London to Sydney by Morris 1100S

This article was first appeared on the ADO16 facebook group. It is with special thanks to Harold Dvoretsky and the Australian Women’s Weekly.

The 1968, London to Sydney Marathon in which there were three ADO16 heroines was an Australian entry and indeed was the Sydney Telegraph, Car 4. The event saw 99 entries and after 7,000 miles 72 of them arrived in Bombay, India.

The three ADO16 girls, Eileen Westley, Mini Macdonald (Marion the “Society Spy”), and secretary Jenny Gates caught the general imagination and became the Marathon’s sweethearts with a special place in motoring history reserved for them. They were untrained, untried, with as much knowledge about professional rallying as could go in a nutshell!

In Bombay, Eileen, wearing her first dress for ten days, a floral silk one, gave out what was probably the trio’s secret, “The tougher it got the more we were determined to finish,” she said with a grin. With a points loss of 6,154 minutes, they were classified in 67th place but they had the great personal satisfaction of arriving at Bombay; and getting to Sydney was something they wanted badly.

It’s worth noting that soon after the Morris 1100S had left Sydney to be shipped to England, rally driver Henry Liddon, of the British Leyland team, turned in a report stating that to undertake the Marathon with less than three people aboard was virtually suicide. Eileen was told the Morris should take three but it was the second-smallest car in the event; indeed for rallying, two aboard an ADO16 is enough. Nonetheless Eileen cabled, “If we have to carry three, we will carry three, so please fix our ‘Galloping Tortoise’ – and please don’t cover the roof.”

However to carry three, despite the pink roof the Morris 1100S (the Tortoise) would have to have a roof rack for the spare tyres; the interior of the car was stripped to the bare bones, the parcel shelf pushed back, and another seat installed. Across the rear seat each of the girls would have to get some sleep for seven days – when the rally officials heard about it all, one commented, “This is stupid. They just won’t get as far as Istanbul.”

The girls had never driven on the continent, so upon arriving in England they took friendly advice, grabbed an offered Morris Minor, and went on a 2,000-mile stint non-stop through France, down through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Aosta, just north of Turin, and back again. Diet was another issue; both Eileen and Mini had in the past suffered hepatitis and consequently had stopped eating sugar. No-one had told those organising their food packs which had to be hastily changed at the last minute by John Ford, the Horlicks man in London.

The girls turned up 12 minutes late at the Paris control – many were thinking that doubting rally official would be proven correct. In spite of a man with a shotgun chasing them across the Bulgarian border they did get to Istanbul – albeit tired and dishevelled but triumphant. “It should never have happened,” said the doubtful one!

The adventures would continue; they lost their way down a straight road into town at Tehran! Then trouble really started in Afghanistan – first their big fuel tank wouldn’t gravity feed the lower tank; that was fixed by the Leyland rally mechanics, who by this time would do anything for the girls. Then the suspension started to do down and finally, in bright sunshine, Jenny decided against hitting a donkey; she swerved, missed, and whacked a bank – waiting beside the road, they nattered in sign language to locals who swarmed around the car, and finally one very big Afghan astonishingly picked up the Morris and put it on the road – he wouldn’t accept payment! The car seemed okay but now the suspension was rock hard, certainly not floating on fluid – they struggled along at 20 mph until, much later, the Leyland boys caught them up at the next stop. “The car grunted and groaned and made a horrible noise,” Mini recalled, “we all seemed determined not to notice it, but eventually it did get into the conversation – and so did the theme of sticking it out.” – When they turned up at Bombay that doubting official did say with a grin, “Darn good effort” – moreover, they’d beaten at least one-third of the field in doing so.

From Bombay the race sailed to Perth, Western Australia and the girls arrived in Sydney finishing 50th overall out of 56 finishers.

10,373 miles (16,694 km) through Europe, Asia and Australia; not too shabby for an ADO16 and perhaps in part aided by the superior strength of the Australian built Morris 1100S.

This post appears with special thanks to Harold Dvoretsky and the Australian Women’s Weekly.

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