Brian Culcheth recalls his trip to Australia in 1970 very fondly.
In October 1970 I was delighted to be invited by Evan Green, then PR manager of British Leyland (Australia) to come to Australia to compete in three rallies: The Southern Cross, BP Hills Rally, and Papuan Safari in New Guinea. That was also the year I drove at Bathurst in the Triumph with Lyndon McLeod (see Issue 11).
I first met Evan and ‘Gelignite Jack’ in Delhi, where they were to collect the Morris 1800 (SMO223G) that I had driven out from England recceing the route for the ‘London Sydney Marathon’. They were going to do the route in reverse.
Evan became a good friend and we remained in touch until his untimely death.
The last two Mini Cooper ‘S’ built at the famous Abingdon Competitions Department were shipped to Australia. Their registration numbers were RJB327F (registered in Australia as BLA 532) and YMO881H (BLA523). RJB, a Mk2 Cooper ‘S’, was for me, while YMO, the only Mk3 Cooper ‘S’ prepared by the Competitions Department, was for Andrew Cowan.
Both cars had been reshelled and beautifully built by the skilful Abingdon mechanics to the very latest Works specification. It was always such a thrill to go to Abingdon to inspect the car that had been prepared with such artistry, and for you the chosen driver.
On Safari in PNG
The first rally tackled was the Papuan Safari in an Austin 1500, with the engine from the Maxi, which I believe was sold only in Australia (see Issue 12 of BMCE). The car was well prepared and I had a local navigator, I James (can’t remember his first name). We were in the capital Port Moresby for a few days before the start, during which time there was torrential rain that at one time threatened the cancellation of the rally. Fortunately the rain stopped and the event went ahead.
We started well, over some amazing roads churned up by the rain with deep ruts. It was like driving on tram lines, as you simply could not get out of the ruts. During the night there were some fast sections and I mentioned to Team Manager Gus Staunton that I was running out of revs in top gear. I felt a complete idiot when he asked, “is that in 5th gear?”. I had completely forgotten that we had a 5-speed gearbox.
There was a stage that ran steeply downhill for some miles and just as I was coming into the control at the bottom the brakes failed. Rather than crash into the cars already at the control, I went off the road and turned over into a river. Luckily, Gus and the mechanics were there and were able to winch the car back onto the road. It was not too badly damaged, apart from the driver’s door which was badly bent and had to be roped to the central door pillar. We lost some time while the repairs were carried out, but were able to continue.
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The BMC Experience Issue 13. Apr-Jun 2015 Magazine
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