The Longest Rally Route Ever

 Australia route outline of 1977 London-Sydney Rally

Click the image for a zoomable map of the London to Sydney rally route in Australia

The Route Plan was for thirty days and nights of driving from London to Sydney the hard way...

Opera House to Opera House was Wylton Dickson’s idea. At the last minute, it was realised that getting the crowd barriers and ramp in front of the Covent Garden Opera House would be tricky, so, the start was moved back a few yards, around the corner and into the old vegetable market of Covent Garden. The back door of the Opera House was only just in view.

From here it was a straight run through South London, across Blackheath Common, and on to Sheerness, on the North Kent Coast, for a cramped cabin in an overnight ferry to Flushing, Holland.

Once on Continental soil, the route would now trek down miles of motorway picking up the cities that Singapore Airlines fly to. Time Controls at Amsterdam and Frankfurt before turning west, in the opposite direction of any logical route to India, for another control point in Paris. Here the offices of Singapore Airlines originally hoped to put on a breakfast and other festivities, but as we were all arriving so early in the morning, decided not to bother, there was just a hot-dog stall. The works teams like Cowan and Co, and Hopkirk, took off to nearby hotels. Others just sat around in the early morning sun.

After Paris, it was a motorway haul to Milan. The rumour mill had started – some wag mischievously suggesting he saw Hopkirk in a taxi, must have been going to the airport for the “first flight to Milan”, although it could have been nothing more innocent than going for breakfast in a hotel.

From Milan an 11 hour section down the coast of Yugoslavia took the rally to the first special stage. This first timed blat was a short haul in the hills above the present day Croatian holiday resort of Makarska. It was mostly rocky dirt, then tarmac. The special stage was included in the road section between time controls at Makarska and Cetinje, however, soon after ompleting the stage several crews realised that the distance in the route book appeared to be glaringly wrong. A bout of road-racing began as crews desparately tried to make the time to Cetinje located high above the Adriatic at the top of spectacular hill climb. It turned out that the special stage length had been left out of the overall distance to Cetinje. As it happened, it was a genuine mistake, rather than any attempt of a spot of Welsh road-rallying but became the subject of the first official protest to be lodged to the organisers.... the protest was rejected.

The route then went to Veria, Loutropigi in central Greece, and finally down to Athens, the first rest-stop. As John Stathatos sums up in his book, The Long Drive: “Athens was to be a major rest halt with a 11-hour layover. The first car would leave at 1.30am the next morning, which should have given all crews ample time to recuperate, after four days and nights of non-stop driving.” In fact, only the major works teams got the benefit, most of the rest were either playing catch up, so got far less sleep, or, were outside servicing the car. A total of 61 cars made it to the Athens Time Control.

From Athens the rally became more competitive, with a route that went via Thessaloniki to Istanbul, then Baypazari, Ankara, Kayseri, Malatya, Van, and Tehran.

From Van in Turkey, crews went via Tabriz to Tehran in Iran and on to Yazd, the start of 400 kilometres of flat out motoring across the Great Salt Desert to Tabas, then north-east to Fariman, just south of Mashad, and across Afghanistan to Herat, and Kandahar, to Kabul, the North West Passage, into Pakistan over the Khyber Pass to Rawalpindi, Lahore, Jullundar, Delhi, Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur, Ghodra, Baroda and Bombay.

After Bombay, the event curled south and east to Poona and Bangalore to Madras and the plan was then for a ship to take the event on to Malaysia. This was delayed two days. From Penang, the event took in a couple of stages in rubber plantations, via Taiping, Ipoh, Tanjong Malim, Port Dickson on the coast, and then from Muar across the bottom of Malaysia to Labis, Kluang, Jemaluang, Johor Bahru to Singapore.

A spot of tiger shooting of a different kind was now the top priority for Wylton Dickson and Jim Gavin. The boat wrangles sorted, along with the attempt to bring the London to Sydney to a full stop in Singapore also sorted, the event proceeded to Perth – late.

Wide open spaces... leaving White Cliffs, it's another 350kms to the next control at Warri Gate

The Australian section ran from Perth north and north east to Youanmi via Cleary, then to Menzies, Laverton, Warburton, through the Petermann Ranges to Ayres Rock and Alice Springs. From here a long loop north ran to Mt. George, Hooker Creek and Rabbit Flat before returning to Alice, then south via Coober Pedy, and Port Augusta, through the Flinders Ranges to Hawker, Adelaide, Melbourne, Woods Point, Nariel, Canberra, Griffith, Menindee, White Cliffs, Kihee, Charleville, to Brisbane, and then inland, to Moree, Tamworth, Polkolbin and finally to Sydney.

Australia had been 13,200 kilometres in seven days and 16 hours.... if it were possible to drive 24 hours a day for the entire period it would required at a non stop average of over 72 kilometres an hour. Allowing for the few allocated re-group halts the required average speed was close to 90 kph.

What had been billed as 30,000 kilometres was actually longer, and the 30 days and nights became 45, mostly due to the vagaries of shipping, ports, and… payments by Wylton, who complained that he was constantly plagued by “leeches”.