When Driving Between Melbourne And Sydney Was An Endurance Run
If you think of 1950's Australia and Motoring, then the REDeX Reliability Trials would be on anyone's short list. At the time they were beyond comprehension for most, the mere thought of driving an average motor car around Australia simply beyond belief. But that is exactly what a very brave group of dedicated male and female motoring enthusiasts did, the event kicking off in 1953.
Now over half a century ago, this was a time when even the relatively easy trip between Melbourne and Sydney was an endurance run in itself. There were very few Motels, and even fewer sealed roads apart from the Hume and Pacific Highways. Even re-fuelling was a problem, it not uncommon for Service Stations to be over 1000 kilometers apart (although Shell came to the assistance of the event, by placing petrol dumps of 32,000 gallons in four gallon drums around the 5000 kilometer stretch between Townsville and Adelaide).
Naturally enough the inaugural event got plenty of publicity, and by the time entries had closed, much to the amazement of both Redex and the Australian Sporting Car Club (joint organizers of the event), there were an astounding 192 entries. Even more amazing was the fact that the rules dictated that the cars not be modified, apart from a few small concessions in relation to protective devices, auxiliary fuel tanks and different seats.
The Secret Route
Given the magnitude of the event, it was difficult for the organisers to keep the route secret. Besides, in the early 1950's there was really only one road connecting most of the destinations. In a touch of genius (or maybe madness) Jack "Gelignite" Murray and co-driver Bill Murray (they were not related) drove the route backwards, covering the 5300 (8530 km) route in five days, and leaving out the good bitumen roads.
The route, controls and rest stops are listed on 1953 Redex Results
page. The rules were fairly simple, each competitor would lose one point per minute for late or early arrival at controls, plus 100 points for refusing to obey an official instruction, and 500 points for replacing component parts during the trial. As would be expected, the event attracted the best drivers in the country, greats such as Sir Jack Brabham, Ken Tubman, Lex Davison, Stan Jones, Tom Sulman, "Wild Bill" McLachlan, Jack Davey, Doug Whiteford and of course the irrepresable Jack "Gelignite" Murray. Arguably the best prepared team was that from Preston Motors, driven by Lex Davison, Stan Jones and Charlie Dean.
The Humber Super Snipe Works Team
There was a "Works" team of Humber Super Snipes entered by John McGrath Motors of Sydney, at a time when the Rootes Group
cars still enjoyed healthy sales in the Australian marketplace. Rootes sponsorship of the team ensured these were the best presented and equipped for the tortuous miles that lay ahead. But the car virtually ignored by the media was the Peugeot 203 - too small to be a serious contendor, it would not deter 11 such cars from joining the starting line, and include car number 48, driven by Ken Tubman and John Marshall.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph thought there no better way to report on the event than to enter their own car and driver, and Tom Farrell in his Ford Customline would fair extremely well. Commonwealth Motors entered a Citroen Light 15 driven by Laurie Whitehead, there would be two Mercedes diesels entered, along with Standard Vanguards, Morris, Austin's and Holden's. And suprisingly there would be one Porsche, driven by Alan Hamilton, whose father Norman was a Porsche distributor.
Jack Davey's Ford Customline
Radio star and identity Jack Davey drove car 107, a Ford Customline. Davey would keep a can of hair-spray and even a hair net by his side throughout, ensuring he looked his best when pulling into each check-point and inevitable cameo in the Movietone news. Davey's health was not good, but he pushed himself through the event and it is little wonder he remained such a popular identity during the 1950's. The array of machinery was almost as colourful as Davey himself, with nearly all popular marques of the time well represented. As to be expected, the Holden 48/215 dominated the field, however there were plenty of others, such as:
- 23 x Holden 48/215
- 12 x Ford Customline's
- 11 x Peugeot 203's
- 10 x Ford V8 (or Mercury) Sedan's
- 10 x Austin A40's
- 08 x Ford Consul's (4 cylinder)
- 07 x MG TD
- 07 x Standard Vanguard's
- 07 x Chevrolet's
- 07 x Jaguar Mk. VII
- 06 x Morris Minor's
- 06 x Humber Super Snipe's
- 06 x Citroen (Six's or Light 15's)
- 05 x Ford Zephyr's
- 03 x Skoda's
- 03 x Riley 2.5 litre
- 02 x Hudson Terraplane's
- 02 x Hudson's
- 02 x Nash's
- 01 x Allard
- 01 x Jowett
- 01 x Javelin
- 01 x Goliath
- 01 x Porsche
- 01 x Singer Nine
- 01 x Fiat 1900
- 01 x Ford Prefect
- 01 x Ford Anglia
The rally started outside the Sydney Cricket Ground on August 30th, 1953, although the field had shrunk a little with some non-starters, and was now officially 187. Most noteable was the effort of one K. Wilson, who crashed his 1932 Plymouth on the way to the event. He immediately purchased a 1939 Chevrolet ex-Taxi and still managed to make the start.
Most cars carried the required tools of trade to help extract them from the bull-dust that lay ahead, along with fuel drums, picks, sand mats, food and water. 50,000 Sydney-siders managed to sqeeze into Driver Avenue, while another 150,000 lined the route north out of Sydney along the Pacific Highway.