A Test Of Car And Driver
Unlike the Ampol
Trial held earlier the same year, the Mobilgas event circled
the continent clockwise. Starting in Sydney, the entrants
would again pass through Sydney and end the trial in Melbourne,
travelling some 10,000 miles (16,250 km).
trial by-passed the east coast of Queensland, instead going
through Isa, Cloncurry, Winton, Longreach, Charleville and
Brisbane. And unlike the Ampol trial, the Mobilgas event
was designed to stretch the cars to the limit of their endurance.
Mobil forbid anyone other than crews to work on the cars,
sealing all main engine and transmission components, submitting
time schedules to police for approval, re-introducing the
hated secret controls to check speeding, and giving scrutineers
the power to check brakes, tyres, steering
and, if a car
was found to be in a dangerous condition, the ability to
eliminate it from the event.
Mobil were also keen to promote
vehicle safety, as evidenced on the Mobil "Circle Of
in the media section of this site. To that end, it was a
requirement that all drivers wear seat belts, their cars
be fitted with fire extinguishers, first aid kits and a weeks
supply of food and water.
But best of all, the Mobilgas event
again attracted overseas competitors. Toyota sent three
Toyopet Crowns, Nissan sent two Datsun 1000's, New Zealand
sent over a Nash Metropolitan, and even Kenya entered the
fray, their team driving an Auto-Union 1000. Czechoslovakian
carmaker Skoda was keen to bolster its profile in Australia,
and sent no less than six Skoda 440 crews, including quality
drivers such as Ken Tubman and Major Warwick.
But the number
that turned up to the starting line must have been a huge
disappointment for the organisers. Only 67 would take part,
and 12 of them were factory entries! Things would quickly
get worse, with three private entries withdrawing by the
time they reached Melbourne, and two more by the time they
reached South Australia, one a German entered Porsche.
to heavy rains that had fallen just prior to the competitors
arrival at the Nullabor section, the organisers extended
the time limit by three hours. Many would get bogged, and
two Toyota's rolled. Many witnessed the Volkswagen service
teams "illegally" working
on the VW's, but it seemed the organisers were now turning
a blind eye for fear of even more withdrawals.
cars had withdrawn by Norseman, but a controversial detour
through Jurien Bay and Green Head all but finished off
the faltering event. This “new” route meant
the competitors were forced to traverse sandhills, swampy
bogs and water hazards up to 1 metre in depth. Only 26
cars made it through, and as the dust settled it was the
team of Perkins and Witter in their Volkswagen that had
taken the lead.
Between Broome and Derby a third Toyopet
would be forced to retire when it collected a kangaroo,
and at Carnarvon the Nash Metropolitan finally called it
a day, although this was many thousands of kilometers further
than most thought it would get. By Derby five more competitors
had retired, then two of the works Skoda teams crashed
in the dash through the Kimberleys. Another four would
retire on this section alone.
Just before Katherine Witter’s
Volkswagen collided with two trees – Witter broke
his arm and Stewart his nose. At Darwin yet another Toyopet
retired. On the section between Darwin and Tennant Creek,
Jack Phillips rolled his Morris Major, both being thrown
out of the car. Tragically Phillips would be dead within
At Renner Springs Jack Vaughan would roll his
VW, the organisers must by now have been very concerned
that there would be no competitors able to cross the finish
line, particularly given the treacherous Mount Isa – Cloncurry
stretch lay ahead. But the drivers in these events were
a pretty determined bunch, and onwards they traveled.
retirements would not abate, next out of the race was a
Vanguard at Cloncurry, then at Blackall a Holden called
it a day, and next at Dalby a Skoda was forced to retire.
As the remaining competitors slowly hauled themselves into
Brisbane, spare a thought for K. Hapgood, who was black
flagged by the scrutineers when they discovered his Holden
had faulty brakes.
From the initial 67 cars that left Sydney,
there were only 36 left to make the run down the east coast
of Australia. A Ford Zephyr would retire at Sydney, a Holden
at Cooma and Jack Murray’s Chrysler Royale broke
an axle near Manila, but he was able to limp along to Melbourne.
Unfortunately, given the toughness of the event, few bothered
to turn up at the finish line to welcome in the 34 remaining
competitors, and this in arguably the countries most sports
crazed city. But at least there was a winner, Canberra
businessman Greg Cusack in his VW had taken the honours
with the loss of only 3 points. It was fortunate for Cusack
that the committee had overturned an earlier decision to
award him with 52 points at Green Head.
But just as the
trial had thrown up countless obstacles en-route, in a
cruel twist of fate a protest committee would overturn
the overturn, effectively re-instating the original 52
point penalty. Eddie Perkins was now awarded the victory.
Of most note however was the performance put in by Harry
to finish eighth in his Volkswagen.
Between the ’58 Mobilgas trial and 1964, Firth would become
Ford Australia’s motor sport guru, until switching
camps and joining the General in 1973. In the end the organisers
were forced to lick their wounds, the in-fighting and repetitiousness
of the events had seen them fall from favour in the publics
eye. Would there be a Trial for 1959? The answer was no,
and would remain that way for a further 6 years…