Even before the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, BMC Australia’s Public Relations manager, Evan Green, and the president of the Morris 850 and 1100 Car Association, Gus Staunton, hatched a daring plan: A rally similar in concept to the Monte Carlo, but for Minis only, which would double as the public debut of the new car.
“We had the idea of the Mini Monte rallies, which is still unique”, Staunton recently recalled. “I mean, nobody has run anything like that in Australia, before or since…They were just years ahead of their time.”
Competitors would start from four locations: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane cities, before converging on Lithgow for the final run into Warwick Farm, Sydney. The rally routes would be similar in length and difficulty and would include special stages that were not compulsory but could earn teams extra points.
There would also be a surprise average speed event at Catalina Park race track in the Blue Mountains, and a gymkhana (motorkhana) at the finish at Warwick Farm, cheered on by an estimated crowd of 7,000 people.
On top of that, entrants were expected to keep their cars clean enough for the Concours d’Elegance at the finish.
To encourage entrants, thanks to some major sponsorship from BMC, Castrol and Shell as well as the £5 entry fees, there was a prize pool of over £1,500, with first outright receiving £250 and around 50 cash prizes in total – making it one of the richest events in Australia at the time. Compare this to an A-grade touring car race at Sandown the same year, where first place received £40 in prize money.
Not surprisingly, there were 178 starters, including some top-line amateur and professional drivers, as well as many first-timers, all hoping to get a slice of the action.
A few motoring magazines, including Racing Car News and Modern Motor, fielded entries and there were many entries from individual BMC dealerships. There was even a prize for the best team of four cars from a dealership, which was won by Vaughan & Lane from Hurstville, Sydney.
Vaughan & Lane sponsored the second-placed pairing of Peter Cray and Steve Halloran, as well as third-placed, and first husband/wife crew, Lynn and John Keeffe.
Outright winners were Barry Ferguson and Tony Denham in a Mini De Luxe. In fact, the new model Mini had done itself proud by taking the first five places outright, ahead of the many Cooper Minis, and hot and standard Morris 850s.
The trophy for the Best Club Team went to the Morris 850 Car Association of NSW. Team member Trevor French recalled a few years ago; “Nobody knew what they were doing, so we all drove like hell and we won the teams prize; 50 quid and a bloody big trophy.”
Although the event had been hugely successful, a ban on rallying on public roads in NSW in 1966 meant the Mini Monte didn’t take place that year.
However, with the ban lifted for 1967, the Monte was back. This time the Morris 1100 was also eligible. An 1100S (1310cc) driven by Brian Hilton and Ron Short won the event outright, with the car in which they had taken fifth place in that year’s NSW Rally Championship.
Peter Cray was again second, this time with John Bryson, while journalist Pat Hayes from Australian Motor Sports magazine, with Bob Forsyth navigating, finished third.
Entry numbers were down to 109, but included the likes of Mini’s top names of the day Bob Holden and Don Holland, and a young Hans Tholstrup – who was yet to make a name for himself. There were also a few brave souls in Mini Mokes and Leonard Teale from the TV show Homicide.
Holden and navigator George Shepheard had a mystery run-in with someone toting a shotgun. However, the pair were blissfully unaware of the incident until they limped home, after suspension failure forced them out of the event, and found the back of the Mini plastered with shotgun pellets. One magazine reported it was an irate farmer, while another said it was an idiot camper.
Between the first and second Mini Monte Rallies, decimal currency had come to Australia, and the first-place prize money remained at $500.
There were now only three starting points – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – and special driving tests took place at Catalina, Amaroo and Oran Parks, as well as the Army motorcycle scramble track at Moorebank, before the finish and final motorkhana at the Bankstown Square shopping centre.
For 1968 prize money was the same, there was a new sponsor in Caltex, but numbers had fallen to only 61 cars. Many people realised that the Mini Monte was a rally to be reckoned with and not just some fun publicity stunt. Eleven cars had failed to finish in 1967 and the rally had in only two events picked up a reputation of being as challenging as any major national or state event.
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The BMC Experience Issue 9. Apr-Jun 2014 Magazine
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