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.