For many this was the toughest rally ever staged in Australia. Won by Peter Brock in the new Commodore, many have rich memories of the rally to end all rallies, exhausting not only the crews but their wallets!
Classic Rallying’s resident rambler Mal Sinfield takes up his story…
Some time prior to 1979 many people were talking about going in the ‘Repco” as it was called, an event based on the previous Mobil and Redex trials. I originally was to go with my long time partner in rallying Ken Gardiner and Gary Meehan but they couldn’t decide what car to build.
After Eric Vigar pulled out of the Mick Myers car No.1 asked me did I want to accompany them. I too and fro’d and thought – “stuff it why not!”.
The car was sourced from fellow competitor Norm Saville Motors at Flemington in outer Sydney, Norm had competed in quite a few of these trials including the London to Sydney and was a Peugeot dealer. We spent countless hours stripping and re-building the car and taking weight out and putting in extra seam welding, the factory cars were seam welded about inch so we tried to do likewise.
We secured radio sponsorship from western Sydney station 2WS, tyres were supplied by Dowling Tyres, Bob Roman supplied our Recaro Seats, Robert Beson supplied our shithouse Bilstein shocks that kept on blowing their rear seals, with other sponsors G and S Panelbeating at Narrabeen and Erl Calvers lighting business Neon Advertising as well as the deep pockets of the crew.
We ran without a service crew but had tyre dumps spread throughout the course and shock stations in Perth and Rockhampton in Queensland. The days dawned closer so we loaded up and headed to Melbourne for the start, our accommodation down there was the factory floor of Neon Advertisings Melbourne office After a few days there we were loaded and ready to go.
From Melbourne Showgrounds at the start, we transported up to Tooborac for the prologue around Puckapunyal army course and the adjoining state forest, we had a few dramas like everyone else, but we were away, finally moving west south west finishing in Adelaide, we encountered very heavy rain thru the evening and were following the Commodore of Peter Craft and Ray Lance when they turned left for some reason.
The boys said to me “do we follow them”? and I said “No, the correct route is S.O”. We rounded a few corners over a hill and were confronted by lots of tail lights, it started to get vey slippery and we passed lots of bogged cars. The road seemed blocked, so I said “right, right up near the fence” and we were getting more traction on the wet grass still passing heaps of stranded cars when suddenly a car stopped in front of us.
It was back onto the road and we were slip sliding along, but eventually the road was blocked by stranded cars sideways facing the wrong way and it was a bloody schmozzle!
A few blokes said to us they thought we were going to keep going but the black mud was caked under the guards; we must have passed at least 40 bogged cars and there were about the same amount in front of us, we got our bullbag out which is a big rubber balloon put on the exhaust pumped it up moved the car side ways to and fro and worked our way up the line cause we had gone too far to turn around and back track.
Eventually a tractor was pulling people out at $50.00 a pull, “Jelignite” Jack Murray was in front of us and when the tractor got to him he said “eh mate I’m Jelignite Jack Murray pleased to meet you!” – The tractor driver said “mate for you its $100.00 you can afford it these poor other blokes cant, if you don’t pay you get left here”!!!!!
We eventually got out, losing heaps of time and got into Bordertown and there was more mud on the roads covering all the bitumen, the car wash was lined up people just wanting the oozing black mud from under their cars.
We headed up to Pinnaroo and onto Renmark but the sand dunes took their toll on lots of cars, us included, there were cars bogged to the axles, the “God Squad” Mazda of George Kahler followed the power poles but the road went left he must have been about 100metres off the road and no trees to winch off, word has it that there were some swear words coming from that area!
Whilst we were bogged, Hal Moloney in his Leyland P76 (we called it a P38 cause we reckon it was half a car and half a boot) drove past in a farmers paddock on the ridge lines off hills going sideways so we tried it too, only problem was when you came to a fence line so we did what Hal did and drove straight thru it, occasionally you had to stop and remove the barbed wire from under the car.
We don’t know how many fences were destroyed, anyway into Renmark onto Bordertown and up into Kuipto forest for a fang thru the pine trees for the spectators, none left by the time we arrived and into Adelaide for Bed and some rest, our sleep was at Garry and Judy Rainsfords
Stepping back a little in time back to 1975/76, I was fortunate or (unfortunate) enough to meet 2 blokes at the Music Hall in Neutral Bay for a draw for the Yokohama 400 rally being organised by North Shore Sporting Car Club. Assistant director Ian Mackenzie-Smiths father in law owned the place and I was with Tony Webb (Webby) and we had a few cleansing ales before the draw. We introduced ourselves to these two, Brian Catt, known as “Puss” an Officer in the Army and Johnny Walker, an employee of the Government; both these blokes were from South Australia.
We formed a close relationship with these two, which is still so strong today, with John and Brian and another, we introduced to them Mini Matt Laundry’s Geoff Goodwin. We all went to South Australia for the Endrust Forest Rally the ARC event and met the likes of Tim Lynas, now owner of Lynas Valley Ford, Garry Rainsford, Doug Lehman, son of Peter the famous winemaker, and heaps of South Aussie drunks and we have all been to each others weddings over the years a truly good friendship.
Anyway back to the Repco, we left Adelaide, pretty pissed that we were not further up the field than we were and on the touring stage out to Yunta, Mick Mk2, the owner of the car got the tom tits (Sh?ts) and said, “No, we are going home, its not worth all of this”. I said we should go via the Barossa Valley, going via Yunta is out of the way, so we called into Tim’s car dealership in Tanunda. He gave us some beers, many actually.. We had dinner and lots of bottles of red wine (those bloody guys from SA corrupted me with the drink) and we all were very pissed, real pissed,
Anyway Lehman and Lynas and Johnny Walker somehow talked us all into continuing, so I rang Tom Snooks and asked if we could continue and he said “If you can catch the field sure, but you might have to skip some controls”
So here we go bellies full of grog and head off again.
We went up to Port Augusta and over towards the Nullabor. Young Mal used the maps; we cut and run and came into control at Nullabor about car 20 on the road. They booked us in and sent us away (good to go!) . It was so eerie out there with planes landing and taking off we continued to Eucla and the Mundrabilla stage where we passed (yes passed) one of the Porsches over to Cocklbiddy and up to Rawlina, a very rocky stage, it now reminds me of the Shale roads of Oberon/Shooters Hill region, crews had lots of flat tyres from memory and we only had one.
We only had one spare left until we got to Perth so there were no heroics. It was onto Kalgoolie and Coolgardie where we stumbled across Peter Glennie. I taught him how to cut and run and use your late time! Then it was the Mad Hatters Stage of 342kms, now our friends Gary Meehan, Ken Gardiner and Greg Gifford in the HK Monaro (The Silver Slug) passed us at about the 100km mark only to be stopped about 20kms up the road. We came around a corner to be greeted by 3 bare bums staring at us, the bastards gave us brown eyes, only to pass us yet again!
Its now more than 30 odd years since the Repco and isn’t it amazing how certain things stay in your memory!
From the end of that stage we transported thru Lake King and Lake Grace and up to Narrogin, Ross Dunkertons home town, then Onto Perth for a well earned sleep; the next day we went to get our tyres changed that Dowlings had organised for us. We put on a new set of Bilsteins on the rear to replace the stuffed ones and told Robert the Bilstein agent to send another set to Darwin, it was now off to Waneroo Park Raceway!
Part 3 coming!