WE WILL SUCCEED
- Anyone who has read my story, “Birdsville and Beyond”, about our trip from Sydney to Adelaide via the Birdsville Track to purchase one of the ten Leyland Force 7V coupes, may remember me mentioning my prior purchase of a rather dilapidated Bitter Apricot Executive that, surprisingly, turned out to be the second last P76 ever built.
- After sorting out the basic wiring problems shortly following its purchase, so the car was drivable and having a new clutch installed, the car was placed into a storage facility (my aunt’s garage) until some time in the future when I could devote more time and money to the vehicle.
- In late 2001 my family received a visit from a couple of guys we hadn’t met since the P76 National Meeting during Easter 1989.
- (In fact they had never met two members of our family as the kids hadn’t been born then!)Gary and James Mentiplay had flown the 4000 kilometres from the west to visit Leyland Oriented people in the east and extend to them an invitation to attend the 2002 P76 convention to be held in Perth.
- Being polite I would not discount the idea out of hand and indicated I would think about it.
- We spent the rest of the time talking Leyland and looking over the Force that was close to being registered at the time and sat under my large double carport where it could be accessing easily.
- During this time we’d opened a bottle of wine. Well when I say we I guess I mean me, since Garry and James were on the wagon.
- Well they’d just come from Joe Green’s place! (For the uninformed Joe Green owns the only known example of the Leyland P76 Station Wagon in the world.)
- However the more we talked, the more I drank and the more the Perth Convention idea grew on me. Gary and James, however, had yet another sinister ulterior motive for the visit.
- While they couldn’t quite get me to commit to attending the National Convention they did manage to get me to agree to write a story for the National Magazine that James was producing for the 2002 P76 Convention.
- At the time I figured it wouldn’t take very long, especially since I had already taken plenty of notes during the trip, but even I couldn’t have known that it would turn into a small novel.
- All things considered it was great seeing these old friends again and after farewelling them both my wife, Carmel, and I turned into bed for the night.
- About 1am I awoke.
- Thoughts of driving across this huge nation of ours simply would not leave my head. Bloody Mentiplays, playing with my mental capacity! I tossed and turned until I realised that I owned a vehicle with a sound body, a good engine, gearbox and clutch plus a few useful extras like a big radiator with twin thermo fans, Holley 350 carby, an LSD.
- Gee whiz, the car was just about all set to go!
- The following morning I asked Carmel if she’d like to go to Perth. The answer was vaguely positive but the body language… well the body language made me feel… not so sure.
- Angela, my ten-year old daughter and Lloyd, my nine-year old son, very obviously thought it was a great idea.
- At least I’d have some willing assistants if I dragged the old car out of the proverbial archives.
- The following weekend, accompanied by Lloyd, I made the short trip in our Omega Navy Targa to my Jannali lockup (aka - my Aunty’s garage) to recover an old friend that hadn’t been seen in aboutseven years.
- After releasing the locks and opening the tilt-a-door of the basement car park we stared at the car draped in a nylon car cover that.
- Funny, when I slid it in place had been light grey, now it was pitch black courtesy of a thick coat of dust. In the unlit confines of the garage we carefully removed the cover, unlocked the car and surveyed the interior by torchlight.
- It is absolutely amazing how time makes things seem far better than they are in reality.
- As I surveyed the interior I realised that two brown super door trims and some ripped super seats really didn’t make the ideal family touring car.
- After popping the bonnet, Lloyd and I removed the engine’s rocker covers and poured some oil over the various parts to lubricate them.
- We installed a battery poured some fuel into the tank and a tad down the carburettor.
- Turning the key to the ignition I never really expected the engine to fire up straight away but fire she did and after a couple of light pumps on the accelerator, to keep the engine running, the motor settled down to a smooth, quiet idle.
- In a matter of moments a whining sound becameobvious.
- This I quickly traced to the power steering pump being low on fluid.
- Topping this up rectified the problem and I reversed the car out of the garage.
- In the dim light of the underground car park the exterior, like the car's interior, also proved to be worse than I remembered.
- I packed away our tools, reversed the Targa into the confines of the narrow garage then locked the door before Lloyd and I drove home in the Bitter Apricot Exec’.
- After a further check of the car I realised I'd have my work cut out for me.
- The previous owner had resprayed the car, mucked it up, then decided to rub it back again hence the passenger side was mostly devoid of paint.
- I was reminded how I’d sprayed the bare metal with pressure pack engine enamel to keep the rust out prior to storage.
- Somehow I’d have to rebuild this car into a road registerable vehicle in a little over three months labouring only nights and weekends when I wasn’t working at my regular job as a camera salesman.
- I began to draw up a list, a list that became far longer than I expected.
- Everywhere I looked on the car there were things missing or broken and each item had a cost.
- A price I would pay in both money and in time.
- Even though I’d repaired the basic electrical system years earlier I knew there was more to do and elected to begin with the wiring.
- Since most of the car’s interior was missing this was not a difficult choice.
- Being an Executive model it should have had a roof light, c-pillar lights and individual door lights.
- None of these worked as all of the wiring had been removed at some time in the cars dim dark past. Aside from the dome light all of these items were missing along with the glovebox, cigarettelighter, door ajar lights and even the boot and under bonnet lights.
- Even the headlight and wiper switch lights were non functional.
- There was nothing to do but get stuck into the work.
- I began piecing together the missing wiring; mostly purple and white for the interior lights and pink for the door ajarlight.
- While installing the wiring I realised that all but the drivers side rear windows had lost one of their guides. Since all the weather strips were missing I figured I’d just swap the glass with some spares units.
- It was during this exercise that my neighbour, Matt, came over, with a couple of beers, to see the “new” car.
- He joked about doing the car up like something from a TV show like Starsky and Hutch (the old 70‘s cop show).
- The orange colour of the car, I thought, was closer to that of the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard.
- Now this captured my imagination.
- Putting a confederate flag on the roof might have been OK for an American car but a Eureka flag might work for an Aussie car. I could even put a number on thefront doors instead of 01 maybe 76!
- But here I was standing in front of a car that didn’t even have functional headlights discussing things that had absolutely nothing to do with getting the car roadworthy.
- As the sun set Matt and I finished our beers before he helped me tidy up.
- Over the following weeks I managed to complete the wiring. In my usual style I couldn’t just patch the wiring with just anything.
- All cut wires were rejoined using solder and heat shrink tubing to insulate the repair.
- Any missing wires were replaced, courtesy of a long lost Dry Red Exec donor car, until finally, after almost two weeks, I had a car that functioned as it did the day it rolled off the production line.
- Furthermore even if anyone looked under the dash or in the doors they’d find the genuine Pirelli wiring; all correctly colour coded too.
- During this time I hatched another plan that would be interesting and functional.
- During the restoration of my Force 7 I’d obtained a few parts that I hadn’t used.
- One of these items was a fold down back seat.
- It wasn’t in the best condition having been stored by its previous owner in the open air for some twenty odd years but since all the seats would need to be retrimmed it made little difference that it didn’t match the front seats.
- The initial fitting of the back seat was quite easy as it simply bolted into the existing seat belt mounting points.
- However the upper fastening points would require some minor modification to the parcel shelf.
- This took a day in itself to complete and by the afternoon the weatherworn stitching in the vinyl panels of the seat had started give way so the seat was looking decidedly sad.
- A few phone calls during the following week located an upholsterer who could handle the retrimming of the seats and make a new parcel shelf.
- I would’ve liked to had a new roof lining fitted but by this stage there was simply not enough time as the bodywork of the car had yet to be completed (started).
- While at work I emailed Ignatius Russo from Signwave, the company that had made and fitted the Force 7 decals and pin-striping for the Leyland Coupe, and set him to work designing the Eureka roof flag and door numbers.
- The project completion date would be only days before we left and this didn’t take into account any testing that would surely be needed prior to driving across Australia.
- With only three weeks to go I was labouring away at the bodywork and was still hunting around for someone with a mig-welder who could repair some fairly bad rust in the inner front passenger’s side guard, inner rear guard and the lower driver’s side guard.
- While chatting to a friend from the Corvette Club I was recommended a panel beater called Oscar who as it turned out lived about two minutes walk from my house.
- When Oscar looked over the car he said he’d do the work at his home workshop and have it finished in just over a week if I prepared the rest of the car for its final coat.
- This was fantastic but also meant a major rush to get other things finalised and the car ready for its rego check. I worked like a man possessed.
- If the car wasn’t ready it sure wouldn’t be for lack of effort.
- Oscar picked the car up on the Friday morning while the on ensuing Monday I dropped a pair of rather tattered reclining Exec' seats and the Force 7 rear seat down to Cronulla Sutherland Upholstery before going to work.
- They’d retrim the seats using the closest coloured vinyl and cloth available.
- Unfortunately I couldn’t locate any Antique Parchment Executive material so the cloth finish wouldn’t have that classic Leyland circle pattern but the original stitching pattern and buttons would be retained.
- Right in the middle of all this a great friend of mine dropped in for a visit.
- Skip Frenzel was a Federal Express pilot and one of the famed Flying Tigers.
- We’d met many years earlier when he was looking for an Aussie Corvette contact and we’d been firm friends ever since.
- He must be one of the few Americans to have ridden in, not one, but two Force 7’s!
- However in spite of him getting me to pronounce Zed as Zee when referring to the Corvette ZR1 supercar (of which he owned two), Skip still persisted in pronouncing Leyland –“ Leeland.”
- So here we were sitting down to a wonderful spag-bol dinner prepared by Carmel when, perhaps aided by one of the bottles of red that Skip, without fail, always brings to dinner, I told him the story of our proposed Perth trip.
- Skip seemed perplexed. “But I thought you were coming to the States for our Corvette Show in August!” he said in mock indignance.
- Now perhaps aided by the second bottle of wine that Skip without fail always brings to dinner I just said, “Oh yeah, I’m going to that too!”
- This reply even raised Carmel’s eyebrows.
- About two years earlier Skip had mentioned that he was organizing a Corvette Show in Monterey, California.
- At the time I was attending DJ and MC classes on weekends and Skip suggested I’d be perfect for the announcer’s position.
- I thought at the time he was joking but as it turned out he was quite serious.
- A car show in the US is a big deal because even a small show will have about 600 cars present and to be invited to be the announcer was a great privilege for me.
- Now here I was committing myself to fly to the U.S. in August for the Monterey Del Oro Corvette show and I hadn’t even got my car registered for the Perth trip.
- Carmel insisted there was a theme here, and that visits from friends and alcohol simply mean I agree to anything.
- I was trying to figure out how I’d coordinate the final eight days work on 19006 when Oscar rang to say he’d return the car two days early.
- This was great news as it meant the car would be back in time for the weekend and I would be able to prepare it for having the seats and parcel shelf fitted during the following week.
- Another item that bothered me were the wide Centreline wheels fitted to the car when I bought it.
- They were 14x10’s on the rear and 14x8’s on the front and probably not suitable to pass the stringent NSW registration inspection.
- Fortunately I had a set of 15x7 globes that fitted perfectly and so these went on without any further ado, aside from the purchase of a new set of wheel nuts.
- Only two days before we were due to depart Alan Locke, the windscreen fitter, came around to refit the rear window that had sagged and after a thorough vacuuming finally, by midday, the car was ready for
- It was the first time I’d driven the car with its all-new interior and it was now quite civilised compared to the mess that I'd rolled out of the garage only a little over a month earlier.
- As the mechanic, Peter Ragonese was busy when I arrived, the rego check took about two hours and while the car was on the hoistI noticed a fluid leak from the power steering rack.
- This was not what I needed.
- And just to help things along when Peter checked the high beams onesimply didn’t work.
- This was really not a good sign but a good kick to the uncooperative headlight brought it on.
- The car passed as I agreed to replace the dodgy headlight, albeit with a note on the blue slip stating that one of the high beams was flaky.
- With paperwork in hand I thanked Peter and drove to Signwave, at Sylvania, to get the decals put on the car.
- Fortunately just around the corner from here was where Carmel worked.
- I borrowed her car to visit the motor registry, get the paperwork done and collect the new number plates.
- The lady at Miranda motor registry was very helpful and made the whole process quite easy and I was even rather happy with the number plates - XXL-376.
- After arriving back at Signwave with the numberplates I was happy to see they’d finished the decals.
- It was only a matter of minutes to attach the number plates and soon I was headed for home, via the local Repco store, to purchase, not just one, but a whole new set of headlights, two low beam units and two high beams.
- At last I finally got Leyland’s second last P76 home.
- I immediately removed the front grill and headlight surrounds (that I’d only fitted twenty four hours earlier) to replace the headlights and thereby rectify the high beam problem.
- If in doubt rip it out!
- That night was spent fitting the final touches to complete the car such as the CB Radio, gearshift knob (from War Zone), boot mat and a Force 7 wing mirror.
- It didn’t seem possible but finally by 3am the car was packed and I headed indoors for a quick shower before retiring to bed for a whole relaxing three hours sleep.
- Our bedside clock indicated 6am by switching on the radio. Wanting to stay in bed, as I only needed about another twenty hours sleep, I eventually managed to drag myself to a standing position.
- In a matter of minutes the excitement of the whole project got the better of me and I soon shrugged off any tiredness.
- Unlike regular school days Angela and Lloyd, had no trouble in getting up and dressed.
- By the time Carmel and I had packed the last few odds and ends into the car the kids were standing impatiently by the P76 waiting to go.
- I started the car to warm the motor while Carmel locked the house and finally with everyone in the Leyland we hit the road.
- The trip to the Western Freeway early on a Sunday morning was easy and the car handled well despite the enormous amount of gear packed in the boot.
- We decided to stop in Katoomba for breakfast and were surprised at the number of people that had the same idea.
- While it was great to eat in the sun and breathe the fresh mountain air but we still had about
- 3900 kilometres to go and so it was back to the car.
- It wasn’t long before we stopped again though as just a few kilometres up the road were parked four Corvettes.
- Being members of the NSW Corvette Club and recognising the cars naturally we had to stop.
- It turned out to be a run organised by Bill Cox who heads up the Western Regions section of the club.
- They were off to a pub for lunch and so we tagged along for about thirty kilometres before they, with
- waves and toots bid us farewell.
- Our aim was to make Mildura by nightfall and by the time we reached Bathurst it was obvious we were on schedule so far as time went.
- The car was running equally well as the fuel gauge had hardly moved indicating that despite the weight the old Leyland would manage about 500k’s per tank.
- Figuring that fuel would only get more expensive the further west we got
- I elected to top up the tank.
- We pressed on stopping a further 100 kilometres or so further on at Cowra for lunch.
- Carmel took the wheel for the run through West Wyalong and on to Hay.
- Meanwhile I caught up on some much needed sleep.
- About three hours and 300kilometres further on Carmel elected to take a break.
- Even though the car would’ve made Hay we decided to fill up.
- The car rolled into a small servo in Goolgowi and as Carmel put her foot on the clutch the pedal suddenly sank to
- the floor.
- I got out and opened the bonnet suspecting a broken clutch cable.
- Upon closer inspection my suspicions were confirmed.
- Just typical I thought one of the few parts had broken for which I wasn’t carrying a spare.
- Should I try a repair job or just drive on? Using tools from the boot I quickly removed the cable. Almost as soon as I
- had retrieved the offending part a local bloke told me that I should contact the NRMA rep’ just around the corner.
- It was worth a try so I set off on foot to make the 100 metre walk to the NRMA depot.
- It didn’t take long to locate the closed depot and in frustration I stuck my head over the fence to see if anyone was
- I could hardly believe my eyes.
- There sitting in the obviously overgrown yard was a white P76 that had obviously seen better days.
- I found an open gate in a side lane and picked my way through the undergrowth to the abandoned vehicle.
- The bonnet was already unlatched but upon opening it I discovered it was a 6 cylinder automatic.
- In other words - no clutch cable.
- There was nothing to do but head back as I didn’t want to waste any further time over the cable.
- On arriving back at the car I found two local guys who claimed they could repair the clutch cable.
- I didn’t hold out much hope of being able to achieve this but let them do their best while I repacked the car.
- With just the minimum tools left the two locals presented me with their handywork which I quickly fitted to the car.
- Needless to say it didn’t even last one depress of the clutch pedal. I thanked them for their efforts but was anxious to be moving on.
- With the gearbox in first I made sure everyone was strapped in and started the car in gear.
- It jerked forward then the motor caught whereupon I gave Carmel a lesson in how to change gears without a clutch.
- We cruised the remaining 110 kilometres to Hay where I slipped the car into neutral and coasted into a servo at the end of town.
- I filled the tank while the kids eagerly cleaned the windscreen.
- It’s amazing what children find interesting but I figured that the novelty of windscreen cleaning would wear off before we got to Perth.
- While paying for the petrol I asked the console operator if there was a metal fabricator or someone who could weld close by.
- He indicated that just around the corner was a workshop that built trailers but of course it would be closed by
- now. After a quick discussion with Carmel we decided to stay the night at a local hotel and get a clutch cable
- made up next morning.
- The hotel was chosen for two reasons proximity to the welding place and a nice safe parking area, in this case a large courtyard area well off the road and with plenty of space to work on the car.
- After checking into a hotel and having a delicious dinner at a local pub we all turned in for a good night’s sleep.
- Next morning I visited the Hay Steel and Welding Supplies and asked the manager if he could make a replacement clutch
- cable out of a welding rod and using the old linkages.
- He cottoned on pretty quick and only ten minutes and five dollars later I made my way back to the hotel with the “new “
- clutch cable.
- I’d noticed a Red MGB sitting on a car trailer in the hotel car park on my way out so naturally on my return when I saw a gentleman standing by the car I thought I’d go and have a chat.
- As it turned out the MG had a P76 V8 under the hood and the car’s owner, Tony Penell knew Hal Moloney.
- It was nice changing pleasantries with someone who didn’t want to tell me how the P76 killed Leyland or some other
- tripe. After exchanging details Tony wished us well and I still had a job to do and needed to get this clutch cable
- in so we could be on our way.
- The task took a lot less time and effort than I thought and so with a bit of spare time up my sleeve I turned my attention to the CB radio.
- While I’d wired the unit back in Sydney I still hadn’t had a chance to install the aerial.
- I wandered down the street to an auto accessories shop and taking the easy way out purchased a magnetic antenna base.
- By 10 o’clock we were all packed and ready to go again and though about 3 hours behind schedule I wasn’t too worried as I had taken any problem-time into account when I planned the trip.
- We said farewell to the innkeeper and cruised through town over the Murrumbidgee River Bridge which Carmel noted that we had already been over this bridge twice last night when locating the hotel, and turned right to Balranald .
- After hitting the 80kph zone naturally we sped up and had just hit 80 when there was a metallic thump against the side of the car followed by a scraping sound.
- I pulled the car over and checked the passenger side of the car.
- There was the CB aerial hanging by its cable against the side of the car.
- This idea obviously wasn’t going to work.
- In spite of the antenna being barely 18 inches long the magnetic base couldn’t provide enough grip to stay on the car at speeds below 100kph.
- Not wanting to waste time or money I figured my best bet was to return the magnetic base to the auto parts store and get a refund.
- And so ten minutes later I experienced a real sense of déjà vu as we again left Hay via the Murray River Bridge.
- The run to Balranald was smooth and without incident. In fact the car just seemed to be running sweet and I was surprised to find that we’d covered the 131 kilometres in less than an hour.
- While I’d been allowing the car to run on the high side of 110 I didn’t think we’d been going that fast.
- Maybe those 15inch wheels made more difference than I thought.
- The next leg of the trip was the 80k’s to Robinvale and I monitored the speedo and odometer more closely.
- Sure enough it looked like we were about ten percent out.
- When travelling at 120 I figured we must have been doing about 130kph so I kept the speed on the conservative side of 110 on the speedo.
- Robinvale came and went and with Mildura another 80 kilometres further on and the clock fast approaching lunchtime we
- figured this famous wine growing area right on the border of Victoria and New South Wales would be our next stop.
- Not having been here since 1989 Mildura was much larger than I remembered.
- We cruised through town stopping at the huge visitor information center and quickly located a parking spot in the spacious car park.
- Grabbing my trusty Fujifilm Finepix 40i digital camera and some other personal effects I locked the car.
- While we walked along the pathway to the visitor centre I asked Angela if she’d hold my camera while I pocketed my
- wallet and other bits and passed her the little blue camera.
- Figuring she had hold of the wrist-strap I released my grip on the pricey little device before, in one of those terrible moments that we experience now and then, I watched the camera fall, as if in slow motion, onto the concrete pathway.
- The frustration of not being able to react in time to alter the inevitable caused me to utter a few choice words and I bent down to scoop up the camera in the forlorn hope that maybe it would be Okay.
- I was surprised to find that pictures I had shot previously came up on the little LCD without a problem but flicking the switch to picture-taking mode resulted in a red message stating “Lens Error”.
- Fabulous, I thought, day two and the digital camera’s dead.
- So much for high tech, now I’d have to rely on film.
- I tried to console myself with the fact that at least I had brought my SLR along.
- With the death of the 40i pushed to the back of our minds our thoughts turned to the subject of food.
- Lloyd had been requesting fish pretty much since leaving Sydney so we located a Fish & Chip shop on the outskirts of town.
- During lunch I took the opportunity to study the map.
- I was hoping to make Port Augusta, at the top of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf, by nightfall and had
- intended doing this via some back roads rather than following the longer route via the main highway.
- With full stomachs we piled back into the Leyland and headed west.
- We’d only been on the road for about ten minutes when straining my eyes I thought I could see a yellow Corvette in the distance.
- Not really believing I’d find an example of Chevrolet’s sports car out here I increased speed a little just to satisfy my curiosity.
- We closed the gap over the next 5 k’s or so until we could identify the vehicle and now I was convinced, it really was a yellow C4 Corvette!
- It wasn’t much longer before we could make out the NSW number plate and I realized that we
- even knew the owner of this particular vehicle, a friend of ours from the NSW Corvette club, Bob Lynn.
- I flashed the lights a couple of times but the shiny LT1 Vette only seemed to speed up.
- As we came onto a long stretch of road with no traffic in creased speed and pulled alongside.
- Carmel waved to Bob but he seemed intent on ignoring us.
- I beeped the horn a few times and finally got his attention before he waved and pulled over.
- Bob, a tall man, extracted himself from confines of the 1992 Corvette.
- He told us he didn’t realize it was us at first as he didn’t recognize the car otherwise he would have stopped sooner.
- Apparently he thought we were some local hoons just out to hassle him due to the car he was driving.
- Bob was on his way to the Corvette National Meeting in Adelaide and had left early so he could visit friends along the way.
- We agreed to drive into Remark together and have afternoon tea.
- Bob sure didn’t hang around as I noticed I was sitting just over the 110kph marker on my speedo.
- We crossed the border marked by a huge half, tyre-shaped sign advertising Dunlop and the Riverland Area.
- Bob’s sleek, yellow, 90’s American sports car followed by our burnt-orange, legend of the 70’s Aussie motor industry
- passed under the arch and about ten minutes later were driving down the main street of Remark in search of a parking spot.
- Conveniently the only two spots to be found were adjacent to each other and as we parked Carmel indicated that she could’ve taken this last section of the trip in luxury if she’d hitched a ride in Bob’s car.
- Why one would even consider choosing between an electrically adjustable, leather, Corvette bucket when there was the sheer luxury of a freshly upholstered (no less) P76 Executive seat is beyond me.
- I guess that’s why women are the great mystery of the universe.
- We popped into a nice looking cake shop and ordered some donuts and coffee while one of the local women, who’d seen Bob extracting himself from his LT1 Corvette, seemed to think he looked pretty tasty.
- She started chatting him up at the counter and even followed him over to our table where she seemed intent on getting his life story.
- (Wonder if she would’ve been that interested if he’d been driving a P76?)
- Eventually she yielded and we got to catch up with Bob who as it turned out had arrived in Mildura, eaten lunch and left at virtually the same time we did.
- Time was marching on and we’d already spent a lot more time than planned in Remark so we made our farewells to Bob and hit the road again stopping briefly at a BP service station to fill the tank.
- It was one of those last service stations that actually meant service.
- A tough-looking woman came out and simply asked, “Fill ‘er rup?”
- “Thanks,” I said and busied myself under the bonnet.
- I wanted to check the power steering but the attendant had clicked the bowser nozzle onto auto and joined me at the engine bay.
- She pulled the dipstick and ascertained that oil was needed.
- Before I could say, “I’m carrying almost ten litres of oil in the boot,” she had the oil cap off and proceeded to dump a litre of lubricant into the motor.
- The bowser clicked off and caught her attention.
- With the oil bottle inverted and draining into the engine she made for the back-end of the car and proceeded to fill the tank up to the brim.
- I quickly checked the power steering fluid.
- Prior to leaving I’d noticed a leak and since we’d chewed through half a litre of fluid so far I figured it would be time for a top-up.
- Luckily the constant use and heat must have softened the seals for while a just below the full marker it was obvious our fluid consumption was down. A clean of the windscreen (which I had to do) and we were on our way again.
- We would aim to pass through Berri, Bamera and turn off the highway at Waikerie but since we were in the Riverland orange growing region we again got distracted and stopped off at the Big Orange for some pictures. As the famous tourist attraction was closing for the day we were unable to purchase any oranges, which meant the next stop was only a little further on so Carmel could satisfy her fruity craving.
- Following the road signs we discovered there were more turnoffs than shown on the map but in spite of this we knew Morgan couldn’t be much further so I was very surprised when rounding a bend we came upon a ferry crossing.
- I stopped the car and we all got out and gazed over the Murray River for a few moments before I rang a bell on the ferry control box adjacent to the traffic ramp.
- We could see we’d woken someone up on the far side of the river as a man climbed aboard the moored ferry and made ready to come and pick us up.
- We were the only car on the ferry as it made its way to the opposite bank so I took the opportunity to speak to the ferry captain and confirm that we were indeed on the write track.
- Daylight was running out fast as we passed Bower, Eudunda, Marrabel and Auburn on our way up to Crystal Brook in rural
- South Australia. Again there were plenty of turns that for some reason weren’t shown on the map and so we were
- well and truly in some lonely territory by nightfall.
- This wasn’t the place to break down I thought and almost in reply to my thoughts the car stuttered as I downshifted to third, thence second to make another unscheduled left hand turn.
- As the old Leyland P76 accelerated a few more misses indicated that something wasn’t right.
- I took the risk and let the engine wind out in third before changing to fourth and everything seemed Okay again.
- We passed through the small country town of Clare with no problems but almost as soon as we were beyond a reasonable
- walking distance the engine started to play up again.
- It didn’t seem like an electrical fault but it did seem to be getting worse. The night was inky black
- and this countryside was definitely not the place to stop.
- I thought back over the trip and came to the conclusion that since everything was OK until our last fuel stop we must have picked up some bad petrol in Remark.
- This would certainly account for the misbehaving engine.
- It seemed ages but we made Crystal Brook and the car seemed to be a little better only now instead of stuttering under
- acceleration it ran rough when cruising at about 80kph.
- Still wanting to make Port Augusta for the night, some 90k’s further north, I pushed on noting that the car actually ran quite well around 120kph.
- Just to help us feel a little more uneasy, the weather changed, and instead of clear starry skies we were now faced with a torrential downpour.
- With wipers going full speed we drove through the rain until only some two kilometers from Port Augusta when the rain simply just stopped.
- At high speed I’d forgotten about the engine problem but soon discovered that the old P76 was
- even worse when slowed to 60kph.
- I parked the car under a streetlight, in downtown Port Augusta, popped the bonnet and started some basic checks.
- I tried winding in the mixing screws on the Holley carby to find that the driver’s-side screw did nothing.
- There had to be a blockage in the jets or something else amiss in the guts of the carby and I sure wasn’t
- going to fix it here.
- Being well and truly past dinner-time we located a hotel, checked in and made do with noodles for dinner although Carmel insisted on ordering a full breakfast for the following morning.
- After a good night’s sleep naturally the first thing any normal person wants to do is strip down a Holley Carburetor so by 7am I had the carby back together but was dubious that this would solve the problem as I hadn’t found anything blocking the jets and suspected the problem may be in another part of the unit.
- Starting the motor was fine but attempting to adjust the mixture screws proved that nothing had changed and just to make matters worse I noticed petrol leaking from the fuel pump.
- Rather than mess around I figured it would be easier to just replace the pump since I was carrying a spare and so set to, to carry out the necessary work.
- While parking the car the previous night I’d noticed that there were quite a few Harley Davison motorcycles in the hotel car park and now several of the bike’s owners emerged.
- Naturally an open bonnet requires closer inspection and so I soon found myself surrounded by a biker audience.
- It turned out that there was a Harley convention in Perth over the Easter Break so we’d probably see plenty of bikes on our way across the country.
- Surprisingly none of these guys had a bad thing to say about the P76 in fact one guy said he’d thought about building a V8 powered trike with a P76 motor.
- They soon had to be moving on (like us) and I bid them farewell before they left me to complete my work uninterrupted.
- Finally with the new pump in place I started the motor again and just about cried as petrol dribbled out of this unit as well.
- Removing the new pump I disassembled it. It looked fine so with non other option I carefully reassembled checking that everything was clean and tight. Refitting the pump didn’t take long as I was getting to be an expert at this task and Angela had taken on the role of assistant by passing me the necessary tools I required.
- Turning the key fired up the motor and with some relief I noticed that, this time, there were no leaks.
- As I cleaned the grease from my hands with some industrial-strength hand cleaner I’d packed I noticed it was now almost 9am and we needed to be moving along.
- Carmel took care of the hotel bill while I
- packed the car and took a quick shower and soon we were back on the road
- After about ninety minutes on the road we found ourselves approaching Kimba the halfway point of the trip and also home of the Bi Galah! Naturally we stopped for the obligatory pictures with another of Australia’s oversized icons and while this took less than five minutes it was long enough for the car to develop ideas about refusing to start.
- I looked at Carmel and she looked straight through me as if to say, “Not impressed.”
An hour later and there was good news and bad
news. The carby was back on the car and
the motor ran a whole lot better but it still wouldn’t cruise smoothly below
At a cost of forty dollars I guess it was
better than nothing and certainly better than the way the car was performing
previously. Carmel and the kids had
returned by now and in better frames of mind we drove back into town and parked
the P76 outside the local Holden Dealer.
There was a pizza shop across the road from
here that we chose as the place for lunch.
Lloyd went with Carmel to order the pizza, while I stayed with the car
and assisted Angela to put her shoes on – a difficult task made more difficult
as she’d thoroughly knotted the laces.
A group of young aboriginal lads had taken an interest in the car and
had started checking it out.
Soon the questions started, “What is it? Who
made it? What’s the flag on the roof?”
Etc, etc. I answered their questions
and got them talking with a few questions of my own about the local area.
The situation ended up about five minutes
later with handshakes and the group moving on to wherever they were going.
Angela I made our way over to the pizza shop
just as Carmel and Lloyd came out.
As the pizza would be another twenty minutes we
elected to walk around Ceduna shops and see what was here.
The usual country town stores with one
exception. The locals seemed pretty
excited about the fact that on December 6 2002 there’d be a total eclipse of
the sun visible from right here in Ceduna.
This event was going to be a big deal apparently and the town was
gearing up for it even now!
Arriving back at the pizza shop we were
surprised to find that our pizza still wasn’t ready.
Were they growing the ingredients?
On our walk we’d seen the beachfront and decided that this was
the place to eat and so when the pizza was finally ready we relocated to the
grassy area in front of the beach under some enormous pine trees.
After settling down on the grass it I
suddenly realized just how big the pizza really was.
It was huge! After Carmel
opened the box I was amazed to see the pizza not just cut into the usual
triangular slices but also cut across as well.
By now I was starving and soon found myself appeasing my hunger with
some very tasty pizza. Now I eat a fair
bit but even between the four of us we only managed to consume just about
“Guess what’s for dinner”, I joked.
So with the remains of the pizza packed Carmel
and I lay back on the soft green grass and contemplated the trip to come as we
stared at the clouds floating by over the Southern Ocean.
The kids meanwhile decided to explore a pier
that stretched out into the blue ocean for what seemed like about a kilometer
indicating some fairly serious tidal movements.
Ceduna was a beautiful place to stop and we
would have loved to stay longer but we were on a schedule that had already
taken a beating and with the pizza packed in the boot we hit the road again
with some 1964 kilometres to Perth.
The Eyre Highway stretches from Port Augusta in
South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia a distance of some 1630
kilometres that traverses the Great Australian Bight and the Nullabor
Plain. Unless you cross it by car you
can’t appreciate the size of this country of ours.
We’d left Ceduna at around 3pm and kept the pace on the high side
of 130kph and chased the sun into the west even so we reached the Nullabor
Roadhouse just prior to nightfall. It
was here that the kids got their first sight of a wild dingo.
It was alert, clean and with a good coat of
thin brown fur and white paws. The
service station attendant warned Lloyd about trying to pat the dog even though
it looked friendly enough. Naturally
Angela and Lloyd requested the camera and I relented but only on the condition
that they not reel off more than 6 shots and didn’t annoy nor get too close to
the dingo. Meanwhile I filled the car
and at just over a $1.10 per litre it was an expensive business!
After a few words with the staff regarding the
road conditions ahead we piled back into the car and drove on toward the
ever-darkening horizon. The road at this
point ran right along the edge of Australia and to our left we could just make
out the vast ocean stretching south in the twilight.
Having stopped along here back in 1989 I knew that the land
literally just stops at cliffs that plummet vertically hundreds of feet to
rocks below that are continuously battered by ocean waves.
Lloyd wanted me to pull over as this was a
popular place for whale watching but as it was getting too dark I promised that
we’d stop on the return trip.
By the time we hit the Western Australia/South
Australia border at Border Village some 160 kilometres further on, it was well
and truly night. At this point we had
to stop at the official checkpoint where inspectors would ensure we were carrying
no fruit, honey, seeds or any other food that might contain unwanted
pests. The female officer seemed a bit
surprised by the amount of gear in our boot and perhaps daunted by the task of
checking through so much equipment simply asked if we were carrying any of the
previously mentioned, outlawed items.
Having been through this process before, any fruit we had purchased had
long been eaten and since our car contained nothing else of concern we were
soon on our way again.
Eucla was only about 35 kilometres down the
road but as we pulled in to the hotel/motel it was obvious from the number of
motorcycles that the place was booked out.
Even the reception was unmanned so we had little choice but to move on.
As she was tired, Carmel indicated her choice
was to stay where we were as the next establishment along the highway.
The Mundrabilla Motel was about sixty-six
kilometers from Eucla or about a thirty-minute drive at the rate we were
going. Checking the accommodation
directory, I noticed the Madura Motel was only another thirty-five k’s after
that, although Mundrabilla seemed pretty civilized boasting an in-ground pool
and rooms with TV, radio and facilities.
At my suggestion Carmel relented, and so we pressed on with me hoping to
make up a bit of lost time by traveling a bit longer into the night.
We reached Mundrabilla in thirty minutes and by
this time even I was too tired to go on.
After providing about ten forms of ID we were allowed to check in.
To my disappointment the room simply didn’t
match the description given in the accommodation directory and to make matters
worse room service stopped at 8pm so there was no chance of a meal from the
kitchen. And as for the TV and radio –
neither worked (well I guess the accommodation guide only indicated that they
were available it didn’t say they were actually operational).
I had to do something so unpacked our trusty
LPG stove from the boot and set it up in the room.
Utilising a small frying pan, also gleaned from the Leyland’s
cavernous boot, I began to reheat the leftovers from the massive lunchtime
Pretty soon we’d had our dinner and Carmel even
managed to whip up some hot chocolate to warm us up before we hit the
sack. Funny with the lights out the
room didn’t seem so bad; at least until I heard the kids giggling under their
blankets. With their eyes adjusted to
the dark, Angela and Lloyd had discovered rather rude and crude graffiti
engraved in the front window. In order
to shield occupants from the security lighting outside this window immediately
adjacent to the door had been painted black.
Previous occupants of the room had scratched their names and other
“sayings” into the paint allowing their handy work to glow in the darkness of
the room. As some of this “freedom of
expression” was not suitable for minors I extracted myself from the warmth of
my bed and, utilizing the P76 ignition key, incorporated some of the more
offensive scratchings into an illuminated “WAZ IN OZ” sign.
Inspired by this, Angela demanded her rite
to express her artistic talents and eventually I gave in and pretty soon my
artwork was joined by an, “ANGELA”, and a “LLOYD”.
Carmel, meanwhile, had finally given up mumbling, “Go to sleep,”
and was now counting sheep or catching a few Z’s or whatever she does when
she’s unconscious. (Probably dreaming
of a world free of old cars and outback roadhouses.)
It was Thursday morning and I awoke at 7am,
about an hour later than I intended.
Pulling on the previous day’s clothes I went out to check the P76.
As a fine film of condensation covered the
car I took the opportunity to chamois it down.
After all there was nothing wrong in keeping the P’ looking good and it
was the first morning I didn’t actually have to do anything else to the car!
(I’d rather clean than repair any day.)
During my car-cleaning I noticed the pool was
located close to our room. Like the TV
and radio it was non-functional too.
Devoid of water the in-ground concrete shell would’ve served better as a
skateboarding rink except for some old furniture that had found its way into the
Once finished I went back into the luxury of
our room and breakfasted on the mini packets of cereal and UHT milk Carmel had
brought along. We showered in the
tasteful blue & white tiled bathroom, which must have been fitted out in
the early sixties and then got underway again.
Carmel, not wanting to spend any longer in Mundrabilla than she had to,
inspired me to drive on to Madura some thirty-five kilometers farther down the
road for petrol rather pay the exorbitant prices where we were.
Madura Roadhouse was built well off the road at
the bottom of a relatively steep incline and after we’d filled up and paid the
exorbitant price for our go-juice I noticed that the clutch appeared to be
slipping slightly as we drove up the even steeper exit ramp.
Once on level ground it seemed fine and
acceleration was no problem as long as the revs were kept over three grand to
overcome the carburetor issue. Maybe
I’d adjusted the clutch a little too much?
The sky was overcast and we overtook the occasional
and the old Leyland just hummed along at this speed and seemed to be getting
relatively good fuel economy. We passed
Cocklebiddy and soon came upon a crimson Falcon.
Ensuring the road was clear I overtook and was most surprised to
see a P76 sign printed on an A4 page and held up against the driver’s side
window. I waved as did Carmel and the
kids but were mystified as to who would be signaling us.
Once back on our side of the road I slowed
to around a hundred and immediately the car let me know it didn’t like this
speed. I either had to back off
altogether or put my foot down otherwise the car burped and hiccupped along in
a most uncomfortable manner.
Resigning the mystery to be solved later (like
when we got to Perth) I gave a quick wave out the window and proceeded on, back
at our “normal” pace.
A large brown sign on the roadside informed us
we had just entered the longest piece of straight road in Australia.
This ninety-mile stretch was notorious for
breakdowns in spite of the fact it was dead straight.
At various intervals along the road were signs warning that the
road was shared with aircraft. The
Royal Flying Doctor Service used these landing strips when visiting the locals
and so aside from wildlife we needed to watch out for low-flying aircraft.
Eventually at the end of the straight was
Balladonia famous for being the town closest to where NASA’s Skylab fell to
Earth in the late seventies. We’d stop
here and take a break before proceeding on.
We came over the last rise before Balladonia
and were greeted by the sight of three Leyland P76’s parked opposite to the
Roadhouse entrance. We’d been expecting
to see a P76 or two since leaving Sydney and finally after about 3000
kilometres here were the first. I
rolled to a stop behind the parked vehicles and immediately recognised the
seven people standing on the gravel verge.
We hopped out of our car pleased to see some
familiar faces like Dave Nelson, Dave Collins and Garth Morris as well as some
new faces (at least to us) like Anton and Joanne and others.
The white P76, parked in the middle of the
other two, I knew, to belonged to Garth an old NSW P76er and now President of
the Queensland club. This car sported a
custom fuel injection system and twin turbos on the donk all put together by
Garth himself. It is a real credit to
him that such performance modifications were reliable enough to drive from
Brisbane to Perth making the car more than just a traffic-light racer.
We all gathered by the roadside and after the
obligatory handshakes and kisses (by Carmel) followed the various stories of
the trip so far. We’d actually arrived
as the others were basically ready to leave so we made our farewells shortly
afterwards, wished them good luck and agreed to see each other on the road to
Perth. We got back into the Leyland
feeling a lot less alone, knowing there were some other fellow travelers out
there, and drove the 50 metres or so into Balladonia roadhouse.
The roadhouse concept is a sort of all in one
idea, a compressed town ship and consists of a petrol station, hotel/motel,
amenities block, playground, restaurant, café and, in this case, a museum.
We filled the P76 and I parked the old
Leyland almost a sea of Harley Davidson motorcycles.
What a collection there was too.
Aside from the various marques from old to new, there were all sorts
modified version of this famous brand, trikes, sidecars, choppers and even some
with trailers attached. Many of these
chromed beauties sported a Eureka flag badge, a symbol of one of the clubs and oddly
enough since our P76 displayed a huge Eureka flag on the roof some of the
bikers began talking to me as if was some sort of support driver of which they
informed me there were a few others.
Whjile I might have been carrying plenty of spares assured them they
were all Leyland based which only confused issues further as other members of
the various clubs had spotted the Corvette Club jacket I was wearing to keep
warm in the rather cool conditions.
Explanations made no one seemed any the more disappointed in fact most were amazed to find such dedication to the P76 and whether the Eureka flag made any difference or not I can’t say but it seemed we
had found some unofficial two-wheeled escorts for the drive into Perth.
Checking the engine again and topping up the power steering fluid proved that while we weren’t losing much the rack was
still a little leaky. The other thing I noticed was the amount of oil covering the engine.
On closer inspection with a torch it was far worse than I at
first thought. I checked the dipstick
and it was here that I noticed a problem.
The dipstick wasn’t actually going right into the dipstick tube.
The handle’s neck had split where the metal
meets the plastic meaning that unless the plastic was squeezed while pushing
the dipstick in it would sit about a centimetre (half inch) proud.
This of course meant that when the dipstick
was pushed home properly the oil level was way over the full marker.
The poor old V8 was literally drowning in
oil and doing its best to throw it out from any place it could including out of
the back of the engine and onto the clutch.
If I’d only put two and two together when I
noticed the service attendant adding an extra litre of oil back in Remark.
I knew that motor didn’t chew much oil and
it certainly couldn’t have gone through a litre between Hay and Renmark.
I knew I was going to have to drain off some
oil or there’d be no chance of burning it off the clutch and I didn’t relish
the idea of telling Carmel there was another reason to get under the car.
On second thoughts why tell Carmel.
Even though was hungry I slipped into an old
t-shirt, hopped into the driver’s seat, drove the car a short distance and
parked it over a relatively deep V-shaped ditch.
A quick search of the local bush produced an old plastic 1.25
litre coke bottle that would be just right for draining the required amount of
lube from the motor. It was surprising
how quick this operation was completed and soon I was tucking into some hot
fried rice, in the café, while Angela and Lloyd were exploring the Balladonia
The Balladonia museum, immediately adjacent to
the café, was filled with all manner of things from a life size camel to an old
fifties rally car and even a huge chunk of Skylab (replicas mind you) but these
fascinating displays portrayed the history of this significant landmark in the
middle of the Australian outback.
However time marches on and even though we
hadn’t uncovered all the secrets of the museum we had to be moving on.
Though there was still a little clutch slip on
take-off, once on the open road the P76 felt far happier and without half the
engine’s internals thrashing around in overflowing amounts motor lube I was
hoping that the unwanted oil on the clutch might be spun off by the centrifugal
force or burnt way by the spinning flywheel.
About 75 kilometres before Norseman is a
landmark that, during our trip to the Perth convention back in 1989, allowed us
the opportunity to create some very special memories.
It may not have been the wisest thing to do so many miles from
anywhere but… lets go back in time for a moment.
It was around 10am.
The sky was clear and the weather very hot.
Four Leyland P76’s sped westwards along the
Eyre Highway. Out in front was Phil
Crowther and his girlfriend Sue in their white V8, 3- speed followed by Graham
Redhead and Russel Nicholson in Russell’s beautifully engineered, White V8
Deluxe. Next was Peter Velthius and his
girlfriend Gay in his black on black V8, 4-speed and finally Carmel and myself
in “Warzone” with its brand new V8.
Without warning Phil slowed suddenly and pulled
off the road before performing a U-Turn.
His explanation, over the CB radio, was a simple, “Follow me!”
Doubling back about 100 metres he turned right
into a parking area. The three P76’s,
following some distance behind, performed exactly the same maneuver and pulled
up side by side at the edge of a gentle slope about thirty feet (9 metres)
above a dry lakebed.
Phil’s car was already out on the muddy surface
performing huge sliding turns and in a matter of seconds Peter V. had his black
beast out on the lakebed pivoting around its front wheels and spraying red clay
everywhere in a huge circular pattern.
Shortly thereafter followed Russell’s car while I was torn between capturing
the action on video or getting into the action myself.
Settling for the video camera I filmed from
the edge of the muddy surface before being invited into Phil’s car for some
high speed slides. Eventually I got to
take War Zone out and was surprised how easy it was to fishtail the car at
speeds in excess of 140kph.
By the time we brought the cars in there was a
liberal amount of caked clay around the wheel arches and rear guards.
Russell’s car was carrying about 2 solid
inches of the sticky red stuff that had been flung onto its mud-flaps by the
wildly, spinning wheels.
The following 1500 kilometres allowed the clay
on the cars’ undersides to dry and brought howls of laughter from all of us
every time chunks were dislodged only to disintegrate as they hit the road’s
surface in a cloud of dust.
We never did find out the name of this lake
preferring to refer it by its nickname so christened by us in honour of Phil
and the state of our cars when we left: “Lake Philthy”.
And so here we stood some thirteen years later
with our 10 year-old daughter and 9 year-old son trying to explain what had
occurred here all those years ago. The
area had changed of course. It now
sported signs of civilization - picnic tables, rubbish bins, toilets and at any
point of access to the lakebed not blocked by trees a low, but solid, sandstone
wall that clearly blocked motor vehicle access to the “fun zone”.
Maybe too many others had experienced the
pleasures of Lake Philthy? Either way,
we had to be moving on and so with a stack of 13 year-old memories in our heads
we took to the highway again.
As fortune would have it, even with our stop,
we still covered the 191k’s to Norseman in less than two hours where we finally
hit our first intersection in over 1200 kilometres.
Turning left we headed for
- I turned the key again and pumped the accelerator and the motor stuttered in the life.
- Keeping the revs up I depressed the clutch pedal and noticed that the gearshift was a touch difficult to put in gear in fact even changing gears seemed a bit clunky. My thoughts turned
- to the clutch cable, what now?
- We covered about another 90 kilometres and the car seemed to run quite well the faster it went, but the clutch still worried me.
- We pulled into the forecourt of a roadhouse at Wudinna where I found a conveniently located trench next to a pile
- of solidified gravel & dirt.
- This was enough for me. I drove the car over the trench with its driver’s-side wheels on the adjacent mound.
- In this position I could worm my way under the car to adjust the clutch linkage while in a neighbouring paddock the kids had discovered millions of small shells bleached white by the weather.
- One mistake I made at this point was allowing Angela to use my Minolta SLR camera.
- Angela had been used to using the little Finepix digital camera and being able to delete the pictures she didn’t like, so seventeen film pictures of her and Lloyd and a zillion snail shells later I finished the clutch adjustment and just as well or Angie might have reeled off the rest of the film.
- In a matter of minutes we were back in the Leyland and on the move; next stop Ceduna some 200 kilometres further on.
- The gear change action was smooth and I figured the new clutch cable was just bedding in (at least that what I wanted to believe). Nevertheless our old P’ ran smoothly as long as we held speeds over 120kph and on the wide, open, country road this was not difficult as there were precious few cars traveling in either
- direction to hold us up.
- We reached Ceduna and spotted an Auto One store.
- Figuring I might be able to purchase parts to rectify the carburetor problem we stopped and went
- The chap behind the counter said he didn’t have any Holley parts nor even another 350 Carby however I
- noticed an electric fuel pump on the shelf behind him and figured it would be a worthwhile purchase, just in case...
- Regarding the carby he recommended visiting a mechanic who was a Holley specialist on the outskirts of town.
- Following the directions we located the workshop on the eastern side of Ceduna.
- After a quick chat with the mechanic on duty he had a look at the carby and decided it would have to come off.
- Carmel meanwhile decided to take the kids for a walk around the local area while I remained with the car.
- I could tell by the way Carmel walked away she wasn’t impressed and I began to doubt the logic of bringing such an untested vehicle into the outback.
- Still there was nothing left to do but work on the car.
- After removing the carburetor I noticed the gasket underneath was looking a little worn and elected to replace this and
- figured while I was there I’d unbolt the adapter plate and check it too.
- The mechanic had noticed what I was doing and informed me he had a better adapter plate if I was interested.
- The one he gave me had two round holes instead of an elongated one and was supposed to give better performance due to this difference in design. Of course this meant using different bolts which after a test fit I had to cut to suit.
- With a fully equipped workshop at my disposal this wasn’t difficult.
the centre of this once major, western gold-mining town however, in our case,
we were in search of food.
Top Left: Meeting Bob Lynn and his Corvette
Top Right: The Big Galah at Kimba, SA
Above Left: Angela in Ceduna, SA
Above Right: The SA/WA Border Checkpoint
Left: Other P76’s at Balladonia, WA
Below Left: Lake “Philthy” revisited, WA
Below Right: Angela & Lloyd, Norseman, WA
Cruising the short distance into the main drag
of Norseman produced curious stares from the few locals who dared venture out
into the hot midday sun. We parked
outside the Norseman Chamber of Commerce one of the very few shady spots in
town and while Carmel crossed the road to the very large general store Angel
Lloyd and myself were attracted to the large traffic roundabout populated by
half a dozen life-size camels cut from sheets of corrugated iron.
Following the obligatory photograph we joined
Carmel in the general store where she’d ordered hamburgers for us all.
Lloyd thought the truancy warning by the
door was amusing as the police were to be called if school aged students were
found in the store. Angela, as it
turned out, was expecting the boys-in-blue to appear at any moment.
After a particularly good lunch Carmel took the
wheel and we left town by the way we’d entered.
Once away from the town limits Carmel picked up the pace and
since she seemed well and truly settled in I took the opportunity to relax in
the comfort of the reclining seat.
(Sorry, kids in the back, you’ll have to move out the way.)
The engine even sounded happier and soon to
the rhythmic sound I drifted off to sleep.
It wasn’t long, though, before I was shaken
awake by the car’s stuttering. Oh no, I
thought, what now?
“What do you want me to do now?” asked Carmel.
Rubbing my eyes I attempted to prepare myself
for another problem solving session but was pleasantly surprised to find a far
Carmel had been hooting along for about thirty
minutes or so and had caught up with the three P76’s we’d met back at Balladonia.
These cars were cruising along on the low
side of 100kph, a speed that our P76 simply didn’t appreciate.
“This is terrible,” stated Carmel, referring to
the stuttering engine. “Do you want to
stay behind them?”
Being a statement as much as a question I
simply shrugged my shoulders, “Up to you”.
Carmel didn’t take long to think and as the
road ahead was clear she downshifted to third and accelerated.
The maneuver didn’t take long and all I got
to do was wave briefly to our fellow travelers as we passed them.
A few minutes later found us passing a
three-car road-train and shortly thereafter were closing rapidly on a couple of
Harley Davidson motorcycles. Without
warning something came off one of the bikes and as we passed the object I
realized it was a glove. A quick
discussion with Carmel and we’d slowed made an about turn and stopped by the
motorcyclist’s gauntlet. Knowing how
expensive these things were I figured its owner would appreciate having the
I hopped out of the car to collect the glove
while Carmel U-turned the car again, only this time the car stalled right in
the middle of the road. Normally this
wouldn’t have been a problem on the lonely stretch of narrow road but by now
the huge road-train we’d passed only minutes earlier appeared over a rise in
the road less than a kilometer away.
Standing in the middle of the tar strip my
blood ran cold. “Get it off the road,”
I screamed as I ran towards the car. I
could see Angela & Lloyd in the back seat and Carmel obviously struggling
with the key. I reached the car and
realised there wouldn’t be to swap seats so immediately putting my left
shoulder against the door frame I pushed and endowed with surprising strength
moved the car off the tar with surprising ease just as the road-train thundered
Naturally the car started immediately after the
incident but a shaken Carmel seemed to have trouble with the clutch and
stalling a couple of time while attempting to get the Leyland back on the road.
“Swap seats,” I said, and while Carmel slid
over the centre console I took the long way round the bonnet and dropped myself
in the driver’s seat.
We powered along attempting to catch the two
bikers but there was no sign of any two-wheeled machines until we passed Widgiemootha
some 76 kilometres from Coolgardie.
Standing out of the sun under the awning of a
little service station I noticed a couple of figures and the unmistakable form
of a Harley. Throwing out the
proverbial anchors I bled off speed as quickly as possible and made a hard left
into the country servo.
A brief conversation with one of the pair
established that the glove didn’t belong to either rider but as they had just
seen a couple of their colleagues pass by and assuming the glove belonged to
one of these riders they agreed to take the glove and return it to its rightful
owner. A quick handshake and we were
back on our way.
This was my first visit to Coolgardie, as back
in ’89 we took the long way to Perth via the coast road.
As we cruised into the main street of
Coolgardie I found the town to be a lot smaller than I’d imagined, although I
was surprised by the extraordinary width of the main street.
We turned right into a BP service station
that was right out of the sixties, even down to the pumps.
These old bowsers required lifting the
nozzle, switching on via a lever and resetting the tumblers before they could
be used. The owner seemed amazed that
someone like me knew how to operate the pumps and even told me that most “City
Folk” simply pushed the bowser nozzle into their car’s tank and waited.
Since we were talking I asked if I might
borrow a trolley jack so that I could adjust the clutch on the P76.
This wasn’t a problem as long as the work
was performed away from the pump area, so while Carmel and the kids
investigated a historical park across the road I got under the car again.
Having done this a few times, I was quite
experienced at this operation and it didn’t take long before I returned the
trolley jack, thankful I didn’t have to unpack anymore than a couple of
spanners from the boot. As I cleaned my
hands with a paper towel in the afternoon sun, our friends in the three P76’s,
Carmel had “flown” past earlier, rolled into town.
With obvious intentions of staying the night the cars turned into
a motel further down the street and I acknowledged the toot, toot of their
horns with a wave before turning my attention back to our own P76’s V8
While filling the car I felt its fuel economy
and performance weren’t quite up to standard and so grabbing a 9/16” socket and
ratchet handle decided to adjust the timing.
With the motor idling I loosened the dizzy and gave it a little turn in
the clockwise direction before nipping the bolt back up again.
Satisfied with my handywork I called Carmel and
the kids back to the car and very soon we were underway again.
My satisfaction didn’t last long, though as
while I’d managed to get the car idling better it certainly performed worse.
There was nothing to do but readjust the
distributor and this time I got it right.
Carmel was determined to find better
accommodation for tonight and so it was her decision that lead us to a town
called Southern Cross some 189kilometres west of Coolgardie.
Unlike previous nights when we arrived after
dark on this occasion we arrived at the Southern Cross Motel, in Southern Cross
a few minutes after 6pm. This gave us
the luxury of time to shower, take a walk around, grab a cuppa and even book a
table in the hotel’s restaurant for dinner, which as it turned out, to be
Thursday morning dawned bright and clear.
Once again I inspected the car and found all
in order for the final 400 kilometre leg into Perth.
We checked out of the hotel assisted by the manager who’s
brother, as it happened, was involved in cataloguing assets during the closure
of Leyland’s Sydney plant back in the mid ‘70’s.
The car ran fine until we hit the 90 zone just
outside Northam. Here we had to cope
with speeds the car really didn’t like and this situation became worse as the
speed limits got progressively slower.
By the time we hit the Perth suburbs I was
effectively accelerating in first gear then letting the car roll along in
neutral until another burst of acceleration was needed.
Every time we saw an auto’ parts store along
the way I’d stop the car hoping to buy a new Holley 350 and each time I’d be
disappointed. I couldn’t believe that
such a popular carburetor was so hard to find!
We followed the signs to Bateman even calling
James Mentiplay to ensure we were going in the right direction.
We turned off the main road and after
following James’ directions finally found the entrance to the Noalimba centre
where the convention was to be based.
Our P76 jerked to a welcome stop in the car
park and we stepped out thankful to have completed the trip.
Ensuring we were together the four of us
made our way to the registration area where we met some welcome and familiar
James Mentiplay was the first to greet us and
as we looked around we saw a few other people we hadn’t seen for thirteen
Wanting to get settled in, James directed us to
our sleeping quarters in the Victoria Building.
Fortunately all the buildings were solid brick and, while not
five-star accommodation, were clean, cool and comfortable.
I was relieved to find the beds comfortable
Noalimba was a huge complex that used to be
used for newly arrived immigrants to this country back in the 60’s and has been
run by the department of Sport and Recreation since 1984.
It is situated on spacious grounds only twelve
kilometers from Perth city with eight two storey residential blocks that are
capable of accommodating some 420 guests as well as various conference rooms
and sporting facilities. Its name is
actually an Aboriginal word meaning ‘belonging to all”.
Returning to the registration area we met Gus
& Marge Durham who we hadn’t seen for ages.
Another old friend we met was Hal Maloney how had recently
completed his book on the P76 and was to launch it at the convention.
Hal also solved the mystery of the Falcon
driver on the Nullarbor for us. Simple;
it was him. How we didn’t pick up on
this, I don’t know, I guess we simply weren’t expecting to see him driving on
tar since Hal is more known for him dirt road exploits.
Next to arrive was Nick Kounelis and his
wife Nicky and their baby son Bill.
They had flown all the way from Tasmania and had borrowed a white P76
from Mick Le Cocq, a Perth club member and entrant in the Targa Tasmania, with
his very modified Targa Florio.
During the course of the afternoon more and
more P76’s filled the car park and while it was great seeing more old friends
and meeting new ones.
The carburetor problem played on my mind and I
really wanted to get this squared away so I could relax.
James recommended a talk with Mick Le Cocq
who had plenty of experience with modified motors and suchlike.
Once the introductions were over, a quick
chat with Mick produced directions to the closest speed shop where we might
purchase Holley carburetor parts. A
short while later and we ventured back out onto the Canning Highway and
straight into an unwanted traffic jam.
The local air temperature was high but thankfully the twin thermo fans
fitted to our Leyland kept the motor cool on thirty-minute trip.
On arriving at the speed shop I was disappointed
to learn that they conveniently had no spare parts aside from gasket kits.
However they did have reconditioned Holley
carb’s for $399, somewhat more expensive than I’d imagined.
They had me over a barrel (a two barrel
actually) and they knew it; with it being 4:30pm now and tomorrow being Good
Friday, where else was I going to go?
Pulling out my credit card I tried to console myself with the fact that
at least I’d have a car that would drive smoothly.
Not being one to wait (also I figured if the
unit was faulty I could take back immediately) and since I had all the
necessary tools on board I changed the carburetor immediately.
The job only took about ten minutes and with
everything bolted down I fired the motor up and was relieved when it settled
into a smooth idle.
Calling the troops back onboard we soon found
ourselves back in absolutely awful traffic conditions.
Why are there traffic holdups in both
directions in Perth, I wondered? The
return trip took almost an hour and I wasn’t sure if the engine was hot because
of something to do with the new carburetor or simply the sheer amount of
surrounding motor vehicles, but either way the thermo fans working overtime
only just kept the motor out of the “red”.
I was sure relieved to get back to Noalimba and relax and let the car
cool down. Also I’d noticed, with some
concern, that a couple of times the car’s accelerator seemed to stick on at a
fast idle and just hoped it wouldn’t be anything serious.
By now the Dave Nelson, Garth Morris and the
gang that we’d met at Balladonia had arrived swelling the numbers further.
A quick survey of the car park showed more
P76’s than I’d seen for years and it was good to know that this Aussie icon
could still pull a crowd.
After an afternoon nap we asked around about
dinner arrangements and came up with pizza as a solution.
It was only a short trip to the pizza shop
but again the sticky accelerator made itself known but I was too hungry to
care. At least I’d sleep comfortably on
a full stomach tonight.
Friday morning arrived and the first of the
official activities – the Observation run.
The family piled into the P76 and we received our instructions and spent
the next ninety minutes cruising around Perth suburbs attempting to answer
questions on local geography and current events.
What impressed us however was the property prices.
Carmel figured we could sell our Sydney home
and move into a veritable mansion in Perth with no mortgage!
After lunch everyone gathered in the conference
room for Hal Maloney’s book launch.
Listening to Hal talk about the time and effort it had taken to produce
the record of the life of the Leyland P76 was amazing.
The dedication to this cause and the digging
that had been necessary over the years must have been exhausting but there was
no doubting where everyone’s attention was focused.
This made a great story even for those without an interest in
cars. At the end of his speech we got
to see the first editions of the book and I must admit it was difficult to tear
myself away from it. As there were
other activities to attend I didn’t have time, at this stage, to grill Hal
about various Leyland mysteries I needed solved as we were committed to
attending the King’s Park run.
As Nick’s wife, Nicky had elected to stay
behind with Billy, Nick hitched a ride with us.
It was great to see so many P76’s out on the road, and of course
it’s always a blast to see a Force 7V cruising the asphalt.
James had managed to secure Maurice
Brockwell’s white Force for the convention (Maurice having sadly passed away
earlier in the year) and fortunately was able to drive the vehicle in some of
the convention’s events as well. As we
pulled up beside him at one point I noticed he was grinning like a Cheshire
cat, and why not he was at the controls of one very special piece of automotive
It is a wonderful sight to see cars like this
on the road. They were built to drive
and from my own experience I can attest to the fact that unless cars like the
Force 7V are driven people fail to appreciate them and they end up like the
brown Force 7 in the Birdwood museum - being ignored or forgotten by the
majority of people and becoming undrivable static dust collectors.
Even though I have a new company car to use any
day of the week, every weekend I drive at least one of my Leyland P76’s or the
Force 7V. If anything I consider it my
duty to educate people especially the Leyland knockers.
Those ignorant souls, who inevitably seem to
drive foreign cars, and think they have some God given right to insult my
car. Perhaps they think that by
demonstrating their mathematic prowess with such comments as, “It’s a P38, only
half the car it was meant to be”, they will impress me.
Unfortunately for them I usually start by
saying “What’s your problem, did I put shit on your car?”
I encourage all Leyland P76 owners to be proud
of your vehicle and DON’T TAKE CRAP FROM ANYONE!
You drive a car that has standard features some of which it took
Ford and Holden twenty years to offer on their vehicles.
And I can tell you from personal experience
I would rather sit in a P76 seat than that from the latest model Commodore.
If my P76 is good enough to command respect
from the kid down the road with the turboed rice burner, and a P76 is good enough
to qualify for membership of the Australian Muscle Car Club along with Monaros,
HO Falcons and Chargers then it’s good enough to qualify me to tell the
ignorant to shut up!
Now I’d better put my soapbox away and get back
to the story!
Kings Park is located overlooking Perth and
once the cars we parked we were afforded the opportunity to take a walk around
the immaculately manicured gardens and take in the sights.
There were plenty of others out enjoying the
afternoon sun, even a group performing Capoeira, a cross between dance and
self-defense originating from Brazil.
This was quite fascinating to watch as the participants twirled, ducked
and somersaulted around each other to music provided by people playing traditional
instruments such as the Berimbau, Pandeiro and more.
All to soon though we had to be getting back to
Noalimba and again coming back through the traffic the sticking problem made
itself known and provided for a few unnerving moments.
As the car refused to slow in a predictable
way I was getting really irritated and said to Nick that I intended to take the
carby back and swap it. Nick however
had other ideas and as soon as we arrived back at the conference centre was
immediately under the bonnet with a screwdriver, while I went looking for a
Almost immediately bumping into Hal he asked
how the car was. My description of the
carby problem wasn’t exactly a glowing report and within minutes Hal had his
head in the engine bay too. As it
turned out, Nick had found a binding return spring on the accelerator linkage
and with a bit of tweaking with a screwdriver had solved the problem.
Hal, with his ear for a tuned motor, tweaked
the mixture adjustments on the Holley 350 and all of a sudden I finally had a
P76 that drove smoothly at any speed, decelerated predictably and didn’t
overheat either. (Thanks guys!)
After dinner that night we found ourselves back
in the registration hall for the Trivia Quiz.
I’m positive the questions were the hardest with which I’ve ever had to
contend and maybe the copious amounts of P76 port that we were drinking didn’t
exactly help our concentration. By the
time the quiz was over we were well into our second bottle of port and having a
great time. (Needless to say that our
table didn’t win, not that I’m insinuating that the port had anything to do
with our loss but it sure made it feel better!)
By the time we hit the sack it was well past
2am and I was out like a light.
By a quirk of fate I don’t get hangovers,
however I do get extraordinarily hungry so upon discovering eggs and bacon
being served for breakfast I was ecstatic.
I’d need my strength for another full day of activities.
The morning was reserved for the obligatory
show ‘n’ shine or concourse and here was a chance to show off my Force 7 back
seat conversion. With the P76 cleaned
and polished I lined it up with the other Leylands and dropped the seat down to
reveal a boot area even more cavernous than the standard P76 luggage area.
With the car set up I busied myself shooting
pictures of the other cars and checking out some of the amazing modifications
done to enhance the cars or simply keep them on the road.
Garth Morris’ Fuel-Injected, Twin-Turbo
setup was surely the impressive modified vehicle and even more so when it is
taken into consideration that he couldn’t just go and buy a kit for this type
of mod’. It all had to he
After reeling off a good number of pictures of
the white Force 7V, I hightailed it back to the registration area just in time
for Barry Lake’s talk about his rally adventures.
Already owning Barry’s book, “You Can’t Get There from Here”, I
knew we’d be in for a real treat but even I wasn’t prepared for such a plethora
of humorous stories. There is a real
art to holding people’s attention and Barry had obviously mastered this, for at
the end of his lengthy talk the applause and calls for an encore indicated that
everyone had very much enjoyed this session and was happy to hear more.
With Barry’s stories still in our heads we made
our way to lunch before cruising into Perth again this parking the cars on
display at the well know E-Shed markets.
Once the cars were arranged the public took quite an interest, a
television crew even turned up and filmed the cars and interviewed some of the
people including Carmel and myself.
In between shooting pictures I took the
opportunity to talk “Leyland” with other attendees of the event.
At one point I’d noticed that on the WA Club
members, George Garofallou, the owner of a worked up Country Cream Super V8,
had referred to my car a couple of times as the General P’ obviously because
of its similarity to the Dukes of Hazzard’s, General Lee.
What amazed me was that I’d never thought of
this name myself in spite of the fact it seemed so obvious.
From this moment on, the Leyland P76 number
19006 was effectively christened and would henceforth be known as, the General
P’. Thanks George!
Top Left: Hal Moloney launches his book
Top Right: Relaxing in Kings Park, WA
Left: That picture from the paper
Above: The White Force 7V
Below Left: Barry Lake, the author and his P76
Below Right: Lloyd, Nick, Billy, Charlotte and
Nicky aboard Mick’s Cruiser
Bottom: The Concourse Line-up
After hunting around the markets for items of
interest, buying some souvenirs and snacking on some of the wide variety of
foods available in the immediate area we disbanded.
Not knowing the area too well we followed the Leyland line-up and
followed the P76 convoy all the way back to base camp.
Once back we had to shower and change
because tonight was the river cruise and instead of driving we’d be bussing it
to the docks.
The half hour bus ride was an event in itself
with friendly banter and crazy stories about P76’s coming from all
directions. There were new stories like
how Garth, Dave and Dave had used a large, stuffed, pink bunny rabbit as a sort
of Leyland autopilot coming across the Nullarbor, and the usual old ones like
the guy who bailed up the owner of a P76 to tell him in a most authoritative
manner that the Rover 3.5 was a bad choice of motor to put in the P76.
Once on board though the ferry, the river
cruise itself was spectacular, as we got an opportunity to see the Perth sights
and lights from a very different vantage point.
It was also a time to talk some serious Leyland and engine
numbers, VIN’s, options and stories abounded.
Graham Rogerson, who’d traveled from Queensland, recounted many of his
adventures to me as we stood on the upper deck of the cruiser and let the Perth
skyline float by.
Having completed our cruise it was back to the
bus again and another hilarious ride back to Noalimba as people began relating
more of the funny stories centred around owning a Leyland P76.
Sunday was another clear sunny day just perfect
for a motokhana. Again the P76’s
assembled in convoy for the cruise to the Whiteman Park some 25 kilometres
north east of Perth and incorporating antiques, trams, trains, buses, cars,
bush-walking trails, bikes playgrounds, sporting facilities and of course the
dreaded souvenir shops.
Located in picturesque bushland
the Park covers an area of more than 3600 hectares (9000 acres) with nearly
half this designated as a conservation reserve and takes its name from Mr Lew Whiteman (1903-1994), a
prominent local identity and enthusiastic collector of artefacts.
His family settled in Guildford from England
in the late 19th century and Lew acquired some land around Mussel Pool in the
1940s. This, and other land held by a
variety of private owners, was purchased by the State Government in 1978 and
combined to form Whiteman Park. The
land was acquired to protect a major underground drinking water source
supplying the Perth metropolitan area. Whiteman Park is the only place in
Western Australia where you still can enjoy a ride on a genuine electric
tram. The Perth Electric Tramway Society
(which is based at Whiteman Park) has six trams operating a regular passenger
service on a special track around the Park and includes the only Fremantle tram
still in operation. A ride on one of
the trams is a unique way to see the various attractions of the park at a
leisurely pace and it is possible to alight at a number of stops for a closer
look at items of interest. The 4km tram
journey takes about 30 minutes to complete and departs every half hour.
However before we got to enjoy the facilities of Whiteman Park there a little matter of
the motorkhana to complete. With thoughts of similar happening held thirteen years earlier I signed up for the event that would be held over three twisting courses around a series of witch’s
hats in the spacious car-park.
From the sidelines I watched as drivers
veritably threw their almost thirty year-old vehicles around the tight winding
course. It is a real compliment to the designers of these cars that the old Leylands were able to perform to this standard.
Eventually my turn came are I strapped myself into the General P’. When the signal was given I hit the gas but as I approached the first witch’s hat and hit the brakes something attracted my
It was Carmel’s handbag. She’d left it on the front seat and under brakes; of course, it slid off onto the floor and provided only a momentary distraction but it was enough to cause me
to hit the first witch’s hat on the track.
Prior to subsequent runs I ensured that there were no distractions before starting and was a lot happier with my times… and in fact didn’t knock over anymore witch’s hats.
Once all the contestants had completed their
runs we made our way into Whiteman Park itself where again our cars were parked
on a large grassed picnic area where the parks patrons could look over the
display of some 40 odd P76’s.
Angela and Lloyd suddenly realised here was a
place where they were let loose to visit all manner of attractions not the
least of which were the assortment of rides and of course the old trams.
Something I wanted to do was check out the
motor museum as I’d heard that there was a Delorean DMC 12 sports car
inside. The Delorean, made famous in
the Back To The Future movies, was another car in which I was interested and
had a history, I felt, as fascinating as the P76.
It had been over 20 years since John Z. DeLorean challenged the automotive industry when he rolled out his so-called ethical sports car from a state-of-the-art factory in Dunmurry,
Northern Ireland. The history of DeLorean
Motor Co. was daring, turbulent, and disastrous, leaving a lasting stigma on
Technically, the DMC-12 is a solid automobile, powered by a rear-mounted, 130-horsepower
Peugeot-Renault-Volvo fuel-injected, aluminum, 2.8-liter V-6 engine with a Bosch K Jetronic fuel-injection system.
Sitting on a Lotus-designed, double-Y, backbone-frame chassis it features independent four-wheel suspension.
The car has a wide, 62-inch track, and its front wheels are an inch smaller in diameter to minimize oversteer and offer better overall handling.
The lines of the DMC-12 are no-nonsense and sleek. Its elegant low
profile and swept appearance reference a tradition of classic styling but with,
Italian stylist, Giugiaro's futuristic touch.
The body, made of glass-reinforced plastic with high grade brushed
stainless steel skin, certainly sets the car apart from anything else on the
road. The paint can't chip or fade, and it's impervious to rust. Some DeLoreans
have since been painted various colours by owners and by dealers who acquired
the cars after DMC went into receivership, but with the exception of two
24-karat-gold-plated DMC-12s, all of the cars left the Dunmurry factory with
gleaming stainless steel exteriors.
The DeLorean's most recognized feature is its gull-wing doors that when fully opened give the car the look of something out of a science fiction movie.
Unlike the similar upward opening doors of the 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL or the Bricklin SV1, DMC-12 doors require only 14 inches of swing space.
Very impressive when compared with the 40 inches or more required by most conventional car doors thus making them not only distinctive but also practical.
Only 8,583 DeLoreans were manufactured; 6,539 in 1981, 1,126 in 1982 and only 918 in 1983. Of those, about 6,000 are still believed to be in circulation with a few hundred of them outside the United States.
The Delorean in the Whiteman Park motor museum belonged to Maurice Brockwell, the owner of the white Force 7, and was one of about ten known DMC-12’s in Australia.
Once inside the museum I naturally made a beeline for the Delorean. I wasn’t disappointed for there it sat right next to a Nassau Blue big block 1966 Corvette. I noticed the sign claimed it
was one of two factory right-hand drive units made and this reminded me of the
argument of what constituted a factory RHD car.
From what I’d read the Delorean factory
contracted a company in England called Wooler-Hodec to
convert about fifteen cars, but these were originally LHD units that were taken
off the production line. Of course there have been many conversions performed since then but whether this particular car was a factory RHD vehicle would probably come down to whether,
firstly, it could be established as one of the Wooler-Hodec cars and, secondly,
if it is acceptable to call a conversion performed for the factory, factory RHD.
To be perfectly honest I didn’t
care, it was just a buzz seeing a DMC-12 and I took the opportunity to
photograph the car so that I could add its picture to the other four I have
photographed in Australia over the years.
An odd thought occurred to me at
this stage. I wondered what it would
take to convert a P76 to LHD? Using a
late model LHD Corvette rack for the steering and a bit of creative metal work
on the dash, some cutting and vacuum forming on the crash pad…
With the P76 coming up for its 30th
birthday it might even be possible to register it for road use.
The rest of the tour round the museum was
interesting too as there was quite a collection of both old and unusual motor
As 12:30 rolled around all P76ers were called
to lunch (supplied by the Perth Club) where we tucked into some welcome bread
rolls and cool drinks. Immediately
after this, Carmel, Angela Lloyd and myself were cornered by the press again
and forced to answer a stack of questions about our Leyland P76 and the trip
from Sydney. A further fifteen minutes
or so was spent having photos shot of us in various positions in and around the
car, with some final pictures being taken of us sitting in the boot.
Finally we had to begin preparing to depart
after a fabulous day. My only concern
was that now the clutch was slipping again and I wasn’t sure if it was a
leftover from the oil problem experienced back on the Nullarbor or the fact
that I’d given the car too much of a bootfull in the motokhana.
Mick Le Cocq had got to hear of the problem
and very kindly offered his assistance to rectify the problem by allowing the use
of his workshop in Rockingham to drop the gearbox out of the car and
investigate the problem. He even
suggested converting the original old clutch lever and cable system to a modern
Commodore cable system. It all sounded
so easy, naturally I accepted.
Knowing that Carmel wouldn’t appreciate
spending a day around a mechanical workshop we decided that while I worked on
the car Carmel, Angela & Lloyd would take the ferry over to Rottnest
Rottnest Island about 10 km from
Perth was originally named by a Dutch explorer (some sources say Dirk Hartog in
1616, while others claim it was De Vlamingh) who, when sailing past the island,
thought the Quokkas were actually large rats.
(Hence the name Rats Nest , that became Rotten nest ,
and ultimately became Rottnest .)
When the kids found out they’d have another
boat ride and get to see this famous tourist attraction and home of the Quokkas
they were overjoyed. Then Angela asked,
“But what’s a Quokka?”
The Quokka is a small marsupial
like the forest wallabies and tree kangaroo's of eastern Australia.
Its head is broad but short, with a dark
stripe visible on the forehead. They
have small, rounded ears covered by fur and bodies having long thick shaggy fur
normally of a brown or grey-flecked colour.
Quokka hind feet are covered with stiff long hairs and the tail is
relatively short and fairly smooth with little hair on it.
Very active at night, the Quokka usually
sleeps in small groups, during the day amongst the shelter of dense vegetation.
At night it is not uncommon to see up to 150
adults converge on waterholes to drink and feed.
Sunday night was reserved for the formal dinner
and once again we boarded a bus for the city.
The sumptuous meal was held in a city hotel and
while we ate there were various enjoyable activities to keep us entertained
including trophy presentations, an auction and a huge lucky dip.
I was surprised to learn that I’d won 1st
prize in the Modified 1 category with the General P’.
Category one was for cars modified using predominantly Leyland
parts so I figured the fold down back seat must have picked up a few points
that, perhaps, gave me an edge on the other cars.
Another surprise was my second place in the
motorkhana (just like thirteen years earlier), so the old Leyland didn’t just
look good it could still deliver the goods when necessary.
The auction certainly got people excited with
enthusiastic bidding on many of the items and in some cases resulted in a fever
pitch battle of bid and counter bid. I
managed to score a limited edition WA number plate, P76-4X4X, that, I must
admit, I wasn’t sure exactly why I bought it.
With a few Queenslanders present, the 4X aspect of the plate, I thought,
might have been related to XXXX beer but perhaps the Queenslanders were among
those who’d spent up big, and maybe I’d just been given a lucky break.
Angela and Lloyd were both excited each having
won a couple of prizes in the monster raffle we were in high spirits after the
dinner as we returned to Noalimba for the last time.
Monday morning arrived and it was hard to
believe the convention was over. It was
a bit sad to think that after all the months of planning, work and effort the
whole thing was just moments away from the official close.
Now there was nothing else to do but pack
our car say our goodbyes and start the second half of our adventure.
We farewelled our friends both old and new and
while I wasn’t in any rush I knew we had a lot to accomplish this day.
Carmel and the kids piled into the General
P’ and with me at the wheel we followed Mick to the docks where Carmel and the
kids could catch the ferry over to Rottnest Island.
As parking was impossible I gave up and drove
virtually right up to the gangplank.
One of the ships officers looked somewhat surprised but then told us
with a smile that he’d seen the car on television.
See, celebrities are allowed to do anything!
I didn’t have long to wait to bon voyage
Carmel & the kids as the ferry began to pull almost immediately after
Soon I was again following Mick down to his
house at Rockingham where I was introduced to his lovely wife Charlotte.
Mick meanwhile swapped cars from his Targa
to the white Leyland and with Nick riding shotgun in the General P’ we followed
Mick down his street, right onto the main road and promptly lost him at the
“Where the hell did he go?” I asked mystified,
it was as if Mick had performed a disappearing act.
Fortunately Nick had memorized some
instructions on how to reach Mick’s workshop and while not totally exact we
eventually found our way to the workshop.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the number
of P76’s lying around the holding yard including what was left of a rare
Leyland P76 Panther. This car had
obviously seen better days but was not too far gone to restore.
Another of the more interesting vehicles was
Mick’s current project a P76 drag car.
This was a very much modified and lightened vehicle running a worked
Chev 350 as the powerplant. It looked
promising and should raise a few eyebrows when finished.
Mick opened the roller door to his workshop and
I rolled the General P’ in.
It took all day with Mick and Nick doing most
of the under car work while I cleaned and ready parts for reinstallation.
The clutch plate was soaked with oil, the
reason for it slipping, but fortunately Mick had a good second hand unit to
install in place of the ruined item. By
the end of the day the job was done and Mick had been true to his word and
installed a Commodore cable system. As
I reversed the car out I immediately noticed how smooth and light the clutch
felt. It was totally different to the
old system. Unfortunately a quick test
up the road indicated another problem.
At around 40kph a faint vibration could be felt getting markedly worse
until 80 where the car was virtually impossible to drive.
This was not what I needed and since it was
getting on towards 5pm I knew Carmel, Angel & Lloyd would soon be retuning
from their Rottnest Island sojourn.
As we were certain there was nothing astray
with the gearbox we elected to run the car back to Mick’s house and see if the
problem got any worse and make it easier to identify the source of the
Carmel called through from her mobile phone and
advised us the ferry had docked and, hoping she’d be able to find something to
do, I quickly arranged to meet her for dinner in around ninety minutes.
Once back at Mick & Charlotte’s house the
car was jacked up and as the sunset Mick managed to locate the problem.
It seemed that the rear tail-shaft universal
joint was the problem. On closer
inspection it was revealed that the “C” clips designed to keep the device
centred were missing allowing the tailshaft to be installed a tad off-centre,
but that’s all it needed.
A slight adjustment was made the bolts
retightened. The difference was
immediately noticeable but Mick didn’t still didn’t feel comfortable insisting
that the only safe way to install the uni joint was with the “C” clips
attached. He also delivered another
piece of unwelcome news, the right-hand axel shaft seal was leaking and may not
last the 4000 kilometres necessary to get home.
There was no escaping it we’d be spending
another day in Perth.
After getting cleaned up we drove into town and
after meeting up with Carmel it was decided that Thai was in order for dinner.
As we waited to be seated I noticed a couple
sitting at a nearby table.
“Aren’t those the people who were on TV”, the
woman asked her companion.
“I think so”, came the reply.
As I casually looked around it suddenly
occurred to me that they were talking about us!
I turned to Carmel to confirm that I wasn’t
hearing things and got the impression she was about to do the same thing with
me. We laughed all the way to our
table. The meal was great but it had to
come to an end. As Mick and Charlotte
already had guests we found ourselves looking for a place to stay.
No problem I thought there’ll be heaps of
hotels around Perth and certainly there was nearly all booked out.
I couldn’t believe how many No Vacancy signs
there were but eventually we located a very comfortable hotel at the north end
of town and checked in.
This was the most comfortable place we’d stayed
by far even having a large corner spa in the bathroom and a separate bedroom
for our two children. By the time
morning came around we weren’t exactly enthusiastic about getting out of bed,
hence why Carmel arranged for a late check-out!
By the time we reached Mick’s everyone was up
and about. No sooner had I rolled the
car into his driveway than the back wheels were off the ground and in a matter
of minutes off the car too!
Mick went to purchase the necessary parts to
carry out the work while I decided to install the electric fuel pump and clean
up around the car.
Carmel meanwhile spent the day with Charlotte
who taught her some relaxation techniques.
This might come in useful for the trip home, I thought.
Again sunset found us tidying up and I offered
to shout pizzas for dinner. During
dinner we discovered that Mick owned a cruiser moored down on the Swan River,
it didn’t take a lot of discussion to convince us to stay another day and
experience a cruise up the river this time in daylight.
Of course this meant spending another night in
a hotel and this time we elected to find something around Rockingham.
Searching through the accommodation directory
we found a suitable place only about five minutes drive away.
Reception was closed by the time we arrived,
but a sign on the door indicated that checking could be made at the bar on the
opposite side of the hotel. I walked
around the large, brick, building and into an unexpectedly crowded bar called
the Swinging Pig. (Get it? Rocking –
Shouting to be heard, I told the barmaid that I
wanted a room for the night. While she
went to retrieve the necessary bits and pieces for checking in guests I seemed
to have attracted the attention of a couple young ladies who, without any
shyness, asked me for a dance. On any
other day I thought. Smiling I
apologised and said I was actually checking into the hotel.
Judging by the way they looked at each other
I wasn’t exactly certain that they considered this a knock back but fortunately
for me the barmaid returned and ushered me though a back door marked, NO ENTRY!
(Much later on, back in Sydney, a good friend
of mine, who grew up in Mandurah, only a few miles down the road from
Rockingham, informed me that the Swinging Pig was a popular place for women
looking for men. Now, all you Perth
blokes, don’t go rushing out there at once!)
Once in the room we discovered the bed was
comfy and soon we were all tucked in and catching up on some much needed
After a good night’s rest we had a delicious
three course breakky – cereal, toast and coffee and by the time we had the car
packed and had checked out of the hotel Mick, Charlotte, Nick, Nicky and young
Billy had arrived in Mick’s crystal white P76 V8.
Without further ado Carmel, Angela, Lloyd and I piled in the
General P and followed the other P76 to the docks where Mick’s cruiser was
We transferred the necessary food and drink
from car to boat and soon we were casting off for our trip up the river.
Mick was an excellent tour guide pointing
out houses of the rich and famous, landmarks and other places of interest.
As we cruised upstream the wind picked up
but the sun was strong and helped keep us warm.
Angela and Lloyd both took turns steering the cruiser while
Carmel sat back with a glass of white and chatted with Charlotte.
Little Billy was incredibly well behaved not
crying once. Meanwhile I took the rare
opportunity to relax. No driving or
playing mechanic for me, I just lay back and enjoyed the sun and fresh air.
All too soon the cruise was over and in spite
of snacking almost continuously while on board, we elected to grab a late fish
and chip lunch and eat this in a nearby park.
Finally the time came and it was no use putting
it off any longer. Being almost 3pm we
needed to be moving on if we were to reach Kalgoorlie, some 600 kilometres
away, in time to find accommodation. It was with some regret that we said our good-byes
to everyone. Hopefully we’d see Nick,
Nicky & Billy at the next convention, to celebrate the 30th
anniversary of the P76, in Canberra the following year but Mick and Charlotte’s
wedding anniversary clashed with this event.
Mind you I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to spend a romantic
anniversary weekend around a collection of Leyland P76’s!
On the road the car ran well, actually better
than it had ever done, in fact just a little too well.
Coming over a rise and down onto a long flat
straight I noticed a taxi coming in the opposite direction.
It suddenly occurred to me that taxis don’t
have blue and red flashing lights on the roof.
All of a sudden I got that funny feeling.
The police car whizzed past under brakes and in the rear vision
mirror I saw him do a U-turn. I knew I
was done. I’d been sitting on 120kph
and with the speedo error, that I’d chosen to ignore, over the last 2000
kilometres or so I figured he would have me for more than 15kph over the
Backing off to about eighty I thought maybe
there was still a chance the pursuit car would go past.
No such luck.
I pulled over and grabbing my license met the
patrolman about halfway between our cars.
“In a hurry,” he asked.
“I guess so,” I replied handing over my driver’s
license before he asked for it.
We clocked you at 135kph in a 110 zone.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean
that, I mean I knew I was over the limit but didn’t expect that”.
Maybe I looked surprised, and I certainly
was. “The speedo on my car is out of
whack but honestly I didn’t think it was that far out.
I thought I was doing about 120 actually.”
The officer walked up to the P76, looked in the
rear window and then stood back. “I’m
gonna let you off with a warning this time but if you get caught again you’ll
get a ticket.”
I could’ve been knocked down with a
“You’re not giving me a ticket?” I asked in
“Not unless you want me to,” he replied with a
smile, “just take it easy”.
“Thank you,” I said
“Have a good trip!”
I couldn’t believe it.
If this we were in New South Wales, I
would’ve got a ticket and some smart-arse, sarcastic, comment for my troubles.
Getting back in the car I told Carmel what had
transpired. Even she was amazed,
instead of automatons it appeared they actually had human police in WA!
(Shame about their Multanovas.)
Funny thing was, after the actions of the
police officer I felt compelled to slow down, and it occurred to me that his
courtesy and respect had achieved far more than the uncaring,
ram-it-down-your-throat, revenue raising style of his NSW counterparts.
Even staying under the limit we managed to get
beyond Southern Cross by sunset and elected to continue on.
As the last rays of daylight lit the
countryside I was starting to feel sleepy so rather than risk driving any
further, swapped seats with Carmel who drove steadily onto Coolgardie.
I awoke when we were only some forty kilometers
from Kalgoorlie. Still too groggy from
my snooze to drive, Carmel continued on, though by now she was wondering if
that was the right decision. It was
quite dark and neither of us, in all our travels round this great country, had
ever seen so many kangaroos. We’d swerve
to avoid one and almost hit another.
The last thirty-nine kilometers into Kalgoorlie took almost an hour, as
we didn’t dare do more than 60kph.
Something we had noticed even before we’d
reached Coolgardie was the bright reflection in the sky from Kalgoorie’s
lights. This should have alerted us to
it size but as we drove into this famous gold-mining town nothing could have
prepared us for the sight that met our eyes.
Huge houses, hotels, shops, car dealerships of every description and all
manner of shops lined the streets. Now
here was one very large, prosperous city.
We stopped at the information centre but it was closed and so with
Carmel resuming the navigator’s seat drove around until we located a suitable
By nine thirty we were settled into a room only
to discover that room service stopped at nine.
The kids elected to watch television while Carmel and I went to scout
around for some food.
As we cruised around Kalgoorlie we located
plenty of fast food outlets but nothing particularly took our fancy.
We even located a sign indicating guided
Eventually, knowing that at least the kids
would eat it, we settled for KFC. It
was about 9:50pm as we approached the counter and ordered the family
feast. The girl behind the counter took
our order but kept staring at us. It
made me feel a but strange until she finally said, “Are you the people that
were on the TV the other night?”
I said it could be assuming she was referring
to the news segment that we’d only heard about and hadn’t actually seen.
This seemed to be quite exciting for the
young girl and she immediately told the manager who came and asked us about the
trip and where we were heading. Our
answers must have been good for she gave us the meal for free even throwing in
a few extra pieces for the road.
By the time we got back to our hotel room the
children were famished and devoured the chicken hungrily.
They were amazed when I told them we were
stars and Angela couldn’t believe we’d got the chicken for free.
After a good night’s sleep we drove back to the
tourist information centre, that was open now, to ascertain what we could do
for the day. Angela had missed out on a
school excursion to Bathurst to see a gold mine and I’d promised her that we’d
find a bigger mine in Kalgoorlie. After
a quick discussion with one of the tour guides we agreed that Paddy Hannan’s
mine just outside Kalgoorlie would be the best place to get a tour would fit in
with our schedule. The mine was
fascinating and huge. I could hardly believe
that most of it was dug by hand but as it was such an old mine this was the
We had to wear hard hats and travel over
100metres down to reach the mineshaft.
The guide was obviously very knowledgeable having once been a miner
himself and the tour was very informative and interesting.
Following the mine tour we visited the forge
where gold ingots were cast and saw the gold being melted down and cast right
before our eyes. Wanting to ensure
Angela got to see a chunk of gold I asked one of the workers if I might take a
picture of my daughter with a gold ingot.
Half expecting some excuse relating to security or something I was
pleasantly surprised when he simply said, “Sure” and promptly handed me a
freshly cast ingot. It was heavy I
wondered what something like this might be worth as I passed it to Angela.
She couldn’t believe she holding so much
gold, I couldn’t believe that so much gold was treated in such a casual manner,
but I guess when you’re round it all the time it loses it’s proverbial
shine. After eventually attracting some
attention I was able to give back the bar of precious metal before going out to
the panning creek to try our luck at gold panning and finding some of the shiny
With a bit of patience and some persistence we
all managed to separate some tiny flakes of gold from among the muddy
water. Angela and Lloyd were ecstatic
and insisted we buy a couple of small glass vials, from the souvenir shop, in
which to place their “fortunes”.
The rest of the time we spent looking around
the large mine site looking over the various displays and even discovering a
light rail network with a station called Williamstown!
As time was getting on we made our way back to
the centre of Kalgoorlie for lunch before realizing we would have to move on if
we were to make Balladonia before nightfall.
Deciding to bypass Coolgardie on our return
trip the next stop was a huge Shell roadhouse a little under halfway between
Kalgoorlie and Norseman. Here I was
forced to fill up with standard unleaded petrol as they had no LRP or
Premium. The car ran with no perceivable
difference and it took about ninety minutes to reach the Norseman intersection
where we turned left onto the Eyre highway again for the almost 200 kilometre
trip to Baladonia.
The sun had set by the time we checked into our
hotel room and upon returning to the car Angela told me that the lock had
broken on the rear passenger door. It
took me a moment to realise what she meant.
The lock button had snapped in half as she pushed it down and to make
matter worse the pushrod for the lock button had fallen into the door.
Now the door was locked with no easy way to
open it short of removing the door-trim and this would be a major pain, as I’d
have to work on the door with it shut.
Electing to leave the repairs till later we
decided to dine in the restaurant and took the short walk from our room to the
dining area. Just as we reached the
door a middle-aged man came out discussing how he might retrieve his broken
down Jaguar somewhere out on the Nullarbor.
How awful, I thought, to be stranded like that
and giving the matter no further consideration we went in and had a
surprisingly good meal. It seemed to me
that many of the world’s great chefs work in roadhouses and hotels in the
Australian outback because every time I sent my compliments to the cook we’d be
told it was some European dude who was on a working holiday.
The meals we received were easily up the
standards of the best Sydney restaurants in both cuisine and presentation.
With dinner out of the way and the temperature
dropping rapidly I decided to take a look at the broken lock on the rear door
of the P76. With Lloyd holding the
flashlight I removed the armrest and window-winder before tackling the
door-trim with my trusty, custom-made door-trim-removing tool.
Peeling the insulating plastic away I
managed to slip my arm inside the door and located the offending push rod.
With a minor struggle I managed to poke it
back through the lock knob hole and push it up thereby unlocking the door.
The rest of the operation was easy with the
door open and the trim out of the way, and soon Lloyd and I were back in our
room warming up with a hot chocolate.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear.
It looked like it would be a hot one
today. With no condensation on the car
there was nothing to chamois down so I joined Carmel and the kids for a quick
We were out of the car park by 8:30 and saying
farewell to Balladonia as the sky started to cloud over. It wasn’t long before
we found ourselves back on the 90 mile straight again.
The car was cruising happily along at about
120kph when without warning a huge grey kangaroo hopped onto the road just
ahead of us. I hit the anchors hard
only to discover that there wasn’t enough room to stop.
Not knowing which direction the creature
would favour, when it moved, I had to leave my swerving decision to the last
‘roo went left, we went right and with my heart beating in my
ears I tried to settle back into the drivers seat.
It was only another few seconds before I became aware of a new
noise. I listened, half convinced I was
hearing things and even asked Carmel if she could hear it.
Suddenly my eyes caught sight of the
illuminated red oil light on the dash and all made sense.
I killed the engine instantly and allowed the
car to roll to a stop by the side of the road.
The sudden hard braking to avoid the kangaroo
had flung the oil towards to front of the sump leaving the oil pick up pipe
high and dry allowing the oil pump to suck air.
Since oil pumps on
P76 V8’s are not self-priming there was no way
the engine would restore normal oil pressure by itself.
Needing to prime the oil pump and knowing a
trick that I’d used a couple of times before with other cars, I retrieved a
hose from the boot and busied myself in the engine bay.
Looking up momentarily it was then I noticed
the dark, looming storm clouds in the western horizon.
I’d want to have this operation done before
they got here.
At this point a Commodore pulled up next to
us. Inside was a young couple.
The driver asked if we were OK and I related
a brief analysis of the problem. “Do
you want me to leave a message for you at the Caiguna?”
I thought for a moment and figured it wouldn’t
hurt to get a call for help to the next town, on the off chance I couldn’t get
the motor running, and quickly scribbled out our details down on a piece of
paper. I thanked the couple and they
drove off to the east.
Trying to work on a hot engine is not a great
idea and soon I had a couple of choice burns on my left wrist as I’d struggled
to remove the large bolt hold the oil-pump relief valve components.
For some reason it was overly tight and
given its location, under the air-conditioning compressor, just wouldn’t come
There was nothing to do but get under the car
and try it from a different angle. I
changed clothes not wanting to dirty my current outfit and pulled on the old
overalls we carried for just such and occasion.
Lying on the red gravel I could just squeeze myself under the car
but even from this angle I wasn’t sure if I would strip the bolt head.
I thought for a moment and wondered why I
was here in the middle of nowhere under a car that should probably be in a
museum. I called to Angela and asked
her to pass me a hammer from the near-by tool kit.
Adjusting my position so I could tap the spanner as close to the
bolt-head as I could while also levering it up I gave it one last go.
Combined with a few choice words and this
seemed to do the trick however it wasn’t fast enough to beat the weather.
Before I could wiggle out from under the car
the rain hit in a drenching, desert, deluge that soaked everything in
seconds. By this time I was so hot
under the collar it’s a wonder the rain didn’t evaporate as soon as it hit me.
I slid the open tool kit under the car whipped
off the dirty overalls and slamming the boot and bonnet sought refuge inside
the Leyland with Carmel and the children.
Carmel had already established that her mobile phone was useless out
here but switched it on in the hopes that by some freak of nature she might get
a signal, but no such luck. We didn’t
speak and just sat staring at the windscreen as the huge droplets rained down
on the car with a sound it seemed calculated to promote hopelessness.
Lloyd’s watery eyes showed his concern for our
situation while Angela’s innocent question of, “Dad, are we stuck here?” just
made me feel responsible for getting us into this mess.
The rain eased off after about half an hour and
not knowing how long this would last I decided to continue the operation in the
light drizzle. Carmel offered to help
by holding and umbrella over me as I worked.
Initially unnoticed by us both, a huge road
train thundered past covering us both with spray and turning the umbrella
inside out in an instant. Still we
persisted. By now I had the large bolt
off, had pulled the coiled tension spring out of the pump and was trying
desperately to ease the small piston out of its bore.
A tricky and frustrating operation giving its position that I
accomplished by inserting my little finger into the bore and pressing my finger
against the hollow back of the piston in the hopes that it would stick long
enough to withdraw the piston to a point where I could grab it and remove
it. The chief problem being that the
piston always seemed to slip off my finger just before I could grab it and the
passing traffic, the rain and now a cold wind that had sprung up just made a
bad situation worse.
Finally I extracted the piston and in its
placed inserted the end of a short length of garden hose (kept for just such
occasions) and tried sucking oil up from the sump and into the oil pump.
Having done this successfully on previous
occasions I became concerned when all I seemed to be getting were fumes that made
me feel sick.
Checking the oil level confirmed there was
plenty of oil in the car. So if I
couldn’t suck it up I’d pour it down and replaced my mouth with a funnel.
Carmel held the funnel I poured oil into the
makeshift device with one hand while ensuring the other end of the pipe stayed
in the pump. I waited until the oil
level had subsided before replacing the components and firing up the
motor. Sadly the oil light persisted
indicating that the operation had been a failure and just to rub it in a bit
more the rain started again.
This charade went on for about two hours with
Carmel and I trying basically the same thing in between downpours in an attempt
to get the motor fully operational. I
racked my brains trying to think even doubting my own diagnosis and wondering
if I even doing the right thing.
Another trick came to me, a combination of something we’d tried and
something we hadn’t.
I’d need to remove the distributor and spin the
drive shaft in the timing housing of the motor.
I could use my cordless drill and the drive unit but needed
something to spin the mechanicals in distributor bore.
I selected a sacrificial screwdriver and was in
the process of cutting the handle off when one of those people show up that
just don’t make you feel totally comfortable.
He was thirty and drove an old Falcon station wagon and just hung around
asking way too many questions. His
constant glances up and down the road made me feel more uncomfortable that ever
and I wouldn’t turn my back on him. At
the earliest possible opportunity I ordered the kids back into the car and made
it look like they’d been doing something wrong as I didn’t want to give my real
reasons in front of the stranger.
Carmel also looked concerned which didn’t make me feel any better.
I was hoping she just say I was being paranoid
but in this huge country you could throw a body into the bushes ten feet from
the roadside and it might never be found.
Keeping careful watch on everything made the
operation even slower so I was very relieved to when the stranger eventually
got in his car and left.
Filling the oil pump via the funnel and pipe
again I attempted spinning the distributor drive with the screwdriver shaft in
the cordless drill. The oil appeared to
be sucked in from the tube into the oil pump and so after almost completing the
reassembly and I noticed our “friend” had returned and was just sitting in his
car on the other side of the road facing the opposite direction from that which
he had left.
Carmel started the motor again and again the
red oil light would not switch off.
The stranger took this as a signal to leave his
vehicle and come over to our car again.
“Still not going, ay?” he asked.
“No but at least we’ve got oil pressure now, so
I’m just going to pack up”, I lied.
Did he look disappointed?
I didn’t have too long to think as the rain
started again and I hastily excused myself and got back into our crippled car.
Again the rain poured out of the heavens in a
torrent while our watcher in the old Falcon sat across the lonely desert
highway. After about twenty minutes he
started his car and performed a U-Turn behind us.
He drove past and slowed almost to a stop before once more
driving off into the distance as the rain eased.
Carmel and I discussed our situation.
The rain looked well set in and I’d gone through
three changes of clothes to keep warm.
The temperature was still dropping and it was already decidedly cold and
our plight was made more miserable by our predicament, the state of weather and
the unknown quantity in the old Falcon.
We had to make a decision.
Someone would have to go for help and it would have to be Carmel.
I wouldn’t leave the car and I couldn’t
leave Carmel and the kids out here by themselves so our strategy was decided.
We’d flag down a car and if the people inside looked friendly Carmel would
hitch a ride back to Balladonia where she’d call for help.
If the car’s occupants looked suspicious
we’d simply hand them a note and await another vehicle.
It didn’t take long before a silver Camry came
down the road from the east. I waved my
hands and signaled to the driver. The
car skidded to a halt in the wet conditions about twenty metres from us.
I ran down the road and was relieved to see
a friendly-looking older couple inside.
Explaining our situation I asked him if they might give my wife a lift
into Balladonia. “Of course”, he
replied, “Do you want to go as well.”
I explained that I’d stay with the car and
continue to work on it just in case I could get it going and so the moment of
truth came. A quick hug and kiss and
Carmel, feeling very uncomfortable got into the Carmel Toyota and headed
west. It was one of the worst sights
and feelings of my life.
I turned back to the car where, Angela
immediately berated me, for not having the opportunity to farewell her mother.
Not wanting to stand around doing nothing I
asked Angela if she’d help me with the car.
I tried the oil trick again and half way through the rain started
again. To avoid the rain we tried
pulling the bonnet halfway down to cover the work area and I asked Angela to
keep a lookout for trucks. It was one
such warning that sent us scurrying for cover on the passenger side of the
car. It was a big road train and it was
traveling fast. It passed us as high
speed showering the car with spray and following in its wake was turbulence so
strong that it blew the bonnet from its half opened position to and angle I’d
never seen on a P76. On closer
inspection the radiator support panel had been levered up at the hinge points
meaning the bonnet would no longer close.
This day was just getting better!
In a distraught state of mind, I gave up.
The rain was falling heavily again and I
simply reassembled the oil pump and packed my tools away before climbing onto
the radiator support panel and jumping like a madman in an effort to bend it
back down. It didn’t seem to move much
but when I tried the bonnet again, even though it was obviously not right, at
least I was able to close it.
I was drenched again, my shoes were covered in
mud and it was then I noticed the left had wheels seemed to be low.
They were but not due to lack of air they
were sinking in the soft red mud. The
car was going to have the pull itself out of this I thought and got back into
the drivers seat and started the motor.
It fired up immediately, although obviously under protest, and I let the
clutch out gently and performed as fast a U-turn as I could and flick ed off
the motor. Being further away from the
road than we were our previous parking spot was more of a comfort and assuming
help was on the way we’d at least be facing the right direction.
Exactly where help would come from I didn’t
know and my thoughts turned to the Jaguar driver we met in Balladonia only the
previous night who had to abandon his car on the Nullarbor.
I checked the time. It was almost 3pm. We’d been here close on 6 hours. Assuming
Carmel would take about 90 minutes to get to Balladonia.
It would have to be at least 2 hours before we could expect to be picked up. I
grabbed the sleeping bags from the boot, some cereal, milk and dry clothes. After toweling off and getting changed in the front I transferred to the back seat to keep the kids comforted.
We sat here for about an hour talking and playing, “I Spy” when right in middle of one such game a car slowed and beeped its horn. I wound down the window and
was surprised to find a man standing in the rain.
He handed me a note and added quickly, “It’s from your wife in Balladonia, they’re sending a tow-truck”.
“Thanks!” I replied, but he was already getting
back in his car.
I opened the rain-soaked note written on a small piece of paper.
“Hope you are all OK.
I have called for a tow truck. The driver’s name is Terry and the truck is blue he should be there about six o’clock as he’s already on the road. I love you all, Mummy. xxx”
It was 5:10pm and I just wanted to get this
operation over and done, ASAP.
While the window was down my attention was
attracted to something dark lying on the opposite side of the road.
I looked out of the open window trying to
figure out what it was but just couldn’t make it out.
Since the rain had backed off, curiosity got the better of me and
I went to investigate. I could’ve
kicked myself. It was my umbrella
looked decidedly worse for wear due to the fact that it had been run over by
the car when I did the U-turn. I was
certain now that things could get worse.
Staring up the road I wondered if there might
be an emergency phone in the parking area about 500 metres distant.
Asking the kids the stay put and locking the
car I jogged up the road glancing back every few seconds to reassure myself
they were OK. It only took a few
minutes reach the parking area and to ascertain that there was no emergency
phone. Making an about face, I walked
back feeling a little more comforted as I didn’t have my back to the car but I
also felt frustrated. Maybe I’d give
the oil pump another look. It was
almost as if the weather gods had heard my thoughts and in some sadistic action
decided to turn the rain back on. I
sprinted back to the car again suffering a soaking for my efforts.
Not wanting to get cold again I dried off and
Angela, Lloyd and I snuggled together underneath the open sleeping bags and I
decided that since we were all hungry we’d have one of the small packets of
cereal each. We ate in silence the only
sound being the Snap, Crackle and Pop of Lloyd’s Rice Bubbles.
After tidying up the “dinner” things we talked
until the kids started to doze off. Six
o’clock had come and gone and now it was past seven.
My thoughts started to consider the possibility that we might be
here overnight and I could already feel the temperature starting to drop.
As there was no sign of any rescue on the
horizon I rearranged the sleeping bags again and settled myself down intending
to get some shut-eye.
Awaking to the sound of a truck horn I noticed
it was right on nightfall and I extracted myself from the back seat of the car
to be confronted by an old blue tilt-tray truck towing an XF Falcon on a
trailer behind it.
Sure enough the driver introduced himself as
Terry, the man mentioned in Carmel’s note, while his assistant was not actually
his assistant but in fact the owner of the Falcon, a German tourist who had
bought this car in Melbourne and had snapped the timing belt only about fifty
kilometers further east than us.
First things first, Terry warned me that the
tow would cost $600 and that was a cash price.
What could I say? I didn’t have
a whole lot of choice, really, and it was highly unlikely that I’d say no
thanks. However if he wanted cash then
he’d have to wait till we got to Norseman.
Satisfied with our verbal agreement he detached
the trailer holding the dead Falcon and over to one side before maneuvering the
old truck in front of our Leyland.
After the tow cable was attached the winch hauled the P76 up onto the
tray. Once our car was secured and the
trailer holding the Falcon reattached I had a question answered that was
“Where will we be sitting?” I asked Terry.
Basically there was no other choice.
As the cabin of the truck could only seat
three, the social butterfly, Angela got the centre seat in the truck between
Terry and the young German chap, while Lloyd and I climbed into the back seat
of the Leyland. Immediately we covered
ourselves with quilts to stave off the cold as the truck started off down the
long dark road. It was almost 8:30pm.
We’d spent around ten hours on the roadside.
It was obvious the old truck had troubles
maintaining a decent speed. Not that,
given our position perched precariously on the back of the truck, I would’ve
wanted to experience any high speed action at this point in time anyway.
Every now and then I’d glance forward into
the rear window of the truck cab. I
could see three heads silhouetted against the beams of truck headlights and it
was obvious Angela was talking. A least
she’d keep them awake, I thought.
The trip to Balladonia took some two hours
meaning that we must’ve averaged only about 60kph and it didn’t take much to
figure that with still another 200 kilometres to go we wouldn’t arrive until
well after midnight.
I located Carmel in the roadhouse.
She looked tired and disheveled but at least
managed a smile. I gave her a cuddle
and took the opportunity to order a hot coffee.
We didn’t have time for anything else, as Terry wanted to get
underway. With Angela & Lloyd in
the back seat, I assisted Carmel up onto the tray of the truck and into the P76
expecting this trip to be the worst ever.
Oddly enough the kids came through here.
I never expected that they would treat this as all part of the
adventure and were even talking about what they’d tell their friends back at
school. Their banter lasted for about
an hour until they eventually fell asleep and it kept our minds off the
The old diesel engine of the truck droned on,
interspersed with crunching gear changes every time we hit a rise in the
road. At one stage we even stopped
while Terry checked the truck and answered the call of nature.
As expected we didn’t reach Norseman until
12:55am by which time we were truly cold and uncomfortable having been cooped
up inside the car for so long.
Fortunately Terry had called ahead and arranged
accommodation for us at the Eyre Hotel.
Upon entering the room we dumped our gear while Carmel switched on the
heater and then just collapsed into bed and fell asleep.
Naturally we awoke late on Sunday morning.
I elected to walk into town and look for
food Terry’s workshop while the others had breakfast.
It wasn’t hard to spot the workshop as Terry’s truck, still with
the orange Leyland on the back, was parked outside.
Terry’s salvage business was housed in a huge shed made of
corrugated iron. The back area looked
more like a wrecking yard but inside was a fully equipped service centre with
hydraulic hoists and pneumatic tools.
With the assistance of the German, who it
seemed would have to work off the cost of his tow, we unloaded the Leyland and
pushed it into the workshop and up onto a hydraulic hoist.
With the car in this position I was shown
how to operate the hoist and left to my own devices.
Looking around the shed I was surprised to find
an HQ two door Monaro in a metallic purple paint sitting in one corner.
Twin carbs poked their chromed air filters
out through the bonnet but to me it looked like the customized Holden hadn’t
been moved for a while.
With the Leyland up on the hoist I figured I’d
better do something and so tried a tip given to me by Mick Le Cocq.
Locating a hand operated gearbox oil pump
and some heavy-duty gear oil I pumped this into the oil pump and tried starting
the engine. The red oil light
extinguished after only a few seconds and then it was simply a case of letting
the oil circulate around the noisy motor in the hope that it would pump up all
the lifters and lubricate all those parts needing oil.
Things seemed to be going well so I shut the
motor down and took advantage of the cars situation by performing an oil change
and even dropping in a bottle of Wynn’s oil treatment.
Again I fired up the motor and as it ran so it
continued to quieten down. Finally I
felt it was time for a test drive and took the car out onto the road.
Aside from the additional noise it seemed
alright but I just had a funny feeling that all wasn’t right.
I went as far as our hotel and saw Carmel
walking down the street. She’d decided
to venture out and buy some lunch but I suggested that I tidy up back at the
workshop so we might all have lunch together.
While I tidied up I found by chance a P76 V8
water pump. I could hardly believe
it. When Terry returned I asked him
about this part. He thought it was left by the previous owner and said if I
wanted it, I could have it. Not having
to be asked twice the alloy pump was soon packed safely in the boot of the
Thanking Terry for the use of his workshop I
was surprised when he seemed a bit offended when I told him we intended leaving
virtually straight away. He said I
should really test the car a bit more and take the advantage to check out
Norseman. I said I’d think about it,
and I drove back to the hotel to collect my wife and kids.
Carmel had arranged for a late checkout again
and oddly enough had experienced a similar thing.
Roger and Dianne Suck, the hotel owners, had both tried to
convince her to stay another night.
I assumed it must be some local thing,
obviously they wouldn’t get a whole lot of tourist activity here and so they’d
have to try and convince anyone they could to visit the local attractions.
We bought some hamburgers and chips from a local
takeaway and decided to eat them back in the hotel grounds before getting back
on the road. Something was still
gnawing at me and I suggested to Carmel that maybe we should stay another night
and also take the car for a run around the local area just to make sure it was
Leaving decisions to the car with me she
agreed. I thanked her said we’d have a
slap-up dinner in the hotel restaurant that night.
After informing the hoteliers we’d stay another
night and booking a table in the restaurant we made our way to the tourist
information centre where we bought a prospecting license for the gem fields
about fifteen kilometers out of town.
It would a bit of fun and give the car a better test run.
The weather was still hot as we drove down a
short, dirt track off the main road. I
stopped at one point and almost instantly the motor cut out.
I caught my breath and turned the key.
The motor refused to start.
Putting my foot flat to the floor I tried
again and slowly the engine spluttered into life.
Not the sort of thing I needed at the moment but we presses on
down the track until we reached the gem fields.
I turned the car around so that it was facing out and noticed
that it now refused to idle.
Popping the bonnet I turned the idle screw up a
tad, but didn’t try to restart the car at this stage.
I wanted to have a little fun and so removing
my shirt and grabbing a hammer I joined my family in an attempt to find our
No sooner had I started rock breaking than I
became the object of attention for about half a dozen march flies.
Boy, could these bastards bite too.
Jumping up, I started stamping my feet and
slapping my arms around trying to keep these insects off me.
No matter how I tried they just kept coming
back. Carmel appear to be totally
unaffected by these pests and told me I was making a big deal about nothing.
I could stand it anymore and immediately made
my way back to the parked the car. I
threw my hammer into the boot and shut myself in.
Three flies instantly took up residence on the driver’s
window. It was like something out of an
Alfred Hitchcock movie. Meanwhile
Carmel just hammered away determined to find something and seemingly unaffected
by the dreaded march flies.
Angela and Lloyd were next to give up as the
flies had turned their attentions to younger, more tender flesh.
Finally, about ten minutes later, Carmel
returned with a bucket of rocks that, in her opinion, bore further research.
When we were back in the car I ensured we had
everything packed and ready to go. As
soon as the engine started I intended to make sure it stayed running.
Turning the key my heart sank.
The engine wouldn’t fire up.
Again I tried the starter this time pushing
my foot to the floor. There was a
glimmer of life and finally the engine stuttered into life.
Keeping the revs up I eased the car back
down the track thankful I didn’t have to reverse or turn the car around.
Once on the road the car ran fine, although
still a little noisy, and there were no dramas getting back to the hotel.
Once parked I left the car to idle for a few
minutes, it do so with no problem and even stopping and starting the motor a
few times produced no problems.
Maybe it was nothing and maybe a good dinner
would make us all feel a little better.
Surprisingly, the restaurant in the Eyre Hotel,
like the Balladonia restaurant, had a wonderful range of high quality
meals. The chef in this case was Swiss
and when we received our meals the presentation was impeccable and taste was
superb. With our hunger satisfied we
turned in for an early night.
Monday morning arrived with a clear blue sky
and while Carmel packed the few remaining things into the boot I went over the
car with a chamois. For some reason I
still didn’t feel good about the situation, but what else was there to do?
After checking out of the hotel, I returned to
the car to find the kids already belted in and set to go.
The motor fired up immediately and I let it
run for a few minutes. There was still
a ticking sound from the engine but I consoled myself that it didn’t seem to be
any worse than similar sounds I’d heard from other cars over the years.
Maybe it was only a tappet or perhaps one of
the lifters still hadn’t pumped up fully but I couldn’t get the butterflies out
of my stomach. Gingerly I let the
clutch out anyway, the car rolled forward and finally we were underway.
We drove the two hundred metres or so from the
hotel and made a right-hand turn onto the Eyre Highway picking up the pace to
about 80kph. It was slow going given
what we’d become used to for this type of road but I wasn’t going to push the
car at this stage. Balladonia still
seemed a long way off and gradually I let the car increase speed but still kept
it under a 100. We saw plenty of
kangaroos again and they reminded me of the events of two days ago.
It wasn’t a good feeling.
Finally the Balladonia roadhouse came into view
and I turned left into the driveway.
While we didn’t need petrol I figured we’d top up the tank and check the
motor for any signs of trouble. Lifting
the hood revealed nothing out of the ordinary and the fluid levels were fine.
Not wanting to “suffer” anymore by having to
drive so slowly I thought it was better to share the load and so when Carmel
offered to take the wheel I was happy to accept.
Once more we were back on the highway heading
east. It took a while but it sounded
like the engine was starting to settle down.
Confident that Carmel could nurse the car to our next stop, probably
even better than me, I allowed my thoughts to wander and leaned back into the
seat. I thought about the places we’d
pass through on our trip home and with the motor now running smoothly, without
the tappet, noise I finally relaxed and had just allowed my eyes to close when
the most awful noise assaulted my ears.
I sat bolt upright my eyes immediately going to the oil light, but it
Carmel sounded panicked, “What do I do?” she
I listened for a few seconds before being
forced to make a decision. The engine
was having a coronary.
“Pull over”, I said dejectedly.
Whatever had happened the car wouldn’t make
Sydney like this, let alone the next town.
I checked the dash again.
Now the oil light lit up and resigned to our
fate I instructed Carmel to switch off the motor and coast into the next
In almost the same place as two days ago the bloody engine was going to
screw our return home.
Carmel pulled the bonnet release and I popped
the lid expecting to see disaster so I was surprised to find nothing out of the
ordinary. In some respects I’d rather
have found something obvious. I asked
Carmel to start the car. The engine
obeyed but again the awful cacophony assaulted my ears.
I waved to signal that the engine should be
stopped realising that this was most likely was the end of the trip.
With all the miles we’d covered in the
various Leyland’s I guess I never expected to be let down like this.
We’d played this scene before and with the
previous experience fresh in our minds there was no way I was going to sit back
and wait for deliverance.
Within a few minutes a huge blue Road train
came rumbling down the road and with some hasty discussion we agreed that
Carmel should go for help rather than being left alone on the roadside.
Suddenly Angela decided, in no uncertain
terms, that she wanted to go with Mummy and wouldn’t be put off by any amount
of argument to the contrary.
I waved to the driver and with the sound of
down shifting gears he brought the huge rig to a stop.
Above the din of the enormous engine and the
hiss off the vacuum brakes I asked if he’d give my wife and daughter a ride
back to Balladonia where they might call for help and arrange a tow.
(I couldn’t believe it another tow, and
another bloody $600 I suppose.)
“Sure”, he said, ”Hop in”, and signaled us
around to the passenger side where I lifted Angela up so she could climb into
A quick kiss and an understandably not very
enthusiastic hug from Carmel and she joined Angela in the big rig.
The huge road train rumbled forward while I
stood transfixed by the roadside watching until it was out of sight.
I sauntered back across the road and
collapsed in to the drivers seat to once again await help when unexpectedly a
flatbed tow-truck sped by but in the opposite direction.
“You’re kidding”, I said aloud.
“Maybe we could flag him down”, said Lloyd, but
it I knew it was too late and instead grabbed my video camera and recorded a
woeful bit of footage of the surrounding countryside and some abysmal thoughts
as they came into my head. Such as why
had I even thought about trying this trip with a thirty year-old car.
It seemed that every bit of good-luck we’d
experienced on past trips (an there sure had been a few) had been offset by
some absolutely terrible luck on this one trip alone.
While wandering around with the camera I
discovered the original road, hidden by scrub and trees only about 30 metres
back from the current highway. It was
just a narrow dirt track bearing tyre marks indicating that someone still used
this route occasionally. On one side
were fence posts obviously made from tree branches but the wire strands they
once supported were long gone. Both the
track and the posts disappeared into the horizon and I stood and contemplated
for some moments before heading back to the car.
Lloyd and I had been waiting for about ninety
minutes when the flat bed tow-truck that had passed us previously, pulled up on
the opposite side of the road, only now it held a green LH Torana sedan.
A gravelly-sounding voice called from the open
window and asked if we needed a tow and I indicated that my wife had gone for
help back to Balladonia. A short, grey
haired, man in blue stubbies and a white t-shirt climbed out of the cab and
introduced himself as Barry. He
suggested calling Balladonia on his satellite phone and checking to see if my
wife had managed to arrange anything as it may well take hours before help
would reach us. This we did, even
managing to speak with Carmel who indicated that help was still about six hours
away. Therefore it wasn’t a hard
decision to run with Barry’s offer. I
informed Carmel about our current situation and asked that she cancel the tow
she’d organized and we’d see her in about an hour and a half.
It also was a huge relief to know they she
and Angela were safe and sound.
Barry’s truck certainly seemed well equipped,
even offering an air conditioned cabin with seating for six people, and it
wasn’t long before the P76 was hitched to the back of the truck for the three
hundred plus kilometre tow back to Norseman.
During the ride we’d discovered that the green
Torana belonged to a young guy name Andrew.
He’d driven from Penrith with no knowledge, no tools and no special
preparation and from the sounds of it his only problem was a closed up set of
points. Was he lucky or unlucky?
On the subject of money Barry agreed that we
could split the cost of the tow making it $400 each and at this stage I
would’ve agreed to just about anything to get me off this road and back to my
We passed a Harley Davidson and trailer parked
by the deserted roadside. It made me
think to myself that at least with a car it’s possible to sit inside while
awaiting help. Barry didn’t stop as the
people didn‘t wave or attempt to flag us down as he had nowhere to put any
additional passengers or motor vehicles.
Barry had a nose for a breakdown though and reckoned he’d be coming back
to pick up the Harley later. Sure
enough about fifteen minutes later came the call to look out for a broken down
Harley Davidson Motorcycle.
The trip seemed frustratingly slow as the
fastest we’d go was 80kph and it was only made worse by the fact that (for us
at least) we were going in the wrong direction.
As I sat in the cab my mind went over the incident again and
again before my thoughts turned to how we’d get home if the car couldn’t be
repaired (which I suspected would be the case).
“Balladonia’s just over this next rise”, stated
Barry in his gruff voice.
This, oddly enough, I didn’t need to be told,
as I already knew this area a little too well.
A few minutes later we’d pulled into Balladonia roadhouse and as Barry
didn’t want to stay here too long it was literally a case of me jumping down
from the cab, greeting Carmel and Angela before simply helping them straight
into the cab. There we sat Carmel,
Lloyd, Angela and myself. Angela wanted
to tell me about her ride in the road train.
It was obvious she thought this was “pretty cool”, to use her terms.
“The truck was really high up and it even had a
big bed in the back” she explained, “And the driver said I could have a sleep
if I wanted but I was too excited!”
Since no one else was talking, Angela’s story
kept my mind off the obvious. I was
kind of glad, since sitting and smiling nervously at Carmel was doing
absolutely nothing to cheer her up.
Again the trip seemed to take drag on so it
wasn’t until late afternoon that we finally pulled into Norseman, again, and
drove down to Barry’s workshop which, as it turned out, was also the local
I was wondering how much it would cost to get the
car transported to Perth and while Barry was removing the safety straps
discussed the possibility of this with him.
The price of $1000 seemed expensive but then it was about 800 kilometres
to Perth and another 800 for him to get home.
After P76 was released from the tow-truck’s
grip before Barry tilted the tray and rolled the green Torana off to join the
crippled Leyland on the dusty, red ground.
Barry came over and asked if I could have a look at the Torana for the
young bloke while he went to pick up the stranded motorcyclists.
Barry turned and went into an adjacent house
while I pulled the bonnet on the Holden.
Under the hood was a very oily 6 cylinder, 202
red motor that had obviously seen better days.
Popping the dizzy cap off I inspected the points to find them welded
together. Wedging a screwdriver into
the offending parts I twisted them apart, they were pretty messy but with a
file I was sure I could make them serviceable.
Just them Barry came out holding a thermos and asked how I was going.
I confirmed that his analysis was correct
and the points were the problem and told him what I was about to do.
He said, “Nar, don’t mess around like that”,
and simply ordered the young guy to go and by a new set of points from the
local service station and even loaning him a car in which to make the short
Meanwhile Barry told me that he figured it
would be a four hour round trip to pick up the motorcycle and this would give
us time to book into a hotel and decide what we were going to do with our car.
It wasn’t long before Andrew returned with a
new set of points for his Torana and in only a few minutes I had them fitted,
made a rough adjustment and fired up the motor.
I asked Andrew if he’d take it for a test run just to make sure
the car ran OK and with a word he took off in the old green Holden.
With nothing else to do Carmel and I hung
around. Timed ticked by with no sign of
Andrew and soon a lady came out of the house who turned out to be Barry’s
wife. Apparently she’d been told a
young man was supposed to give her some money.
I told her that the person in question had taken off in his car after
I’d got it going and we were wondering ourselves where he’d gone.
Arranging to come back later and see Barry, we
had no choice but to leave the car where it was and take the long walk back
through town to the Eyre Hotel. Just
like a scene out of the “Twilight Zone”, it was almost as if we were expected
by Roger and Dianne for they were not surprised in the least and simply checked
us in to our “regular” room again.
As it was getting late Carmel went to get some
dinner while I decided to make a few calls and at least try and figure out what
my options were concerning the P76.
It was clear to me that we had some major
problems with the motor and it would probably require a rebuild at the very
least. I rang a few people including
Mick in Perth. All agreed that for the
motor to make a sound like I described something was seriously wrong.
I rang shipping companies, car rental companies,
train-lines, airlines, transport companies I even visited the local service
station to find out what trucks might be able to take the car back to
Sydney. All lead to a proverbial dead
After another discussion with Mick he offered
to rebuild the motor if I could get the car back to him.
This had to be better than trying to get the
motor repaired here in Norseman, or having the car shipped back to Sydney.
But there was still the problem of actually
transporting the car to Perth, let alone how we’d get back to Sydney.
I mentioned to Mick that I had been quoted a
$1000 and he intimated he might do it for that if he could just have a word
with his brother George, who was conveniently visiting at the time. I told him
I be happy to pay him the money if he dared take the job.
Giving him some time to think and allowing
me to stop feeding coins into the phone, I said I’d call back a little later.
Here was a chance to solve two of our
problems. As for how I’d end up
ultimately getting the car home once the work was done, well that would be
another problem and I still had to figure out how we would get back to
I returned to our room with my mind turning
over the options. Carmel meanwhile had
purchased chicken and chips for dinner and at least this kept our hunger
away. While eating I came up with the
idea that we fly home. Normally the
cost would be too much but since I still had quite a few thousand Frequent Flyer
points at least I wouldn’t have to pay for one fare.
After dinner the kids elected to stay in the
room and watch the television while Carmel and I walked back to the phone.
I called Mick first and he confirmed that he
and his brother would come to our rescue.
Next I called QANTAS and booked us seats on a 12:00pm flight back to
Sydney on Wednesday, two days away.
With all this done Carmel and I walked up the deserted street to Barry’s
It was a beautiful clear night and the sky was
covered with stars, millions of stars, more stars than you could ever see from
Barry’s truck was parked outside his workshop
with a Harley Davidson motorcycle and trailer still on the tray.
There was a light on in the office and we
walked in to find Barry deep in conversation with a couple whom, judging by
their black leather outfits, were the owners of the broken down American
motorbike. Their problem was much the
same as ours, they needed to get back to Sydney and from the gist of their
conversation, the difficulties obtaining Harley parts seemed just as impossible
as sourcing Leyland spares.
While the discussion continued I surveyed the
interior of Barry’s workshop. Almost immediately my eyes went to a Blue HG 350
Monaro sitting in one corner. It
appeared to be in perfect, original condition aside from a very small ding in
the front left guard. Peering through
the dusty window I could just make out 10,400 miles on the odometer.
While the bikers used the phone Barry came over
and asked how Carmel and I were. After
a quick conversation where I told him we’d decided to get the car towed back to
Perth and wondered if he’d be kind enough to transport the Leyland up our
hotel. As his tow truck was literally
tied up with the Harley, Barry offered to flat two the car behind his Commodore
and this was fine by me. Barry then
asked me if I liked motorcycles and of course I said, “Yes”.
“Come and have a look at these”, said Barry and
lead the way into what I thought was an adjoining office.
Except this office contained about a dozen
rare vintage motorcycles each covered with a cotton sheet.
As each sheet was removed so we could view
the magnificent two-wheeled machines fully, it became more and more apparent
that this was a very valuable collection.
Some names I recognised some I’d never heard of.
They were all in excellent condition and,
like the Monaro, not for sale.
As it turned out the Monaro story was quite
interesting. The is car had
factory-fitted a Bathurst spec’, high performance motor and was purchased new
and driven back to Norseman from a dealership (I think in Kalgoorlie about
200k’s away) whereupon the original wheels and tyres were removed, stored and
replaced with a set of Aunger mag’s and new rubber.
At 10,400 miles the front guard was dinged and the car was placed
in the shed and never driven again.
Apparently Barry had given the car to his son some years ago but the car
has still not moved although the motor is started every now and then to keep it
in running condition.
“So”, said Barry, “We’d move this Leyland for
ya. Ever been flat towed before?”
“Sure have”, I replied, knowing the drill all
Many, many years earlier my Escort van had
broken down on the Pacific Highway in the Hawksbury region when a brand new
fuel pump failed (hence my dislike for those dreaded mechanical fuel
pumps). I was flat towed home by my Dad
in his Mazda 929.
“You know I only got rid of a P76 last month”,
said Barry unexpectedly.
“Yeah it had sat around here for ages, so I
took it to the local tip. It wouldn’t
have been any use to you, though, cause it was a six.”
Barry obviously wasn’t aware that a running P76
is always useful. Even a junker would
offer some useful parts. In our case;
the motor. I could’ve lived with a six
to get us home.
After attaching a tow-rope to the front of our
P76 and looping the other end over the tow-bar of Barry’s Commodore wagon we
cruised back to the Eyre hotel. Once
the Leyland was parked at the back of our room we thanked Barry for all his
help and wished him well with his motocycle collection.
It had been a long day and tomorrow would be
another experience I could live without.
Tuesday dawned clear and warm and since the
hoteliers had kindly allowed us an extra late checkout we slept in till well
past 10am. After tidying up, we walked
in Norseman’s town centre and located the Tourist Bureau in Roberts
Street. The staff provided us with
information sheets about things to see and do in the town
Norseman I found fascinating for some
reason. Here was a large town out in
the desert with far more houses than people.
Properties were for sale for amounts as low as $3500.
That’s a house and land.
People were leaving Norseman and I wanted to
know why and looked into its history.
Located 726 km east of Perth and
278 m above sea level, Norseman is the last major town in Western Australia
before heading east to South Australia.
The quest for gold in the Kalgoorlie-Coolgardie area led to the establishment of Norseman.
The story of the town's origins and its
naming have become folklore. The first
discoveries in the area were made in 1892 on what became known as the 'Dundas
Field' and the town, which sprang up in this harsh, and inhospitable
environment was called 'Dundas', for the lack of anything better.
Two years later (and here legend and fact
become rather confused) the town was named 'Norseman' after a horse owned by a
prospector named Laurie Sinclair. It is
claimed that 'Norseman' kicked at a large nugget on a site which Sinclair later
pegged and discovered a substantial reef.
mso-bidi-font-size:11.5pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Like most of the
Goldfields towns, Norseman grew rapidly. It was proclaimed a town in 1895,
became a municipality the following year, was connected to the telegraph in
1896, and by 1905 had a population of 3000.
mso-bidi-font-size:11.5pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>The area suffered
acutely from a shortage of water (its average annual rainfall is 276 mm) and its
isolation from other major centres.
Houses were built out of anything miners could find and rainwater was
supplemented by distilling saltwater from the numerous lakes in the region.
mso-bidi-font-size:11.5pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Services in the area
improved slowly between the wars - the railway arrived in 1927, reliable water
came to the town in 1936 and the southern road through Esperance and Port
Augusta was upgraded in 1941 - but the gold dwindled.
Today there are a number of small goldmining operations in the
area but only the Central Norseman Gold Corporation can be considered a major
producer. Still, it is claimed that
since 1892 over 100 tonnes of gold have been extracted from the area.
mso-bidi-font-size:11.5pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Modern Norseman is
basically a large, sprawling town driven by mining and tourism and dominated by
a huge (4 million tonnes of fine quartz) tailings dump.
Until a few years ago workers at the nearby
mines lived in Norseman but then it was discovered that flying workers into the
mines directly and billeting them in demountable accommodation on a three weeks
roster was cheaper. Hence Norseman’s
economy had been steadily eroded until even one of the two pub had closed.
We looked through the Doll and Toy Museum that,
in spite of its name, turned out to be most interesting.
The collection of toys some dating back to
the 1800’s was incredible. Of course
the 70’s dolls like The Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, A-Team and more
brought back memories and there was even a Dukes of Hazzard display complete
with the General Lee!
The Norseman Historical Collection, located at the old School of Mines Building, had interesting displays of local memorabilia covering household and mining equipment from 1894-1920.
By 2pm we’d covered pretty much everything that was open and a couple places that weren’t so we bought some bread, salami and
drinks and sat in the park and ate lunch.
Angela and Lloyd played on the nearby swings
while Carmel and I lay back on the perfectly manicured grass and relaxed.
Here we stayed for over an hour by which
time I figured we should head back to the hotel as Mick and his brother had
expected to arrive around 4pm.
We waited for an hour by the entrance to the
hotel in the afternoon sun during which I played games with kids and Carmel
wound the seat back in the Leyland and took a nap.
Eventually and big red Nissan Patrol rumbled up
the street and since it towed a car trailer it wasn’t hard to guess that this
was our ride back to Perth. I directed
the Mick and his brother to the back of the hotel where we loaded the Leyland
onto the trailer and then piled in the Patrol.
The trip back took eight hours during which time George drove the entire
distance with just a couple of stops along the way once to fuel up and once to
eat. Finally with the General P’ tucked
away in Mick’s Rockingham workshop we went back to his house and bunked down
for the night.
Wednesday morning Charlotte made everyone
pancakes for breakfast and we hadn’t even finished when Andrew Mentiplay
arrived to provide us transport to the airport.
As soon as the car was packed we thanked Mick
and Charlotte for their kindness and bid them farewell.
The drive to the airport took just under an
hour during which time I arranged for a friend of ours to meet us at the other
end when we arrived. Once parked
outside the departures area Andrew helped us out with our bags before we too
thanked him and said goodbye.
I was surprised to find that our flight back to
Sydney was on a Jumbo jet so there had to be a lot of people flying to Sydney
to warrant and aircraft of this size.
It didn’t take us long to settle into our seats and the kids were kept
happy with an activity kit each that was issued by one of the flight
During the flight I noticed Angela and Lloyd in
deep discussion. Listening on the
conversation I realised they were discussing how many forms of transport they’d
been on during the trip. Thinking about
this myself I realised that between Angela and Lloyd they’d travelled by
bicycle, bus, coach, truck, train, tram, ferry, cruiser as well as – ‘planes,
road-trains and automobiles’.
As the Boeing 747 winged its way eastward I had
time to contemplate the trip. We drove
across the country and we attended the convention.
In retrospect I guess while things didn’t exactly work out the
way I’d expected in the end, they had worked out.
To the kids it was just one big adventure, something they’d be
able tell their friends about back at school and to Carmel, well even Carmel
looked peaceful now that she was asleep, and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so
bad. And that left just one more thing
to do and that was, bring the General home.
Since my flight to Sydney from Perth
was booked using Frequent Flyer points I had to make a return booking and based
on Mick’s calculations I figured on a June trip.
However for a variety of reasons the return trip was put off till
July, then ultimately August. It was
just as well I had a friend at QANTAS or I would’ve been paying to alter my
flight each time!
August, of course, was the month of my
two-week trip to the USA wearing my proverbial Corvette hat (it’s a jacket
actually)! Not wanting to shift the
Perth date again so soon I figured I’d leave well alone for now and just maybe
I’d wiz over west when I came back from the good ole US of A.
The Monterey Del Oro Corvette convention in Monterey California was fabulous. A
small show by American standards there were still some 600 or so cars on
display and a range of things to do each day that it made it impossible to attend
every event. One thing I did notice was the way that US Corvette owners treated the celebrity guests.
These were the people who designed the Corvette or built it or drove it in races, people who are held in the highest esteem by Corvette enthusiasts.
It got me thinking about how we treat the people who made the P76 and its variants. Sure it didn’t last as long but then the P76 team didn’t have the enormous resources of a company like General Motors.
Neither did Leyland Australia have the support it should have
had from its parent company or the Australian government but still they
struggled on. Leyland manufactured 18,007 P76 production vehicles and an array of prototypes that was the talking point of the Australian motor industry for years afterward.
A fabulous effort considering that the P76 was built from paper up with no previous model on which to rely.
When GM gave the go ahead for the Corvette it took them five and a half years to build as many Corvettes.
However, here I was an Aussie from Down Under. I felt very privileged to have lunch with Dave McLellan, breakfast with John Cafaro, drinks with Doug Rippie, dinner with Dick Guldstrand, a drive with Rupert Bragg-Smith and just to be around and share stories with people like Jim Jeffords, Noland Adams, Larry Hayes, Jerry Burton, Dave Bright, Mike Yager, Chip Miller and more.
If you don’t know the names look them up on the internet and then type in names like Peter North, Barry Anderson, John Kay, Roger Foy, David Beech, John Martin, Kjell Eriksen, Roy South, Wil Hagon, Jim Stanley and there are more. Did you get any results to do with the P76 or did you just get Peter North the porn star? What a sorry state of affairs.
Why not simply write a note of gratitude to a few of the people that used to work at
Leyland. Or next time you meet someone that used to work at Leyland Australia, thank them for the P76.
The author with Legendary Corvette race-car driver Dick
Guldstrand at the Monterey Del Oro Corvette Show in California USA
The author with C5 & C6 Corvette Chief Designer
John Cafaro at the Monterey Del Oro Corvette Show in California USA
The President of the P76 Owners Club ordered me to break
through the State lines and proceed from NSW to Western Australia for the
purpose, as I understand it, of organising the General’s offensive against the
tyranny of distance, a primary objective of which is the relief of my
Leyland. I came through and I shall
(Apologies to General MacArthur)
I SHALL RETURN
Arriving back from America I was still charged up from the exciting events I attended and amazing people I’d met.
I really didn’t want to go to bed and as I was still running on US time I found myself awake, and not tired in the slightest. Lying there awake I figured
that if I were ever to make this trip, now would be the best time.
I calculated it should be possible to complete the return journey from Perth to Sydney in 40 hours, if I could remain awake and only take short breaks. It would be a tall order, but there was less likely hood of me falling asleep during the night if I was not in sync with local time, and after all I liked a challenge!
Next morning, much to her concern, I told Carmel that I’d fly to Perth the following day to collect the car and drive home by myself. During the day I busied myself with phone calls and bag packing while Carmel tried several ways of talking me out of, “this crazy scheme”.
“Are you trying to set some record or something?” she questioned, “That’d be just like you.”
This gave me something else about which to think. Was there a record for driving
across Australia single-handed? Somewhere in my brain I seemed to remember three guys pulling off the trans Australia drive in 36 hours by driving in shifts but I couldn’t remember
which way they went or any other details. But it was a starting point, and that was with three people sharing the load, what about solo?
Yes, it was decided, I wanted to set the new Solo Trans Australia record, and all the better too if I managed this feat in a Leyland P76. If all went well I figured I could manage it in about forty hours and if forty-six hours was the record then I’d well and truly knock it on the head.
Of course this idea didn’t do anything to allay Carmel’s fears. And I don’t think it gave her a whole lot of confidence when I had a midday snooze.
That night I still had difficulty in sleeping but had no trouble in waking up before the alarm clock.
Carmel drove me to the airport and with a kiss and a cuddle wished me well and said, ”Goodbye and be careful”. I took my seat on the QANTAS 767 for the four
and a half hour flight to Perth. Most of the way I slept, subconsciously knowing that I would need to take every opportunity to recharge my batteries.
The plane landed on time and I adjusted my watch accordingly as Perth time was two hours behind that of Sydney.
Mick Le Cocq was there to meet me and as I had no luggage to collect we were soon out of the terminal and walking to the car park. After almost four months it seemed a bit unreal but there it was, the General P’.
It was a sort of surrealistic experience as I’d been without the car for so long yet in reality I hadn’t actually spent that much time with this P76 in the short period of time we had used it for the trip across the country.
In fact it occurred to me that Mick had spent more time with the car since it had been brought out of storage than I had!
Mick got the driver’s seat for the last time and drove me back to his workshop in Rockingham.
The car seemed to run alright so when we reached his workshop there was little else to do but start to pack the car for its long trip home. There was plenty of equipment, in fact I’d forgotten how much we’d carried, but at least some of it had been taken home with us when we flew back to Sydney.
Meanwhile Mick had to head off to work and so with a handshake, and agreeing that we’d catch up one day, I thanked him for his help and returned back to packing the car.
Wanting to start out in the best way possible I thought it best to give the car a quick wash before hitting the road and figured some music might make the task a little more pleasant.
I flicked on the radio but instead of music my ears were greeted by the sounds of static!
A quick check revealed the automatic aerial had not raised itself.
I’d only had the car five minutes and already there were problems, this was not looking good.
Climbing into the boot I messed around with electrical connections and then thought to myself.
Hang on, I wired this car and the connections will be fine.
It had to be the aerial motor, the relay or the radio itself. As the relay was the
easiest thing to check I removed its plastic cover and prodded it with my finger. With a click and a whirring sound the aerial arose and immediately I heard a local radio station.
But all was not right yet! The right hand speaker wasn’t working I swapped the speaker wires around and established that the speaker, for whatever reason, was no longer functional. Oh well, it
would be a mono trip home, I thought, and gave the relay a quick squirt of WD40 then resumed packing the car. Half way through the wash a middle-aged man drove up in a white, silver and brown P76 (and people reckon I’ve got no taste). He’d only just bought the 6-cylinder Column shift auto and it had been knocked back for rego due to a few problems. As I couldn’t help him, Peter, another club member who was working here today came out to give his diagnosis.
After asking the owner for permission first, I took the opportunity to snap some pictures and record the VIN and engine number before resuming my car cleaning activities.
By the time I’d completed this project it was getting on for two o’clock and after giving the car one final check there was nothing else to do but say farewell to Peter, who was still inspecting the
tri-coloured P76, then start the General’s new motor and get on the road.
I glanced back at the yard holding about a dozen cars and wished the P76 Panther well.
Perhaps one day I’d get to see this rarity on the road.
Before I tackled the drive north to Perth there
was just one more thing I wanted to do while in Rockingham and that was to
visit Rockingham Beach and find a piece of Indian Ocean in which to wash my
Fortunately this didn’t take long and with the ceremonial hand washing completed I called Carmel and informed her I was leaving Perth. Now the real work
began. Once back on the road I headed
north before turning west onto the Canning Highway and pulling into a service
station to fill the car, make the obligatory checks and grab a couple of 2
litre bottles of water. Checking my
watch showed 3:15pm exactly. Putting my
sunglasses on in the coolest fashion possible, I said to myself, “OK, lets do
The Canning connected with the Great Eastern Highway and at this point the first leg of the trip became somewhat familiar having now been down this road a couple of times already!
The car was running fairly smoothly though the roller rockers made the engine noisier than I’d expected.
I cruised through various small towns, careful to observe all speed signs, until I reached Southern Cross where I stopped at the BP service station for petrol.
Before leaving again I took the opportunity to check all the fluid levels and, this time, clean the windscreen, it was 6:45pm. Not being sure where I was going to stop I drove on but began to feel very tired approaching Coolgardie.
I knew I’d have to take a break and record or no record I wasn’t going to risk my life or that of others because I fell asleep at the wheel. Picking a side street just opposite the service
station where we’d filled up I parked the car.
Climbing into the back seat I removed my shoes and covered myself with a quilt to grab some shut-eye.
I slept for almost two hours and awoke just before 10:30pm. Feeling surprisingly refreshed I climbed into the driver’s seat took a gulp of water and turned the key. To my relief the motor started
instantly and within seconds I was on the road again again.
Keeping my wits about in the inky conditions I was constantly alert for wildlife. I didn’t want some kangaroo ending this trip prematurely.
Norseman came up just after 10pm and I fueled the Leyland at the big BP service station at the T-junction.
A quick chat with the girl behind the counter and a quick trip to the loo and once more I was east bound again with Balladonia the next stop.
As I drove through the night my mind mulled over that terrible stretch of road that had twice defeated us.
Third time lucky I thought, but it was little consolation. Here I was in the middle of nowhere, just me and my old car.
I suddenly realised how cold it was and flicked on the heater in an attempt to warm my feet. It made a little difference and some feeling started returning to my toes.
By the time Balladonia appeared I knew I’d need another rest as I was both tired and cold.
The roadhouse was closed so I parked the car away from the main building near the truck parking area.
I sat for a few moments as if transfixed.
Did I have the guts to drive this leg at night? At the same time I sure didn’t want to spend the night out there. What if the car broke down again? But it had a new motor.
There was no reason for the car not to make it.
And what about the record?
Yes the record!
Wasn’t that all in my imagination?
Settle down, brain, and get some sleep, I thought, climbing into back seat. Forcing myself to close my eyes and snuggle under the quilt I left the decision to fate. When I awoke I’d drive, whether it was two hours or ten.
But those thoughts kept going through my head - what if, what if, what if… Eventually sleep overtook me.
It was still dark when I awoke. I felt like I’d slept for ages and had been dreaming of the US. Even though I was wide-awake I had the idea in my head that I was still at Skip’s house in California. It was a most disorienting feeling. Under the ambient light of the
roadhouse signs I checked my watch. It was 1:50am meaning I’d slept for less than two hours.
Again the question returned.
Would I dare drive this leg now or wait until daylight? If I waited I could kiss the
record good bye.
I decided that fate had decided. I’d drive.
I rubbed my face and turned the key.
The motor didn’t catch. Again I tried the starter this time with a bit of accelerator. The motor spluttered into life while my confidence dribbled out the door.
A couple of quick revs and the motor seemed fine and happily idled away while I adjusted my seat belt and took a swig of water.
Slowly, almost not wanting to do this, and trying not to disturb any other campers, I coaxed the car out of the dirt car park and onto the road. Almost like a silent witness the moon had come out to watch the General P’ and me break the “curse” of the 90mile straight.
I picked up the pace but even after ten minutes on the road I noticed the temperature gauge struggling to get up to normal operating temperature. It had to be damn cold out there.
Inevitably the brown sign indicating the dreaded 90 miles of straight road appeared in a ghostly glow illuminated by the Leyland’s headlights and the ever-watchful moon.
We were on it.
I hardly wanted to measure the distance but could not stop my eyes from
checking the odometer and my brain normally useless when it came to
mathematics, was suddenly able to calculate the remaining distance without
effort. I passed a couple of signs
indicating the RFDS landing strips when it occurred to me that I must be well
past both places where we’d broken down back in our last attempt to get home.
Almost an hour and a half of dead straight went
by before I finally hit a bend and realised I was out of the twilight
zone. It felt like I’d been holding my
breath since Balladonia and now it was like a weight was lifted from my
shoulders and though no one could hear me I let out a deafening, “Yeeeeehaaa!”
I knew then we were gonna make it.
The General and I were heading home!
As if the car knew it the curse was broken, I
pressed on through the night until reaching Caiguna at 3:15am where I pulled
the car in to the roadhouse to find, unexpectedly, that it was still open.
Stopping at the bowsers I was surprised when
a tired-looking attendant came out and offered to fill the car, and he was
surprised to find anyone traveling the road at this late hour.
Even more so when he identified the car I
was driving! I must have been looking
pretty cold as he almost ordered me inside the roadhouse to warm up by the gas
heater in the deserted restaurant area.
Not needing to be asked twice I spent about ten minutes in front of the
heater thawing out. The warm atmosphere
allowed feeling back into my feet I soon felt recharged enough to venture back
onto the road.
Once on the road again the cold started to
creep back through my feet again. Even
with heater on I couldn’t get warm because the car’s engine simply would not
warm up. In desperation I stopped at
Cocklebiddy and tried something I hadn’t done since 1989.
I wedged pieces of cardboard in front of the
radiator ultimately only about ten inches of airflow space in the grill.
This had the desired effect in that the
temperature gauge managed to climb out of the white and into the green but it
went nowhere near the halfway mark.
Onward I drove passing Madura, Mundrabilla and Eucla before finally
having to stop the car at the West Australian border checkpoint.
Climbing out of the car I stretched and
consulted the map. It was just over 540
kilometres from Caiguna to the Nullarbor Roadhouse.
The Leyland wouldn’t make it on one tank but I remembered there
was a half-full jerry can in the boot.
I was trying to make some mental calculations about fuel consumption
when a checkpoint inspector came out.
She was about 30 and wore her hair tied up in a bun at the back of her
head and for some reason reminded me of a character out of a James Bond
movie. She asked if I had anything to
declare, but of course I didn’t.
“Any plants, fruit, nuts, honey?” she
Didn’t I just say, no, I thought?
Expecting her to want the boot opened I
moved around to the back of the car.
“OK”, she said, you can go.
I didn’t need to be told twice, hopping back
into the P76 I was moving in moments.
Once across the border and into South Australia I knew it wasn’t far to
Traveller’s Village but I still had the fuel question weighing on my mind.
Pulling off the road a little further on I
quickly grabbed the jerry can and tipped its contents into the tank and
repacked it into the boot. The fuel
gauge showed just under half and knowing the car was getting around 500 k’s to
a tank I figured (hoped) the car would make Nullarbor Roadhouse.
It was 6:45am although it occurred to me
that having just crossed the border I’d also just changed time zones and needed
to wind my watch forward by 1.5 hours.
Everything went fine though for some reason the
car’s fuel economy suddenly got worse.
Maybe it was because the fuel I’d added from the jerry can was
stale, having been sitting around for about four months, but by the time I was
still some 70 kilometres out from the Nullabor Roadhouse the fuel gauge indicated
very close to empty. With nowhere to
fill up I had no choice but to continue on however at a more conservative pace.
It was with some relief when I passed a sign
indicating five kilometres to NR because at least I could walk from here in a
reasonable time but my luck held. With
the needle well past the empty mark the car must have been running on fumes
when I finally pulled into the Nullarbor Roadhouse.
As the attendant pouring some welcome go-juice
into the old Leyland, I made the usual checks and found only the power steering
fluid needed a top-up. I was in the
process of paying a rather large sum of money for filling the tank and the
jerry can when the attendant asked if I could give one of their workers a lift
to Penong about 200 kilometres east.
Not generally one to give lifts to total strangers I sought some further
information about the hopeful passenger and since the story sounded genuine I
My traveling companion’s name for the next 210
kilometres was Paul and his van had broken down while traveling from Adelaide
to his place of employment on the Nullarbor.
Fortunately he was friendly and a good conversationalist and certainly
kept me awake on this next leg of the trip.
Penong was a small town about 75 k’s out from
Ceduna and we covered the distance in good time pulling into a mechanical
workshop in a side street to let Paul off.
He wished me well and waved goodbye as I drove back down the short dusty
road and back onto the Eyre Highway.
The drive to Ceduna went very quickly, in fact
only forty minutes later I topping up the tank and thinking about food.
I’d hadn’t eaten since leaving Perth aside
from a few dry biscuits that Carmel had packed for me and despite the fact it
would slow me down I’d need to keep my energy levels up for the night drive
into New South Wales. Still not feeling
too bad I decided to continue on and stop when the hunger pains set in.
By the time 3pm rolled around I was starving
and as I had to slow down to pass through a small town named Wudinna I figured
I might just as well stop here and get something to eat.
Luckily the petrol station I’d stopped at
offered freshly cooked hamburgers (albeit with frozen patties) but this was a
welcome meal and after dining I felt well and truly nourished.
According to the locals, Mt. Wudinna is claimed
to be the second largest monolith in Australia rising 261metres from the
ground. (At 200 metres high, Bald rock,
on the QLD/NSW border, is generally thought to be the second largest after Ayes
Rock.) The area is famous for its
granite, even having a type of granite named after it – Wudinna Rose.
It’s just amazing what you can learn in a
place like Wudinna.
Time was getting away.
It was 3:30 and I had to be moving on.
I covered the ninety kilometers to Kimba the
halfway point in good time however didn’t stop instead proceeding on the Port
Augusta another 153k’s distant. As I
traveled the highway down to Port Augusta the sun was low in the sky and I
realised I’d only have another couple of hours of daylight left.
At Port Augusta I fueled the car and called
home to let Carmel know where I was and that I was OK.
I get the impression it took her a few
moments to realise I had actually traveled so far in 24 hours.
Getting out of Port Augusta isn’t that hard but
having driven this section several time previously I never seen to take the
same route twice. As the main road
heads south to Adelaide and I needed to head southeast to Renmark I utilize a
series of minor roads that crisscross this part of the countryside.
The roads seem quite short on a map but in
reality 80k’s here and 80k’s there, starts to add up.
I left the main road at Stirling North heading
for Wilmington and Peterborough. As
evening spread itself across the sky I hoped to cover a good chunk of this
section before dark. At night, in unfamiliar
territory, with no streetlights it is all too easy to miss a turn off and
that’s exactly what I did. Somewhere
just after Peterborough, I don’t know exactly where, I ended up heading
northeast and not even on the Barrier Highway.
Trusting my instincts and making a few calculations based on the map I
simply followed some back roads until I felt I was traveling in the right
direction. From out of the darkness
came a sign, it said Terowie and I knew at least from here I could get back on
Terowie is a very small town some 220
kilometres north of Adelaide and has one claim to fame that I know of, this is
where, during the Second World War, General Douglas MacArthur made his now
famous speech. On being asked if
he would reach the United States he said:- The President of the United
States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed to Corregidor
to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organising an American
offensive against Japan, the primary purpose of which is the relief of the
Philippines. I came through and I shall
The story goes that t he Japanese Navy
had Corregidor in the Philippines surrounded and on 9 March 1942, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered General Douglas MacArthur to leave.
MacArthur escaped Corregidor by PT boat to
Mindanao Island where he and his party flew to Australia on three B-17's.
Finding Darwin under Japanese attack, they diverted to
Batchelor airfield, about 50 miles south where they transferred to a couple of
Australian National Airways DC-3's that flew the exhausted party to Alice
On 18 March 1942, MacArthur sent his staff officers south by aircraft.
His wife refused to fly any more, so MacArthur ordered a special train for himself and his family to travel the 1,028 miles of narrow gauge track to Adelaide.
Arriving at Terowie Railway Station about 220 kilometres north of Adelaide at 2 pm on 20 March 1942, much to MacArthur's surprise, his secret arrival in Terowie was not so
secret. It was here that MacArthur made what became his most famous statement ever, I came out of Bataan and I shall return .
MacArthur then did what I did, continued on his way. Unfortunately I had no glorious
speeches to give only a burning desire to keep moving and as night was well and
truly set in by now I had to keep especially alert on these dark country roads.
About eight kilometres out of Terowie I passed a town call Whyte. I’d noticed a car
waiting to turn onto the road just ahead of me. At one stage I thought it would pull out in front of me but at the last moment the driver hit the skids.
If he was a local I figured he wasn’t used to seeing traffic out here. Checking the rear vision mirror I saw the lights pull onto the road behind me.
I was moving along at around 100kph so I was surprised to find the lights catching up with me. Assuming the car would overtake I backed off to around 90.
Sure enough the car overtook but once in front immediately backed off to around 70. This was not what I needed at the time.
When the car slowed further and made no attempt to pull over I dropped the General P back to second gear and accelerated past. I suspect the driver of this car, a white VN Commodore, had not expected such a burst of acceleration from the old Leyland and even though it was obvious he was accelerating the P76 sailed past with no problem. Putting some distance between us I thought that might be an end to the silliness as the lights were no longer visible in the rear view mirror.
Just after passing through Hallett the commodore’s lights appeared again close behind me.
I hadn’t seen them coming and it was like they just appeared out of nowhere. Closer and closer they came until disappearing from the rearview mirror as the car behind was now so close. The hair on my neck stood on end and my heartbeat skyrocketed. I had to stay calm, I didn’t want to play cat and mouse but there no way I was going to pull over and see what this guy’s problem was out here at night.
Tightening my seatbelt I changed down to third and accelerated hard. The Commodore stayed with me but I noticed I could pulled away.
I new I was going way too fast but thought that if could put some distance between us I might be able to find a turn off in which to hide.
Turnoffs however were few and far between out here it seemed. Travelling at around 140 I noticed the lights behind me closing again and again I accelerated. I saw the sign for Burra
whip past and figured if I could just get there maybe there’d be a police station or something where I could park the car.
I hammered the car over the rough surface thinking that this road had a lot more bends than shown on the map.
Bends however seemed to be benefiting the Leyland as the gap continued to open up between us.
Burra was only a few k’s ahead.
I didn’t dare sustain this pace thought the township and backed off the 80 or 90.
The place looked closed and I could see any cop shop and didn’t want the take a turn off an find myself up a dead end.
A small sign showed a turn off ahead to Robertstown and I had an idea. Knowing the driver of the Commodore must be able to see my taillights I indicated that I was turning left. Flicking off my lights I took the following right hand bend more on instinct than anything else in the dark until I couldn’t see the light behind me.
Figuring he could see me either I flicked the lights back on and picked up the pace again.
The ruse hadn’t worked however for only another couple of kilometers on the lights were back behind me.
About 10 k’s ahead was another turn off this time a right turn to Clare at a town called Hanson.
If the driver thought I was trying to trick him maybe I’d repeat the process but this time indicate left and go left.
The ensuing ten kilometers were covered in a few minutes and I put my plan into action.
After sustaining the pace for another ten minutes or so I was relieved to see only inky blackness behind me and backed off to about 120. The adrenaline pumping though my system at least would at least serve to keep me awake but by the time I hit Tarlee, some 50 kilometres after losing the road pest, I was exhausted. Struggling to keep my eyes open I passed a couple of parking areas until I located one populated with a couple of semi-trailers. I felt safer having other people around at this stage.
Surprisingly I awoke only an hour later feeling quite refreshed but a bit grotty not having showered since leaving Sydney.
I noticed that the trucks had gone, maybe that’s what had woken me up, and the temperature wasn’t exactly warm.
Opening the boot I located a ten-litre water container, a towel and ensuring there was no one around stripped off and poured the water over my head. It was then I realised the temperature was a lot colder than I had imagined.
Grabbing the towel I dried myself and got redressed, giving myself the luxury of change of socks and shirt.
Pulling on a sloppy-jo I hopped into the P76, started the motor and let it idle to warm up while I consulted the map.
It was about 9:30pm by the time I was back on the road and wondering how far I’d get on an hours sleep and a makeshift shower.
The 250k run though Nuriootpa, Waikerie, Bamera, Berri and on to Renmark was tiring so I was thankful to find an open service station next to a Burger King.
After filling the car however I realised my mistake. Had I visited the Burger King first I
would’ve been able to purchase some food but in the time while I filling the tank the BK staff shut up shop. There was nothing to do but find somewhere else for food, so it was onto the Sturt
Highway and into the state of Victoria.
The drive was easy and my grumbling stomach kept me awake until reaching Mildura on the New South Wales and Victorian border. Fortune must have smiled on me for while everything else appeared shut, parked the curb in the middle of town was a mobile hot food van.
I parked the car watched by several onlookers who seemed fascinated by the General P’.
One even asked, “Is that the car out of the Dukes of Hazzard mate?”
I opened my mouth to reply but was so tired simply said, “Yeah, something like that, but the Aussie version!” Grateful that explanation satisfied him I left the local inspecting the car and went to order myself a hotdog and chips.
While I waited for my meal I noticed that everyone aside from the hot food vendors was well and truly drunk.
As I tucked into the hot dog I could feel its warmth providing the much needed nourishment to my body.
At that point a young chap walked up to me and asked very politely if I’d like a ‘Twistie’ and held out a yellow and green pack. Having a hotdog in one had and a bag of chips in the other I said, “No thanks mate, I’m right for now.”
At which point he shrugged his shoulders turned around and suddenly, without warning threw the packet on the concrete pavement and began swearing incoherently. Before finishing off with, “If you f!@#$%^ want ‘em then you f!@#$%^ pick ‘em up off the f!@#$%^ ground you f!@#$%^ c@#$.”
He then walked off muttering something to himself leaving me to stare blankly at my fellow diners who, in spite of their inebriated state, also seemed to find the man’s actions bewildering.
We smiled amusingly at each other and then recommenced our intake of the delicious combustibles.
As I pulled out of the parking spot I received an unexpected cheer a few of the onlookers and I thought, here’s an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.
Once out of Mildura I was back in New South Wales with its plethora of welcome signs warning of speed cameras, huge fines, police operations and the like. Should someone arrive from another country I sure they would get the impression the worst crime in NSW is to exceed the speed limit.
Whereas we know that speeding is actually the second worst crime anywhere in Australia punishable by fines cancellation of license and registration or confiscation of your car or even on rare occasions jail.
(The worst crime is to make an honest mistake on your tax return.)
Yes if you are into breaking the law it is far safer to stick with robbery, car theft, rape, murder or just simple out and out bashing people as, even if in the unlikely event that you are caught, the
punishment for these crimes is usually less than the virtually inescapable
penalties for exceeding the speed limit.
I only managed another eighty kilometers or so before the effect of a full stomach and cold feet got to me and my concentration began to wander and my eyelids became heavy.
Recognizing the signs I new I had to find somewhere to stop and was relieved when I found a truck parking area where I could pull off the road and grab some shuteye.
There were plenty of semi-trailers squashed in here and finding a spot under some trees I figured at least I couldn’t over sleep as I was bound to hear the big trucks moving out in the early morning.
Assuming they’d follow regular truckie routine.
It’s amazing how things work out. My eyes fluttered open. I thought I’d heard a truck but figured it
had to be another semi’ driver coming in to park his rig. My feet were still cold, in fact they were freezing and I wiggled my toes in an effort to work some feeling back into my
size 11’s. Casually I checked the time. It took a few seconds to register. 5:30am! I sat bolt upright, knowing instantly that I’d blown my 40-hour ‘record’. There wasn’t a truck to be seen as somehow I’d slept through, what had to be, a noisy evacuation.
Annoyed with myself and not even bothering to repack my sleeping bag or quilt I pulled on my joggers and slid into thedriver’s seat. I had to control my desire to get on the road immediately and warm the motor up first.
It was still bitterly cold and I rubbed my hands together furiously to generate some heat.
Finally I considered the engine warm enough to move the car so while still trying to shake the cobwebs out of my head I got back on the road again.
After only ten minutes I realised the temperature gauge was not going to move.
Stopping the car I blocked off the remaining part of the grill with cardboard in an effort to heat the motor up.
I could see that the eastern sky was just starting to lighten as morning approached. Resisting the temptation to try and make up time and drive faster I stayed around 80 or 90kph knowing that
if I was to see any fauna it would most likely be now, although I never expected it to come as soon as it did.
Travelling down a lonely stretch of road I was startled by a kangaroo that suddenly hopped from the roadside undergrowth.
Realising braking would be useless I accelerated and swerved to the right in an effort to avoid the startled creature while instantly being reminded of our Nullarbor experience.
On this occasion, however, the ‘roo came a lot closer than I would have liked scraping the claws of his front legs along the rear quarter.
Breathing deeply in an effort to calm down I continued on reaching Balranald in safety where I refilled the car and inspected the two-metre long claw marks now adorning the side of the General
With no time to waste on cosmetics I drove on anxious to get across the notorious Hay plains before the sun rose any higher.
It wasn’t to be however hence why I found myself traveling behind a semi-trailer in the most terrible glary conditions I had ever experienced. It was almost impossible to see the road ahead let alone what was coming the other way so with the speed down to around 60kph there was nothing else to be done as running any faster would have been suicidal.
Incredibly there is always someone who thinks they know better. I was shocked to be
overtaken by an Econovan that proceeded on past the truck in front of me.
It was blatantly obvious by the amount of gravel he flicked up that he couldn’t see any better than me as he had his driver’s wheels off the road surface.
Bloody idiot, I thought.
Still recovering from the stupidity of the van driver I was doubly shocked when a tabletop truck pulled the same stunt.
This fool however wasn’t so lucky. With the early morning sun’s glare limiting
visibility down to about 250 metres the truck driver could not have seen the semi trailer coming in the opposite direction. With no other choice he swerved off the road at the last second to end
up in a ditch but otherwise unharmed. I cruised past hardly having time to take my eyes away from the road ahead.
Finally the conditions improved and as the road snaked its way closer to Hay, I over took the truck myself and was just thinking that I could resume normal highway speed when an 80kph zone limited
Noticing that most of the traffic had turned left to West Wyalong I was able to pick up speed on the road to Wagga Wagga. I’d been in the 100kph zone for about five minutes when a Highway Patrol car came streaking down the road in the opposite direction. I thought it was moving along as if after someone so I was surprised when in the rear vision mirror I saw it perform a very hasty U-turn and come barreling back up the road with lights ablaze and siren on.
Flashing their headlight lights at me I initially thought they were on the hunt for some criminal, but no such luck. With the two cars parked on the roadside I opened my door and got out meeting the two officers, one female and the other male, about half way. As the policeman wandered off to look at the P76, the woman, said, “We clocked you doing 121kph in a 100 zone. Do you have your license with you?”
I handed over my license to the officer, and before I could make any reply, she got back in her car.
Curious to know what her counterpart was up to, I walked back to the Leyland.
“What’s this for”, he said disdainfully, pointing to the cardboard across the grill.
“The car was running too cold”, I replied, “I
did that to warm it up.”
In a very condescending manner he laughed and shaking his head said, “You won’t get far like that.”
“You think so?” I asked rhetorically, “I’ve only driven from Perth so far.”
Oddly enough the Police officer’s smarmy conversation ceased and he walked back to the police car taking his seat beside the driver.
Wondering what they were up to now, as they hadn’t even asked why I might have been speeding, I walked down to the highway patrol car myself.
Feeling like they were purposely playing around I knocked on the passenger side window which was then lowered electrically.
“What’s happening?” I asked politely.
The woman answered, “I’m writing you up a
“You’re kidding me!” I stammered in shock.
“Well, you were speeding”, she stated before
the window was immediately raised indicating the end of the conversation.
Finally when they’d finished the paperwork for
their revenue raising activities. The
woman approached me handed back my license and dribbled on about how if I had a
problem I could go to court and then said, “Have a nice day, drive safely”, in
a clearly sarcastic tone.
To which I replied, “I always do.”
“What?” she snapped back suspiciously as if I’d just insulted her.
“I said, I always do.”
Leaning on the back of the Leyland I took a few
deep breaths and waited for the Highway Patrol car to leave.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a “spectacular” take off once I was back in my car.
Immediately resuming normal cruising speed
again down the lonely road I had an uninterrupted run for about 30 minutes
before running slap-bang into the middle of a cattle muster.
There was nothing to do but pray these huge beasts would give the Leyland a wide berth as I didn’t need any other marks on the bodywork.
It was slow going until Narrandera but once past here it only took another hour to Wagga Wagga my last fuel stop before home. After cleaning the windscreen for the last time on this trip I called Carmel more or less to let her know I was OK and that I’d, unfortunately, made an unneeded donation to the State government’s coffers.
Once out of Wagga Wagga it was a relatively short trip to Gundagai , home of the Dog On The Tucker Box and my chance to get on the southern freeway and head northwards.
As usual the boys in blue were hiding behind trees and in cutaways on this notorious stretch of road with their radar guns. At one point traffic was slowed to 60kph for supposed road works, but of course there was no sign of any workmen, just a few coppers sitting behind some rocks hoping to snag some unfortunate travelers with their speed trap.
As I drove I did some calculations in my head, with under 400 kilometres to go I could still make it home by about 2pm. This, I figured, translated to 47 hours, which was still a more than respectable time for the trip.
Approaching Wilton about a 100 kilometres south west of Sydney I could see smoke ahead.
The closer I got the clear it was that this was a bush fire.
By the time I reached the scene of the fire there was smoke everywhere and some drivers elected to pull over to the side of the road. Knowing I could be stuck here for hours if I didn’t get through I pushed on just as the Fire brigade arrived. I was one of the last cars
though before the road was closed and once though the smoke found myself with a
clear road ahead.
Everything was looking great.
Soon I’d be home having accomplished what
I’d set out to do even if it wasn’t in exactly the time I’d hoped.
Disappointed, never, before the trip even
started I’d promised myself that I’d never risk driving while tired, especially
since I was driving solo.
Only some fifteen minutes from the official end of my trip disaster struck. They say
when things go wrong it’s never just one thing and this was certainly the case for me.
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mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:
I’d come though a set of traffic lights at
Menai and was approaching a roundabout when, in spite of the fact that the
roundabout was clear, for some unexplained reason the woman in front of me hit
the anchors hard. I slammed on the
brakes and brought the P76 to a stop in double quick time relieved by the fact
that I had avoided the rear of her car and happy that the car behind had also stopped.
It was now, however, that the engine decided
to stall. I tried desperately to
restart it but it simply wouldn’t fire up.
Figuring I might be able to roll start the
beast, I opened the door and pushed the car down the gentle slope and across the
roundabout. Jumping back in I pulled
the gearshift into second but it never happened.
The shift lever pulled out of the gearbox extension housing and
struggle as I might to select second, I couldn’t get any gear before the car
was across the roundabout and slowing quickly as it hit the uphill slope on the
other side. There was just enough
inertia to carry the Leyland onto the road shoulder where it stopped.
Fuming I got out of the car to cool down
(without much effect). Here I was
minutes from my destination and I was going to be robbed of any pleasure I
could obtain from knowing I accomplished this feat of endurance.
Popping the bonnet I pulled my tool kit from
the boot. I had to calm down and
rectify the issues in order of priority, and not get emotional (ha ha)!
If the motor wouldn’t start I’d tackle this
first. No sign of life could mean
points, so I removed the distributor cap.
Sure enough the points were well and truly closed up.
Using a screwdriver to make the adjustment I
performed a quick adjustment and tried the motor.
For some reason the engine was very sluggish to turn over as if
the battery was flat but the engine fired up pretty much instantly.
I switched off the motor at the same time
checking the volts gauge. There was
plenty of life in the battery.
Pulling the centre console lid off I
immediately noticed that the rubber boot was not fastened to the transmission
tunnel and nylon gearshift nut had stripped the thread, allowing the lever to
come away from the gearbox extension housing.
Jamming a small piece of rag in the side of the thread as I screwed the
shift lever back in place was only a temporary fix but it should do.
I checked the shift pattern and while not
exactly secure it would be good enough for a few more gear changes.
After packing the tools away I shut the boot,
closed the bonnet and hopped back into the driver’s seat but turning the
ignition key brought no response from the starter.
It was a case of back up with the bonnet and while all looked OK,
from the clicking solenoid sound, I figured the starter motor had packed it
in. Shaking my head I realised there
had been one more start in it and I’d used that testing the motor only five
minutes ago. As the car was at the base
of a hill in either direction I had no chance of roll starting the thing.
It is said stress is caused by problems that
one knows how to solve but can do nothing about.
I was fuming by now but what to do?
This situation was not going to stop
me! I ran across the road to a nearby
service station and rang Carmel at home.
I told her where I was and that I needed a tow.
She didn’t sound impressed but agreed to
come and save the day. While help was
on its way, I purchased a towrope and fastened it securely to the front of the
car. Carmel, true to her word, arrived
only about ten minutes later whereupon I immediately looped the towrope around
the Suzuki Vitara’s tow-bar. I couldn’t
believe I was towing the damn thing again.
We waited for a break in the traffic and Carmel
got the little “Zook” to haul the Leyland up the incline.
Once at the top I clutch started the P76 and
gave a couple of toots on the horn to indicate that Carmel should stop.
Unhooking the towrope I said to Carmel,
“I’ll see you at home, but please follow me, just in case”, and gave her a peck
on the cheek.
The trip home took less than ten minutes but
before I could relax there was something I had to complete.
Parking the P76 in my front yard I left the
engine idling and went to retrieve my car ramps.
I knew if I stopped the car I wouldn’t get it restarted so while
it was still running drove it up on the ramps, switched off the motor and
popped the lid to let the motor cool down.
Meanwhile I pulled the gearshift lever assembly out of the car and
installed the spare unit I had in the boot.
The motor now having had about twenty minutes
to cool down I turned my attention to the starter motor.
Once again turning to my trusty toolkit I
was suddenly stopped dead in my tracks as I discovered every one of my 9/16”
sockets missing. Search as I might I
simply didn’t have a socket of this size.
With the fury welling up inside me again I realised I’d have to use a
spanner. It would take longer but I
didn’t have another choice at this stage of the game.
First though I loosened the extractors on the driver’s side of
the motor, before tackling the frustratingly slow task of undoing the two bolts
holding the starter in place.
Rummaging though the boot now failed to turn up
my spare starter motor. I knew I’d
packed it back in March because I’d seen it in Port Augusta when I did the
first fuel pump swap.
“Anything else?” I cried out loud.
There was one more saving possibility.
War Zone’s original old starter that had sat
in my garage since 1989. I located
still wrapped in an old towel under my workbench.
It might bring the car some luck, I thought and as fast as I
could I bolted in the old, black starter motor.
With fingers crossed I reconnected the battery
and turned the key. The engine roared
“Yes!” I shouted and punched the air.
I rushed inside and told Carmel that I just had
to take the car for a test run and asked Angela to accompany me outside.
Once the front wheels were on the ground I
ordered Angela to move the ramps off the front lawn.
“Where are you going Dad?” she questioned.
“To wash my hands,” I said with a smile.
It was 2:30 and I knew I could reach North
Cronulla beach in fifteen minutes, less if the traffic lights were with me.
My luck changed and in only twelve minutes I
found myself parking the general P’ in the North Cronulla beach car park.
Looking very disheveled and still dressed in my
t-shirt, pants and joggers I half ran across the beach to the water.
A wave broke upon the shore and as the water
came up to meet me I performed my little hand-washing ceremony.
It was then I wondered if anyone had seen
me, and what they might be thinking, but there was no need to worry as this end
of the beach was very, sparsely populated at the moment.
I sat down on the sand and stared at the blue
afternoon sky and out over the Pacific Ocean.
If I’d thought I would’ve brought some swimming costumes or even pair of
shorts. Heck, if I just had a towel!
I couldn’t help thinking that less than two
days ago I was looking out over the Indian Ocean.
Only, less than two days ago, but it already
seemed years had passed.
>Looking at my hands, still showing their
grease stains from my hasty repair job on the car, made me think, I really need
a shower. Standing up I sauntered back
up the beach to the car park, turning and looking back just once and thinking,
it’s good to be back.
Reaching my Bitter Apricot, Leyland P76, the
second-last of its kind, I smiled and said, “Come on, General, lets go home”.
"Times New Roman";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-ansi-language:
lang=EN-US hen I did the figures, my Indian to
Pacific odyssey had taken 45hour and 45 minutes.
I have no idea if it’s a record, as I can’t find any information
regarding such a record. Initially I
thought it was 48 hours but realised a couple of days later, that if I left at
3:00pm WA time and arrived at 2:45pm NSW time, I hadn’t accounted for the two
hour time difference between the states.
The General P’, or 19006 as I often call it,
has caused me more problems than all the other P76’s I’ve owned, put
together. But it’s still a special
car. Not just because (maybe) it does
actually now hold some sort of Trans-Australian crossing record or even because
it was the second last unit ever built.
It’s special, just because like every other Leyland P76 it’s a Leyland
I slept well the night of my return.
I had to, since I started a new job two days
later. With the experience of War Zone
and its seemingly endless run of good luck and now with 19006 and… well, let’s
just say, the series of challenges it laid down, I wondered if there could
possibly anything left to do in a P76?
Was there a round the world driving record?
What would it take to drive a Leyland P76
around the world? Anyone
interested? War Zone, 19006 or maybe my
Targa Florio? Come to think of it I
haven’t done anything really challenging with that P76!
10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Acknowledgments style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:
10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>There were many people
who contributed to the (ultimate) successful completion of this project.
My sincerest gratitude and thanks to all,
especially to my beautiful wife and family who have ended up (again) participants
(willing or otherwise) in yet another of my Leyland quests.
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Carmel Williams –
Going for help in the middle of nowhere – twice!
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Angela Williams –
Regularly kept me company and helped rewire 19006.
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Lloyd Williams –
Helping tidy up and playing ‘gofer’ whenever asked.
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Oscar – Panel Beating,
bodywork & paint and doing the work so quickly
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Southern Fasteners –
Providing an assortment of fasteners and not charging for most
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Adrian, CBA Bearings,
Kingsgrove – water pump bearings and seals… again!
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Peter, Peter Ragonese
Automotive – providing inspection and blue slip for registration
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Repco Taren Point –
Paint, Parts and advice.
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Allan, Allan Locke
Windscreens – refitted rear window and front & rear moldings
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>Ignatius, SignWave –
Made and fitted all the P76 and Eureka Decals and pinstriping
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Andrew Mentiplay – For providing us with transport
to the airport
George Garofallou – For coming up with the
name, General P’ style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Gary Mentiplay – For encouragement and assistance
with the trip
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Nick Kounelis – For all his help in Perth with the
carburettor, changing the clutch, etc, etc, etc
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>George Le Cocq – for driving his 4WD from Rockingham
to Norseman to pickup our car and us and transporting our car and us all the
way back to Rockingham
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Charlotte Le Cocq – for looking after Carmel and
food and lodgings
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Super Thanks to Mick Le Cocq for advice, help and
just being there and
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'> style='mso-tab-count:1'> For
the cruise on his boat up the Swan River
style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>For driving to Norseman with
his brother to rescue us
style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>For putting us up at his
style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>For rebuilding the motor and
getting the car going again
mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'> style='mso-tab-count:1'> For
meeting me at the airport on my return to Perth
style='font-size:11.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt'>Finally, special thanks to
James Mentiplay for the encouragement to make the Perth trip and the support to
hang in there not just with 19006 but also with this damn story!