Video // 1968 London to Sydney Marathon
The original London to Sydney Marathon rally sits firmly in the category of things that you simply couldn’t get away with doing today. 10 days of flat-out competition over 10,000 miles of open roads, passing through some of the most remote places on the famed overland route. It is the very definition of a Sports Car Safari.
The event was coined by London’s Daily Express newspaper and was quickly supported by the Packer-owned Daily Telegraph in Sydney. Its aim was to promote the newspaper while raising the spirits of the British population, at a time when the Pound was low as the post-war reconstruction efforts tailed off. The newspaper put up a staggering £10,000 prize (£165,000 in today’s money, or AUD$290,000) for first place, £3,000 for second, and £2,000 for third. Packer quickly put up a subsequent £2,000 prize for the highest placed Australian crew.
The entry list reads as a who’s who of special stage rallying – entries in 1968 came from Paddy Hopkirk, Roger Clark, Rauno Aaltonen, Harry Firth, Graham Hoinville, Ove Andersson, and hundreds of other adventure-hungry crews. Factory teams were entered by BMC, Ford, the Rootes Group, Ford Motor Co Australia, Simca, and Porsche, and while the top few were aiming for victory, the majority were there for nothing more than the excitement of it all and a chance at making the finish line in Sydney.
The rally began at London’s Crystal Palace on November 24, with the 98 starting crews permitted just over 12 hours for the nighttime blast across the channel to Paris. An estimated 2 million people lined the first part of the route from London to the ferry at Dover. The schedule looks hellish by today’s standards, but just remember that the crews had few highways, no satellite navigation, and not even the luxury of telephone communication in some places.
The schedule was exciting, to say the least, and traversed a handful of regions that are firmly off-limits these days:
25-26/11: Paris-Turin via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, 13hrs 32mins
26/11: Turin-Belgrade, 21hrs 12mins
26-27/11: Belgrade-Istanbul, crossing Bulgaria by night, 15hrs 31mins
27-28/11: Istanbul-Sivas, crossing the Bosphorus by ferry, 12hrs 25mins
28/11: Sivas-Erzincan, 2hrs 45mins
28-29/11: Erzican-Tehran, crossing into Iran by night, 22hrs 01mins
29-30/11: Tehran-Kabul, choice of two routes through Afghanistan – longer but safer or shorter and more treacherous, 23hrs, 33mins
30/11: Kabul-Sarobi, crossing the obscure Lataband Pass, 1hr
30/11-1/12: Sarobi-Delhi, crossing Pakistan in a day, 17hrs 55mins
1-2/12: Delhi-Bombay, 22hrs 51mins
9 days on P&O Liner S.S. Chusan, Bombay-Fremantle
14/15/12: Perth-Youanmi, 7hrs
15/12: Various stages, Youanmi-Ceduna, 20hrs 54mins
15-16/12: Ceduna-Quorn, 6hrs 18mins
16/12: Various stages, Quorn-Edi, 17hrs 52mins
17/12: Edi-Warwick Farm, 14hrs 4mins
18/12: Warwick Farm-Sydney, in procession
Driving just one of those legs would be too much for the crews of today, and even reading that itinerary is enough to tire you out. It truly was an epic adventure, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. You couldn’t even imagine this in modern times; Ford, Citröen, and Hyundai rolling up with their WRC cars and chase helicopters, ready to dodge public traffic flat-out every day for nearly a month to the other side of the world. The final days of the Safari Rally in Kenya were probably the closest we’d ever see of something like that.
This documentary was filmed and edited by Colin Taylor, a competitor in the rally, for Duckhams. What it lacks in quality it more than makes up for in period authenticity and provides a rare glimpse into what must have been a truly unforgettable experience for every person who took part.