I have raced and rallied all over the world during my long career and am still actively involved in motorsport, but with historic cars now.
Looking back, the rally that gave me the most personal satisfaction was the Spa-Sofia-Liege Rally in 1964, when I was paired with Tony Ambrose. I was driving what I believe to be one of the great cars of all time, an Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII. The rally was run in very difficult circumstances, the weather was hot, the roads were little better than hostile and the pace was brutal for four days and nights of the most intensive high-speed competition in the world. It took us from Belgium through to the Black Sea and back. There was just the one rest halt and that was in Sofia, for just one hour. It was a pure road race on dirt. We won it by a rather big margin and, despite problems, the Austin-Healey 3000 never missed a beat. Along the way there was a jump—an unexpected jump—we took off and landed with a great jolt. It was so bad, I lost all my fog lamps fixed to the front of the car, so it was lights out almost immediately. The bottom of the Healey took a bashing too, so much so that we couldn’t operate the doors properly anymore. I stopped at a special stage, cut some fence wire from a nearby field and tied the doors up so they wouldn’t flap open.
En-route we entered Yugoslavia on our way out from Spa. It was a real tough section, some 165 kilometers long. After 160 of the 165 kilometers, we had a flat rear tire, then one kilometer later the other rear tire burst. I was revving the Healey up to 6,000 rpm prior to the tires bursting, then I changed policy and just revved to 4,000 rpm to help the tires. When we got to the service, the wheel spokes were all broken, so we were just running on the discs. We didn’t stop as we didn’t want to give away any time. Had we done so we would have had to let the car behind us pass and we’d end up in his dust. After that service point, I continued to drive at 4,000 rpm as I didn’t want anymore tire problems. Despite the heavy crash landing and the problems with the tires the car kept going until we returned to Belgium and the finishing point. It was a really hard rally, the win was so satisfying.
Another memorable rally that comes to mind was the Round Australia Rally in a Holden. We were three in the car, the idea was for one to sleep and the other two to work. I remember I was driving, Barry Lake was navigating and Shekar Mehta was supposed to be asleep, but with such long stages there wasn’t a chance, as he had to do all the “office work” and get the paperwork we needed ready for us. We were on a long stage, somewhere west of Adelaide, a particularly rocky section. It reminded me of a salt lake, one minute all flat, the next very rocky. We managed to get our third puncture during this section and, of course, we only had two spare wheels. I was nominated to change the tube, as I had proved to be the fastest at changing tubes. That didn’t include pumping the tire up, I left Barry to do that with a hand pump—poor guy had to work flat-out to get the tire inflated quickly, he was so tired and really sweating, I really felt so sorry for him. The minutes were running away from us, and Peter Brock was extending his lead. We ended up finishing 3rd, but I always remember Barry Lake’s face—it was a picture of pain and agony after inflating the tire. In those days we earned every penny we got from our sport, today it’s much calmer, shorter and, of course, the drivers are paid much more.