SHELL SILVER FERN RALLY.
New Zealands first rally, starting in Taupo and finishing in Wellington after 4 days with only one sleep break in the middle in Auckland.
A group of Northland Car Club members gathered at Bruce Pullmans house and discussed entering the event. In those days in the winter we held car trials and in the summer we had hillclimbs and rallying seemed a combination of these two skills.
Four cars from Northland entered. They were Neil Johns and Glen McLean in his Mk1 Triumph 2000Pi, Bruce Pullman and Brian Skudder in a Mk1 Cortina modified to GT specs [although still with a steering column gearchange], Noel Millar and Malcolm Pullman in an Isuzu Bellett and Max Atkins and Bruce Burling in a Datsun 1600.
Bruce and I got stuck in preparing the Cortina and during testing found it had developed a crazy fault of occasionally when you reached a certain speed the front wheels would get so wildly out of balance that you had to stop and start again. We balanced wheels, set wheel alignment replaced various joints and in the end the fault disappeared and to this day I donít know what specifically cured it.
Then off to Taupo where we fuelled up and milled around with cars and drivers from all over the country. The first stage was on a forestry road to the east and we were to do this stage twice so Bruce drove the first time and I drove the second. Great smooth metal road with high banks on each side and a good way to get the feel of what was to come. We decided to drive alternate stages.
Early in the rally Grady Thomson in a V8 Monaro was making his presence felt and Johnsey in his Triumph and Paul Adams in a BMW 2002 were well up although we saw Paul stopped with his bonnet up on one stage. We were also well up in the top 10.
However on the first night [ Bruce driving] we shot over a brow at 80+ mph and the road veered right down a hill and then sharp left onto a one-way bridge, then really sharp right off the end of the bridge.I am convinced that if Iíd been driving we wouldnít have made the bridge , but Bruce threw the car onto the bridge but then couldnít kill enough speed to make the right-hander off the end of the bridge. We hit a bank which broke the sway bar mount and the sway bar mount on a Cortina locates the lower suspension arm so we limped to the side of the road and I staggered out in the pitch dark to place a warning triangle on the road. Using bits of fence wire, swearwords and Kiwi ingenuity we tied the sway bar to the front bumper mounting and continued. Later at a fuel stop we commandeered a welding plant and did a more permanent repair.
The boot lid was distorted in this crash and after a while I became severely car sick with my head down reading notes and Bruce did most of the driving while I got greener in the face, wished I was dead, and dived for the bushes at every check point.
However we made it through to the first stop which was dinner and a bed in an Auckland hotel. The first two stages after our nights rest were around Pukekohe in the correct direction and then in the reverse direction. Bruce let me drive both these stages and I believe I was quicker in the reverse direction than in the correct direction!
So we pressed on and in the last night I was driving and decided we werenít going to make a right-hander and spotting what I thought was an escape road went straight ahead into a drain. Backed out and continued to the end of the stage where we found the oil cooler had sprung a leak. We had to re-route the hoses to by-pass it and then continued.
Eventually the rally finished in Wellington with Grady Thomson having a well deserved victory in his big [dare I say] unwieldy Monaro and we finished 17th. Neil Iím pretty sure finished well up although I canít remember his placing.