Motoring: Up a gum tree when lightning strikes twice: Despite breaking down on the way to Broken Hill, Gavin Green nurses his Escort across Australia to take 13th place in the London-Sydney Marathon
Saturday 22 May 1993
We started 18th, in keeping with our overall position. In the first 10 miles we passed three stranded cars: one had hit a tree, hard; the second had broken an axle; and the third one had suffered two simultaneous punctures.
Less than 10 miles from the line, I slowed a little, happy to finish, and on a detour around a fallen tree, we became bogged in a mixture of deep ruts and sand. It took 17 minutes to get out, and instead of being third-fastest on the stage, we were 21st.
Some cars were irreparably broken. Some drivers slept the night in them. Help came next morning. Those who finished spent the evening camped in Eucla on the Western Australia/South Australia border. Many drivers spent much of the night in Eucla's only garage, trying to fix broken cars. Our front wheel bearings were ruined, our exhaust was badly bent and battered, and our rear suspension was starting to sag.
The Porsche of England's Francis Tuthill, ninth-quickest on today's stage, has retained its lead. Despite being bogged, we've moved to 16th.
DAY 26: Eucla to Port Augusta, South Australia - One rough special stage today, in the Gawler Ranges, trying to avoid big rocks and ruts. The transport stages, too, were mostly on rough gravel roads, which punished all cars severely. Most of the 550 miles was across flat, dry, worn countryside, bordered by dull green scrubland, rocks and red soil. Spent much of the night in Port Augusta, north of Adelaide trying (unsuccessfully) to find new wheel bearings for our Escort, fixing a broken wheel stud, broken exhaust bracket and broken alternator bracket. The car has taken a dreadful pounding.
DAY 27: Port Augusta to Broken Hill, New South Wales - Through the Flinders Ranges, a lovely area of green hills, vast white-barked ghost gums, massive rocky gorges, rich red soil and fast-flowing creeks. There were four special stages: my Dad, who knows this area well, did two of them. In the original 1968 London to Sydney Marathon, he dropped from fifth to 21st in the Flinders Ranges, after being stranded when a wheel bearing failed. We had a puncture in exactly the same clearing.
We went well today, climbing two places to 14th. Andrew Cowan, driving the same Hillman Hunter in which he won in 1968, broke his engine bearings, had the car freighted to Adelaide, fitted the new bearings, then drove through the night to Broken Hill for the 6.30am restart. He dropped to 66th.
The Australian Dave Thomas, once running third, retired after the rally's most spectacular accident. He hit a rock and cartwheeled into trees at more than 100mph. He was unhurt, but his co-driver, Jenny Britten, wife of the event director, Nick Britten, was flown to hospital with broken ribs.
Out of 106 starters, 86 cars remain in the event. We finally got new wheel bearings fitted.
DAY 28: Broken Hill to Wangaratta, Victoria - The longest day: 700 miles of driving, including two special stages in northern Victoria forests, one at night. That stage scared me. It involved wending our way through eucalyptus, down a narrow, twisting gravel track. I drove cautiously, and for the first time on on a special stage of the rally was overtaken by another car: the Peugeot 504 of the French rally champion, Bernard Consten, with whom we've been neck and neck for the past week.
The camaraderie in the event has been exceptionally good. The New Zealander Graham Lorimer in an Escort, running fourth, lent his spare steering rack to Britain's Roger Clark, who was running sixth. Otherwise Clark would have been out, and Lorimer had no other spare.
DAY 29: Wangaratta to Canberra - Through the Australian Alps, in northern Victoria. This is one of the most handsome parts of Australia: tall, majestic gums, green fields studded with vineyards and colonial-style homes, brilliant clear light and a film of snow on the ground. Many of the trees are a lovely autumnal orange. The special stages were all on muddy, snowy tracks, always treacherous.
The local Ford dealer at every Australian town we've stopped at has stayed open late to help not only the Ford drivers. In most cases, they've been charging a flat rate of dollars A20 (just under pounds 10) for help.
As usual, to bed after 1am. I've been averaging four hours' sleep a night across Australia, such is the maintenance work now required to keep the car competitive. Most drivers, including all the front-runners, are putting in similar efforts. Everyone is desperate to finish this great adventure.
Day 30: Canberra to Sydney - Finish we did, at the Sydney Opera House, at 2pm, in 13th place. Tuthill, a former works rally driver for Audi, deservedly won. He had led since Turkey, and was the quickest driver across Australia.
All cars assembled in Homebush, at the proposed site for the Olympic Games in 2000. A 16-strong motorcycle police escort led us to the Opera House. It was a showery day, and the water on Sydney Harbour was a cold, steely grey. But for the weary crews of the 86 cars who finished the greatest motoring adventure of modern times, no sight could have been more welcoming.
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