Jack’s Hammer. Ford’s giant 7-litre Galaxie and ace driver Jack Sears together monstered Britain’s saloon races. Now the fast Ford is for sale. Words Julian Balme. Photography Paul Harmer.
Jack Sears’ Ford Galaxie A true giant of Touring Car racing…
The first time I clapped eyes upon BML 9A, I was an impressionable seven-year-old kid clasping the scaffolding poles that formed the barrier at Silverstone’s Abbey Curve. It was the first race meeting that my father had taken me to, the 1963 Daily Express Trophy.
Within minutes of the start of the Production Touring Car race, I had eyes for only one car. It was the largest thing I’d ever seen on four wheels. It wuffled through the high-speed kink with an exhaust note like no other, and, having overtaken its three main rivals on that opening lap in one move on the Hangar Straight, it then pulled away at a second a lap.
The fact we’d arrived at the circuit in dad’s ‘three-eight Jag’, the same piece of kit that was now struggling to keep up with the American spaceship, only underlined what an impression it was making on me. My partisan support had switched camps in a single lap and I wondered why on earth didn’t my dad drive a Ford Galaxie 500. It would be 35 years before I would see the car in the metal again.
What I’d witnessed on 11 May 1963 was the debut of arguably the most charismatic saloon car ever to contest a race of that type on British tarmac. Although three Galaxies had made their way to the UK by the spring of that year, the first to be campaigned, and the only one in that particular race, sported three red thin-thick-thin stripes. Entered by the John Willment Racing Team and driven by Jack Sears, the 1958 Touring Car champion, the combination would dominate the category for two seasons. As Jack told me in 2005, it nearly didn’t happen.
‘I’d been driving for Tommy Sopwith,’ he recalled, ‘but he had decided to pack it in. So when Jeff Uren from Willment [former BTCC sparring partner and head of the competition department] rang me enquiring as to my plans, I was naturally interested. The only thing was, they needed a commitment within 24 hours – long before I could test the car.’
The car was a 1963 R-code Ford Galaxie 500 massaged by preparation specialists Holman & Moody. In the US, Ford had come out of the manufacturers’ ‘no competition’ slumber with all guns blazing, and under its new Total Performance banner was looking to turn its hand to any form of motor sport it could – hence the approach to a UK main dealer based in Twickenham with a healthy attitude towards racing. H&M, along with Carroll Shelby, was already working under the wings of Dearborn’s accounts department, both outfits providing off-site competition builds – of sports cars in Shelby’s case, while saloons were the domain of the duo from Charlotte, North Carolina.
NASCAR was H&M’s prime focus which, back then, involved more than just going round and round banked bowls. The race on the road course at Riverside, California, was one of several on the calendar, so the customer cars that H&M prepared were surprisingly sorted.
‘They said to us, whatever you do, don’t run the car on anything other than Firestones,’ Sears told me. ‘The tyres hadn’t arrived, but I went out anyway during the free practice at Silverstone, just to get a feel for the size of the car. I could tell straight away it was going to be good and after three laps I couldn’t hold back any longer. Within a lap I’d blown out a rear tyre.’
The essential rubber duly arrived and the pairing, as Motor Sport reported, ‘trounced the opposition in the most convincing manner. The speed and cornering of this American “stocker” must have impressed a lot of people.’
The speed came from a full-house 427ci (7-litre) FE big-block V8 rated at about 450bhp, mated to a fourspeed T10 gearbox, while the cornering ability came from uprated springs and a second set of front shock absorbers. There were countless other tweaks made to the car, most noticably the fitment of a roll cage. This was something that scrutineers in British paddocks weren’t that familiar with, especially one built by Southern stock-car racers.
At Silverstone and the next race at Aintree, the cage was noted and admired. But after two wins from two outings, the Galaxie encountered its first run-in with the authorities at Crystal Palace. A forthright discussion ensued and three tubes were removed from behind the front seats. It didn’t end there: throughout the season more and more tubes were cut from the superstructure. The lengths to which H&M went with its caging remain evident in the car’s boot today, two tubes that escaped the scrutineers’ wrath still visible above the chassis rails running forward to the rear bulkhead.
Starting life as an R-code model meant that, within the Galaxie family, BML 9A was a ‘lightweight’ with fibreglass front wings, bonnet and bootlid, along with Dural bumpers fore and aft. The front seats were replaced with lighter versions from Ford’s Econoline van, and the speedo binnacle was ousted in favour of five Stewart Warner gauges placed as ergonomically as possible within the vacant space. Other deft touches, such as the gentle manipulating of the front and rear arches to accommodate wider tyres, were subtly done, and the tweaking of the radiator grille to allow more air to the oil cooler was inspired in its ingenuity.
The 6x15in steel wheels were reinforced with a second centre welded to the original, to ensure that the studs and nuts didn’t pull themselves through the wheel. The brakes, big drums all round, also received attention with drilled backing plates and subtle ducting. Nothing was left to chance; even a fan motor was rigged-up in the boot to blow cool air onto the differential. The car’s only Achilles’ heel at that first race was the clutch. The ferocious standing starts of British races hadn’t been factored into H&M’s meticulous preparation, so an uprated unit was fitted on the Galaxie’s return to Willment from Northamptonshire.
Being so well prepared, the big Ford gave Jack a huge amount of confidence. The relationship they forged throughout 1963 and 1964 exceeded one simply of man and machine. He wasn’t alone, though, as other Galaxies appeared on the scene, but few drivers seemed so at one with his car as ‘Gentleman Jack’.
Sir Gawaine Baillie had imported his own car, and Alan Brown owned and prepared what was effectively a car for guest drivers, Jack Brabham being a regular jockey. This latter car was the only one to get the better – on just two occasions – of the Willment coupling. The first time was at the August 1963 BRSCC meeting at Brands Hatch, in which Jim Clark made a better start in the Brown entry and a puncture ended Jack’s chase after he had held on to the World Champion-elect. The following year, in the pouring rain at Snetterton for the BTCC season-opener, Sears had to give second best to Brabham after hitting a spinning Mini and subsequently retiring.
By the end of 1963 Jack had clinched his second Touring Car championship, primarily behind the wheel of the Galaxie but assisted by points accrued in a Cortina GT before the Galaxie arrived, and more points at the end of the season in the new Lotus Cortina. He had one more Galaxie outing in 1963, sharing the car with Willment new boy Paul Hawkins for the November endurance race at Kyalami, South Africa. For this the Galaxie was fitted with red and green marker lights on the roof, plus lights to illuminate the race numbers, and all are still present today. After that inauspicious, and sodden, outing at his home track in Norfolk, the 1964 season would start properly for Jack at the Easter Goodwood meeting. He led from start to finish, although harried all the way by a three-wheeling Jim Clark in his works Lotus Cortina. These two farming protagonists would spend the rest of the year thrilling audiences with their cat-and-mouse antics at all the major UK circuits, brilliantly captured on Ford’s promotional film The Year of the Cortina. Clark, every schoolboy’s hero, won the championship at a canter by accumulating more class wins than Jack, who dropped points by retiring at Crystal Palace (a puncture, again) as well as at Snetterton.
At the end of the British season, the Galaxie was once more sent to South Africa where, wearing a new colour scheme – reversed to red with white stripes – it again failed to finish, this time in the hands of Hawkins and Frank Gardner. Jack was there too, sharing the Willment Cobra Daytona with local racer Bob Olthoff. The latter ended up owning BML 9A, perhaps through a lack of enthusiasm among the Twickenham team to ship it home. Olthoff campaigned the Galaxie for a couple of seasons, but after a con-rod exited the block he parked it in his garage and forgot about it. When he decided to emigrate to the States in 1989, Olthoff unearthed the remarkably well-preserved car from his Johannesburg garage and rang Jack. Thus were car and driver reunited, much to Sears’ delight, but not before the Galaxie had been repainted in its original livery of white with red stripes.
On the Galaxie’s arrival in the UK, Willment enginebuilder Spike Winter was entrusted with finding a short block and rebuilding the engine, while the brief to Mike Brown, the 1964-season mechanic, was to recommission rather than restore the car. Right from the outset there was never any intention to race the car again. ‘It’s proved itself more than once or twice,’ Jack said. But he thoroughly enjoyed sharing the car with the public, demonstrating it several times at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
When Lord March and Richard Sutton were putting the grids together for the first Goodwood Revival in 1998, this Galaxie was the one car they felt compelled to replicate. ‘The quality of every single car on the grid was critical,’ Sutton recalls. ‘Every race needed to be as evocative as possible, with all the right iconic cars. That meant that the St Mary’s Trophy, for saloon cars raced at Goodwood between 1959 and 1966, had to include a 1963 7-litre Ford Galaxie in Willment “Sears” livery.’ With Jack sticking to his ‘no racing’ guns, Lord March was forced to buy another Galaxie and paint it in the same colours. But so significant was the pairing of Jack and BML 9A that a space alongside the racers in the paddock was allocated to him and the car.
Sears was an enthusiast who owned some delectable cars over the years, including a 250 GTO, but the big white Ford was his favourite. He appreciated more than anyone else the uniqueness of its condition. In later years he drove it less but when the occasion arose he was happy to unleash its power. Steve Eggleton had serviced the car for him over the final seven years and was taken for a ride around Snetterton in a ‘fast parade’. ‘I was taken aback at just how quick it was,’ he recalls. ‘Today’s Historic racers are much faster, but none has the character of Jack’s.’
With Sears’ passing the Galaxie is now in search of a new home, which we can only hope will be as sympathetic as its last, and it will be auctioned by Bonhams at the Goodwood Revival sale. So I am very moved to be allowed by Jack’s family to – at last – get my backside where the great man had worked so diligently nearly 55 years ago. From behind the stock steering wheel, the Galaxie is just how I wanted it to be. Like a well-worn leather jacket, it oozes character from every crease of its bright red interior. I love the way that when checking for neutral the factory gear lever has so much play in it.
After a wait for the fuel pump, the car starts straight away with a spine-tingling bellow from the side-exit exhausts. That once-troublesome clutch is light and easy, and on the move there is never any chance of engaging the wrong gear despite that slop.
To feel so at home in such an exalted place is quite strange. This is a decorated prizefighter that is now happy to wuffle along like a well-mannered road car. It feels quick but not explosive, and for such a large car it’s a lot more agile than most onlookers would presume. And then, with ironic period-correctness, my time at the wheel is cruelly cut short by a puncture – the fate that brought about the Galaxie’s retirement on at least three occasions. But it’s enough to make real a long-held dream. I’d even bought a Galaxie the year Jack was reunited with BML. All because of that day at Silverstone in 1963.
THANKS TO the Sears family, and to Bonhams, which will auction the car on 9 September at Goodwood Revival. www.bonhams.com
Facing page, clockwise from top Galaxie fills Goodwood pitlane; ‘Gentleman Jack’ Sears in his 1960s heyday; interior retains original dash; author Balme chats with Sears’ daughter, Suzanne. Above and facing page Jack Sears was delighted to have bought back his Galaxie after its two decades of hibernation; 1964 season-opener at Snetterton was one of only two in which Jack’s Galaxie was beaten by another, in this case because Jack hit a spinning Mini; the other non-win was at Brands Hatch in August 1963, in which Jack (far left) retired, Jim Clark (next to Jack) won and Graham Hill (Jaguar 3.8, far right) came second. Clockwise from below Author and Galaxie-owner Balme realises a dream held since 1963; red seatbelts match lightweight seats from a Ford Econoline van; Galaxie retains original Lucas electric washers and brass extinguisher; speedometer is a road-required afterthought.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1963 Ford Galaxie 500
Engine 427ci (6997cc) cast-iron FE big block V8, single four-barrel Holley carburettor
Power 425bhp @ 6000rpm (ex-works) DIN
Torque 480lb ft @ 3700rpm (ex-works) DIN
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Worm and roller
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, double telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle, leaf springs, double telescopic dampers
Brakes Drums all round (front discs with twin servos from 1964)
Performance Top speed 155mph. 0-60mph 6.3sec
‘Like a well-worn leather jacket, it oozes character from every crease of its fading, bright red interior’
‘After two wins from two outings, the Galaxie encountered its first runin with the authorities’