Restoring a Bolwell Mark 7
A sports coupe with a Holden engine? Ron McPherson crafted his dream combination twice with the Bolwell Mark 7.
In the late 1960s, young Ron McPherson’s dream was a sports car with a Holden engine. The time was right – Bolwell Cars were producing just such a vehicle, called the Bolwell Mark 7, that could be assembled by their enthusiast owners.
Ron was a fitter and turner and liked the idea of building his own car. He also liked the Bolwell. “It looked stunning, low and wide,” he says. “With fibreglass, any body shape was possible. I got to thinking that I could own one of these.
The idea of an English four-cylinder sports car didn’t appeal to me, but a coupe with a Holden engine did.
“The idea of an English four-cylinder sports car didn’t appeal to me, but a coupe with a Holden engine did. It was weatherproof and you could lock it up, just like an everyday road-going car, so I paid £350 ($700) for the body and chassis kit.”
One of the features that made the Mark 7 unique was the windscreen. Campbell Bolwell, the car’s designer, decided to make his own, with a sweeping curve and big sloping rake. It affected the design of the whole car.
“It was unusual for a small-scale manufacturer to design their own windscreens,” Ron continues. Contemporary car manufacturers, such as Buckle and Buchanan, used windscreens from production sedans.
We drove it with our three kids to the circuits. It was a case of racing on Sunday, shopping on Monday.
Putting a six-cylinder engine in a lightweight sports car meant the performance was brisk. Ron used an old “grey” Holden motor for a start, then upgraded to a new 179-cubic-inch Holden “red” motor, which at just under three litres’ capacity meant he could compete in that class in production sports car racing. He competed at Lakeland Hillclimb, then in circuit races at Sandown, Calder, Phillip Island, Hume Weir and Winton.
By 1975, the Mark 7 was showing its age compared to new Porsches and the later-model Bolwell Nagari. So Ron decided to part with his racer and buy a Datsun 1600.
“My wife Carol and I raced the Datsun in sprints,” he says. “We drove it with our three kids to the circuits. It was a case of racing on Sunday, shopping on Monday.”
The Datsun is still owned by daughter Karen, who raced it herself before moving to Formula Vee, becoming the first woman to win a Formula Vee race in Victoria along the way.
Once I’d sold mine I realised I couldn’t just go and buy another one.
Four years after selling his Mark 7, the absence of a Bolwell in the garage was getting the better of Ron. “Once I’d sold mine I realised I couldn’t just go and buy another one. Mark 7s were rare, but my passion for them never disappeared.”
The one he found wasn’t pristine. “It had been in a prang, been stripped for parts, was missing a mudguard and bonnet and had chooks living in it.”
He bought it for $200 and rebuilt everything himself, including the mudguards, bonnet and boot lid. It took until 1982 for him to get the car on the road, powered by a 186 Holden engine.
“I will definitely keep this one,” he says. “I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.”