National Motor Racing Museum, Bathurst

Nestling on the Mount Panorama outfield just before Murray’s Corner sits the National Motor Racing Museum. For a country steeped in proud racing tradition, this is a significant building housing a fine collection of cars, motorcycles and associated automobilia.

The museum’s location is a crucial aspect of its status and it was originally founded in 1988 by the Bathurst Light Car Club before being subsumed by the Bathurst Regional Council. The museum’s mission statement is simple: “The…conservation and preservation of material relevant to Australian motor racing history, and to enhance the understanding and significance of motorsport within Australia.”

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Bathurst is the most famous and most dramatic race circuit in the country with a history dating back almost 80 years. Made legendary worldwide by its touring car endurance race, the track is actually a public road, allowing interested visitors the opportunity to visit the museum and, remarkably, drive the adjacent circuit.

The museum prides itself on its variety, while acknowledging that the bombastic national touring car championship, in its various guises, has really shaped the country’s racing heritage.

Our visit takes place over the Bathurst 1000 weekend – the biggest and busiest time of the year for the circuit, the town and the museum. With raging 30deg + heat outside, the museum provides a welcome respite from the sun, while V8 thunder from the circuit’s practice sessions provides the perfect soundtrack.

The museum is fronted by a fine bronze statue of the late, great, Peter Brock holding aloft a trophy next to a statue of a Holden Commodore VK – the last of his mighty Group C racers. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who remains a household name throughout Australia and the domestic racing scene’s most famous son.

Inside, the rooms are well-lit and airy, with the exhibits given room to breathe. There is a full history of Bathurst, as well as a useful synopsis of every race track in Australia – many unfamiliar to a distant European. There are plenty of words, with much fact to be digested for those of a cerebral persuasion, but there is equal pleasure to be had simply by browsing the cars and motorcycles on display.

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It’s certainly a varied collection; single seaters rub shoulders with dragsters and club-racing specials. A particular highlight is Team Australia’s Reynard – an articulate reminder of the days when Surfer’s Paradise was a major fixture on the international race calendar. Despite living most of its life as a promotional tool, this era of Champ Car was phenomenally potent and in period would’ve deployed 900bhp around the confines of Surfer’s narrow street circuit.

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Motorcycles feature prominently – and in vast numbers. Since its rebirth as an international race facility, Phillip Island has become a favoured fixture on both World Superbike and MotoGP calendars. The ongoing success of Aussie riders Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner has helped shape a fine motorcycle racing heritage. Out on the streets it’s apparent that this is a country in love with two-wheeled machines. From old cafe racers to the latest Ducati Pagniale, the motorbike is part of the nation’s soundtrack.

The museum has an entire hall dedicated to two-wheelers. From GP weapons of the Gardner era through motorcross off-roaders to Ducati 916 Senna, it’s a heady collection and a challenge for the uninformed to navigate.

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Highlight of the museum is touring car collection. Occupying the building’s farthest room, it showcases many of the cars which shaped the legend of Bathurst and fostered the nation’s love for saloon racing.

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From humble Ford Cortinas through to the latest’s fire-spitting V8 Supercars, the collection offers a fine walk through Australian touring car history. No stone is left unturned in telling the history of ‘The Great Race’. Ford and Holden dominate the collection, as they have done the race itself. Not just Falcons and Commodores but Sierra Cosworths and Toranas to illustrate the full story of the race.

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European interlopers from BMW, Jaguar, Audi and Volvo are given equal billing, adding colour to the narrative. Highlights are the iconic Bathurst 1000 winners from the ‘big banger’ Group C era. Allan Moffat’s 1977 Falcon exudes swagger and menace – even stood still. Peter Brock’s extravagantly body-kitted Commodore VK in vivid Marlboro livery remains the absolute definition of Bathurst V8 wars for many.

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Bringing things back up-to-date, a modern Commodore CV8 perches high in the air on a two-post lift. Its underbelly exposed, the aero detail is surprising with venturis and fins decorating the front of the floor. Perhaps these hulking monsters are a little more sophisticated than they appear at first glance.

This brief walk-through doesn’t do justice to a museum which is simple in its presentation but does a fine job of reminding the visitor of the sheer breadth of Australian motor sporting history. Read the domestic motor magazines and sit among the spectators at Bathurst and it’s absolutely apparent that this is a nation which prides itself on its heritage. All punters at Bathurst are accurately aware of the racers and race cars which have gone before. In the National Motor Racing Museum, they have a venue which celebrates, protects and promotes this unique place in the racing world.

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