Q&A

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle man -

You worked for Arnott’s, the bis­cuit com­pany, for 42 years but still man­aged to com­pete with tremen­dous suc­cess in some of the most chal­leng­ing rally events in the coun­try for works teams. All this, while re­main­ing a part-time driver. How was that pos­si­ble?

Arnott’s were very good. It was fan­tas­tic re­ally, par­tic­u­larly in the early days when I was a coun­try rep. In fact, that prob­a­bly helped my driv­ing be­cause I would cover huge miles on coun­try back roads in rain, hail or shine and it was a form of driver train­ing re­ally. They also gave me time off for things like the Marathon, the Round Aus­tralias and the South­ern Cross; they were tremen­dous.

You were clearly a hugely tal­ented and ac­com­plished driver, but you never turned full-time pro­fes­sional. Why was that?

It was al­ways my hobby and when I was younger in the late 1960s and win­ning a few things. I had a young fam­ily and a good job, I wasn’t go­ing to give that up for slim pick­ings as a paid driver. That was one of the rea­sons I never re­ally con­tested the Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pi­onship, it was too big a com­mit­ment. With NSW events I could leave work on Fri­day, do the rally and be home on Sun­day night in time for work on Mon­day.

You had eight starts in the Bathurst 500 in­clud­ing three works rides with Toy­ota, but ev­ery­one still talks of that bat­tle with the Mini in ’63. What are you mem­o­ries there?

I didn’t have a race li­cence when Lanocks asked me to drive with Bill Ford in ’63 so I had to take my rally car to three events and get sig­na­tures be­fore Bathurst. The race it­self was a bit of a whirl. The se­cret for Bill and I was get­ting a car that per­formed re­ally well and, in fact, it was a coun­try rep’s car that was well run in. The last few laps were amaz­ing; I swear I could hear the crowd cheer­ing at Mur­ray’s each lap de­spite the car noise and hel­met. It’s in­cred­i­ble that peo­ple still re­mem­ber 53 years later.

VWs had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dif­fi­cult to drive fast and had a rep­u­ta­tion for rolling, but you won four NSW rally cham­pi­onships, a South­ern Cross and took se­cond in the 1964 Round Aus­tralia in them. What was the se­cret?

No se­crets, it was a mat­ter of know­ing the car and driv­ing them the right way.They were great lit­tle cars, they had great trac­tion and I took a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from com­ing up with ways of im­prov­ing their per­for­mance, ev­ery­thing from chang­ing the ad­juster on the front drums to pre­vent lock-up to putting a washer on the rear shock mounts. It was a while lot of things.

You worked with the leg­endary Harry Firth for sev­eral years. How was that ex­pe­ri­ence?

I knew Harry well from our many clashes in ral­lies, from the 1964 Round Aus­tralia to the early South­ern Crosses and the Lon­don-Syd­ney. He was a clever bloke, very sin­gle-minded; it was Harry’s way or the high­way but it worked for him for a long time. I think the fact that he made the GTR and XU-1 To­rana com­pet­i­tive as a rally car was truly as­tound­ing. It was a re­ally dif­fi­cult and un­pre­dictable car on the dirt when we started and it was rea­son­ably drive­able when we fin­ished. That was an achieve­ment in my eyes.

The Lon­don to Syd­ney must have been a huge ad­ven­ture in 1968 what are you’re rec­ol­lec­tions from that event?

I was a bloke from Goul­burn and had never been over­seas be­fore we flew to Lon­don. It was amaz­ing, huge crowds ev­ery­where we went and it was a tough event. Ba­si­cally we had six days to get from Lon­don to Bom­bay, then a nine-day rest on the boat and three days to get from Perth to Syd­ney, so it was un­re­lent­ing. Work­ing with David McKay was in­ter­est­ing, he had very set views and would not con­sider our ideas about how a rally car should be set up, but by the end of the event I think he re­alised we were right.

You have had some amaz­ing team-mates and ad­ver­saries over the years, who do you rate the high­est?

I learned a huge amount from An­drew Cowan. He was the mas­ter, par­tic­u­larly in longdis­tance events. His per­for­mance in two Lon­don to Syd­ney’s showed that, as did his six South­ern Cross wins. He could stroke a car along and was al­ways there at the fin­ish, usu­ally as the win­ner.

What was the tough­est event you con­tested and what are your great­est achieve­ments?

The Repco was by far the tough­est by a long way, it was un­re­lent­ing, 18,000km in 14 days with very lit­tle rest and tough con­di­tions. My great­est achieve­ment? Well, I reckon hav­ing such a long driv­ing ca­reer and hav­ing fun. I also hugely en­joyed the think­ing parts of the sport, nut­ting out prob­lems and com­ing up with so­lu­tions to en­sure we were com­pet­i­tive and stayed that way.

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