Beetle V8 60s Saloons

UK Special Saloon + Modsports Historical Database

The story of the Vauxhall Ventora Supersaloon better known as 'Big Bertha'

Big Bertha Gerry Marshall

With the first season of the exciting Supersaloon series announced for 1974 to bring together the various wild saloons Dealer Team Vauxhall knew a more powerful car was needed for their iconic driver Gerry Marshall.

As it turned out things didnt turn out as expected. The car nicknamed 'Big Bertha' took a long time to complete and although it won half its races was damaged so badly in only its 6th race it was dismantled.

Something even better did emerge from the ashes though in the form of the famous 'Baby Bertha' which used many of the parts from its bigger sibbling.

 

The car was first seen in October 1973 having been built by DTV having brought Frank Costin in as chief designer. Based on the Ventora FE 4-door saloon the new car nicknamed 'Big Bertha' had a spaceframe front end to house the suspension and Repco Holden V8 engine. The engine was claimed to produce 495 bhp,though 475 was probably more accurate. Despite the use of glassfibre body panels the car was heavy as 1375kgs.

Big-Bertha-Motor-magazine

WINTER 1973-74

DTV had the winter to promote the new car and indeed it gained alot of attention. They were glad of the off season to prepare the car for its completion was delayed by industrial action at Vauxhall ,in particular the lack of suitable driveshaft.  

This meant for the UK Motor Show and Hilton Hotel presentations the car was strictly a static display. This continued for photo shoots for the major car magazines and publicity shots,the car having to be pushed into place. The Castrol GTX ones with 5 topless models adorning / adoring the car look VERY `70s now. It shouldnt be underestimated though the overall positivity for the forthcoming supersaloon series all this publicity gave.

Big Bertha eventually hit the tracks in the new year and testing was not without disappointment either due to rear suspension problems.

As you can see from this early track shot the final race spec had more cooling for that big engine via the inside headlamps and vents in that bonnet scoop.

Gerry Marshall`s reaction to the new car was quite favourable despite heavy steering and too much of the power high up the rev range for his liking. He did like the `very very good`road holding and the stability of the car.

 

 

 

'Big Bertha' race-by-race

RACE ONE :

Date: MARCH 31st 1974

Venue : SILVERSTONE Club

Race : BRSCC SIMONIZ SPECIAL SALOONS

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #104 )

Qualifying : POLE

Result : 1st OVERALL

Fastest Lap : 58.2 seconds ( 99.46 mph )

a new record beating Mick Hill`s old time by 0.2

Description : Fantastic start to the new cars career. Driver Gerry Marshall was pushed all the way to the chequered flag by Tony Strawson in the Capri. `It was  really hard work`he said afterwards referring not just holding onto 1st but the heavy steering and taming the beast.

After all the publicity hype and troubles behind the scenes the driver and car had delivered first time out.

Bertha 12459539_10208606000972172_488730967_n Bertha debut

RACE TWO :

Date: APRIL 14th 1974

Venue : SNETTERTON

Race : BRSCC TRICENTROL SUPER SALOONS

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #10 )

Qualifying : joint POLE with Hill 1min 9.0

Result : DNF front suspension.

Fastest Lap : no. ( set by Hill 1min 7.6 record ) Description : Having undergone some mods the car was only fininished the night before for this easter sunday first round of the Supersaloon series.

Marshall set pole along with Mick Hill in his second Capri ,the meeting being the first big championship event on the new 1.9-mile version of the circuit.Big Bertha led for the first 5 laps but then the front suspension collapsed without too much drama but opened the way for Hill and Tony Strawson ( in Hill`s 1st Capri ) to take over. Hill winning by just under 5 seconds.

The damaged car meant the team had to return to base and miss round 2 the following day at Mallory Park.

RACE THREE :

Date: MAY 27th 1974

Venue : THRUXTON

Race : BARC FORWARD TRUST SPECIAL SALOONS

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #1 )

Qualifying : 2nd ( Hill on pole )

Result : DNF loose seat

Fastest Lap : no. ( set by Dryden 1min 25.6  ) Description : Since the Snetterton race Marshall had reverted back to the 'Old Nail' Vauxhall Firenza for 3 races winning twice. A return with Big Bertha proved frustrating again as his seat adjustment broke and its driver ending up sat further back in the car than was practical to continue.

Marshall had a busy bank holiday monday having already come second in a wildly contested Vauxhall race and competed in a Castrol Group 1 saloon race.

RACE FOUR :

Date: JUNE 9th 1974

Venue : SILVERSTONE CLUB

Race : SIMONIZ SPECIAL SALOONS

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #45 )

Qualifying : set pole

Result : 1st overall

Fastest Lap : no. ( set by Hill 1min 09.2  ) Description : Most of the big names were present again buit the race was spoilt by rain effecting the performances of Strawson and Hill, who rcovered from a spin to take 2nd. Also in the race were Sugden,Hawker and Whiting. However up front Gerry Marshall 'pulled away driving the beast with typical verve holding great twitches in front of the pits' to win by 10 seconds.

RACE FIVE :

Date: JUNE 23rd 1974

Venue : MALLORY PARK

Race : SIMONIZ SPECIAL SALOONS

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #55 )

Qualifying : not known

Result : 1st overall

Fastest Lap : yes. ( 50.4 secs - 96.43mph  ) Description : Marshall was still rotating between Big Bertha and Old Nail and the week before had won his 50th race in Nail in the previous Simoniz round.

This was Bertha`s only race at Mallory as Nail had probably been considered more nimble for the shorter track in previous rounds. Despite another good entry Marshall hustled the big car to victory all the same despite breaking the exhaust from the car bottoming out. Hawker followed 4.6 seconds behind from Sugden and Hazelwood.

RACE SIX :

Date: AUGUST 4th 1974

Venue : SILVERSTONE Club

Race : SILVERSTONE SUPERSALOON TROPHY

Driver : GERRY MARSHALL ( #1 )

Qualifying : 3rd ( Peter Kitchen Mini on pole )

Result : DNF

Fastest Lap : no. ( Frank Gardner 1min 5.6 )

Description : A potentially great 25-lap Supersaloon event was ruined by heavy rain throughout . With Bertha having not raced for 6 weeks Marshall found his new engine to be misfiring but qualified 3rd. Peter Kitchen was the suprise pole man in his Mini due to the wet weather.

Again the entry was top class with Hill ,Turner ,Hawker ,Niven ,Whiting and the G2 big bangers Frank Gardner and David Howes. Gardner and Marshall diced for the lead until lap 4 when coming into Woodcote 'the friction pad broke away from the backing plate, the car turned left into the armco and everyone`s favourite Vauxhall was a sorry mess' wrote Bob Constanduros for Autosport.

Gardner went on to win the £200 1st prize from Howes who had started from the back.

BigBertha BBERTHA3 74MarshallJune23rd

what happened next...

Firstly Gerry wasnt hurt in the accident but the car was badly damaged. Perhaps suprisingly no photo of the damaged car seems to have gone into the public domain or been published as far as I can tell. What happened next was the team had assessed the damage and weighed up their options and decided not to rebuild Big Bertha but to start again with a new car. What happened after that was as they say history...for the resulting phoenix car from the wreckage became the most famous Supersaloon of them all , Baby Bertha !

0joe ward baby bertha 2

 

The DTV team went for the same mechanicals but in a more compact package and chose the Firenza coupe as the basis. The resulting finished product would be some 356kgs lighter but with the same engine and with Gerry Marshall at the wheel the combination were almost unbeatable.

Baby Bertha would make its debut the following May so in the interim Marshall again reverted to using Old Nail and the old car raced in 5 more Simoniz special saloon rounds which took Marshall to the outright championship title and gave him a foothold in the 1975 campaigns too.

So a positive came from a negative and all things considered I believe most supersaloon enthusiasts are grateful for Big Berth`s demise because of what came out of it.

the CCC iconic ( and ironic ) legacy...

BBERTHA4 BBertha CCC Cover

The Supersaloon class of 1974 have be immortalised in the excelent article in Car and Car Conversions magazine ( CCC ) of October 1974. Big Bertha and Gerry Marshall were in the middle of row 2 as the grid lined up on a summer`s day for Jeff Bloxham`s now famous group photo at Silverstone.

Although the article didnt alude to Big Bertha having raced its last race by the time the magazine came out in September the car had already been written off by the team in the wake of its Silverstone crash in early August .

BBertha2

Gerry Marshall Big Bertha 1974 record :

PHOTOS BY JEFF BLOXHAM

PHOTO BY RICH HARMAN

PHOTO BY LINDSAY ARCHIVE

Sstone74 B BERTHA SNETT 74