Every October when Bathurst rolls around, I am reminded of the craziest road trip I ever undertook as a young man (and there were a few). In the winter of 1988 the Seoul Olympics were in full swing when I set off on a grey Melbourne afternoon for a driving trip through VIctoria and NSW. My ’65 Mustang had just been canaried, Dave ‘The Mauler’ Maule’s RX3 rotary was blowing smoke, had starter motor problems and no rear brakes (none of that stopped him driving it daily) and so we had little choice but to go with Greg’s recently purchased rally Datsun 1600. We got the roadworthy certificate the day we left, frantically applying filler over rust in the right door sill before driving to the RTA to have it taken over the pits.
it had a six point roll cage, rally instruments, four point harnesses, 1800 SSS motor with side draft dual throat Weber, fuel pump switch, alloy wheels, flared guards and a riveted sheet-metal dash panel with space cut with tin snips to fit the stereo. Over the course of our six day trip we nicknamed the rear seat the torture chamber, and rotated regularly; with the roll cage cross-member in front of the seat squab, it was impossible to get comfortable.
The car was noisy, drafty, hard riding and cold, but it had a good stereo with Pink Floyd on steady rotation. We lost an alternator en route and drove for two hours in torrential rain without wipers. Too dangerous to stay on the highway, we took a back road but braked too late to avoid aquaplaning across a flooded road - water squirting up from the drainage holes in the carpet-less floor drenched both driver and front passenger. We stood outside a service station in Goulburn on a wet, cold Sunday as a mechanic installed a pre-loved alternator from the local wrecker. The next day we lost the keys in the snow in Thredbo after a day of skiing. Using a coat hanger we broke in, hot-wired the car and drove it the entire way home hoping we wouldn’t be stopped by the police.
We lost power driving across the Snowy Mountains and came out the other end with barely any fuel. Spotting lights in a farmhouse, we pulled in and asked where the nearest servo was, to be told it was a half hour drive away but wouldn’t be open. With her husband away delivering produce, the farmer’s wife invited us to sleep in a spare room, but not before making us sit up with her as she breast-fed her baby and smoked marijuana from a bong made from two coconuts with a giant bamboo stem. It was a strange evening, but we were glad for a place to spend the night.
Next morning we got fuel, then lost the windscreen to a rock thrown up by a passing truck, glass flying in at us so fast I had fragments embedded in the back of my hand as I shielded my eyes.
We drove eight hours back to Melbourne without a windscreen and were forced to stop and buy cheap sunglasses on account of insects and rocks hitting us in the face.
We made it home safely and anyway, it wasn’t on the road we faced the biggest threat to our health. That came from local lads out for a big Saturday night in Katoomba a couple nights previously. Ordering burgers at the local takeaway, we asked the proprietor where the action was. She told us there was a disco at the golf club every Saturday night.
As the sky darkened we pulled into the carpark of the Katoomba Golf Club, made our way to the reception and waited in line. As we signed on as temporary members the receptionist asked The Mauler if he was there with anyone, pointing to myself and Greg he replied “I’m here with a couple of friends”. Someone behind us muttered “You’ve got no friends here!” Right away, we knew we were in trouble. Once inside, as the crowd grew we got shoved and elbowed intentionally, so made our way to a booth with our beers where we had ice thrown at us every couple of minutes from different sections of the room. Evidently locals didn’t like outsiders on their turf. After several beers and much needed Dutch courage, we were planning our escape when Greg set off for the men’s.
When he hadn’t returned for ten minutes we became worried our friend had been dragged outside and beaten to a pulp, and were about to seek out security when he re-appeared. Telling us to grab our beers, Greg invited us to meet a guy he’d been talking too. “Just talk about cars!” he hissed over the music as we were led across the room to meet a guy called Steve.
For the next four hours we guzzled Tooheys and talked about cars in general, Bathurst in particular. Steve’s mates wandered over after a time and stayed to chat – always about cars, and Bathurst. We shared memories of favourite Bathurst moments, discussed the best drivers, the best cars. They told us what it was like to be there to see it live, and the three of us were envious. They invited us to come up in a couple of months and drive west to see the great race with them. We talked about our own cars, compared notes, and drank a lot more beer. We shouted drinks and they reciprocated. No more ice being thrown, no more shoves. Blokes walked up to introduce themselves.
My memory is a little foggy on account of the amount of beer drunk and the passing of time, but I seem to recall the consensus among the Holden contingent on their favourite Bathurst moment: Brock’s dominance of the 1979 race in the HDT Holden A9X Torana hatchback. Sitting on pole, Brock and co-driver Jim Richards led from start to finish, Brock saving the best till last – breaking the record on the final lap despite leading by a country mile. .
A couple of the guys preferred Brock’s earlier effort in the yellow L34 LH Torana SLR5000 sedan that won in 1975 (with co-driver Brian Sampson).
A few Ford boys stuck with Moffat’s effort in the mighty red XY Phase 3 Falcon GT-HO 351 that triumphed in 1971.
Other Ford fans preferred the big, brutal XC hardtops that finished 1-2 in ’77.
Just before we left the golf club that night, one of our new friends said “Lucky you blokes knew Steve – we were gonna give you’s a hiding!”
The moral of this story? When on foreign territory and feeling threatened, find some common ground. In so many places in this wide brown land – Bathurst is that common ground. Not just common ground, but for many – sacred ground.
Bathurst is right up there with the world’s great endurance races – Le Mans, Daytona, Indy 500, Bathurst. None of the others ask of drivers to climb a mountain, then descend it via a series of steeply inclined, fast and potentially deadly esses. It’s why so many of the world’s great drivers want to test themselves on the Mountain.
Mt Panorama holds a special place in the hearts of petrol heads in this country. And for me, there’s another reason I always remember Bathurst fondly…it saved me from getting a beating one cold winter night on a wild road trip thirty years ago.
Check out the Tunnel Ram gallery dedicated to the classic era of Mt Panorama racing - the twenty or so years from the late sixties to late eighties.
Postscript: Later that same winter I was in the passenger seat of the Datsun once again as Greg attempted some after-dark rally driving on back roads in the hills of Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula. It didn’t end well. The car rolled onto its side in a ditch so that we had to crawl out the passenger window as the car rocked dangerously. No-one was hurt but the car was a write-off.
About the author
Raph Tripp is a passionate classic car enthusiast and writer, he is founder of TunnelRam.net. If you wish to publish this article in part or in whole, please credit Raph Tripp and tunnelram.net . This is an original Tunnel Ram production ©2019 Tunnel Ram. All images remain the property of the original copyright holders.
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