At the time it was called the toughest motoring event in history.
Whether it was or not doesn’t matter. Listen to the stats: 167 cars started the 20,000km Round Australia Trial. Organisers said only 13 cars completed the full course. Another 79 made it to the finish in Melbourne. The crews had to drive non-stop for days. Cars caught fire and burnt to the ground. Lots of cars were bogged soon after the start and had to be dragged out. Many kangaroos died but took quite a few cars with them. Cars rolled, blew up, broke and just fell apart.
And the romantic award of 1979 goes to legendary rally driver and navigator John Bryson, who married his co-driver, Sonia Kable-Cumming, in Broken Hill. Naturally they didn’t celebrate their wedding night till they got to Perth two days later. As true petrol heads would, they spent their honeymoon driving the long way back to Melbourne. Rally navigators tend to be dour types whose main quality is to be able to read pace notes in a fast-moving and violently swaying car without vomiting (much).
As the late Evan Green wrote in his wonderful book A Bootful Of Right Arms: “They were driving without a windscreen, when, on a tight section, a farmer in a truck pulled out. The road was narrow and the farmer being a typical bush motorist blocked the road and prevented the rally car from passing. Instructing his driver to pull up as close to the car as possible, Bryson climbed through the windscreen and on to the car’s bonnet then leaped on the back of the truck and poked his head through the driver’s window. “Excuse me,” he said, “but would you mind pulling over?”
While Peter Brock, Matt Philip and Noel Richards steered the Marlboro (note for younger readers: Marlboro made cigarettes which were items your parents used to get a nicotine hit from before vaping became all the go) Team Commodore to top spot and the other team cars took second and third, the real winner was GM.
As motoring journalist Mark Oastler wrote: “The Repco Trial attack was arguably the most audacious motorsport gamble by an Australian carmaker. GM-H really put all its chips on the table because had the new Commodore failed to conquer such a gruelling 20,000km ordeal — and pull it off with such apparent ease — a lack of buyer acceptance could have proved terminal. To understand how crucial this victory was to Holden, you have to reflect on how nervous GM-H was about the launch of its new baby in October 1978 having consumed the then staggering sum of $110 million in development.”
Now the point of all this (apart from bemoaning the good old times when you could race for days non-stop, throw gelignite out the car window to stir up the residents of small town Australia and climb on the bonnets of moving cars) was to alert you to the least publicised event in recent motorsport history. The 40th anniversary recreation of the 1979 reliability trial started in Melbourne on Monday 5 August. It will be 28 days with 47 entrants in pre-1980s cars with four rest days driving over many of the same roads as the original. Regular reader Ian O’Hara has entered a team of three old Toyota Corollas sponsored by Adelaide’s CMI Toyota. If you’re thinking of buying a new or old Toyota I suggest you consider CMI for two good reasons.
One, they have a slogan only a South Australian could dream up: “We love to see you CMI’ling” and two, guess where their satellite service centre is? You got it! Yes 24 Nelson Street, Stepney, right around the corner from the Sultan himself. I’m not sure how much work gets done at the end of the week when it’s Corner Bar Friday at the Kensi. Mick and his team of highly trained techs would be there with the boys and girls of the CMI satellite service centre. They all would be CMI’ling after a few rounds of $10 cocktails (excluding jugs and Long Island iced teas), $10 off any bottle of wine, sneaky beer and the $10 dips platters.
Talking of the old bloke, don’t forget the Historic Leyburn Sprints which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the running of the Australian Grand Prix on an ex-wartime airfield just outside the town in September 1949. The sprints are time trials on a closed-street course around Leyburn. Organisers have it wrong when they say “no 1949 participants have been found to join the 70th anniversary celebration”. Of course, the King of Kensi, the Sultan of Stepney, the man who put the pale in Coopers Pale Ale was there when John Crouch won in front of 40,000 metal maniacs in a Delahaye 135MS.
Now Mick will be signing autographs and handing out signed bottles of ale at Friday’s sausage sizzle (bring your own sausage) and if we had any Weekend Australian pens that don’t work left we would give you some but things are tough in the media caper right now and we have to bring our own pens/pencils and crayons to the office every day.