The Longest Car Rally in History

Everything about the 1977 SIA London-Sydney Marathon was extraordinary... including the “inside story” on how it was organised and how the route was made to happen.

The Rally Announcement

With sponsorship coming from Singapore Airlines Wylton Dickson's longest and toughest marathon epic was announced late in 1976.

"The Singapore Airlines Rally is being staged to mark the 30th year of the Airline's history in aviation. It will run from London to Sydney, will cover 3 continents, 30,000 kilometres, 30 check points in 30 days and carries a prize fund of A$30,000. And it will be the longest car rally in history."

The Challenge

The idea was very simple... to drive a rally route of 30,000 kilometres from one Opera House to another... London's Covent Garden to the Sydney Opera House. It began with 12 days on the road through 11 countries from London to Madras before shipping the cars to Malaysia for the stretch down to Singapore... then load the remaining cars on another ship to take them to Perth before a massive round-Australia section. As the event went along, it would become even more gruelling than originally advertised.

Shipping problems delayed the Australia restart by two days. To make the original finish date, that could not be changed, the average speeds were increased and the planned rest halts were ruthlessly cut. Australia would turn out to be 13,200 kilometres in 7 days and 16 hours… a day and night average of 72 kph for 184 hours.

A Catalogue of Firsts

The 1977 London-Sydney Marathon was the first-ever rally to have a competing truck, several years ahead of the Paris Dakar. It had two former Grand Prix drivers; several front-line international rally drivers; Fiat entered a team of prototype diesels - the first time for a diesel works-rallycar on an international event. There were works-factory teams at one end, and privateers at the other in everything from a fibreglass kit-car, the Magenta; the first time a kit-car had ever been accepted into an international rally; a Mini Clubman and even a Mini Moke. In between, there were Range Rovers, Jeeps, Peugeots, Mercedes of various descriptions,  Ford Escorts, a Mazda rotary-engined car, Datsuns, Volvos, Saabs, even a mobile-home camper van. Crews came from around the world to take part… professionals, experts, adventurers, more than one crew were on their first-ever rally, including a couple who literally drove straight from a dealer’s showroom direct to the start-ramp. It was also the first big-time rally for a Subaru 4WD.


Issued: 19 May 2009
New additions include the Motoring News LS77 rally reports... and, a great ten page article by Jeep Cherokee driver Don Brown, editor of US magazine 'Pickup, Van & 4WD' in 77... go to the Gallery

Issued: 17 Apr 2009
A new London-Sydney Rally book has just appeared - this is the inside-story of the "tail-end-Charlie" - an account from inside the Mini Clubman of Mike Dickin and Simon Park.
It's a great read... read more

There were several instances of cheating that would have made Dick Dastardly proud, including a crew that left London and then flew their car to India, cheekily trying to check in at the time-control table set up outside the hotel in Madras without even bothering to remove the car still strapped to the back of a truck, having come straight from the airport.

The route took in mountains, rivers wild enough for a Datsun to float off downstream, and several deserts – the Australia section was a marathon drive in its own right. When the ship arrived late into Freemantle, rather than cancel sections to get the rally back on schedule, it was decided to make up the lost time by simply running it non-stop – for seven days and nights.

An Epic of Organisation

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the 1977 London-Sydney Marathon was the behind-the-scenes story of how it ran at all. Every major event has things go wrong unexpectedly – and cracks can often be papered over, but some of the bear-pits that the London-Sydney organisers fell into make interesting reading, as they are of Grand Canyon proportions >> Read more...