Kiwi Jim Richards to reunite with BMW classic racer at Silverstone
A 34-year-old New Zealand-owned classic car is being flown halfway round the world to race at the iconic Silverstone circuit in England.
The striking black and gold JPS BMW 635 CSi has never raced outside Australasia and it will be driven by New Zealand's "Gentleman" Jim Richards, its original star driver, at the July 28-30 Silverstone Classic.
Richards, who is a seven-time winner of the Bathurst 1000 race, first joined forces with the BMW in 1983 racing for the Frank Gardner Racing team. Back then, Australia had its own Group C touring car regulations permitting more freedom than the more widely adopted Group A rulebook.
Although the "Black Beauty" won the hearts of many fans, success was initially limited against an opposition armed with more powerful V8 propelled Fords and Holdens.
However, when Australia finally adopted the international Group A formula in 1985, the combination proved utterly unstoppable – Richards winning seven of the 10 rounds and, with them, the inaugural Australian Touring Car Championship title. In a golden year for JPS Team BMW, Richards also went undefeated in the Amscar Series and then added the Australian Endurance Championship crown by winning five out of six races.
The BMW was still in this less tuned Group A specification when acquired by its current owner, New Zealand collector Peter Sturgeon. However, Richards and Pip Baker, who had worked with Frank Gardner back in the day, convinced Sturgeon to put the 635 back into its more dramatic Group C guise.
"Pip adopted the project and it took him almost 18 months to complete. It was worth all the effort, though, as the final result is utterly amazing," enthused Sturgeon who is now flying the car to the Silverstone Classic.
"The sound of the straight six, twin-cam engine revving at more than 8000rpm is something all petrol heads should hear. In Group C form, this is the one and only 24-valve engined BMW 635 ever raced and to have Jim back driving it is very, very special."
More than 30 years on, Richards is every bit as excited to be back behind the wheel of such a magnificent and important machine.
"It's a beautiful car.
"I'm so glad we persuaded Peter to put it back in what we called Group C specification, as those rules were a bit more liberal than Group A, more widely used at the time. It now looks absolutely stunning with its big arches and a 24-valve motor which revs to around 8400rpm and sounds glorious even with a muffler.
"I've been invited to Goodwood a couple of times but have never been to the Silverstone Classic before. I'm told it's another of the great events, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Richards and the unique BMW 635 CSi will be compete in the two Super Touring Car Trophy showdowns which will feature two stellar grids racing simultaneously. The more modern Super Tourers from the 90s will line up in front and take the first rolling start. Then, 30 seconds later, a combined grid of Group 1, Group A and now Group C racers will start.