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Herald Sun 20-07-2001

FOR YEARS Craig Lowndes had a secret locked away in his garage. As he blasted on to to the race-track podium in a Holden, his beloved Ford Cortina sat hidden at home.

But now that the V8 racing legend has switched to the Blue Oval camp he can bring out his fast Ford.

The company is even helping Lowndes restore his first car, which he bought when he was 19.

Students from Geelong's Gordon Institute of TAFE have begun stripping the 1966 Mark 1 Cortina and plan to straighten all the panels and prepare it for a new paint-job.

Ford apprentices are responsible for a mechanical overhaul of most of the car , while Craig's dad, Frank, is rebuilding its 2.0-litre Escort engine.

Lowndes can't wait to see the result of the labour and is looking forward to taking it for a spin.

"I've always wanted to take it down the quarter mile, or do something like the Geelong Speed Trials," he says.

The triple Shell Series Supercar champion stopped driving the car a few years ago when it clashed with his job driving Holdens.

"I used to drive it to functions and everything, but then it was replaced by a Holden product," he says.

Lowndes nearly sold the car because it wasn't being used, but his wife, Natalie, decided otherwise.

"Natalie made me promise I wouldn't get rid of it," he says.

Then Ford offered to restore the car and display it in its Discovery Centre museum in Geelong for a stint before handing it back.

"It's a bit of a godsend, really," Lowndes says.

But the racing champion isn't the only one to benefit from the project, with several apprentices being able to work on their hero's car.

"It's certainly not something that happens every day," says Matthew Anderson.

The third-year panel-beating student spent this week on the project and can't wait to tell his mates back home in Hamilton, who are all Ford fans.

"I'll rub it in, that's for sure," he says. "It's nice to be able to say that you worked on Craig Lowndes' first car. "

Anderson admits he is a Holden fan, but respects Lowndes and is working hard to make his car as smooth as possible.

"He's a good driver. It doesn't matter who he drives for," he says.
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