A Zeta completed
the 1964 Ampol Trial, but they didn't
mention that it came last
Class A: Heffernan, Fiat 770 (224 points)
Class B: Bentley, Volkswagen 1200 (171
Class C: Firth, Cortina GT (21 points)
Class D: Burns, Fiat 2300 (258 points)
Team Prize: Volkswagen 1500S, driven by Stewart / Ferguson
/ Christie (£100 each) Woman's Prize: Adams driving a Volkswagen 1200 (483 points, £200) Novice Award: B. Arentz driving a Cortina GT (51 points, £100)
It would be un-true to claim that car rallying was was dormant between 1958
and 1964, particularly given that the many car clubs around the country were
regularly holding their own events or championships.
But the allure of the
"Larger Than Life" Around Australia trials initiated by the original Redex event back in 1953 was seemingly lost. Australians had a wealth of
motor sport to follow, from the Australian Grand Prix, to overseas events
such as the Formula One World Championship, Monte Carlo Rally, Le Mans to
name just a few.
The in-fighting between 1956 and 1958 had not helped things
much, and the two major sponsors, once at loggerheads, now simply found better
ways with which to invest their sponsorship dollar.
Ampol instead invested
heavily in motor racing, while Mobil chose to sponsor the Mobilgas Economy
Run. Even so, CAMS had some 125 rallies listed in their official event calendar,
the most important of which became the BP Alpine, an event that traversed
much of the high country in Victoria and southern New South Wales.
Ampol had again shown some interest in sponsoring a longer-distance event,
particularly given the seeming groundswell of interest being shown by motoring
enthusiasts around the country.
Ampol had restricted most of its operation
to the eastern seaboard, and declared that any such long distance event would
need to be restricted to those states in which it operated.
agreed, and the stage was set for another punishing long distance "not-quite"
around Australia trial.
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The organisers soon realised there was a new found interest in long distance rallying when no less than 5 works teams entered the event - and that's not counting Harold Lightburn's entry of 3 Zeta's! From Ford Australia came 3 entries, Harry Firth and Graham Hoinville teaming up in a Cortina GT; George Hughes , Peter Coffey and Doug Rutherford in a Ford Falcon 144ci; and Ken Harper, Frank Kilfoyle and Bob Forsyth in a Ford Falcon 170ci.
Continental and General Distributors entered three Peugeot 404 entries, the first car being driven by Jack "Gelignite" Murray and Roy Denny; the next by Bob Holden and Monty Love; and another by Ron Green and David Johnson.
Lanock Motors, then Volkswagen distributors, entered a Volkswagen 1200 driven by Yvonne McKeahnie and Gayl Sach; a VW 1500 driven by Doug Stewart and Barry Lloyd; and another VW 1500 driven by Barry Ferguson and Tony Denham.
Czechoslovakian Motokov (Prague) entries driving Skoda Octavia's included the teams of Gerry Merrett and Peter Buckley, Syd Fisher and Bill Coe, and Ron Bird teaming up with Jim Horman.
Toyota entered 4 Crown's, all of which would finish, being driven by Shihomi Hosoya and Masaharu Terau, Kevin Lott and Michael Flanagan, Doug Hughes and Ross Farmer and Geoff Russell with Ron Burns.
Many thought BMC would also enter a works team, to be headed by Evan Green, and there was speculation that the General would enter their new S4 EH Holden - but instead they kept that for later in the year, for the running of the 1964 Armstrong 500. As it was however, the only S4 to be entered in the race was by privateer Harry Budd.
The drivers departed from the starting point at Bondi Beach at two-minute intervals on June the 14th, each crew being given an instruction book covering the first 12 days, the final 2 "secret" days only being revealed when the drivers reached Goulburn.
The start was anything but smooth sailing, with flooded roads forcing the route to be changed to use the Great Western Highway to Lithgow. Given the conditions and traffic, the required 60 km/h
average speed was near impossible to achieve, and 68 cars were late. Barry Ferguson was one such car, he losing 5 points, and in effect losing the trial.
The first special stage, between Orange and Mullion Creek, was closely monitored by the motorcycle constabularly. Having to strictly observe the posted speed limits meant the drivers were left to put pedal to the metal for the small gravel road section, and only eight teams were able to clean-sheet.
Next came a gruelling section between Dubbo and Pandora's Pass, which made the early stuff look tame. Rough gravel roads and poor route instructions had most crews at wits end, and only three emerged with their "clean-sheet" intact. The rally continued through Nundle, Scone, Newcastle and on to Tuncurry. This section should have been a little easier than what had already been encountered, however 36 teams lost 250 points when, in following the route maps that had been provided to them, they missed a required checkpoint at Booral - the maps had incorrectly shown Booral as being on the Pacific Highway, however the time of the Ampol Trial the highway had been routed through Karuah.
There was a tricky six mile bush track section held at Tuncurry, to be completed
at 45mph in the dark. The locals thought it impossible, but Ron Marshall was to prove them wrong, finishing a minute early! The field then went to Port Macquarie, and via Lismore to Coffs Harbour, then over the mountains to Armidale. The most treacherous section on this stage was a six mile track from Coramba to Nana Glen, again it needing to be completed in 45 mph. A Mini Cooper was the only car to clean sheet this section, however unfortunately it would later roll and be forced to retire from the trial.
Next came the long 1065 mile stretch from Lismore to Marlborough, which provided overnight stops at Brisbane and Rockhampton. The Lightburn Zeta's were down to just the one vehicle, although many thought it incredible that even one could get this far. Then came the notorious section so feared by those that had completed in the original Recex trials. Unbelievably, the crews were expected to maintain a 59 mph speed on a rough stony track that included dried up creeks, fallen trees and cattle grids.
Commentators later looking back on this section believed it impossible to clean sheet, and thought the organisers had designed it o clearly identify a "winner" - for it was this section that, better than any other, would test the mettle of the drivers. And it was Harry Firth that emerged the victor, he managing to finish an amazing 8 minutes early.
In somewhat of an anti-climax, the teams then travelled through central Queensland, northwest NSW and into SA. Although the roads offered very limited bitumen sections, the gravel sections were not the "horror stretch" many envisaged. In fact, teams were making such good time that it allowed most to take time out to effect repairs. But damage and mechanical failure from much battered cars in the previous sections were beginning to catch up with some of the teams, and 11 cars would be forced to retire at Bourke.
The route then criss-crossed through western Victoria, then on to the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale and on to Albury. There was a little confusion as to which would be the best route to take, either the old Omeo highway or alternatively, the new highway route with a turn-off at Tonigo. The factory teams chose the latter, and had ground crew staff direct their teams to ensure no mistakes were made. The privateers, with no such assistance, ended up on the old Omeo highway, and as such inevitably lost points.
At Goulburn the teams were given their instructions for the final two days. The first special stage was a section just north of Adaminaby that was treacherous and daunting, the teams having to negotiate large boulders, trees, dried creek beds and the like. Unbelievably Firth managed to clean-sheet - but that was only the first of 4 extremely difficult stages.
special stage would see everyone lose points, and the Mini Cooper mentioned earlier take it's roll and retire. The third stage between Bibbenluke and Candelo was no picnic, however the final stage was a shocker, 33 miles up the Araluen Valley from Moruya to Araluen at a required 47 mph. Again everyone lost ponts, it was more a case of trying to minimise the loss. Firth lost 7 points on this stage, and while others loss a few less, they were unable to bridge the gap, and Firth emerged a clear winner.
The teams then completed the run into Sydney and on to Bondi
beach. When the dust had settled, it was obvious that Ford were now serious race contenders, having wrested the honours from the likes of Volkswagen and Peugeot. The day's of the Beetle being competitive in competition were now well over, the best it able to achieve being 23rd position.