Redex Around Australia Car Trial - The Race Of Legends...

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Redex Around Australia Car Trial - The Race Of Legends...

The Start Of The Redex Legend

That original 1953 Redex Reliability Trial remains as a watershed in endurance rallies in Australia; up to that time it was the second longest trial ever staged in the world (the previous longest had been from New York to Paris in 1908). It was an expedition into the unknown. Three years before the New York-Paris, the first reliability trial had been staged in Australia.

It was organised by Dunlop executive Harry James, who in 1904 had organised Australia's first motor race meeting _ a four event "demonstration" at Aspendale racecourse in Victoria. James, who was generally regarded as the father of Australian motor sport, was also a great-uncle to arguably the biggest name to ever grace the race track, Peter Brock.

James himself was no slouch as a driver. In 1908 he and Charles Kellow, in a Talbot, established the first Sydney-Melbourne speed record of 25 hours 40 minutes, touching off an epic era of city-to-city record breaking that lasted until the late 1920's and the opening of Phillip Island and Maroubra race tracks.

The trip from Sydney to Melbourne had becn done four years before, by Herbert Thomson and his cousin Edward Holmes in 1900 in the Thomson Steam Car. But nobody had thought of anything as fool-hardy as a race bettween the capitals.In March, 1905, 23 cars were shipped to Sydney to start the first Dunlop trial. Among the competitors were famous Australian department store Owner, Mark Foy, writer Banjo Patterson and a French driver who had competed in some of the earlier European city-to-city epics. By the end of the event, and amazingly, seventeen cars would eventually reach Melbourne.

They had left Sydney watched by a few hundred, and arrived in Mellbourne to a crowd estimated at almost 100,000. There was no outright winner, so the 17 were sent to Ballarat and back, a round-trip of 140 miles (225 km) on top of the 580 (933 km) they had already covered. The winner was pioneer Australian car maker Colonel Harley Tarrant, in a Scottish-made Argyle. Suddenly, motor Sport had arrived. James quickly organised another trial for October, this time starting from Melbourne. A vast and wildly-enthusiastic crowd lined up to farewell 28 cars and 10 motorcycles; in the field were Mercedes, Talbots, Oldsmobiles, Richard Braziers, Wolesleys, Argyles, de Dions and Tarrants.

The heat and the rough tracks _ there was no road as such - took their toll, but there were still 19 cars running at Sydney. So the organisers ordered a 132-mile (212 km) elimination section over the horrific climb to Medlow Bath, at the top of the Blue Mountains, and back. This added leg left only six cars, all Victorian crewed, in the running. And so the organisers, realising they all needed to return home anyway, decided to add another leg back to the Southern states capital.

In an almost unbclieveable epic adventure, Harley Tarrant survived a total of more than 1500 miles (2413 km) of bush tracks, searing heat, punctures, sand drifts, creek crossings, mountains and the mechanical fragility of the cars of the day to win - in an Australiann made "Tarrant". Almost 48 years later. the first Redex Trial was to maintain the tradition, even down to an elimination section thrown in by organisers at the last minute to find a winner (because the field had far exceeded anyone's concept of how fast a car could go over unknown terrain).

Following In The Tradition, The 1953 Redex Trial

In that 1953 Redex field were some names whose fame in motor sport would make them household names for the next few decades. Jack ("Gelignite") Murray entered the event in a 1953 Plymouth, one John Arthur (now Sir Jack) Brabbham started Car No. 181 in a 48/215 Holden; Ken Tubman, nearly 20 years later to win the World Cup Rally, was in a Peugeot 203. The team of three Preston Motors Holdens were driven by three great Australian motor racing legends, Lex Davison, Stan Jones and Charlie Dean (Davison would be tragically killed at Sandown in 1965).

David McKay led the Larke-Hoskins Austin A40 team, while Bathurst car dealer Barry Gurdon (one of the leaders in the establishment of the Bathurst 1000) was also on the Larke team; Alan Hamilton's father, Norman, entered the only Porsche. In the highly-favoured Ford Custom lines were radio star Jack Davey, the Sydney Daily Telegraph's reporting team of Tom Farrell/Merton Woods, and Wild Bill McLachlan. Don Gorringe, later to become a big name in Tasmanian motor sport, entered a Jowett Javelin. Trials ace Peter Antill was in a Plymouth, while the Perrkins brothers' father, Eddie, was in a Rover 75: Laurie Whitehead, who with Perkins, was to win Volkswagen's first round-Australia, was in a Citroen.

The cars that were entered into the original Redex were, by today's standards, a motley bunch. They included Jowett Javelin, Allard, Vauxhall Velox, several Mercedes 200D diesels, MG TD's, Ford Customlines, Chrysler Plymouths, De Sotos, Humber Super Snipes and a plethora of 1948 Ford V8's (many entrants obviously believing you needed a large and strong vehicle to be successful in the event - however these guys were in for a shock!). Then there were the little French car entries, such as the Peugeot 203 and Citroen (which few took seriously), a 3.5 litre Jaguar, a Chrysler Airflow, Hudson Terraplane, Goliath, Anglias, Zephyrs and Consuls, Singer Nines, Simcas, Vanguards, Hillmans and a 2.5 litre Riley. There was even a 1928 Nash entered!

Each car had to be kept stock, except for limited underbody protection and changes to seating, exhaust , carby's, shock absorbers, lighting and instruments. The route ran Sydney - Bundaberg - Rockhampton - Mackay- Townsville - Mount Isa - Darwin - Tennant Creek - Alice Springs - Kingoonya - Adelaide- Melbourne - Albury -Sydney. From Townsville to Adellaide, except for the bitument between Mt. Isa, Darwin and Alice Springs, the route was little more than a collection of faint tracks criss-crossing claypans and saltbush.

The Redex Trial Begins

There were 50,000 people at Sydney Showwground to see the start, which saw the first competitor, Ted Hoy in the Airnow, leave at 2pm. and the last, Queenslander, Miss J. Hill, in a Renault 750, at 11.33pm. The leaders averaged about 50 mph (80 km/h) up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane, with mechanical failure taking points from some of the novices.

The first bad accident happened near Gin Gin, when Patienee/Binks rolled their Ford V8 down an embankment and ended in hospital. But the field didn't strike unsealed roads until after Rockhamppton, and McLachlan, one of the favourites, lost two hours 15 minutes with water pump failure on his Custom line, but still made the Mackey control on time.

In 24 hours' rest at Townsville, the organnisers counted 177 cars in control with 128 c1ean-sheeters. But this was where the trial stopped being a rally and became a road race. The word went through the field like a bushhfire that the organisers had decided that in the event of several crews reaching Sydney withhout loss of points, their times on the Townsville - Mt. lsa and Alice Springs - Adelaide sections would decide the winner. They were given 16 hours to cover the 609 miles (980 km) from Townsville to lsa. The previous known best time was 16 hours 45 minutes.

Peter Antill in the Plymouth was fastest with an incredible 13:22. The first car to reach Mt. Isa was Possum Kipling's, 14 hours 12 minutes after leaving Townsville. He had to get the control officials out of bed. Behind him was a nightmare of crashed cars, irate police, and horror stories. Half the field was spread across most of Queensland. Bill McLachlan was directed wrongly in the middle of the night and drove 136 miles (219 km) off course before getting back on the right road, only to hit a cattle grid that had been deegutted by the field. Stan Jones hit the same grid.

Bill Murray rolled his Plymouth, a '32 Ford V8 broke two axles, Frank Kleinig lodged protest after protest with officials about bigger cars failing to move out of the way of his Morris Minor, Hamilton's Porsche hit a kangaroo and deranged its front suspennsion, driving the rest of the way into the Isa on the undertray, and the last car, Atkinson in the Skoda, staggered into the town after a 24 hour 44 minute trip following a trail of wreckage.

The 1954 Redex

Only A Madman Would Continue

A Mr Hoy, driving car number #1 (Chrysler Airfow) decided it was all too much, and in announcing his retirement declared "Only a madman would continue." The same Hoy turrned up at the start of the final elimination section near the finish outside Sydney, and insisted on leading the field through. There is little doubt that his action affected the trial final placings.

The next stage was over bitumen to Darwin, 1098 miles (1760 km) at an average of 44 mph (71 km/h). On the way up Antill hit a galah which took out his windscreen, but he was accustomed to driving under difficult circumstances, particularly given his car already had a cracked chassis.

McLachlan had broken his Customline's diff housing, but the medium-sized cars, like the Holden of Kipling, who was second into Darrwin, and the Rover of Perkins, third into control, were in good shape. As Wheels magazine said in its report of the trial: "The myth that the only car suited "for Australian conditions was the large American vehicle had been exxploded."

From Darwin 132 cars set out for a relatively easy drive down the bitumen to Alice Springs, for servicing and repairs at Tennant Creek and the Alice. As a result, of the 41 c1ean-sheeters that left Darwin, 38 were still there when the field lined up for the 368 miles (592 km) of desert to Kingoonya. This stretch was considered impossible to cover in less than 48 hours, and the organisers had set a time of 15 hours 10 minutes - plus giving the field only one hour's rest at Kingoonya before desspatching them for the remaining 424 miles (682 km) to Adelaide at an average of 42 mph (68 km/h).

Davison arrived in Kingoonya in an unbellieveable 13 hours 39 minutes. Second on the road was Possum Kipling in another Holden in 14:10. By Adelaide there were 11 c1ean-sheeters left and crews had to be lifted from their cars after up to 60 hours at the wheel without a break. The road decimated the field, who limmped in with hair-raising tales of tying up rear suspensions with tyre chains, living underground at Coober Pedy, jamming coir matting into a broken front end to keep going, and crew members going crazy from the dust and heat.

Nearing The End

The field that left Adelaide - 11 of them without loss of points - faced only bitumen roads through to the finish in Sydney. The 11 were Davison (Holden), Kipling (Holden), Perkins (Rover), Tubman (Peugeot), Sulman (Snipe), Ken Robinson (Snipe), Antill (Plyymouth), Davies (Holden), Nelson (Vannguard), Jack Masling - whose son now drives rally cars very well indeed - (Snipe), and David McKay (Austin A40).

But an 11-mile (17.7 km) stock route bettween Marulan and Bowral in NSW., part of a 30-miles (48 km) long elimination section that included a flooded river crossing a metre deep - did the damage, and wrote the words "horror stretch" into the vocabulary of any newspaperman writing about rallies for everrmore. That - and the strange action of Hoy, the man who had retired his Airflow at Mount Isa. When he got bogged, the whole field was held up for at least 30 minutes, and the drivers quite naturally tried anything to get around him and save points. To this day no-one is quite sure what happened to whom or who set up the stage. But it took five hours for the Australian Sporting Car Club to work out that Tubman, 37 years old, had won by 25 seconds from Robinson - 25 seconds after 10,500 kilometres of murderous country.

The win caused a sales rush on Peugeots. Every new model in the country was sold withhin the week. But post-mortems showed that apart from that last elimination section, the trial was, according to the crews, too easy, with too many rest stops. They said averages were set too low and the whole event could have been much tougher. At Unique Cars and Parts, we think the crews must have had extremely short memories indeed.
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