Wings across Australia

PETER ROBINSON’SClassic

FIRST PUBLISHED JULY 1981 EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

GO SEE AUSTRALIA WAS (AND REMAINS) A CORE WHEELS BELIEF. WE WANT OUR READERS TO ENJOY THEIR CARS AND, FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, FREQUENTLY SET OUT TO PROVE THAT, DESPITE TODAY’S CRUSHING SPEED LIMITS AND AN INEXORABLE RISE IN POLICE PRESENCE, BEYOND THE SUBURBS EXIST GREAT ROADS WORTHY OF EXPLORATION.

We often link our enthusiasm for driving and discovery with true long distance drives: a lap of Australia; Darwin-to- Adelaide; Outback comparisons of, traditionally, Falcon versus Commodore but most recently Golf v Mazda 3; finding the best roads in New Zealand and Tasmania; and I still reckon Steve Cropley and I hold the record for Sydney-to-Perth – 29 hours, 15 minutes and some seconds in an Alfa Romeo Alfetta (surely a future story for Classic Wheels).

In 1981, aiming to prove Datsun’s newly minted, 85 percent Australian-made Bluebird really was a rival for the allconquering Mitsubishi Sigma, we conceived a plan to drive the all-of-70kW 2.0-litre and still rear-wheel-drive mid-size sedan from Adelaide to Darwin.

Our team consisted of Pommie assistant editor Bob Murray, fresh from Car magazine in the UK, veteran marathon driver Matt Whelan, and endlessly energetic and unflappable staff photographer Warwick Kent.

In those far-off days in 1981, the bitumen ran out at Woomera and didn’t reappear until you approached Kulgera, just over the border in the Northern Territory, almost 500km to the north. Bob Murray saw his first kangaroo and was taught how to do ‘the floodway flick’, a driving technique for tortuous gravel roads that involved meeting any ridge with the car somewhat sideways in order to avoid punching the front struts through the bonnet.

Despite the distractions of Space Invaders (the earliest of all computer games?), our heroes in the Bluebird – I’ve never known why, after the 1600, 180B and 200B, Datsun reverted to Bluebird for its crucial all-new model – averaged 110km/h (including stops) and covered the 3262 kilometres in a minute under 30 hours, for a driving average of 144km/h, while using 13.0L/100km of fuel. Disastrously profligate by today’s standards, but predictable consumption 34 years ago.

Murray, on his first epic Australian drive, perfectly captured the dramas and building excitement of a classic city-to-city marathon, while Kent’s photography vividly and honestly recorded the event.

Our popular and ongoing Car Versus Road series shows no signs of disappearing. Long may it and the great drive stories continue.

“It was soon after eight in the morning, the sun was eyeball-piercing bright but not yet too hot, and the genuine, all-Australian Big Sky was all around us.” BOB MURRAY

Bluebird of unhappiness

THE revived Bluebird nameplate only survived for five years (1981 to 1986) before being superseded by the also locally produced and utterly boring Pintara, the four-cylinder version of the locally produced Skyline.

Datsun had been intent on the bigger and roomier Bluebird becoming Australia’s top-selling four-cylinder model, but never did achieve its ambition.

By the late 1980s, the Nissan company was in financial trouble globally and not even a thoroughly competent all-new Pulsar was good enough to stave off the inevitable closure of the Clayton, Victoria, plant, previously the home of Volkswagen Australia.

ALSO IN WHEELS, July 1981

BATTLE of the Ocker Orientals as the Nissan Bluebird takes on the Mazda 626 and Mitsubishi Sigma; Gavin Green meets the Lotus Esprit Turbo; Wheels investigates what Australia can do to cut its soaring oil consumption and avoid a future energy crisis; How the once proud Australian car industry is turning into a glorified assembly operation; Ford’s Laser versus the closely related Mazda 323

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

THE WAY IT WAS

8 ’ 1

Back to the future

THE first gullwing-doored Delorean DMC-12 rolls off the production line in Dunmurry, Ireland.

War paint

SOMEONE twigs it’s more fun to shoot each other with compressed-air guns loaded with paint pellets than just let farmers use them to tag trees and cattle. The war game Paintball is born.

Low blow

TREVOR Chappell bowls the last ball of the World Series Cup final underarm, denying New Zealand the chance to hit a six and tie the game.

Next issue

Murray Walker’s Monaco: If unbridled enthusiasm and hard work make a good F1 commentator, ‘Muddly Talker’ deserves his place as the doyen of motor sport callers.