Of all the motorsport events held throughout Australasia, it is Bathurst that is the most famous.
For years now, firstly motorcycles and now cars have raced up and over the unbelievably steep Mt Panorama that overlooks the city of Bathurst 200 kilometres inland from Sydney.
Normally this mountain route is a public road, and if you drive over it in an ordinary car it will grind through the gears as it negotiates the steep grades. How steep? Think Mt Messenger north of New Plymouth, or the Crown Range overlooking Queenstown.
And several times a year, enthusiasts use it for motor racing.
The big event these days is the Bathurst 1000, traditionally held in spring, and which is on this weekend. Tens of thousands of enthusiasts swarm to Bathurst for the racing, many positioning themselves in paddocks alongside Mt Panorama's steepest and tightest sections of roading to watch as the drivers fly over the summit in their massively powerful racecars.
Way back in 1980 one such enthusiast was New Plymouth's Philip Macey, who as a young teen was spellbound as he watched on TV the performance of relatively unknown Queenslander Dick Johnson as he turned on a sensational drive in his ''Tru Blu'' Ford Falcon XD.
The race car was painted bright blue in honour of his sponsor Palmer Tube Mills, manufacturer of Tru Blu steel products.
Johnson led for the first 17 laps, and was a full lap ahead of pre-race favourite Peter Brock, when disaster struck. He was exiting a corner high in the mountain called The Cutting when he spotted a football-sized rock in the middle of the road - it had been accidentally kicked onto the track by a drunken fan.
In his attempt to avoid the rock Johnson slammed into the outside wall in a crash that was viewed live on television. The crash, plus a TV interview a short time later, sparked such a public response that thousands of dollars were donated so Johnson could get his career back on track.
Dick Johnson built an all-new Tru-Blu XD, and he drove it to victory in the 1981 Bathurst 1000. At the same time Ford Australia was busy developing a new XE series Falcon which, among other things, featured a flash new coil-spring rear suspension and this became Johnson's ride for the 1982 motorsport season.
Once again it was painted in the Tru-Blu livery, but this time around it also sported a bright red front valance that advertised Red-Roo Pipe, which was another of the products made by Palmer Tube Mills.
In its first race season the XE wasn't a success, primarily because the coil-sprung rear end made the car feel too light. It all got sorted for the 1983 season, but when the Falcon was rolled out for the first event of the year there was another change - the Tru-Blu livery had disappeared, replaced instead by bright green ''Greens-Tuf'' paintwork to advertise yet another of the Palmer Tube Mills products.
That paint scheme was to become famous in itself - not the least for a huge crash into forest on Mt Panorama that year and a subsequent 16-hour effort to get the XE Falcon rebuilt in time for racing the following day - but to many, Philip Macey included, it has always been Dick Johnson's Tru-Blu Falcon that has been the most memorable.
Six years ago Philip, a successful accountant, learned of a Wellington bloke offering for a sale a Falcon XE that had been partially built as a so-called ''Tribute'' race car, the unfinished project including the beginnings of a plan to paint the vehicle in the Greens-Tuf livery.
He promptly purchased the car and set about completing the project - and one of his first decisions was to change the livery to his favourite and little-known Tru-Blu paintwork with the bright red valance.
Philip contracted New Plymouth businessman Danny Fabish who is heavily involved in the motorsport and performance car scene. Together they got stuck into getting the tribute car to as close as possible as the original.
They obtained a Group C bodykit from an Australian supplier, the kit even including the so-called ''Moonraker'' rear spoiler that, in 1982, Dick Johnson blamed for his car's rear end getting too light whenever he blasted down the Bathurst circuit's Conrod Straight, when in fact it was the fault of the new coil spring suspension.
The end result is a big sedan that visually is almost identical to Johnson's race car. The only real difference is that the New Zealand version has custom-made 18-inch wheels with "snowflake" centres that were such a feature of XE Fairmonts of the time.
The interior and running gear are quite different though. It's engine is a 351 Cleveland built by fellow Taranaki man Rod Allen and it's a "mild" power unit with a potential output of 300kW, the transmission is a Tremec five-speeder, and the suspension is very much standard XE Falcon with a slight motorsport flavour.
All this fits into Philip Macey's plan to use his Tru-Blu Falcon for more relaxed events such as the Targa Rally. But it is great car to drive, he says.
"It's light in the steering and it's got plenty of wheelspin. It also handles really well for an old car, and a lot of that is because of the work Danny Fabish and the other Taranaki boys have put into the project," he says.
"In fact on its first outing, which was the Leadfoot event that Rod Millen hosts at his place at Hahei, the famous expat Kiwi Jim Richards sat in it and said it was better than anything else he's seen in Aussie.
"You can't get better praise than that. I'm ecstatic."
This weekend Philip Macey might choose to use it to drive to a mate's place with the intention of watching all the action at Bathurst. If he does, he will no doubt notice that the two Falcons representing the Johnson Racing Team are this year painted green, recognising the fact that it was 30 years ago that the Queenslander changed from Tru Blu to Greens Tuf livery.
But that won't won't faze Philip. He'll know that the true-blue Dick Johnson Falcon XE was Tru Blu. He's got the car to prove it.
- © Fairfax NZ News