We re-run the Redex
Modern Motor - December, 1963
Modern Motor - December, 1963
We put Ken Tubman and Jack Murray in a Mini; their time over the 6500-mile course would have won the first round-Australia trial by nearly two days, reports Modern Motor editor Jules Feldman.
At 2 p.m. on August 30, in drizzling rain, a little cavalcade of three cars was flagged off from Sydney's R.A.S. Showground by Australian Sporting Car Club president Bill Burns.
It was the start of Modern Motor's anniversary re-enactment of the first Redex Round-Australia Trial, held exactly ten years earlier. The cars, each with a crew of two, were to cover the same 6500-mile route—in the same driving time, or faster if possible.
We had three main purposes in mind when organising this project:
- To commemorate an event which, in our opinion, had done more than anything else to spur Australians' interest in motoring, and to open up hitherto-shunned sections of the outback to tourist traffic;
- To gauge the progress of car design, and of the nation's road construction, over the past decade;
- To demonstrate once more, through popular reaction, that it was time the round-Australia trials were resumed—and to gather latest data that would help to work out a time schedule for any such trial that might be held in the future.
The success of the venture exceeded all our expectations.
Wherever we went, people flocked to the signpainted cars, asking eagerly when the rest of the field was due in—and wanting to know, after we had disillusioned them, why there hadn't been any trials for such a long time and whether they would be resumed.
Clearly, the time was ripe. We had long thought so, but it was good to get this confirmed—and better still to find, on returning, that our data-gathering hadn't been wasted, either.
Just before leaving Sydney, we'd heard that Ampol were applying for a round-Australia trial permit for 1964. Now this permit has been granted—and it will be on again next June, for young and old!
Results in the performance department were equally pleasing. We knew that many outback roads had improved and thought that car design had made good progress, too. Even so, who would have predicted that our teeny-weeny, stock-standard Morris 850 "entry" would slice nearly two days' driving time off the original Redex schedule, covering the route in 118½ hours instead of 163?
How was this done ?—Let's start at the beginning.
Project That Grew
When the idea of a Redex anniversary re-run first came up last June, we thought that the best way of gauging automotive progress would be to take a "baby" car around the course—in other words, the modern version of a type that simply wouldn't have lasted the distance in those days. The Morris 850, being first to conquer Australians' prejudice against small cars, seemed the natural choice.
B.M.C. agreed to supply a "Mini" from their company fleet—and threw in a Wolseley 24/80 automatic, too, as they wanted to make a film record of the run, which meant more people, needing more transportation.
This suited us fine: the still-delicate automatics were not considered Redex Trial material ten years ago, so here was a chance to test yet another aspect of automotive progress.
Then B.M.C.'s Evan Green made the best suggestion yet, pointing out that Ken Tubman and Jack Murray, winners of the first and second Redexes, were currently driving B.M.C. cars in trials; he -asked if we'd like to invite them along.
Would we what!
Which was just what both Jack and Ken said when asked if they'd like to be in it.
With these two topnotchers in the Mini, the project couldn't miss.
At this stage a complication arose with the addition of a third car - the still-secret prototype of a model that wouldn't be released for many months yet: the opportunity to give it another outback tryout was too good to miss.
Officially, this car wasn't there - but it still needed a pair of drivers, and so far our complement numbered five: Ken and Jack, photographer Scott Polkinghorne, B.M.C.'s Evan Green, and myself.
Since all round-Australia trials had some women entrants, we decided the sixth driver should be a woman—and that's how Doc joined the party.
Doc — alias Dr. Phillida Sampson, of the Channel Islands — had come out here on a working holiday as a ship's doctor, and we happened to meet her just when the question of a sixth driver came up.
Her aim now was to see as much as possible of Australia before returning home. A keen motorist, she had driven and navigated in English trials —and having our own "M.O." along in case of snakebite or unhappy experiences with bore water seemed a good idea, so we looked no further.
Now the crews were complete, and the route had been mapped for us ten years earlier by Redex. Though called a round-Australia trial, that first one didn't go right around the continent but up the east coast from Sydney to Townsville, then via Mount Isa to Darwin, south to Adelaide through Alice Springs, and back to Sydney via Melbourne: 6500 miles, to be covered in a fortnight — of which 162 hours 55 minutes (a bit under seven days) was to be spent on the road, making the overall average 40 m.p.h.
We would stick to that route—but to allow ample time for filming, and story-gathering (for future travel articles in Modern Motor), we decided to expand the total time to three weeks.
Redex schedules were to be strictly observed; but in between we would take time out to visit such out-of-the-way places as Arnhem Land, Katherine Gorge, the Ayers Rock-Mt. Olga area, and so on. We'll tell you about these side trips in future issues: to avoid confusion, this story will deal only with the Redex re-run.
In addition, of course, the venture would serve as a marathon road test of the Morris 850 and Wolseley automatic. As with our previous marathons, Shell again supplied the fuel and lubricants. We ran throughout on Supershell and used Shell X-100 multigrade engine oil. Their excellent Touring Bureau provided maps and the latest road information; the Bureau's Sydney chief, Harry Grimster, clocked the cars out and into Sydney, and key Shell service stations along the route were alerted to give us quick service as well as check our progress.
Finally, because the Australian Sporting Car Club had handled the Redex trials, we asked their current president, Bill Burns, to act as our official "starter."
Redex route, with side trips in thinner lines
Rain fell on Sydney as Bill Burns flagged us of from the Showground, where trial began.
The cars received very little preparation. There was a skid-plate under each sump, plus another tiny skid- plate welded across from exhaust pipe to muffler (a dodge tried out successfully on our round-Australia Austin Freeway last year), and the Mini and Wolseley were fitted with spotlights. That was all -not even a kangaroo guard between the three cars!
The Mini was taken straight out of the company fleet and had 925 miles on the clock; the Wolseley, a B.M.C. director's car, had done 2887 miles; and "the car that wasn't there" had 3135 miles up, logged mostly, in rugged testing.
We had hoped to travel light, but it didn't work out that way, since we had to carry extra petrol for night driving, water over desolate stretches, camping gear and provisions, clothes for an extremes of climate, and a healthy assortment of tools and spares for each car. Plus, of course, Scott's mountain of still and movie cameras, tripods and assorted mystery boxes - augmented this time by the collection of gear that Evan brought along for his moviemaking.
Nor had we taken into account Jack Murray's idea of travelling light. He arrived at the Showground with three suitcases, a sleeping bag, a mattress, an army cot, two short-wave radios, his usual supply of gelignite sticks, and a .22 cradled in the biggest, heaviest wooden rifle case we'd ever seen.
We tried to prune him, down by one army cot, one radio, and the rifle, but Jack clung like an octopus to his "creature comforts," so we loaded the lot. We never did put the cars over a weighbridge, but you can be assured that all three were “fully laden.”
They certainly carried a lot more weight than had the Redex contestants, whose luggage was mostly restricted to some spares, a change of clothes, a rug, and maybe a sleeping-bag.
Which made it all the more pleasing to discover, at the end of the run, that the three cars had shaved not hours but days off the Redex timetable.
Initially we kept a detailed time check on every car; but since the Wolseley, - and later also "the car that wasn't there," were used for filming and kept shuttling back and forth, we eventually lost hope of tracking them accurately and concentrated all timing activities on the Mini.
In any case, the bigger cars had no trouble keeping up with "the little battler" (as Jack christened it), except on a few particularly rugged sections, where Jack's and Ken's virtuosity at the wheel more than compensated for the deficit in horses.
So the times given here will be those of the Mini - the one car that was all-important to our purpose.
Some roads were as bad as ever: Mini ploughs through a dust bowl between Julia Creek and Cloncurry. All photos by Scott Polkinghorne.
Side trips imposed additional hardships on the cars, and the one into Arnhem Land was tougher than any part of the Redex route. Everyone bogged in this sandy creek near Muirella, for instance.
All Times Bettered
Taking the route section by section —and with comments only where warranted — this was the picture:
- Sydney-Newcastle, 106 miles (all mileages are the present ones—a little shorter than ten years ago in most cases, due to straighter roads). Redex time allowance, 4 hours 30 minutes; Mini, 3 hours 6 minutes.
- Newcastle-Brisbane, 544m. Redex, 15h. Mini, 9h. 45m,
- Brisbane-Bundaberg, 186m. Redex, 7h.; Mini, 5h. 3m.
- Bundaberg - Rockhampton, 303 m. Redex, 5h. 45m.; Mini, 3h. 51m.
Nothing much to note till now-- but we must point out in all fairness that the next section, from Rockhampton to Mackay, has been improved out of sight over the past decade, the infamous Marlborough-Sarina horror stretch being replaced by a fairly narrow but good-surfaced bitumen road. The Mackay-Townsville stretch is now also good bitumen, so the better times recorded thereabouts were fully expected. The figures were:
- Rockhampton-Mackay, 246m. Redex, 8h. 30m.; Mini, 5h. 45m.
- Mackay-Townsville, 275m. Redex, 8h.; Mini, 5h. 5m.
And now, for the first time, we came to a road which, though improved over the first half, still isn't that much better for the rest of the distance than it was ten years ago—the Townsville-Mt. Isa section.
Between Hughenden and Cloncurry —and especially after Julia Creek—the corrugations were as bone-jarring as we'd found them last year: and while many of the "jump-ups" between Mary Kathleen and Isa had been pared down, the last 20-odd miles was a detour right over the old infamous switchbacks.
Considering all this - and recalling that- Peter Antill had rocked everyone in 1953 with his 13-hour run over the distance in a Plymouth -we were delighted with the result:
- Townsville-Mt. Isa, 592m. Redex, 16h.; Mini, 11h. 25m.
Next 2000 miles of the trial route were plain sailing. The bitumen of the Barkly and Stuart Highways was as good as ever, and we flew over it, our only worry being that the monotony might lull us to sleep. The savage detour into Arnhem Land interrupted the idyll, of course-but that will be another story. On the Redex sections. the times were:
- Mt. Isa-Darwin, 1026m. Redex, 25h.: Mini. 16h. 13m.
- Darwin-Tennant Creek, 638m. Redex, 15h.; Mini. 12h. 40m.
- Tennant Creek-Alice Springs, 313m. Redex, 8h.; Mini, 5h. 31m.
All nice and easy, but after Alice Springs came the toughest stretch of all - through the gibber plains and wastes surrounding Coober Pedy to Kingoonya. The road has been widened here, but its surface is as bad as ever in most places. Nevertheless, the log showed:
- Alice-Kingoonya. 662 miles. Redex, 15h. 10m.; Mini. 13h. 56m.
This was the main elimination section of the first Redex. and only handful of the cars managed to maintain the set average of 44 m.p.h. Jack and Ken averaged 47.5-but shaving that 74 minutes off the Redex time was hard work!
After Kingoonya there was a tedious rather than difficult dirt-road drive to Port Augusta, and the rest was bitumen. The figures:
- Kingoonya-Adelaide, 414m. Redex, 10h.; Mini, 7h. 44m.
- Adelaide-Melbourne, 465m. Redex, 11h.; Mini, 8h. 4m.
- Melbourne-Albury, 192m. Re-dex, 4h. 30m.; Mini, 3h. 3m.
- Albury-Sydney, 370m. Redex, 9h. 30m.; Mini, 7h. 21m.
Add it all up, and you'll find that Redex crews were given 162 hours and 55 minutes to cover a round-figure distance of 6500 miles (actually a bit less), while the Mini galloped over the route - accurately logged at 6334 miles - in 118 hours 32 minutes.
Overall average set for the Redex was a round 40 m.p.h.; the Mini averaged 53.4.
It's true that most roads are better today, that we didn't have the handicap of battling against a hundred other cars, all throwing dust and rocks at each other, and that the Mini had the unique advantage of being crewed by the men who won the first two Redex trials.
But these things alone do not explain why a car ten feet long and powered by an 848c.c. engine was able to chalk up a performance that would have beaten the first Redex schedule by nearly two days.
The hidden factor that made it possible was the man with the slide rule, we decided. The progress in automotive design over the past decade has been much greater than most people think.
Breaking camp at Kulgera; from left, toilers are Jack, Doc, Ken, Evan, Jules, Dorothy Bennett.
Jack boils the billy at the Olgas, on another (though less punishing) side trip. Same mob as in Kulgera picture, plus Larry Foley (in centre).
Rotting on a beach in Darwin is unhappy Sea Fox, wrecked by John Calvert. You can ski round her at high tide.
Doc quizzes owner of a Cooper Pedy underground home on pros and cons of this form of housing.
How Cars Performed
As mentioned previously, the bigger cars' times were very similar to the Mini's, and all sliced chunks off the Redex schedule at every point. We cannot discuss "the car that wasn't there," but here are the salient features of the others' performance.
The Mini amazed us by its ability to handle rough country roads. Even the brutal corrugations between Hughenden and Cloncurry worried it less than they did the Wolseley. At least not until Julia Creek, after which the corrugation shortened to a frequency that was out of tune with the Mini's little wheels and short wheelbase.
Another surprise was the way the Mini dealt with sand, despite its "short legs." It didn't bog once on the Redex route - and, except on two occasions, the deep sand or bull-dust that trapped it on our off-course detour into Arnhem Land were also bad enough to bog the bigger cars.
None of the engines gave a moment's trouble, and we had no braking problems. Tyre punctures occurred, of course--but even these were mostly on the detours and not on the Redex route.
Repairs were confined to the following:
- Mini: Replaced offside front shock-absorber and welded broken muffler bracket at Mt. Isa (damage was incurred when deliberately maltreating the car during the filming session that produced the leaping picture used on this month's cover). Chewed-out rubber mounting on offside rear shock-absorber replaced near Erldunda. Broken front engine mounting welded at Coober Pedy (caused by hitting a bathtub-size pothole near De Rose Hill – which also resulted in Ken Tubman getting an egg shampoo: Ken was driving, and a carton of eggs flung forward inside the car broke over his head and back).
The Mini also hit the traditional roo - near Bowen, in North Oueensland; this broke one headlight and two spotlights, and also dented the grille; all replaced at Townsville.
- Wolseley: Parted plate between exhaust pipe and muffler welded back on at Mt. Isa. The selector developed a tendency to slip out of Drive on bad bumps after Kulgera, but this was cured when a loosened steering-box mounting was fixed at Coober Pedy.
That was all-and what little damage did occur was due to our extra-curricular activities rather than the Redex re-run programme.
Finally, the petrol consumption. This was calculated not for the Redex route, but for the entire trip, and the figures were:
- The Mini covered a total of 7362 miles on 179.5 gallons of Supershell, averaging 41 m.p.g. - a highly gratifying result, considering the high speeds and big proportion of bad roads.
- The Wolseley logged 7484 miles (due to its use as the filming car, and an extra detour through the Snowy Mountains between Melbourne and Sydney) on 357 gallons - an average of 21 m.p.g. Not bad for an automatic, loaded down with every-thing the smaller cars couldn't carry.
This, then, was the strictly practical side of our run. There wasn't space this month to tell you of our side trips - of how our fleet grew to four cars and eight persons at one stage, with the addition of Arnhem Land adventuress Dorothy Bennett and her Simca, and of our one-time New York correspondent, Larry Foley, who now works with the People the North Committee in Townsville- or of Jack Murray's endeavours to teach Doc "the Australian way of life."
But we will fill in those gaps in later issues.
A Redex re-run wouldn’t have been complete without at least one broken screen; it was the Wolseley that copped it, while crewed by Doc and Evan. Jack, Ken and the Mini commiserate with them on a cold, windy night drive from Isa before breakfasting at Mataranka.
Back in Sydney after averaging 53.4 m.p.h. for 6334 miles, Jack “serenades” the Mini on a stick of gelignite. With Ken are B.M.C.’s George Thomson and Shell’s Harry Grimster, who clocked the car in at Showground.
This article was originally published in the December, 1963 edition of Modern Motor magazine.
Last updated 18 August 2021