Three local motorsport fans who retraced the footsteps of the legendary drivers from the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon described the event as an amazing experience.
Shoalhaven trio Noel Kennedy, Al Spencer and Peter Flanagan took part in the 50th anniversary recreation of the final competitive leg from Wangaratta to Hindmarsh Station near Braidwood and then onto Nowra and eventually Warwick Farm in Sydney.
Driving Noel’s Ford Falcon GT1, the trio were among 22 cars in the anniversary event, including five of the original 1968 marathon cars.
“It was a great event,” said Mr Kennedy, who along with his travelling companions also completed the 40th anniversary event.
“It was incredible to be able to sit around each night and hear some of the legends of that 1968 event, motorsporting heroes relive the event.
“To have some of the original cars from the ’68 event also taking part was special.”
Sentiments echoed by Mr Flanagan.
“An unbelievable experience,” he said. “Something I won’t forget in a long time.
“Some of these guys are motorsport legends. To hang around with them each night after dinner and listen to their stories and anecdotes of what went on all those years ago or what they had to do to get through was absolutely incredible.”
Among the special guests at Hindmarsh Station was former journalist and now author John Smailes who wrote The World’s Greatest Road Race released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the event and Allan Chilcott, who was a passenger in the mini with his mate Greg Stanton, which crashed into then race leaders Belgium superstar, Lucien Bianchi and co-driver Jean-Claude Ogier in their Citroen DS21 on the final run home to Sydney on what was then known as the Nerriga Road [now Main Road 92].
“Allan was out at Hindmarsh and then travelled through to Nowra including through the accident scene just short of Tianjara Falls,” Mr Kennedy said.
“He was reluctant to attend but at the end of it all said he was glad he had and that it had given him some closure.
“Greg Stanton, who has already passed away, was driving. They were blamed for the accident - the road wasn’t closed, it was a transition stage but they had lived with the guilt they had caused the accident, which is what the media all around the world said.”
“It was just a terrible accident,” Mr Flanagan said.
“He [Allan] spoke about the accident - there was no conspiracy it was an accident plain and simple.
“They were told the cars wouldn't be through for an hour or so - 50 years ago we didn’t have the technology, transponders etc, they had no way of knowing where the cars were.”
“I know in Smailes’ book Ogier still believes it was a conspiracy by the British,” Mr Kennedy said “but if it was a conspiracy why would you send a mini? You’d have a Mack truck instead.
“They were just like you and me, guys going for a drive to look at the rally. They were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They weren’t doing anything wrong.”
Mr Flanagan said arriving at Hindmarsh Station, the last competitive section of the ’68 event, to be greeted by around 150 people was special.
As for the GT1 it performed “beautifully” and “didn’t miss a beat” - even a creek crossing where the water almost went over the bonnet couldn't stop it.
“It was brilliant,” Mr Flanagan said. “Faultlessly, we didn’t even have to get out a spanner.”
Mind you it was a tough ask just to get to the starting point in Wangaratta after the area was deluged by heavy rain, resulting in severe flooding and a number of detours due to road closures.
Mr Kennedy said another great story was meeting one of the media people who got thrown in deep end by Frank Packer with a week’s notice to do most of the filming.
“He’d never had a movie camera before and bought one just two days before he left,” he said.
Having now done the 40th and 50th anniversary events, is the local team keen to complete a 60th anniversary event if there is one?
“It’s on the cards,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I joked I’d put roof racks on the car and put Noel’s walking frame on it,” Mr Flanagan said.