LON­DON TO SYD­NEY

50th an­niver­sary of the Marathon event.

Classic Ford - - CONTENTS - Words Gra­ham Rob­son

T he Lon­don To Syd­ney Marathon — by road, ship and road — was con­ceived at the end of 1967. The owner of the Daily Ex­press, Sir Max Aitken, got to­gether with Jo­ce­lyn Stevens and Tommy Sop­with, to cre­ate a mo­tor­ing event in 1968, which the Ex­press could spon­sor. Sir Max chal­lenged them to pro­mote a mon­u­men­tal transcon­ti­nen­tal mo­tor rally which would span the world.

The route cov­ered 10,070 miles with no sched­uled rest halts be­tween the Lon­don start and Bom­bay (now Mumbai) in In­dia. There a ship would take the sur­viv­ing cars to Fre­man­tle (near Perth, in Aus­tralia) to start the fi­nal 3000-mile dash to Syd­ney. Start­ing on 24 Novem­ber, and end­ing on 17 De­cem­ber, it was meant to be a straight­for­ward test of crew en­durance and re­li­a­bil­ity — with a tight time sched­ule, and high speeds re­quired.

Ford was re­luc­tant to get Bore­ham in­volved at first, the plan merely be­ing to sup­port two Bri­tish Fords (Cortina 1600Es) — and there would be two Taunus 20MRSs built in Ger­many. This soon ex­panded into four works Lo­tus Cortina (for Roger Clark, Eric Jack­son, Bengt Soder­strom and Rose­mary Smith), and three sup­ported Lo­tus Corti­nas and three Taunuses, while Ford-Aus­tralia en­tered three V8-en­gined Fal­con GTs. The main op­po­si­tion would come from BMC’s front-wheel-drive 1800s, the works Citroen DS21s, and the Hill­man Hunter from Rootes/Chrysler.

In prepa­ra­tion, John Daven­port and Gun­nar Palm sur­veyed the Lon­don to Bom­bay route in a 1967 works rally Lo­tus Cortina, while team co-or­di­na­tor Bill Bar­nett and Gun­nar Palm then prac­ticed the Aus­tralian sec­tion, which was to in­volve 70 hours of flat-out mo­tor­ing in sear­ing heat. Al­ready there were wor­ries about en­gine dura­bil­ity, for petrol qual­ity would be un­pre­dictable through the Mid­dle East and into In­dia, un­til the cars reached Aus­tralia.

Roger Clark later summed it up beau­ti­fully in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy (Side­ways to Vic­tory) when he com­mented:

‘It wasn’t the flat-out en­durance test some peo­ple had proph­e­sied, and though there wasn’t an of­fi­cial night stop be­tween Lon­don and Bom­bay, we cer­tainly didn’t go short of sleep. I reckon that by the time we rolled in to Bom­bay, I had had more good sleep than I nor­mally get, and most of it in beds, too. We slept on the cross-Chan­nel boat, in beds in Turin, Bel­grade (about 11 hours), Is­tan­bul and Si­vas, and all of this was be­fore we had been given a sin­gle hard-work­ing com­pet­i­tive sec­tion to cover…’

Even so, the team’s stars soon hit trou­ble. Ford lost two Lo­tus Corti­nas in the open­ing days, for Peter Harper’s car (pri­vately pre­pared by Te­calemit-Jack­son, the fuel-in­jec­tion spe­cial­ists) suf­fered a failed wa­ter pump, while Bengt Soder­strom’s car suf­fered a bro­ken cam fol­lower, and even­tu­ally ran out of time be­fore it could be fixed. Flat-out Fords Early on there was a long trun­dle through France, Italy, and Ju­goslavia to reach Turkey. Then came the restart from Si­vas, where cars tack­led their first flat-out chal­lenge to Erz­in­can, know­ing that they would cer­tainly lose time.

The stage dis­tance along the short­est (mud-af­flicted) route was 175 miles, and the tar­get time was 2 hours 45 min­utes, but no-one re­ally ex­pected to beat that. Not even ral­ly­favourite Roger Clark made it on time (he lost 6 min­utes), with the Stae­pelaere/Lampinen Taunus 20MRS way back, 14 min­utes adrift. The works Hill­man Hunter lost 21 min­utes.

Next came the long drag across Afghanistan to Kabul, which was meant to be non­com­pet­i­tive: even so, most of the non-works team lost time, and slipped out of con­tention. It was here that Rose­mary Smith’s Lo­tus Cortina struck trou­ble, while Di­eter Glemser’s works Taunus en­gine broke its camshaft drive.

When the cars reached Bom­bay hours early in spite fac­ing huge and en­thu­si­as­tic crowds, Ford’s enor­mous ef­fort looked to be pay­ing

off. Roger Clark was com­fort­ably in the lead, Stae­pelaere’s Taunus was close be­hind him, and Eric Jack­son’s car was still well-placed.

To fol­low the drama, the dust, the speed, and the sheer ex­haus­tion of the first half of the Marathon, to rest on board the P&O ship, Chu­san was a com­plete rest-cure. This graceful old ship was on its reg­u­lar sched­uled voy­age, made spe­cial this time be­cause 72 sur­viv­ing rally cars, their crews, and many team bosses and me­dia crews were all on board. The cars were se­curely locked away be­low decks, and could not be worked on while the ship was at sea.

Telling tales

At was about then that Aus­tralian crews started spread­ing tall sto­ries about the hor­rors of the route to come. Harry Firth, Ian Vaughan and Bruce Hodgson (driv­ing works Ford-Aus­tralia Fal­con GTs) were the most in­ven­tive, sug­gest­ing that Euro­pean crews would be blown away by what they were about to ex­pe­ri­ence in the fi­nal 67 hour/3000-mile dash, and that the Aus­tralian ex­perts would leave them far be­hind. This was more of a wind-up than a prom­ise, for though the Falcons duly pulled up to third, fifth and eighth places be­fore the end, they were still out­paced by the Euro­pean cars and crews.

It was shortly af­ter a high-pro­file restart from Perth to Lake King, where Clark was once again on time when al­most all oth­ers were los­ing out, that the event sud­denly threw it­self into high drama. On its way to Quorn, the en­gine in Clark’s Lo­tus broke a valve, which dam­aged a pis­ton. Even though the Ford me­chan­ics can­ni­balised Eric Jack­son’s sis­ter car to re­pair that of Clark, he was nev­er­the­less 14 min­utes late at the Quorn con­trol, and dropped to third place. The Stae­pelaere/Lampinen Ford Taunus now led the event, and Ford breathed again.

But the chase to the fin­ish was still on. Although Clark’s Cortina re­gained 8 min­utes and se­cond place at Brachina, Cowan’s Hunter moved up to fourth, and Lu­cien Bianchi’s Citroen took over the lead. Then, north of Mur­rindal, Clark’s Cortina broke its rear axle, and could only get go­ing again af­ter one had been begged from a lo­cal in a Cortina who was pass­ing by. Roger and Ove then lost nearly 100 min­utes in get­ting it changed, and fi­nally fell out of con­tention.

More drama then en­sured. Though Bianchi’s Citroen DS21 was lead­ing, with the Taunus close be­hind, on the tight, 42 minute, sec­tion to Hind­marsh Sta­tion, Stae­pelaere put the Taunus off the road, broke a steer­ing tie rod, and lost nearly 3 hours be­fore re­pairs could be made.

They think it’s all over

So, it was all over, and Citroen had won — or had they? As Au­tosport’s re­porter saw it:

‘As the cars came down from the moun­tains to­wards Nowra, [Bianchi]… handed the driv­ing over to Ogier so that he could snatch a bit of sleep. Then it hap­pened: with Ogier pow­er­less to do any­thing about it... an [on-com­ing] Mini col­lided with the Citroen, and pushed it off the road. Bianchi was trapped in­side the car for 20 min­utes while help, sum­moned by Paddy Hop­kirk, came along with cut­ting equip­ment…’

This meant that the Hill­man Hunter, crewed by Andrew Cowan, Brian Coyle and Colin Malkin, pulled off a re­mark­able vic­tory in the world’s first highly-pub­li­cised transcon­ti­nen­tal rally. At the fin­ish, in front of a huge crowd at the War­wick Farm race track near Syd­ney, ev­ery car and its crew looked grubby and ex­hausted, though this was quite ex­cus­able.

For Ford, it had been a huge dis­ap­point­ment. First Clark, then Gilbert Stae­pelaere, might have won the event. For man­ager Henry Taylor, his team, and in par­tic­u­lar Roger Clark , this was a shat­ter­ing blow. Wal­ter Hayes had to re­as­sure Clark that Ford still loved him — and that it would never hap­pen again. Nor did it — 18 months later, when Hannu Mikkola won the World Cup Rally, it would be in a Ken­tengined Escort.

An enor­mous crowd at Lon­don’s Crys­tal Palace cir­cuit greeted the cars which started the Lon­don-Syd­ney Marathon. This was Eric Jack­son’s works car.

Roger Clark and Ove An­der­s­son were com­fort­ably lead­ing the Marathon when they ar­rived in Bom­bay, In­dia. An­other 3,000 miles still to go - Roger Clark and Ove An­der­s­son set out from Perth in West­ern Aus­tralia, on their way to­wards Syd­ney — trag­i­cally their car would strike se­ri­ous en­gine trou­ble within 36 hours.

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