Vince won’t put the brakes on his car-racing days

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Vince Harmer with his rare Volvo Bertone… “I feel more vulnerable driving around anywhere than I do on a race circuit.” Photo: Nathan Schmidt

RETIRED Canberra mechanic Vince Harmer, at 72, is reckoned to be one of the oldest race car drivers in Australia.

He’s just back from racing at the famously tough Mount Panorama track for the ninth time, at a support race for historic cars during the recent Bathurst 1000, in his modified six-cylinder 1972 Volvo 164E race car.

“It’s a buzz to drive anywhere but of all places Bathurst… It’s one of the best circuits in the world,” says Vince, who calls Woden Valley home.

“I never in my wildest dreams would’ve thought I would get there.” 

Vince came to motor racing late in life when, at 50, he first got behind the wheel competitively.

“I always wanted to race cars, but never got the opportunity,” he says.

There are few racers Vince’s age still racing and, according to daughter Rebecca Harmer, Vince is one of the oldest to have tackled Mount Panorama.

“There isn’t anyone still doing it, really. They’d like to, but they’re not fit enough. There’s a good 15 years between [Vince] and the next oldest in his group.”

For Rebecca, her father’s passion for racing in his retirement is inspiring, but she still worries about him being in a sport known for high speeds and high risks. 

“It’s that mixed emotion about being super proud and so happy to see him still be achieving at that age, post retirement, and enjoying it, but it is sometimes a bit nerve wracking.”

Vince, who prides himself on the level of health and fitness that has allowed him to continue to pursue his passion so late in life, doesn’t share Rebecca’s concerns.

“People say: ‘Aren’t you worried about hitting the wall’, but you drive out here and you could get cleaned up by a truck or bus,” he says.

“I feel more vulnerable driving around anywhere than I do on a race circuit.” 

Vince and Kerrie moved to Canberra from Cootamundra in 1969 when Vince was an automotive apprentice.

“I was always a Holden man, because of my father,” says Vince, but the young apprentice fell under the spell of Swedish carmaker Volvo and by the mid-’70s was working almost exclusively with them. A decade later he’d opened up his own mechanical business.

The love for cars and racing has always been a family affair for Rebecca and mother, Kerrie. The pair, joined by Rebecca’s partner, served as pit crew at Vince’s most recent Bathurst competition. 

Kerrie used to take on the track herself when Vince was starting out on the race circuits.

“Kerrie was the fastest woman of the day,” says her husband of 51 years. 

Over the years, Vince has owned numerous rare Volvos that have drawn the attention of fans from across the globe and accolades including Summernats critics’ choice. 

That car… with, from left, Vince Harmer, Colin Powell and PM John Howard.

In 2001, visiting US secretary of state Colin Powell took Vince’s rare 1980 Bertone Volvo Coupe for a spin around Canberra before joining Vince and Kerrie at The Lodge with then-Prime Minister John Howard.

“(Powell) went: ‘Wow, this is the best Volvo they ever made’ and he went ‘pull the hood, pull the hood’,” says Vince.

Only 100 of the Bertone Volvos were imported by the Italian auto-tuners into Australia. 

Vince picked his up from a wrecker in Hall after catching sight of it on a lunch break and, after six years of work, was racing the bright red coupe. 

More than 30 years has passed and Vince is still taking to the track in it.

“There’s still a lot of tinkering and perseverance, and you wonder why you do it sometimes, ” he says.

“But, then when you go there and pull your race face on, pull your helmet on and get behind the wheel…”

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