I’ve written a number of times about the adventures I shared with Hans Tholstrup on our epic competition in the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-to-Sydney Car Rally in the tiny Leyland Mini Moke.
Sure, the Moke was an unlikely choice, but almost a typical idea from the ever-inventive Hans Tholstrup, who could always recognize a good story when he saw it.
The original Moke design was conceived at the same time as Alec Issigonis presented the first Mini back in 1959, but Moke did not eventuate until 1966.
He intended it as a farm vehicle, and even he described it as: "like a buckboard".
A simple steel platform, with the engine and suspension from the Mini. It was never a hit with British farmers, as the wheels were too small, and it wasn’t practical for roughing it across the furrowed fields and forests.
However, after Leyland Australia began making it in early 1967, it became a big hit Down Under.
Many were sold to resorts on islands of the Great Barrier Reef, and other Queensland vacation spots.
The company's export manager, the tireless, but sadly late, Hans Tiedemman travelled the world, and Leyland Australia ended up developing a healthy export market to places like the Far East, the Middle East and on lots of the Caribbean holiday island resorts.
There's even a news photo showing HRH Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique in her own, customized Moke which she used every time she visited her Caribbean hideaway.
The original little ‘buckboard’ with its canvas seats and roof, grew up to be a very handy vehicle, and graduated to padded seats, a more stylish canvas top, and even (!) floor mats.
Production continued until 1982, and Leyland Australia built a total of 34,704 - before production shifted to Portugal for the remainder of its life, when it eventually ran afoul of tightening safety legislation.
Time travel to 1977 and the Moke Hans built up for the Rally, with the help of famed Mini expert, Ron Gillard.
Instead of the humble sub-one litre engine, it was fitted with a mildly-tuned 1275cc Cooper S engine; disc front brakes; 13 inch Sunraysia sports wheels; Recaro seats and extra fuel capacity in both side beams, plus a jerry can, and Halda Rally instruments.
Now, and this is where the story gets interesting. Hans recognized the Moke would need solid support, and some capacity for our spare parts, tools, luggage, food and supplies.
So Hans came up with the idea of a ‘Big Mama’ – which was a Leyland Terrier 5 ton truck.
Big Mama was indeed our 'lifeline' when we needed a change of clothes; to replenish our food, and copious cans of Coca Cola, and occasionally some mechanical help from our resident 'wizard', Barry Allen.
There was a full-size bunk bed in the rear of the Terrier's cab, so one of the team could grab some sleep.
The Leyland Terrier was part of Leyland Australia’s truck range, but was lumbered with a low performance engine. In the dying days of Leyland Australia’s manufacturing complex, hurried along by the failure of the Leyland P76 sedan, the company decided to fit the Terrier with the P76’s 4.4L alloy V8 to improve performance, and hopefully, sales.
Part of the reason for this dash of brilliance, was that when car manufacturing ceased at Leyland Australian 1972, it had produced a large number of extra engines, for which it had no homes.
So, 400 Terriers were fitted with the V8.
The company recognized that dealers and customers may be concerned about the viability and reliability of the ‘car’ engine in a truck, so it jumped at the idea of jointly entering its ‘export star’, the Moke; and the V8-engined Terrier truck in what was to be the longest (and last) trans-global car rally.
Hans Tholstrup’s next masterstroke, was to ‘enter’ the truck as a competitive vehicle, with agreement from the organizers that it would always be the last of the competitive vehicles, so as not to impede faster cars.
I’m reminded of the need to pay tribute to our Big Mama, and its crew, thanks to my old mate, and one of the crew of three in the Terrier, Doug Francis (far right), who recently sent me this rather over-exposed photo of the whole team on the steps of the Sydney Opera House at the end of the rally.
Sadly, the other members, Barry Allen(3rd left) and Allen Hausler(2nd right) have passed away, but Doug still lives happily in Adelaide, South Australia – dining out on the memories from his big adventure.
The Terrier came to our aid a few times, when we had small mechanical troubles with the Moke, but thankfully both vehicles completed the rally. The truck finished 33rdand the Moke finished 35th, which was a heroic effort by the whole team.
I’ve put together a portfolio of photos of the Terrier during the Rally, which will follow in the next post.