In a glorious explosion of non-political correctness and surrounded by a cloud of ignorance of health and safety laws, a group of ancient ‘shitboxes’ filled with beer swilling Aussies, will curse and yell their way from Sydney to Alice Springs.
When they hit their first kangaroo out on the highway, the wrecked headlight will be replaced by a couple of torches gaffer taped to the remains of the wing.
When the first casualty is pushed aside into a storm drain, the remaining contestants will stop, search the bush for whatever comes to hand and replace the drivers door with old advertising signs and yet more gaffer tape.
Formula 1 it isn’t.
There are some rules and regulations, cars must be valued at no more than £500. Most of them would struggle to reach a value of £5.
There are 3,500 miles to cover, and the straight dirt roads are boring – so the helpful organiser, mindful that none of the cars have anything more modern than an eight track tape player, has thoughtfully distributed a selection of old eight track tapes.
The only concession to modern times is that each contestant must raise £1,500 in order to take part – which is promptly donated to the Cancer Council of New South Wales.
The idea of a rally of ancient wrecks is not new.
Back in the early 80s I had an elderly MGB GT. It might have looked clapped out, but it was tuned to perfection (thank-you Frankie boy!) and I delighted in beating the City boys in their expensive pieces of kit away from the lights.
One day I shot off down the A4, cutting up a beautiful Jensen interceptor. He followed me for miles as I wove in and out of the traffic. It wasn’t until we reached the open road beyond Cherry Blossom corner that he was able to get ahead of me. Whoops! I thought, here we go, road rage…..as an Australian built like the proverbial shithouse headed back to my car.
Wylton Dixon might have looked like trouble, but he was an amiable giant. He was an advertising guru with a genius for publicity. He had run the highly successful 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, timed to end with the FIFA World Cup soccer finals.
He had just dreamed up the idea of resuscitating the Peking to Paris Rally, and had been meandering along the A4 wondering what he was going to do to beat his coup of persuading Prince Michael of Kent to enter the London to Mexico rally, when his eclectic mind hit on the idea of tying up the offer he had had from ‘butterfly engine’ designer, Fred Stidworthy, to provide a ‘plastic’ engine to one of the cars, with an unexpected driver.
Fred Stidworthy was ‘backed’, if that is the right word, by the non existent millions of an American con-artist usually known as Basil Wainwright. Wainright wanted Wylton to use the butterfly engine in one of the cars in his forthcoming rally to publicise it.
“I have just the idea”, said Wylton to himself, humming quietly as he waited in the traffic, “an all woman team driving it”. That was the moment when the traffic started moving, and Wylton, lost in his thoughts, took second place to my MGB……
Anybody else would have gone back to their office and drawn up a list of professional female rally drivers, of whom there were a few, even then. Not Wylton, he decided that my appearance was serendipity, and my place in his team was mandatory.
He took me to lunch, he took me to dinner, he introduced me to Basil Wainwright, by the end of the day he had persuaded Max Factor to back my entry…he was a forceful character.
He had also persuaded me to pack up my job and go and work for him in his Eaton Square apartment typing endless abusive letters to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile with whom he was permanently at war. I particularly remember one to Jean-Marie Balestre, then president of Fédération Française du Sport Automobile, in which he had offered to tie Bernie Ecclestone’s haemorrhoids round the axle of the Orient Express – I just wish I could remember why! Wylton had such a way with words.
The Peking to Paris Rally fell apart in disarray. Basil Wainwright had gone a step to far, and convinced Noel Edmunds to invest $120,000 in the butterfly engine project to help him win the Cowes to Torquay boat race, Edmunds discovered it was a con – the butterfly project was little more than a dusty blueprint lying in a garden shed -and Wainwright disappeared in a cloud of 22 indictments and went to prison for fraud for 3 years.
Wylton fled back to Australia, and I had to find something less exciting to do with my life.
I still think the idea of veteran cars racing across a deserted landscape is a sight more exciting than the controlled perfect world of Formula 1, so I’m delighted to see that the Aussie spirit of ‘proper’ rallying is alive and well.
You can follow the progress of ‘Muff Driver’ and ‘Shitty Shitty Bang Bang’ and the other drivers HERE – they left this morning. Semi-sober.