The rocky Repco road

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle man -

Af­ter

driv­ing for Citroen in the 1977 Lon­don to Syd­ney, Ge­orge Shep­heard asked Fer­gu­son to be a part of the three-car team for Holden in the1979 Repco Round Aus­tralia. It would be the tough­est event of all, 18,000km in 14 days with an un­re­lent­ing sched­ule.

This time, Barry was part­nered with Wayne Bell and Dave Boddy in the num­ber #17 Marl­boro HDT Com­modore.

“It was a good team, I can hon­estly say we didn’t have a harsh word the whole way round; we com­pli­mented each other. Belly drove all the fast spe­cial stages, I drove the long stages while Dave kept us on track,” said Barry.

Along with Fer­gu­son/Bell/Boddy there was a Com­modore for Rauno Aal­to­nen and Shekhar Me­hta with ac­com­plished Aus­tralian nav­i­ga­tor and journo Barry Lake, as well one for Brock, who was part­nered with en­gine builder Matt Phillip and nav­i­ga­tor Noel Richards.

The cars were sim­ple, not the fastest but re­li­able and durable. They had XU-1 spec. 3.3-litre sixes, M21 gear­boxes, Bil­stein struts, ex­tra welds and a lot of tricks that Ge­orge had in­cor­po­rated af­ter a year of test­ing.

While Brock was white-hot on cir­cuits at the time, most thought that Aal­to­nen/Me­hta would be the ones to beat. In fact, the Fer­gu­son/Bell/ Boddy car made the run­ning early and was lead­ing just af­ter Perth, thanks to as­tute driv­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“On the Mar­alinga stage to Nullar­bor I could just see the sharp stones and rocks would be a prob­lem so I backed right off and Belly asked me if I was OK be­cause I wasn’t go­ing very fast! So I told him I thought that dis­cre­tion was the bet­ter part of val­our.”

They could see headlights all around them but were not be­ing passed or pass­ing any­one and Barry was wor­ried they were on a wrong road, but Dave Boddy re­as­sured him all was OK. The con­ser­va­tive ap­proach paid off with the #17 Com­modore be­ing the only car to clear the dif­fi­cult stage los­ing no points. That put Fer­gu­son in se­cond be­hind Colin Bond at the Perth halt, but when he rolled the Cortina next morn­ing, the #17 Com­modore was lead­ing.

Up near Port Head­land how­ever, the die was cast for the Repco. Bar­relling through the desert the #17 car bogged in soft, mushy sand. They were be­hind Brock on the road and sent a ra­dio SOS, but the #05 car didn’t turn around. Brock told Shep­heard he’d pulled them out once be­fore and thought they could get them­selves out.

Fer­gu­son and crew were lucky that the Me­hta/ Aal­to­nen car stopped and helped winch them out, cost­ing 10 min­utes. The Fer­gu­son Com­modore lost 31 min­utes and Brock had the lead.

De­spite sto­ries to the con­trary, Holden’s team meet­ing in Mt Isa didn’t is­sue or­ders to pro­tect Brock for the win, the crews were sim­ply told to be con­ser­va­tive and to pro­tect their 1-2-3 po­si­tion.

“No one at Holden had dreamt that a 1-23 was pos­si­ble and it was now a real chance,” said Barry. “They sim­ply said, ‘Don’t take any un­nec­es­sary risks, just get the cars to the fin­ish!

“To catch Brock it would have meant driv­ing hard and tak­ing risks and if we’d gone off or bro­ken some­thing then we would have looked like id­iots and not been too pop­u­lar,” said Barry.

The run to the fin­ish in Mel­bourne saw spec­u­la­tion about a fight for the win, but it was never go­ing to hap­pen and Fer­gu­son took se­cond in a Round Aus­tralia match­ing his ef­fort 15 years ear­lier in the Am­pol.

“It was an amaz­ing ad­ven­ture, by far the tough­est round ever and we will never see the likes of it again,” Barry says.

Barry went on to drive in five Aus­tralian Sa­faris with Mit­subishi Ralliart in Pa­jeros and Tri­tons, win­ning the Marathon class and sup­port­ing the other team driv­ers, be­fore go­ing into semire­tire­ment in the 1990s.

Ex­traor­di­nar­ily, about five years ago Barry lo­cated his Repco Com­modore sit­ting un­mo­lested on a con­crete pad less than 20km from his home in Syd­ney. He man­aged to buy it back and has re­stored it and is still run­ning it in var­i­ous his­toric tri­als and re-runs. But that is a story for an­other is­sue of AMC!

Top: The #17 VB was the lead Com­modore for much of the famed 1979 Repco Round Aus­tralia Trial, al­though the usual Brock hys­te­ria means his ef­forts have of­ten been over­looked.

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