Australian Rally History

by Tom Snooks
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Total Oil Economy Run

1976 to 1980

conducted under the auspices of CAMS

Downloadable PDF at bottom

Tom Snooks was the Event Coordinator of the TOTAL Oil Economy Runs conducted between 1976 and 1980, over a four day course around Sydney and then from that city to Melbourne. The Run developed out of an economy run conducted by a CAMS Car Club in Newcastle in 1975, which TOTAL Oil sponsored. In the wake of the 1973 ‘oil shock’ TOTAL saw the potential for conducting a well organised national economy run. Tom Snooks was heavily involved in the TOTAL Oil Southern Cross International Rally, and TOTAL seconded him to organise the TOTAL Oil Economy Run.

This site, based on the last of the Runs (1980) is compiled from records from that event. Not many people, other than those who participated in it, are aware of the size of the Run and the precision with which it had to be conducted, for it was of utmost importance that the results from the Run had integrity. Such was the interest in the event, the NRMA, RACV, DOT and MTA all contributed to its organisation.

The details are recorded for their historical value.

About the Event

The TOTAL Oil Economy Run was conducted in the five years between 1976 and 1980, under the auspices of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS).

The event developed out of a series of economy runs out of Newcastle, conducted by Terry Anderson. TOTAL Sydney and Melbourne. As Tom Snooks was involved with TOTAL with the Southern Cross Rally he was approached to put together the Sydney-Melbourne concept.

It was conducted in March and finished to coincide with the Melbourne Motor Show.

The aim of the Run was to provide a guide to the motoring industry, media and public just what fuel consumption could be achieved on the open road from properly tuned standard cars driven by experienced drivers in an economical manner.

The TOTAL Oil Economy Run became an acceptable nationwide standard for open road fuel consumption testing, providing figures which may have seemed too good to be true. But they were achievable if the car was serviced and tuned to the manufacturer’s specifications, and driven in a sensible, safe and economical manners.

This acceptance was brought about by the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel – which hit the man in the street heavy in the hip pocket. This in turn resulted in the public buying cars that had ‘good’ fuel consumption and by 1980 the public put fuel consumption on a high priority when purchasing a car. The two ‘fuel crisises’ of 1973 and 1978/79 hit the Australian economy hard (as it did in other countries) and the price of fuel skyrocketed like never before and became a major factor in the vehicle industry.

Vehicle marketers in Australia and Japan used the consumption figures in advertising campaigns, sometimes taking out full page advertisements in newspapers.

The average motorist could not expect to achieve the figures recorded. Consumption figures obtained by the latest passenger and commercial vehicles (and in 1980, motor cycles) were achieved by ‘expert’ drivers, driving stock standard but properly tuned vehicles for fuel economy.

The figures achieved therefore, could only be considered to be such that the average motorist would not achieve them. But, they could achieve within 15-20% of those figures obtained in the Run, provided they drove in an economical manner. The figures achieved in the Run at least provided the public with a comparison amongst the vehicles.

During the last three years of the TOTAL Oil Economy Run the organisers worked in conjunction with the Federal Government’s department of Transport  in testing and comparing ‘bench test’ figures produced under Australian Standard 2077 (AS2077). The vehicles entered in the Run were tested under AS2077 in the week prior to starting and the figures compared with those achieved during the event. In 1981 the Government introduced the ‘bench test’ system as the standard for advertising of fuel consumption figures and so the TOTAL Oil Economy Run was no longer needed.

Over the years the field varied from 25 in the first event, to 43 in 1980 plus, in 1980 14 motor cycles were involved with the event.

The importance of the TOTAL Oil Economy Run can be appreciated when it is realised that fuel consumption was the number two factor considered by the buying public when looking around for a vehicle, and the Run was the only nationally recognised ‘yardstick’ from which authentic consumption figures could be obtained. They were far more realistic than figures achieved from ‘economy runs’ conducted by a vehicle manufacturer for its own vehicles!!



TOTAL Australia               Val McKenzie (Public Relations) and Ron Dowler (Advertising and Marketing)
Event Coordinator             Tom Snooks
Course Director                 Peter Godden (from 1977)
Observers                            Victorian Police Motor Sports Club supplied some 50 observers, led by Joe                                                         Dunlop and Wally Walsh
Chief Technical Officer    Bruce Wilkinson
Technical Advisers            Fred Pearce (CAMS), Ray Bartlett (RACV), Tom Ward (NRMA), Bill Gaffney (NRMA), Peter Caldwell (NRMA), Ken Haw (DOT)
Chief Refueler                    Vic Watkins
Chief Impound Official      Jack Mullins

Volkswagen Golf diesels were introduced and at this time they could almost travel from Sydney to Melbourne on one tank of fuel. On an observed run they made Seymour from Sydney before refueling – quite a feat in the late 70s.


Only car manufacturers, through distributors and dealers, could enter a vehicle in the event, it was not open to ‘privateers’.

Vehicle eligibility was based on the latest examples of petrol or diesel models on sale to the Australian public, with 150 identical vehicles imported into Australia in a twelve months period or 1000 if manufactured or assembled in Australia. Engine size was permitted to be varied within those numbers. No more than one vehicle of any make/model of the same engine capacity could be entered. Additives were not permitted.

Where a vehicle was catalogued with options, the vehicle entered was to be the one which attained the higher national registration figure in the previous 12 months. For example, Option 2 would be the acceptable vehicle:

– Model A (standard) with cross ply tyres with 3.9 differential        – 30% of sales
– Model B (option 1) with radial tyres with 3.9 differential              – 45% of sales
– Model C (option 2) with radial tyres with 4.1 differential              – 25% of sales.

Vehicles were placed in the following categories:
1.    Petrol driven models
– manually operated transmissions
– automatically operated transmissions
2    Diesel driven models
– manually operated transmissions
– automatically operated transmissions

If a vehicle weighed less than that stated by the manufacturer’s specification (‘kerb weight’) lead ballast was added to the vehicle to weigh the correct weight.

The vehicles were required to conform in every respect to the manufacturer’s specification, and were put through a thorough examination by the NRMA before the Run, and tested for conformity to emission levels under ADR 27A. Selected components were checked by the RACV after the Run. Random tests were carried out by the NRMA on carburetors and fuel injection equipment to ensure they were standard.

Once the vehicles were handed over to the organisers, some 7 to 10 days prior to the event, they were placed in an impound and kept under constant surveillance until the Run was over.

A Technical Committee, comprising the Chief Engineers of the NRMA and RACV, together with representatives of the Federal Department of Transport (Emission Control Branch), the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and TOTAL Australia Limited, met regularly in the six months prior to the event to review and set technical standards and to supervise the scrutiny of the vehicles.

The Chief Technical Officer of all the TOTAL Oil Economy Runs was Bruce Wilkinson, of Melbourne, who devoted much time to the task, contributing greatly to the success of the event by ensuring the integrity of the technical issues.

Servicing of vehicles was prohibited, but servicing adjustments could be carried out at the overnight stops, but only with express permission of the Technical Committee, and under supervision.

All vehicles carried a TOTAL weight of at least 275kg, with drivers and observers carrying ballast to make their weight up to 90kg for each driver and 95kg for the observer.




Motor Cycles

In the late seventies fuel consumption was second only to price when people considered buying a car and the motor cycle distributors decided to be involved with the Run so they could have authenticated consumption figures to advertise, in a move to convert people to motor cycles.

14 motor cycles were entered in 1980, and amongst the riders was Wil Hagon on a BMWR100T and Doug Chivas on a Yamaha 750KA. Wil was keen to ride the motor cycle as he was too heavy to be a car driver (power to weight ratio WAS important!).

In addition to these 14, another 4 riders (from the Victorian Police Motor Sport Club) acted as observers, traveling up and down the roads to keep an eye on the riders; also, the observers in the cars could report any irregularities.



The Run drivers were selected by the entrants and usually were a mixture of motoring journalists, rally and race drivers and experienced company personnel. In the early days celebrities were also included but as the fuel consumption figures became vital for car sales in the late seventies they tended not to be invited.

Each car carried three people, two drivers and one observer. The two drivers were ballasted to a TOTAL of 180 kilograms and the observer to 95 kilograms. If their weight was under these figures, lead ballast was placed in a bag, sealed and placed in the luggage compartment of the car, and checked periodically during the day.

The observers were members of the Victorian Police Motor Sport Club, led by Joe Dunlop*, and were changed twice daily, so that each car carried eight different observers throughout the four day event.

The task of the observer was to check that the car traversed the correct route (although the observer did not navigate, that was the role of the non-driver in the back seat), record any breaches of the traffic regulations and of ‘normal’ (and safe) driving techniques, to record the amount of fuel put into the vehicle and to ensure that no work was carried out on the car. Petrol caps and bonnets were sealed after each refuel point.

Breaches of regulations and driving techniques (like running the car out of gear, or de-clutching for a period of time) were penalised in the form of fuel added. Penalties were in litres/100 kilometres (l/100km) and manufacturers were only permitted to advertise ‘nett’ fuel consumption figures published by the organisers in any advertising campaign.

Both drivers were required to share the driving as equally as was reasonably possible, and the observers watched this closely, and it was compulsory that each driver must drive at least one-third of each day’s distance.

The start order of the vehicles was rotated each day.

*An aside ….  Joe Dunlop, from Melbourne, held the record for a round Australia drive. In 1964 he drove, with Ray Christie, a Volkswagen 1500 Sedan some 13,000 kilometres from Melbourne to Melbourne in 5 days 22 hours and 17 minutes, the previous record being 7 1/4 days in a Volkswagen 1200 in 1962 – driven by Joe Dunlop!

From Melbourne the route followed was Sydney, Brisbane, Rockhampton, Ayr, Mt Isa, Dunmarra, Halls Creek, Anna Plains, Roebourne, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Perth, Adelaide and back to Melbourne. They rested for a few hours in Mt Isa and Geraldton whilst the Volkswagen underwent routine servicing.

When you think of the road conditions in those days, that wasn’t a bad effort. Of course, there were no speed limits for most of the way.

The course took in 1 1/2 days through Sydney city and metropolitan streets before heading for Melbourne; then a half day running around Melbourne. Here is a Chrysler Regal in front of the Melbourne Flinders Street Station.



Prior to the Run the cars were placed on special ramps and leveled by having four corners marked. At each major refuel location the cars were placed on the ramps and leveled to the original marks before they were refueled. This took into account any sagging of the suspension that may have occurred over the 1500 kilometre course.

Petrol pumps were checked just prior to the Run and a technician traveled with the event. Refueling of cars was carried out by trained operators who also traveled with the Run and to refuel them at all times.

Refueling was a precise operation; cars had to be leveled to the same degree that they were when they were first filled; and then spillage had to be avoided.
That’s Howard Marsden, looking after the Datsuns, behind the ‘SUPER’ pump.



The first one and half days (Thursday and Friday) were held around Sydney and suburbs and included three peak-hour periods, even over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. More than 300 kilometres was spent around the city to provide the ‘city cycle’ fuel consumption figures.

When the city course was selected it was examined by the Urban Transport Study Group of New South Wales to check against density of traffic, traffic speed, length of delays, position of traffic lights, etc (as this data was available on computer). This was important as the drivers had a time limit to get through the course and the times allowed had to be representative ones, for they were penalised (in terms of consumption) if they took longer than the time allowed (thus indicating they were driving more slowly than the traffic flow).




This is the road from Harrietville to Mount Hotham in 1978 – all dirt and no guard rail!



From Sydney the course headed towards Melbourne, taking in 40 kilometres of unsealed (but good dirt) road, 120 kilometres of very hilly terrain and the remainder of the distance on sealed highways and country roads. Only good roads were selected, but all were those normally traversed by the motoring public.


Two overnight stops (Friday and Saturday) were taken at major provincial centres (Goulburn and Wangaratta) before the Run finished in Melbourne.

Each day’s course was divided into a series of sections and a time given in which the drivers were to complete the section. If a vehicle was late, it was penalised for each minute late and the penalty was in terms of l/100km deducted off the overall figure. If there were traffic snarls which resulted in the field being held up, the time allowed was deducted from the average time the field took, plus a pre-determined time allowance.


Fuel consumption was based on the official distance of the course as measured by the organisers, and the amount of fuel dispensed by the organisers.


The course for the 1980 TOTAL Oil Economy Run was selected to pass over roads normally used by the average motorist.

Highway running

The city course comprised 351km (21.6%) of the TOTAL Run of 1625km and covered areas to the north, south, east and west of Sydney, as well as in the city itself, and around the city of Melbourne. The course covered three peak-hour traffic periods around Sydney and suburbs, but a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne.


City running


Breaches of traffic regulations, unsafe driving practices and late running (times allowed were set for each section), were penalised by taking off a specified percentage of the vehicle’s fuel consumption and only the ‘nett’ figure could be quoted in advertising or publicity.






A wide variety of motor sport drivers participated in the TOTAL Oil Economy Runs. Some names were

Kevin BARTLETT                        Race
Mike BATTEN                              Rally
Dave BODDY                              Rally
Colin BOND                                 Rally/Race
Roger BONHOMME                    Rally
Michael BROWNING                   Journalist
John BRYSON                             Rally
Peter CULLEN                             Rally
Ross DUNKERTON                     Rally
Barry FERGUSON                       Rally
Harry FIRTH                                Rally/Race
George FURY                              Rally (at that time)
Bob FORBES                              Race
Fred GIBSON                              Race
Christine GIBSON (nee COLE)   Race
Evan GREEN                               Rally/Journalist
Brian HILTON                              Rally
Don HOLLAND                            Race
Lynn JARMAN                             Rally
Bob JENNINGS                           Journalist
Henk KABEL                                Rally
Mike KABLE                                Journalist
James LAING-PEACH                 Rally/Race/Journalist
Barry LAKE                                  Rally/Journalist
John LEFFLER                            Race
Dennis LILLEE                             Celebrity
Mal MACPHERSON                    Rally
Mike MCARTHY                          Journalist
David MCKAY                              Rally/Race/Journalist
Peter MCKAY                              Rally/Race/Journalist
Dave MORROW                          Rally
Nick MUNTING                            Journalist
Wes NALDER                              Rally
Barry NIXON-SMITH                   Race
Larry PERKINS                            Rally/Race
Sue RANSOM                             Rally/Race
Derek RAWSON                          Rally
Jim REDDIEX                              Rally
Bob RILEY                                   Rally
David ROBERTSON                    Journalist
Phil SCOTT                                 Journalist
Doug STEWART                         Rally
Monty SUFFERN                         Rally
Jim SULLIVAN                             Rally/Journalist
Hans THOLSTRUP                     Rally/Race
Ken TUBMAN                              Rally
Graham WARD                            Rally/Race
Wayne WEBSTER                       Journalist
Matt WHELAN                             Journalist


An Award of Merit was presented, determined by the following formula:

Figure of Merit     = Bogey l/100km
                                    Net l/100km

Where the bogey l/100km =  140 L/M + 0.006W + 5

Where:    L = the swept volume in litres, calculated as follows:
Pie x  D Squared     x     S       x  Number of cylinders
4                     1000
Pie = 22/7;  D = bore (mm); S = stroke (mm)

M = mph per 1000rpm in the highest available gear, using tyres
declared on the official scrutineering sheet and calculated as follows:
                   60 x 1000
                               tyres revs/mile x final drive ratio

Note: 15% allowance for slippage was allowed for automatic transmissions,
and the result of M was multiplied by 0.85

W = official weight of the vehicles in kilograms, plus the ballasted weight of the
two drivers and the observer (275kgs).

Net l/100km = actual consumption figure achieved in the run, less penalties (if any).

1.         Short cutting the specified course                                        40%
2.         Deliberate coasting or free-wheeling                                    20%
3.         Late arrival (per minute)                                                        1%
4.         Early departure from time control                                          4%
5.         Breaking a seal, with the permission of the observer            2%
6.         Breaking a seal, without permission                                    exclusion
7.         Turning off engines in contrary to the regulations                  2%
8.         Breach of traffic regulations, each time                                  2%

The percentage was added to the overall consumption figure to provide a lower l/100km