Australian Rally History

by Tom Snooks
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History of the Southern Cross Rally – an Introduction

1966 to 1980

Conducted by



Compiled by Tom Snooks – Competitor 1968, Event General Manager 1973-1977; Secretary of Australian Sporting Car Club 1972-1978

RACING CAR NEWS – “Trials in Australia in 1966 have been the biggest ever, with principal ‘works’ teams doing battle in almost every state. Culmination of this highly exciting branch of the Sport will be the International Southern Cross Rally in October. Artist David Atkinson has presented a scene we may expect to see somewhere along the route. Reprints are available at 10 cents per copy”.

The era of the long distance trials, as witnessed by the Redex, Ampol and Mobil Trials of the fifties and sixties were largely over by 1964 with the running of that year’s Ampol Trial (which ran for last time I 1970), mainly due to costs and complications of the organising time being too great, whilst roads dramatically improved as the effects of World War 2 wore off, and speed limits introduced. There were three such events to come – Repco Reliability Trial in 1979, Mobil Trial in 1995 and the Playstation Trial in 1998.

As the sixties advanced, rallies or trials became, in character, closer to the European competitive style of rallying and were being almost exclusively confined to forests or mountainous country. Sections, or stages, were short compared to those of the round Australia trials and the action took place in condensed localities. Permissions from municipalities, shires and forest authorities to conduct events became necessary.

Competition became more intense and more professional and gradually by the time the seventies arrived most states had adopted route charts for their events, replacing navigation. This was necessary to ensure that only roads for which permission had been obtained were used, and crews wanted to improve their chances of doing well by taking out some of the ‘guesswork’ involved with navigation.

All states had introduced State Championships in the early sixties and the challenge of a national event in which crews from states could be pitted against each other was taken up with the introduction of the Southern Cross Rally in 1966, followed by the Australian Rally Championship in 1968.

Origins of the Southern Cross International Rally – Following is from John Keeffe CAMS CEO 1973 -1993
The concept of an international rally was the result of discussions during 1965 and 1966 in the Australian Sporting Car Club rooms located at the Sydney suburb of Redfern. A small group of Evan Green, John Keeffe and Peter Mulder developed the international event theme which grew into a rough outline of a possible course through the more populated areas of the country – Sydney to Melbourne and return.

Evan Green was an enthusiastic driver and at that time held the unofficial round Australia record for a four wheel vehicle. He was the Public Relations Manager at British Motor Corporation (BMC) and, importantly, he was employed by Eric White Associates, a major public relations firm which had an extensive network of useful contacts worldwide, and Green could call on his contacts to involve their companies with the event.

Through Green’s contacts support came from BMC, which agreed to send Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen to Australia for both the Gallaher 500 Race at Bathurst and the newly developed international rally, which started four days after the race. Castrol offered support as one of a number of sponsors for the team, whilst Rothmans was a principal sponsor of the event. Rothman’s Jim Shepheard was a very valued and enthusiastic contact.

The name of the event was determined fairly early in discussions between Green, Keeffe and Mulder. Several potential names were canvassed while they sought a definitively Australian name and they settled on the name of Southern Cross, which also refers to the best known and most represented star group in the Southern Hemisphere which can be seen all year round from almost anywhere in Australia. The constellation is not visible in the northern hemisphere.

The name was topical in at least the Eastern States of Australia at that time in the mid-sixties because there had recently been a Southern Cross yacht race in the region.

With the concept, event name and potential sponsors to hand an Event Director (now known as the Clerk of the Course) Bob Selby-Wood was brought into the organising team and was involved in all discussions thereafter.

Whilst Selby-Wood had a free hand in establishing the event on the road he needed to take into account the international rally character of the event, and the expectations of the international competitors. He did this very well, and the first Southern Cross International Rally, conducted from Sydney to Melbourne and back again over four days and nights, was a very good rally – so much so, that the internationals came for all of the Southern Cross International Rally events that followed, up to its end in 1980.

So, the Sydney-based Australian Sporting Car Club, which had organised the Redex and Ampol Trials (but not the 1970 Captain Cook Bicentenary Event which was organised by the Australian Racing Drivers Club – ARDC) as well as the Southern Mountains Rally (forerunner of the Bega Valley Rally), determined to conduct in 1966 the Southern Cross Rally over a four day 3500 kilometre route from Sydney to Melbourne and return.

In 1966 the event was run in early October, starting on the Thursday after the Bathurst touring car race, allowing international drivers to compete under the BMC banner in the Gallaher 500 in Morris Cooper S cars and then take part in the Southern Cross. Rauno Aaltonen, with Australia’s Bob Holden, won the Bathurst race but Paddy Hopkirk didn’t finish.

In 1967 the overseas visitors who competed at Bathurst also included Tony Fall (finished 5th), Timo Makinen (7th) and, again, Hopkirk (8th), and they were entered in the Southern Cross Rally. Then in 1969 Makinen and Hopkirk competed in the Southern Cross Rally, but not the Bathurst race (by now called the Hardie-Ferodo 500).

As these drivers were also rally drivers it seemed natural to attract them to participate in an Australian Rally, which had been set up under FIA regulations for them to compete – and thus was born international rallying in Australia, with FIA homologated cars.

The 1966 and 1968 events ran from Sydney to Melbourne and back to Sydney, whilst the 1967 course was Sydney-Bairnsdale-Sydney. In 1969 there was a moratorium on the conduct of rallies using shire roads in New South Wales whilst an agreement was drawn up between the shires and CAMS for the conduct of rallies, and the event was based at Surfers Paradise, although it did use some roads in northern New South Wales.

In 1970, the rally started and finished in Sydney, but was based at Port Macquarie. Only forestry roads were used. This became the format for future Southern Cross Rallies, with the last one in 1980 finishing in Port Macquarie.

Key organisers of the event were:

Year Road Director General Manager
1966 Bob Selby-Wood  
1967 Bob Selby-Wood  
1968 Alan Lawson  
1969 Alan Lawson  
1970 Alan Lawson  
1971 Alan Lawson  
1972 Dan White  
1973 Dan White Tom Snooks
1974 Dan White Tom Snooks
1975 Dan White Tom Snooks
1976 Dan White Tom Snooks
1977 Dan White Tom Snooks
1978 Peter Berriman Tony Webb
1979 Peter Berriman Tony Webb
1980 Geoff Sykes  

Distances and Numbers of Competitors

Year Total Dist. No. of Starters No. of Finishers Number Complete 100% Course Number Overseas Comment
Drivers Navs
1966 3500 69 38   2    
1967 4000 84 39   3    
1968 3500 76 35   1    
1969 3400 71 ?   4 3  
1970 3600 78 ?   3    
1971 2700 79 37   4 2  
1972 3200 66 ?   4 1  
1973 3200 72 38 9 9 4 ‘The Wet One’
1974 3400 61 ? 7 11 7 ‘The Magnificent Seven’
1975 3400 79 30 14 25 16  
1976 3300 83 22 10 30 28  
1977 2700 69 ?   33 30 ‘FIA Drivers Cup’
1978 2700 52 22 22 21 15  
1979 2700 40 17 17 8 4  
1980 2600 44 17 17 4 4  

Competitive Sections/Special Stages – Timing

The event was not a special stage rally until 1977.* It was conducted as what is now known as an ‘A to B’ trial, with transport sections followed by competitive sections and cars starting at two minute intervals to cater for dust. Timing was to the forward minute, although on the daylight ‘stages’ from 1974 timing was to the forward quarter minute. A time allowed was set for each section, and the time by which competitors exceeded the time allowed was the penalty time, expressed as points (with each minute, or part thereof, attracting a one point penalty). Penalties also applied for entering or leaving controls in the wrong direction.

Often a crew did this tactically to try to stay within the late time limit, as crews had to report to at least seventy-five percent (75%) of main controls in the correct direction within the late time limit to be classified as a finisher when this limit came into force as from 1974. Before that, a sole competitor in a class could start each division, and then return to the comfort of the motel, work out what the finish time should be and then book in at that time, never leaving Port Macquarie (unless to spectate!). From 1977 100% of the course had to be achieved to be a finisher.

*The first special stage rally was organised by Peter Lang in the ACT in 1974, where the penalty time was the elapsed time timed to the second. This was the Don Capasco Rally which became the famous Castrol Rally. It was won by Bob Watson in a Renault Alpine.

Roads were NOT closed to non-rally traffic, which started to become a problem when more and more competition sections were conducted in the afternoon. From 1977, when ‘special stages’ were introduced to conform with the requirements of the FIA Drivers Cup, timing was to the second but target times were still used, so time penalties were calculated for times in excess of the target times and expressed in time and not ‘points’.

From 1977 ‘special stages’ were scheduled to be run in darkness on roads not closed to non-rally traffic, and ‘daylight special stages’ scheduled to be run in daylight on roads closed to non-rally traffic. This meant that if the running schedule was delayed, or competitors were running exceedingly late so that they were in daylight in the morning, competitors were not to exceed a speed of 50km/h, even on competitive stages. This didn’t happen very often.

Read the complete introduction and overview in the document below.

Introduction and overview