Am­pol Trial

Short lived but sweet

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Peter Whi­taker

By the mid ‘seven­ties the Cas­trol Six Hour Pro­duc­tion Race had com­pre­hen­sively demon­strated the re­li­a­bil­ity of show­room stock mo­tor­cy­cles; and gone some way to lift­ing the stigma on the rep­u­ta­tion of mo­tor­cy­clists. Yet new mo­tor­cy­cle reg­is­tra­tions had al­most halved over the past three years. So it was with some trep­i­da­tion that Rob Atlee ap­proached the Proudly Aus­tralian Owned fuel sup­plier Am­pol for spon­sor­ship of his unique con­cept; a truly na­tional rally to im­prove the image of bik­ers – as op­posed to bikies. The Am­pol ex­ec­u­tives an­teed up $7,000 and a lot of cred­i­bil­ity to a Round Aus­tralia event. Now all Atlee had to do was set the course and pre­pare the Sup­ple­men­tary Reg­u­la­tions. The first in­volved a three week trip around the con­ti­nent in Atlee’s age­ing Kombi Van, trav­el­ling at le­gal speeds, es­tab­lish­ing daily check­points and not­ing var­i­ous points of in­ter­est that could later be used to pre­vent par­tic­i­pants short-cut­ting the course. The sec­ond was mak­ing the rules sim­ple enough to en­tice suf­fi­cient ad­ven­tur­ous mo­tor­cy­clists to par­tic­i­pate. In what to­day would be ti­tled a Mis­sion State­ment, Atlee is­sued the fol­low­ing pre­am­ble to the in­vi­ta­tion for en­tries... “The Am­pol Around Aus­tralia Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pe­ti­tion will be the largest ever mo­tor­cy­cle pro­mo­tion un­der­taken in this coun­try. Mo­tor­cy­cling, to the

gen­eral pub­lic, has not been por­trayed as a favourable type of trans­port, and yet any­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced the thrill of own­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle finds it dif­fi­cult to por­tray how safe they can be. This event is be­ing con­ducted un­der the author­ity of the var­i­ous Po­lice and Coun­cils of each state, and the em­pha­sis is on nor­mal road speed and safety con­di­tions. The event will pass through seven states, cover ap­prox­i­mately 15,000 kilo­me­tres and will pro­vide com­peti­tors the op­por­tu­nity of meet­ing new friends, and at the same time en­joy a won­der­ful tour­ing hol­i­day around Aus­tralia.” Com­mu­ni­ca­tion can of­ten cause con­fu­sion and per­haps the word­ing “Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pe­ti­tion” in Atlee’s pre­sen­ta­tion gave the wrong im­pres­sion. From the onset the pro­posal re­ceived lots of ink. How could it not with head­lines such as “1500km around Aus­tralia mo­tor­cy­cle road race” and “race will prove bikes re­li­able”. And one that read... “$7000 bike con­test”.

Whilst the Am­pol Trial was def­i­nitely not a race, there would be any num­ber of en­durance tests dur­ing the 15 day odyssey. The gravel ‘de­vel­op­ment roads’ be­tween Toowoomba and Mount Isa would test rid­ers’ abil­ity on loose sur­faces, par­tic­u­larly Sid Dun­can with pil­lion Tr­isha Todd on his Kawasaki Z1000. The road be­tween Halls Creek and Broome was said to be as ‘rough as guts’ and had al­ready been the un­do­ing of Amer­i­can Don Kerr on his Around Aus­tralia record at­tempt only three years ear­lier. Cer­tainly all surviving en­trants would ar­rive in Perth with ‘mon­key butt’ af­ter the 1650km leg south from Port Hed­land. And it ap­peared that the 15th leg from Kal­go­or­lie to Port Au­gusta would pose the real test of stamina. The big bikes such as Rob Robert­son’s BMW R90S and Ken Fla­herty’s Moto Guzzi 850 should be able to cruise all day con­sid­er­ably faster than Atlee’s Kombi had man­aged, but there was no way ‘Butch’ Wind­sor’s Honda CB250 was likely to cross the Nullar­bor in a sin­gle day. How­ever all that was to come when only ten en­trants turned up on Bondi Beach Prom­e­nade on 4 Septem­ber 1977 to be flagged away by Al­der­man David Tay­lor – the Mayor of Waver­ley – and a large press con­tin­gent; at least one scribe per en­trant. The rules were sim­ple. Atlee had set a pru­dent, le­gal, elapsed time be­tween check­points as cal­cu­lated un­der nor­mal road speed con­di­tions. The rider who con­sis­tently nailed Atlee’s se­cret cal­cu­la­tions would score zero, with a one point loss per minute for ar­riv­ing early; and the same for ar­riv­ing late. En­trants ar­riv­ing over two hours late would face an ad­di­tional 500 point loss. A ques­tion­naire about the land­marks of in­ter­est along the route would act as a tie-breaker. Though the com­pe­ti­tion was covertly in­tense the ca­ma­raderie was high; how could it not be with ten ad­ven­tur­ous rid­ers tak­ing on the el­e­ments, of­ten shar­ing daily war sto­ries at rudi­men­tary out­back ac­com­mo­da­tion. And from a pub­lic­ity an­gle the in­au­gu­ral Rally en­joyed a fairy-tale end­ing. Neva Rich­man, a 24-year-old pho­to­genic pho­tog­ra­pher’s as­sis­tant from the Syd­ney sub­urb of Lind­field – rid­ing a Kawasaki Z900 – won the event with a loss of only 1007 points, fin­ish­ing ahead of Jack Webb, an ag­ile 52-year-old grand­fa­ther from Penrith, rid­ing his Yamaha XT500 with a loss of 1802 points. Sid Dun­can and his pil­lion Tr­isha Todd rounded out the podium on 2130 points. There was no may­hem, no deaths, only one DNF due to me­chan­i­cal prob­lems, Am­pol was happy and Atlee was al­ready lin­ing up prizes for the 1978

Am­pol Round Aus­tralia. And, whilst the 1977 event had by­passed the an­tag­o­nis­tic Vic­to­rian ‘boys in blue’, by head­ing di­rectly to Bro­ken Hill from Port Au­gusta, the sec­ond event, now ti­tled ‘The Am­pol Around Aus­tralia Rally’ would tra­verse the South­ern Alps on its re­turn to Syd­ney. And the event be­came longer, up from 13000km to 19000km – over 21 days with rest days in Dar­win and Perth. Atlee’s orig­i­nal con­cept had proven prac­ti­ca­ble and, con­sid­er­ing the lack of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, safety was im­proved by the net­work of Am­pol ser­vice sta­tions and a long list of con­tacts in the event of break­down. And a sweep ve­hi­cle would be em­ployed. The grand prize was a re­turn trip for two to Sin­ga­pore – fly­ing Sin­ga­pore Air­lines – with 7 days ac­com­mo­da­tion at the Sin­ga­pore Hil­ton; a prize far more valu­able in 1978 than it would be to­day. Every en­trant re­ceived a colour­ful jacket from Golden Breed and even last place scored a Bikini Fair­ing from La Parisi­enne En­gi­neer­ing. Chris Davy was a roustabout work­ing in Goldswor­thy, West Aus­tralia, when he read about the event and he was hooked im­me­di­ately. His mount was a Honda CB750 with a home­built side­car to tote his tools of trade. So keen was Chris he rode across the con­ti­nent, pick­ing up old mate Wayne Keep­ing in Dar­win, giv­ing the Honda’s top end an over­haul on the way and ar­riv­ing at the Kings Cross start­line with a day or two to spare. Chris and Wayne were joined by a to­tal of nine­teen en­trants – al­most dou­ble that of the in­au­gu­ral event – all of whom headed north from the fore­court of the Hamp­ton Ho­tel in Kings Cross – the first ma­jor check­point and overnight stop be­ing the Am­pol servo at Taringa in Bris­bane. Chris re­calls that many of the solo en­trants were los­ing points for check­ing in too early whereas their out­fit was flat out mak­ing it to the check­points be­fore it was time to leave the fol­low­ing morn­ing. “We man­aged to take the points lead in Townsville” says Chris “and held it through Dar­win and on to Perth. Strong head­winds from Perth to Ade­laide left us a long way be­hind the field and we were so late check­ing in at Ade­laide that we missed the re­cep­tion and were lucky to find half a sand­wich each and a warm beer.” It was John Wester­man on a Suzuki GT750 ‘wa­ter­bot­tle’ that took and held the points lead all the way to the end of the fi­nal timed stage at Goul­burn. Then on Sun­day the en­trants rode in con­voy to the prize- money cer­e­mony at Syd­ney Show­ground. “Wayne and I re­ceived the tro­phy for sec­ond” says Chris “and a mag­nif­i­cent three-drawer ch­est of Sid­chrome Tools which I still have to this day.” The re­cep­tion at Syd­ney Show­ground lived up to ex­pec­ta­tions with scores of peo­ple ex­press­ing in­ter­est in a third run­ning of the rally. Am­pol ap­peared keen in set­ting up a sports spon­sor­ship ven­ture with a ma­jor in­sur­ance com­pany, how­ever sev­eral com­mit­tee meet­ings later the ven­ture stalled. Rob Atlee, busy at the time try­ing to raise spon­sor­ship for his brother Len’s Grand Prix ef­forts was happy that the rally pro­vided a more pos­i­tive image of mo­tor­cy­cling how­ever it ap­pears that, at the time, a three week mo­tor­cy­cling hol­i­day didn’t have the same ap­peal or eco­nomic ap­peal as a week in Bali or Fiji.

TOP RIGHT Sup­ple­men­tary Reg­u­la­tions for the 1977 event. ABOVE Neva Rich­man and Al­der­man David Tay­lor. ABOVE CEN­TRE Jack Webb – Yamaha XT500 – from Penrith. RIGHT The Mayor of Waverly pre­pares to flag away Rob Robin­son and his BMW R90S.

Rob Atlee checks in Chris Davy and Wayne Keep­ing (in chair) on their CB750 Honda.

Chris Davy – still at it 20 years later.

ABOVE Sup­port ve­hi­cle, 1977. RIGHT Neva Rich­man, win­ner of the 1977 event, at­tends to main­te­nance on her Z900.

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