London to Sydney – Weather Permitting

On a sunny morning in June 1958, the two small cars drove through the heavy London traffic, heading for the South Coast of England. After over a year of planning routes, organising visas, permits, inoculations and equipment, overhauling cars and endless letter writing, our expedition was on the move. The road to Sydney lay ahead!

Our two cars were Series E Morris 8s, a 1940 tourer and a 1939 sedan, thoroughly overhauled, but only slightly modified, for the ordeal which was to come. In the tourer were Alan and Vera Taylor of Chelmsford, Essex. In the sedan were ourselves, Trevor and Mary Webster and our young son, Tony, 17-months old on departure. 

Alan and I were both electrical engineers and were thinking of emigrating to Australia. We decided that it would be far more interesting to drive out, rather than take the usual journey by ship.

Both cars carried full camping equipment for their crews, as well as personal gear for six months travelling. Also included were essential provisions such as 192 packets of dried soup and 96 tins of milk! Add to this spares for the cars, jerricans for extra petrol and water, and you realise that space was at a premium. 

To help offset the costs we had secured a few handy sponsors, including Duckham’s oils (their Q20-50 multigrade engine oil, new on the market at the time, was probably a significant factor in our success under trying conditions), WIPAC car parts, Oldham batteries and Ondura remoulded tyres. We named our little expedition London-Sydney: Weather Permitting.

The first sea crossing was by air. Twenty minutes after leaving the airfield on Romney Marsh, our Bristol Freighter touched down at Le Touquet in France. From here we made for Belgium, to see the 1958 Brussels International Fair, and the excruciating cobbles of Calais and Dunkirk soon gave way to the high speed Ostend-Brussels Motorway. 

We continued south, over the excellent roads of Western Europe, through Luxembourg, France and Germany, and over the Swiss Alps (St. Gotthard Pass) into Italy, with its myriad Vespas and fast Autostradas. 

We entered Yugoslavia at Trieste. The contrast from Italy was immediate, the clock being virtually put back a hundred years in as many yards. We entered a land of peasants, obviously very poor, working the land by hand, and driving ancient carts, drawn by incredibly thin horses, along roads thick with white dust. 

Only an occasional diesel truck or official car marred the peace, even on the twin track autoput, which stretched from Zagreb to Belgrade. Everyone waved frantically as we passed, and one started to appreciate the feelings of visiting Royalty! 

Our route lay inland at first through Bosnia to Sarajevo, and regained the coast at Dubrovnik, where a week was spent. 

Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik, formerly known as Ragusa, existed as an independent republic for a thousand years and was the great rival of Venice. It escaped the Turkish domination, which has so profoundly affected the   rest of what became Yugoslavia after the First World War, but is now a collection of independent states. 

Our stay was spoilt only by an on-the-spot fine, at pistol point, for entering a one-way street in reverse; the policeman’s English was on a par with our Serbo-Croatian, so argument was out of the question!

Following the magnificent Dalmatian coastline, we circled the huge Bay of Kotor and, near the Albanian border, we headed inland into the interior of Montenegro. The country is mountainous and, with our heavily laden cars, 112 miles (180km) were covered in 11 hours solid driving! 

The mountains gave way eventually to the plains of Serbia, and, after some more horror sections of road, we reached the Greek frontier. Our impression was that Tito’s Communist regime in Yugoslavia was obviously making an honest effort to improve the lot of the people, but there was still a long way to go. 

At the Greek Customs we re-entered the 20th century with a bang. 

After Yugoslavia’s 44-gallon drums and ancient bowsers, even a modern petrol pump was a sight for sore eyes. Bitumen roads, unfortunately marred throughout by enormous pot-holes, lead to Athens. 

We completed our tour of the sights of ancient Greece via Corinth and Delphi, before heading north again to Larissa, Salonika and the Turkish border. 

For military reasons, the roads on both sides of this border had been almost non-existent for centuries, but the Iron Curtain around Bulgaria and American Aid had led to great improvements in recent years. 

After an interlude at Turkish Customs, listening to seductive oriental music over the radio and completing numerous formalities, we headed for Istanbul, which we found one of the most interesting cities on our route. 

We visited the enormous mosques, the Sultans’ palace and the islands in the Sea of Marmora, and camped high above the Bosphorus, overlooking the summer residences of the President and other heads of state. A beautiful site, to which we were fortunate enough to be taken by the agent of one of our sponsors. 

Our stay in Istanbul was actually extended by a few days because it coincided with one of Turkey’s periodical “petrol famines”, experienced when foreign currency ran out! For three days, petrol was unobtainable, and it was only through the kindness of the director of the local B.P. company, who saw us in a queue with 300 other cars, that we got sufficient petrol to proceed on our way. 

A ten-minute trip by ferry took us across the Bosphorus to Scutari, where Florence Nightingale’s hospital now serves again as a barracks. 

Our first experience of Asia was the fine modern highway leading to Ankara, the capital of Turkey. This is a modern city built to replace Istanbul as the administrative centre of the country; it resembles Australia’s capital Canberra in setting and general feeling. 

The Iraqi Revolution, and assassination of King Feisal, had occurred whilst we were in Istanbul, setting the Middle East aflame, but the British Embassy in Ankara assured us that the border with Iran was still open, so we continued on: after a further search for petrol!

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The BMC Experience Issue 16. Jan-Mar 2016 Magazine

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