Photos courtesy Bonhams.
While Jack Sears won two separate British Saloon Car Championships, including the very first one in 1958, it was his latter championship which would prove the most notorious. More than 50 years later, the big “Yank tank” he drove to that championship – a 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 – will head to public auction for the first time straight from the collection of Sears himself.
Often described as the most famous 1963 Galaxie 500, the car – also known by its British registration of BML 9A (or chassis number 3N66R143030) – made waves just as much for its country of origin as for its ability to break the stranglehold Jaguars had on the championship at the time. As an article on the John Willment racing team from the September 1963 issue of Motorsport magazine explained, the Galaxie’s existence in Britain at the time stems from Ford’s Total Performance global racing campaign of the early 1960s.
“The Ford Motor Company of America was expanding its racing activities tremendously and they decided to ask Willments to race one of their Galaxies in Britain. Willments agreed to do so and acquired one from Holman and Moody, who prepare the majority of racing Fords for the factory in their California workshops.”
Though the R in the VIN indicates the Galaxie came from the factory with Ford’s new-for-1963 dual-quad 425hp 427 – apparently only available with the Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission – Holman-Moody swapped in a single-four-barrel setup and a four-speed manual transmission; despite the halving of the number of carburetors, Holman-Moody managed to wring about 450 horsepower out of the engine. The tuner also added a rollcage, then unusual for British touring car racing, but made sure the entire stock interior remained intact, as per the rules of the time.
Sears began the season racing for Willment in a Ford Cortina and took three straight Class B wins, which probably put him right at the head of the line to drive the Galaxie when it arrived in England that May, just in time for the Silverstone race, which Sears won overall.
“It is a matter of history now that Jack Sears ran rings round the Jaguars and won with contemptuous ease,” according to the Motorsport article. “Whenever the Galaxie raced it was almost uncatchable and it did much for American prestige in Britain.”
While others on the Willment racing team spent some time behind the Galaxie’s wheel that season (among them Bobby Olthoff, Frank Gardiner, Paul Hawkins, and reportedly Graham Hill), and while at least a couple other Galaxies appeared in that year’s British Saloon Car Championship series (piloted by none other than Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, and Roy Salvadori), Sears went on to take Class D in the next three races in the Galaxie. Combined with his earlier wins, he secured that year’s championship, though not without a good deal of protest.
Other racers, adamant that the rollcage’s only purpose was to stiffen the car, demanded that it not intrude on the passenger compartment – despite the presence of just one person in the car during races. According to Motorsport, Willment’s racing manager, Jeff Urus, kept cutting away supports from the rollcage after each protest until little was left of it. “The Six-Hour race saw a new set of objections raised against the Galaxie and although the suspect parts were all subsequently proved to comply with the regulations Willments withdrew that car.”
According to the Ford Galaxie Club of Australia, later in the year the Galaxie made its way down to South Africa – Olthoff’s home turf – before returning to England for the 1964 season. While records show that Sears took another four wins in the Galaxie during the 1964 season, the Galaxie also DNF’d an equal number of times. Back to South Africa it went, where Olthoff continued to campaign it in a red livery, eventually winning the 1966 South African Touring Car Championship.
The Galaxie remained in South Africa until 1989 when Olthoff sold it to Sears, who re-imported it to England, re-registered it, and commissioned ex-Willment mechanic Tony Brown with a restoration that returned the car to its Willment white-with-red-stripes livery (notably with the original interior – including stitched-back-up rear seat). He even took it to the Goodwood Festival of Speed a number of times since then.
With Sears’s death last August, several cars from his collection will make their way to auction this September at the Goodwood Revival, the Galaxie among them. According to the Bonhams pre-auction estimate for the Galaxie, it’s expected to sell for £180,000 to £220,000 (about $230,000 to $280,000).
The Bonhams Goodwood Revival auction will take place September 9. For more information, visit Bonhams.com.