It is said people are shaped by their surroundings. Perhaps this is just more true for Bob Jane than any other prominent figure in Australian motorsport.
Born in the then rough-and-rumble inner city Melbourne suburb of Brunswick in 1929, Bob Jane had an early affinity with racing anything with wheels.
Apart from motorsport success, Bob Jane is well known for his successful chain of tyre stores, Bob Jane T-Marts, which today lays claims to being Australia’s largest independent tyre retailer.
Bob Jane found success in saloon car racing in the 1960s. It’s during this time that he had his strongest results motorsport, winning the Armstrong 500 in 1962 and 1963, initially in a Mercedes-Benz 220SE and a Ford Falcon the following year.
First held at Phillip Island, the race was a 500 mile endurance competition featuring largely unmodified saloon cars, and became the precursor to today’s legendary Bathurst 1000 when it moved from Victoria to New South Wales.
Despite the change in scenery, Jane continued his success with his Ford Cortina GT taking the honours in both 1963 and 1964.
These successes were built upon with overall victories in the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) in 1962 and 1963, and also early during the following decade in 1971 and 1972. The ATCC would eventually go on to become Australia’s most famous racing competition, the V8 Supercars.
His contributions to motorsport extended beyond personal successes. In the early 1970s, wealth accumulated from racing and business success (see below) allowed him to purchase the then-dilapidated Calder Park racing track, and revitalise it to a high enough standard to host the Australian Grand Prix (different from F1) from 1980-84.
It even hosted an officially-sanctioned NASCAR event, the first outside North America, in 1988, with the Goodyear NASCAR 500.
All of this and more led him to be inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall of Fame in 2000.
Motorsport success was only one side of the coin for Bob Jane.
He carried an entrepreneurial mindset, and broke into the business world with Bob Jane Autoland in the late 1950s, a spare parts business specialising in Jaguar and Alfa Romeo vehicles established in partnership with his brother Bill.
The early 1950s and ’60s saw Jane try his hand at selling cars. This proved successful, with the network expanding to nine dealerships selling various marques, including Holden, by 1968.
The business was, for a time, the largest seller of Holden vehicles in Melbourne.
Jane’s most famous business venture, however, commenced in 1964 with the establishment of his tyre store, Bob Jane T-Mart, in Sydney suburb Haberfield.
The following year saw the first T-Mart outlet open in Melbourne, before the network grew through a franchise system to include more than 30 stores before the end of the 1970s.
Expansion continued during the ’80s and ’90s, with the business having a presence in every Australian state and the store count reaching beyond 130.
There’s no doubt the success of Jane’s tyre business was not only due to smart operational thinking, but also his pedigree as a racing car driver and reputation for being someone with an impressive knowledge of tyres.
Despite Australia being a relative minnow compared to the much larger American and European markets, Bob Jane T-Marts was once the largest retailer of Goodyear tyres in the world.
An interesting characteristic of his stores that remains true today is Bob-Jane T-Marts doesn’t sell retreaded tyres. This was due to Jane losing one of his daughters in 1991 during a car accident that involved the rupture of a retreaded tyre.
Always family-owned, at one point the T-Marts business was successful enough for some to estimate the overall wealth of Bob Jane and his family as more than $100 million.
Very successful between the 1970s and 1990s, Bob Jane T-Marts faced serious challenges in the 2000s, with the business racking up debt.
First was a feud with his son Rodney Jane. Bob claimed he had lent the Bob Jane Corporation (headed up by Rodney) $2.9 million to assist Rodney run the business while he was away due to poor health, and attempted to sue his son to recover the funds.
Rodney claimed most of the money was repaid and the remainder was a gift, and the court eventually sided with Rodney.
Next was a dispute with business partner Harold Mitchell in 2014 and attempts by the ATO to recover $105 million, all of which led Jane to declare bankruptcy and claim that he only had $15 in his bank account in 2016.
All of this was also in the aftermath of a messy divorce with his third wife, Laree, in 2013.
Bob Jane passed away aged 88 on 28 September 2018 following an extended battle with prostate cancer.
At the time of his death, his relationship with Rodney was still in disrepair.