Seven red lights to Perth

PETER ROBINSON’SClassic

PETER ROBINSON’S Classic Wheels

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

FIRST PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 1980

FROM THE MOMENT THE EYRE HIGHWAY ACROSS THE NULLARBOR PLAIN WAS FINALLY SEALED IN SEPTEMBER 1976, WE BEGAN PLANNING ‘THE BIG TRIP’. SYDNEY TO PERTH, STOPPING ONLY FOR FUEL.

Coincidentally, Ford, unhappy with Wheels’ reception to the XC Falcon, suggested they build us a car – to our specifications. Here was our chance to build up a Falcon specifically for the adventure. To the Wheels XC Falcon 500 4.9 V8 we added a four-speed manual gearbox, the twin exhausts the engineers swore gave more top-end power, the optional long-range 125-litre fuel tank, four-wheel discs, laminated windscreen, plus air-con and various other comfort and handling options, most of which we now take for granted.

Sharing the driving with my mate Steve Cropley, then Wheels assistant editor and now editor-in-chief on Autocar in the UK, we took 32 hours, 58 minutes for the 4041km in the Falcon, averaging 123.9km/h, including all stops, while returning a hideous 23.5L/100km.

Three years later we did it again, mostly because we wanted to, knowing the secret to a quicker time was reducing the fuel stops. Stopping to refuel, we recognised, was the enemy of a high average speed because no matter how organised the top-up, bug cleaning the windscreen and paying, it always took at least eight minutes.

At the time, Alfa dealer and former racer Brian Foley wanted to prove you could comfortably drive an Alfa from Sydney to Perth in 40 hours over a weekend. After much discussion with Foley and help from Alfa Romeo Australia, an Alfetta 2.0-litre sedan was prepared for our record attempt. To the totally inadequate 49-litre fuel capacity they added a 70-litre auxiliary tank, driving lights and Koni dampers.

Cropley flew out from the land of the Pom and we arranged for Alfa mechanics to meet us at two key points – Broken Hill and Port Augusta – along the route, just in case there was a problem. This was nothing less than a full works drive. No pressure, then.

Worked, too; with Cropley playing hero driver, we successfully reduced the time to just 29 hours, 14 minutes, five seconds to establish what we still believe is a record for a Pacific to Indian Ocean journey by car. For the record, the Alfetta averaged 137.5km/h and 16.6L/100km.

Reading Seven Red Lights to Perth for the first time in years makes me want to do The Big Trip all over again. Now, what we need is a frugal car with at least a 1000km range, a near silent cabin, no speed limits (or at least no police presence) and a comfortable 160km/h cruising speed…

“I’LL ADMIT WE DID IT FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN BECAUSE WE WANTED TO. IT WAS A GIANT SELF-INDULGENCE OF THE VERY BEST KIND” – PETER ROBINSON, 1980

Next issue

Robbo takes a Lamborghini Miura to find the notorious road used at the beginning ofThe Italian Job

Special delivery

IN LATE 2006 I somehow learned that Jaguar Australia’s only XJ diesel was sitting in Perth when it needed to be at the company HQ in Sydney.

What a waste, I reckoned, if the XJ was sent across the country on a truck or train.

Of course I offered to drive it and, out of politeness, told Cropley. So it came to pass that Steve, snapper Cristian Brunelli and I set off in the reverse direction to our previous attempts.

Traffic for the last 400km into Sydney (and a leisurely lap of the Mount Panorama circuit for good measure) killed our time: 37 hours, 29 minutes at 108km/h, using an average of just 8.8L/100km.

There is no better illustration of the efficiency of modern diesel engines.

ALSO IN WHEELS, November 1980

LEYLAND’S new Mini Metro driven; Ford XD Falcon update improves fuel use but skips over the dynamics; Bolwell Ikara rated funny but fun; new Datsun Patrol combines traditional 4WD attributes with a more stylish and comfortable package; clothes designer let loose on the Alfa GTV; car-broking explained; economy drive in a four-cylinder Holden Commodore

THE WAY IT WAS

8 ’ 0

Game on

PAC-Man, a rival to Space Invaders and Asteroid that will one day become the world’s most popular arcade game, is launched.

Lab brats

AUSTRALIA’S first test-tube baby, Candice Reid, is born.

More than five million babies have since been born using the technique.

Not the Kingswood

HOLDEN-loving Ted Bullpit jumps onto our TV screens and into the Australian vernacular as the star of Kingswood Country.

READ THIS STORY AND HEAPS MORE CLASSICS AT WheelsMag.com.au/classic