Bucketloads Of Money,
But Travelling In Your Underpants:
With all the recriminations following the "outlawed" 1956 Ampol
Trial, CAMS decided that in the interests of motor sport, they
would approach Ampol with a view to negotiating a CAMS permit for
the 1957 event. Given the actions of CAMS previously, Ampol were
understandably not terribly interested in any attempt to "broker
In March of 1957 the announcement was made...the
Ampol trial would go ahead, but under the auspices of the CCMC,
not CAMS. Naturally CAMS again labelled the Ampol event "illegal",
and threatened to suspend the licences of any who took part.
They even went one further, threatening almost everyone that took
so much as a little interest in the event. A memo from CAMS Donald
Thompson read "...the CAMS will be obliged to act against any persons
subject to it who enter, assist, publicise or officiate at this
Ampol had heard it all before. Starting out from Sydney on the
7th July, the 1957 Ampol Around Australia Trial would follow an
eastern states route covering some 7000 miles (11,263 km), and
encompassing the famed Birdsville Track, skirting Lake Eyre, Sturt's
Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert. Best of all, the total prize
money on offer for the event was a staggering £10,000.
The competing Mobilgas trial of the same year went one further, putting
on offer £15,800, an amount even larger than that offered as
prize money for the Melbourne Cup.
The press however seemed to favour
the Ampol event, no doubt bolstered by the popularity of Sydney grandmother
Blanche Brown in her now 30 year old Rolls Royce (she had obviously
developed a keen eye for classics way back then!). Unlike the Redex
trials held years before, the competitors had quickly come to realise
that weight was their greatest enemy.
The winning Volkswagen driven by J. Witter, along with navigator Stewart, had virtually every superfluous
piece of trim removed, including the seat padding, sun visors and
internal rear view mirror. They even went as far as carrying only
the clothes on their back, changing at each stop-over where their
clothes were air-mailed to them, and they would air-mail their dirty
clothes back home. The navigators seat was moved backwards, thereby
removing 6.3 kilos from the front end, and the pair even went as
far as sawing the handles off their tooth-brushes to save weight.
There were 79 competitors that left Bondi Beach, heading to the snow capped
hills between Lithgow and Bathurst. Three cars rolled over on this
treacherous stretch, and 52 entrants lost points for lateness. At
Wagga, Jack “Gelignite” Murray was running
ahead of schedule and decided to have his Fiat 1100 greased and checked.
As the hoist lowered, he realized there were only 5 minutes to cover
the remaining 3 miles to the next control point. While blazing through
the Wagga streets, a motorcycle cop pulled alongside. Legend has
it that the following conversation ensued…”Who do you
think you are?”. Murray yelled back “Jack Murray, East
Sydney Police Boys Club”. But despite the now police “escort”,
he arrived a little over-time and dropped two points.
the Alps, the field wound their way to Albury, then on to Bendigo,
Wallan and then into Melbourne. By the time the field had reached
Warrnambool only seven competitors had not lost points, although
given they had to wind their way along the Great Ocean Road this
was still quite some feat. The ever amazing Blanche Brown (with
son Vince at the wheel) only lost 10 points on this stage.
to Adelaide, Port Augusta, and the 240 mile (386 km) section to Marree
and the start of the Birdsville Track. By the time they reached this
checkpoint there was only one competitor that still maintained a
clean sheet. John Garard was a lively character, the larger than
life Liverpool taxi driver weighing in at 17 stone (108 kg). In a
brilliant display of driving, Garard drove his blue and white Holden
into first place, usurping the lead team of Witter and Stewart who
had accumulated 3 points, with Duck Anderson in third place with
But the going would again get tough,
and a lack of petrol along the Birdsville Track would prove costly
for some. Witter and Stewart were the first team to run out, but
in a fantastic display of sportsmanship the Perkins and Reynolds
team (who were then in foruth place with five points) stopped to
syphon out 2 gallons (9 litres) for them.
Blanche Brown's Roller
also ran out of petrol, probably not so suprisingly given its 10
mpg thirst. With only 50 miles to get to Birdsville, one competitor
gave them a gallon so that they could continue. As luck would have
it, they then chanced upon an abandoned utility truck with a full
44 gallon petrol drum in the back!
Jack "Gelignite" Murray's race would come to an end when his Fiat
broke an axle on the way out of Birdsville. He remained stranded
in Birdsville for a week. Wilf Murrell, winner of the
1956 Ampol Trial, was unable to hold the pace, and Ron Green managed
to hole the alloy sump of his Peugeot in, of all places, the main
street of Birdsville, after being blinded by the sun and running
over a boulder on the side of the road.
But it turned into a nice
little earner for local mailman Max Bowden, who offered to tow hapless
ccompetitors cars for
£2 from the Sandy Creek crossing. His first customer was Eric
Sykes in a Goliath, but there would be another 25 cars that would
require his assistance.
The competitors that made it to Mount Isa took the opportunity to
repair what they could of their battered cars. John Garard's Holden
was still leading the event, although he would wait until Cairns
to effect the repair on the cracked front cross-member. Many believed
Garard would be able to maintain his lead, and for the very first
time an Australian car would take out top spot. But at Mackay somehow
9 gallons of water were added to the fuel tank. Garard was quick
enough to spot the problem, however the petrol tank had received
so much damage that it was impossible for him to empty the contents
completely, and some water remained.
The Holden would splutter along
the next stage, able to only reach a top speed of 45 mph (71 km/h).
He pulled in to Marlborough 10 minutes late, and slipped to third
position. Witter and Stewart again took the lead, but rumours of
probable saboutage were rife. On top of the "water in the tank" incident,
fellow competitor Bob Scarlett (who was running in 4th position in
his Vanguard) had to replace his engine bearings at Townsville after
someone had rammed sandpaper down the breather tube, thus ruining
the bottom end of the engine.
The rest of the event was somewhat uneventful. Blanche Brown's Rolls
Royce continued to challenge the leaders, particularly after the
leading 3 cars took an unexpected detour at Coonabarabran after a
signpost pointed the wrong way. Witter and Stewart would take out
the event with only 3 points accumulated, then came Perkins and Reynolds
with five points, and the Garard Holden on 21 points. Scarlett was
4th with 48 points, and then, much to everyones amazement, was the
Rolls Royce of Blanche Brown.
The achievement was astonishing, here was a Sydney grandmother that
had taken her 30 year old 3 tonne Rolls Royce on two Ampol Around
Australia events not only winning her class, but almost taking out
the event. Admittedly her son Vince had done a great deal of the
driving, but this was still a huge achievement. Better still, Blanche
Brown had only paid £450 for the car, and won £1360 in
prizemoney. And in all the events in which the Rolls Royce ran, the
only damage sustained was a cracked windscreen.
The Also-Ran Event of '57 :
With the wonderful success of the 1957 Ampol Around Australia Trial, the Mobilgas
event promised to be even bigger and better. There were some great drivers taking
part, many with official manufacturer backing. The Volkswagen assault was spearheaded
by Laurie Whitehead, Eddie Perkins, Bob Foreman and Greg Cusack.
But of greatest
interest was the International teams that had arrived to take part, including
a Japanese team driving a Toyopet, a New Caledonian team driving a Citroen Goddess,
and a Czech entered Skoda, driven by Major Warwick. Like a politicians
promise, the reality of the event was never reached the dizzy heights promised
by the promoters. By now the public had grown a little tired
of the continued Around Australia events being held in quick succession, and
despite having 102 entries, only 86 cars turned up at the Melbourne starting
Things quickly got worse, the American team crashing out on the first day, and
the Japanese Toyopet entry was simply uncompetitive. The Czech entered Skoda
would crash near Katherine, with Major Warwick receiving serious injuries. Fifty
two cars would make it to the finish line, not that too many cared. CAMS wisely
decided not to persue disciplinary action against the drivers that took part
in the Ampol event, and decided instead to work towards a system where the two
events could better co-exist.