1968 the London to Sydney Marathon captured the world’s attention. The Daily Telegraph’s motoring editor, famed racer David McKay, convinced owner Sir Frank Packer and editor in chief, David McNichol to co-sponsor the event and to run a team.
The plan was for three Monaros with McKay, former AGP winner Doug Whiteford and three-time world champ Jack Brabham as the lead drivers.
A few months out, McKay thought the teams were settled and flew to Europe. In the meantime Brabham withdrew and McNichol had to find another crew and more sponsorship. Castrol’s Mike Jennings agreed to support the team and suggested Barry Ferguson, Doug Chivas and navigator Dave Johnston as crew. No doubt helped by Castrol’s funding and short on time, McNichol agreed.
In London, McKay was unaware of the change and when the draw revealed the third Monaro crewed by Ferguson, Chivas and Johnston, he was livid. The situation meant McKay gave no favours to the rally ring-ins in ‘his’ team.
“David had his vision of how the team would run and any suggestions were dismissed out of hand,” said Barry. “For instance he insisted on Lucas driving lights, which we knew were hopeless and by the time we got to Bombay he realised we were right, so we organised some of our aircraft landing lights to be ready for us in Perth.
McKay was partnered with George Reynolds and David Liddle, while the Whiteford car had Reynold’s brother-in-law, Eddie Perkins and Jim Hawkins on board.
The Ferguson Monaro, despite a misfire most of the way to Bombay, was 12th ahead of the nine-day trip to Fremantle on the SS Chusan, just one place behind eventual third placed rival, Ian Vaughan’s Falcon GT.
It had been tough so far covering 10 countries and almost 11,000km in a little over six days and the respite on the ship was invaluable because the rally proper would begin in WA.
It was a mad three-day dash across the continent and Ferguson had a good run across the Nullarbor until the Flinders Ranges, where a retaining plate on the left-hand rear came adrift and the wheel and half-shaft started popping out on left-hand corners.
“You could see the axle was about a foot outside the guard when you went around left handers and somehow we nursed the car to Curnamona Homestead,” said Barry.
Desperate to get word to the Holden dealer in Broken Hill, Dave Johnston wanted to avoid alerting the Ford team, which was there in force. He spied the local cop standing proudly near his Holden patrol car.
“Dave said to him: ‘You’re a Holden man then?’ And he answered, ‘Bloody oath!’ So we asked him to get a message to the Holden dealer in Broken Hill.”
The Police radio-relayed the message to the dealer who had a new Monaro in the showroom. He’d removed the diff and was preparing to drive to the control at Mingary when Ron Thompson, from Newcastle, turned up wanting to know where the control was. He told Ron he was about to take the rear-end out to the end of stage for Barry Ferguson’s Monaro. Thompson replied that they could load it into the back of the ute because Barry was a mate and he would help fit it.
“We had no idea whether help would be on hand but as we stopped at the control there in front of us was the C.W Thompson ute with the smiling Ron waiting to fix our problem, it was amazing.”
Ron and the volunteers stripped out the rearend and installed the new one, costing an hour but they were still going, unlike McKay whose Monaro had been tipped over by George Reynolds, back in the Flinders.
Ferguson, Chivas and Johnston came home in 12th, two places ahead of Whiteford/Perkins/ Hawkins in the other Monaro in what was the biggest motoring adventure of the time.
Top: The much-hyped London to Sydney Marathon shot Barry to local motorsport stardom. Above: That’s Fergie with his arms folded.