|A race series very
dear to the true tin-top petrol head's heart... huge engines, huge wheels, a
(mostly) recognisable road car profile and a monstrous exhaust note. The Thundersaloon series holds fond memories (and ringing in the ears) for
John Cleland's association with Vauxhall/Opel started many years prior to his 1989 BTCC debut and for the 3 years from 1986 to 1988, John was battling the competition in Vauxhall Senators and Carltons. In fact, John and his team mate, Vince Woodman's 1986 Thundersaloon championship winning Senator started life in Australia as a Holden Commodore V8 touring car, winning the 1984 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst in the hands of Peter Brock and Larry Perkins.
The Commodore was shipped to UK and can be seen here with Vince and John in it's day-glo red and white Marlboro colour scheme with some local re-branding. It was later painted in white with GM Europe yellow, red and grey bands more familiar to UK Vauxhall/Opel fans.
The '86 Thundersaloon winning Senator was bought and run in subsequent seasons by Pete Stevens and Neil Facey and won the 1987 championship ahead of Rod Birley's Ford Sierra and the all new Dave Cook built Vauxhall Carlton piloted by Woodman and Cleland. The Senator has now been restored to it's 1984 Bathurst winning Marlboro Holden HDT colour scheme and resides in the National Motor Racing Museum in Bathurst, NSW.
The image on the right is the restored Holden at The Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2005 with Peter Brock behind the wheel. Videos here and here.
The new for '87 TS6000 Carlton was an all new beast of a car, based on a Vauxhall Carlton shell with a Swindon built, highly tweaked 600 ish bhp alloy block 350ci Chevrolet V8, (the actual cc seems to waver between 5.7 & 6.0 litre depending on who you ask and the prevailing wind at the time), an X-Trac Hewland 5 speed gearbox, 14" vented discs with AP four pot calipers, Kevlar body panels and some extremely wide rubber, propelling the car to 100mph in 8 seconds and 160+ ish mph top speed.
The Carlton was extremely competitive out of the box and won 4 races in 1987 but due to minor development year gremlins, it wasn't 100% reliable and had to wait until 1988 for The GM Vauxhall Dealer Team to realise its ambitions for the new car and win the championship outright.
You can watch videos of these iconic cars in action in 1987 & '88 here and here.
After winning 2 championships in 3 years with Vince, John moved camps to the BTCC for 1989, again with Vauxhall. Pete Stevens again bought the hand-me-down Vauxhall Carlton to run in Thundersaloons and the pairing continued to be successful. Pete still owns the car and it has raced in recent years. John's foray into the BTCC with the Mk2 Astra 16v GTE in 1989 can be found here.
Copyright : Dave Willetts 2000 - 2018