incredible,” Richards continued. “It’s a lot, lot bigger than I thought it would be. It’s almost comparable to the Goodwood Revival now. There were more than 30 historic Formula 1 cars there, and more like 50 sportscars. The grids were huge and every single car was a genuine car.
“The Super Touring cars started the race first, regardless of where they qualified, followed by the Group A cars, and then us behind them – with a 30 second gap between the groups. So we’d catch the slower Super Touring cars. It was really enjoyable for everyone.
“I was absolutely amazed at how much the British race fans knew about Australian motorsport. Everything that’s happened in Australia, they knew about. They knew everything about what I’ve done in my career, I was really blown away.
“We had more people visit our pit than anyone. The organisers of the event gave us the ‘Best Presented’ and ‘Car of the Meeting’, which was just fantastic. That’s what it’s about.
In a field studded with Sierra RS 500s and late-model Super Tourers from Honda and Volvo, Richards was able to qualify a respectable 17th out of 46 entries, comfortably ahead of fellow legend Steve Soper in a Group A Rover Vitesse.
The two indulged in some wheel-to-wheel action over the two races, with Richards finishing 20th and 24th respectively.
“It’s an awesome track, and we had some great battles with the Group A Rovers. We were about a similar speed, and there were some slower M3s in with us as well. It was fantastic,” he said.
Richards played a crucial role in the success of BMW’s ATCC programme in the 1980s. The seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner joined Frank Garnder’s JPS Team BMW squad in 1982, going on to win a pair of ATCC titles, one in 1985 in a Group A-spec BMW 635CSi, and another in 1987 with the then-brand new BMW M3.
While the titles came in Group A-spec BMWs, Richards’ early years with the JPS Team BMW were spent racing 635CSis built to the local Group C regulations – unique in that they were the only BMW Touring Cars to be powered by the four-valve M88 straight-six engine.
The Group C-spec 635CSi that Richards raced in 1983 and 1984 was then converted to Group A specification when the international regulations were introduced to Australia in 1985.
In the early 2000s the car was bought by collector Peter Sturgeon, who decided to have it restored and converted back to its original Group C specification by former JPS Team BMW head mechanic Pip Barker. Richards was then reunited with the car thanks to Sturgeon, and has been racing it all over Australia and New Zealand for the past couple of years.