Our local SA motorsport Legends are not only created from the long circuit.. we have our share of Legends in every category of motorsport. One of our best- known drag racing Legends has to be Gavin Wilkins, famous for his 7 second Mustang! Something that has struck me while writing this series about racing Leg- ends is how modest and humble they are about their achievements. Gavin is no exception. I have known him since my time in the V8 Supercar series, where he was briefly the TC – a thank- less job at the best of times, as the TC is the one who has to tackle perceived technical deviations from the rules. I never heard him blowing his own trumpet, despite his knowledge and experience with V8 motors, and he got the job done with a minimum of fuss and attitude.
Gavin was born in Brakpan in 1965. His Dad was a very good mechanic who did his time with GM, Ford and Leyland. Clearly, Ford’s blue genes run in the family! Gavin was only four or five when he inherited his late cousin’s 50cc motor cycle, and despite many tumbles and falls, he soon taught himself to ride. Once he got the basics sorted, he justwanted to go faster and faster…As soon as Gavin had his licence, he was on the road with his Honda MB50, looking for races around every corner. “Of course, my Honda was not stock– it could do 155kph,” recalls Gavin. “My nickname at school was Turbo, not knowing how that name would tran- spire in years to come!”
In 1981, Gavin took his bike to Rain- bow Drag Strip for the first time, where he did 21 seconds on a quarter mile, and that’s where the real Legend start- ed. Gavin’s dream at that stage was to work on motorcycles, and he started his career with Honda in 1982.
His first car was a lime green Mini, which he used during his National Ser- vice. “Yes, of course it was modified,”, laughs Gavin. “But it was still pretty light on fuel!” Gavin soon made the move to racing on four wheels, and it didn’t take too long before he was making a real name for himself in drag racing.“My favourite car was my V6 Capri,” says Gavin. One of the highlights of his career was winning Drag Racer of the Year with the Capri in 1992, and again in 1993, along with the title of SANDRA Champion. He also set a World Recordwith this car: the fastest Normally Aspi- rated V6 in the World.
There is always bitter along with the sweet, however, and one of the
low points of Gavin’s career occurred when his competitors started to bring
in serious overseas cars to challenge the Capri. Despite their best efforts, the Capri remained the fastest car in its class, and subsequent allegations as to the legality of Gavin’s car led to various protests. “My car was never illegal,” says Gavin, “and this was proven through MSA processes. This caused me to walk away from the sport I really loved for a good few years.”
During this time, Gavin started his own workshop, GWR Racing. By the early 2000s, though, Gavin was back on the drag strip. Sticking with the Blue Oval, he built two very rapid Ford Sierra XR8s. The one Sierra still holds the record for a NOS assisted V8 on a standing kilometre at 298kph. The sec- ond Sierra was a 10-second car called “Scrappy” that eventually developed into the famous Blue Mustang that Gavin now races.
From 2005 to 2008, Gavin won four Regional Championships, finished second in the Nationals three times, and third once. He had to wait until 2012 before finally winning both Senior Eliminator Championships in the same year. He repeated this feat in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The Blue Mustang seems almost invincible. The car that started life as a Sierra has gone through many transfor- mations over the years. In 2007, Gavin brought in a newer Mustang body from the US for the car. “Lo and behold,
the new body did not fit!”, remembers Gavin. “My mates from M&P Fab and I had to change the entire steel structure to accommodate the new body.”
A couple of years later, the motor was changed to a monster 10 litre Big Block 1500hp Nitrous engine, and once again Gavin had to modify the front of the car’s chassis to accommodate the beast. “That set up still holds the Na- tional record in its class, at 7,6 seconds at 300kph, and helped me win multiple National and Regional Champion- ships,” says Gavin.
The latest incarnation of the Mustang is ominously known as “Booststein.” It has a 3500hp twin turbo engine and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. This is mated to a Ford 9” rear with 35 spline axles and a four-link rear suspension. The car uses 34.5/17/16 Mickey Thompson slicks for traction. “At the moment we are only at around the 2100hp mark, as we are finding new ways of trying to put all thepower down,” remarks Gavin. “This is currently the quickest and fastest Twin Turbo door car in Africa – 7.03 seconds at 332kph. This car is like sitting on a rocket – it never stops accelerating!”
Gavin has also raced overseas, in Australia. “A good mate of mine, ex South African Pieter Dewit, put a drive together for me in a Chev Holden Ute. Yes, a Ford guy driving a Chev, I did get grilled over that,” laughs Gavin. He managed to get to the quarterfinals before the Chev developed a misfire. “It was an amazing experience and I got my National colours for this, being the only car drag racer to receive a Green Blazer.”
I asked Gavin what the critical secrets are to successful drag racing. “Reaction time and consistency”, he says with conviction. And is he a fan of Street Outlaws? “Above all, Street Outlaws is a good SHOW,” laughs Gavin. “It’s well edited, and of course, people don’t realise they only run over an eighth of a mile, not a quarter mile.”
In between setting records and further developing his Mustang, Gavin focuses on his business. GWR Racing is a specialist engine builder and has many global customers, in addition
to his very loyal local customer base. GWR has built engines for the Auby brothers, Franco di Matteo and Des Gutzeit, amongst others, and their engines have won numerous Champi- onships for their customers.
Gavin does not only build engines for his racing clientele, but has also built many motors for classic cars and hot rods. GWR recently rebuilt a 603 Hemi engine for the best Hemi Cuda in SA, and builds motors for a Boks- burg client’s 1965 Mustang and 1969 Charger, amongst others.
Gavin’s best advice to our SA Ho- trods readers, when choosing a project car, is to try and look for a car that still has parts available. Cars like Mustangs and Corvettes are a good choice. “There are too many dreams that turn into nightmares due to parts not being around,” comments Gavin. “You end up spending a ton of money and time on a project you cannot complete.”
I asked Gavin about his future plans, bearing in mind that there are, in fact, no National Drag Racing Champion- ships at the moment. “Unfortunately, if you race in dollars and earn in rands, it affects the number of competitors and we had to cancel the Nationals. I still enjoy racing – I have always been a Drag racer – but it is no longer a priority of my life. I have pretty muchbeen there and done it, and have allthe badges to show.”
I’m sure you will agree that we would all like to see Booststein in action with all 3500 horses hooked up. Let’s hope that Gavin finds some serious motiva- tion to keep pushing the envelope and breaking new records on the strip.
As we went to press, Gavin just broke the 7 second barrier at Tarlton – 6.993 seconds at 332kph! I guess Gavin won’t be hanging up his racing boots just yet.