Lot 282 - 1968 Austin 1800 London-Sydney Marathon Car
|Odometer reading||71,000 miles|
|Estimate||£35,000 - £40,000|
The first London to Sydney Marathon was the result of a lunch in late 1967, during a period of despondency in Britain following a devaluation of the pound. The proprietor of the Daily Express, Sir Max Aitken and two of his editorial executives, Jocelyn Stevens and Tommy Sopwith, decided to create an event which their newspaper could sponsor, and which would serve to raise the country's spirits. Such an event would, it was felt, act as a showcase for British engineering and would boost export sales in the countries through which it passed.
The initial £10,000 winner's prize offered by theDaily Expresswas soon joined by a £3,000 runners-up award and two £2,000 prizes for the third-placed team and for the highest-placed Australians, all of which were underwritten by theDaily Telegraphnewspaper and its proprietor Sir Frank Packer, who was eager to promote the Antipodean leg of the rally.
With its very strong bodyshell and hydrolastic suspension, the BMC 1800, or 'Landcrab' as it has become popularly known, was considered by the BMC Competitions Department, to be the ideal car for the gruelling 10,000 mile event. Freed of the usual minefield of rally regulations, the Marathon rules allowed any two wheel drive car with a maximum height stipulation so that the cars would fit into the hold of theSS Chusan. A Works team of six, plus a service car, were prepared for the Marathon based on the experience on the Safari and the Acropolis Rallies with over of 600 hours of testing round Bagshot. Five of the cars were to be built by the Competitions Department, including the service car, with the remaining two being built by the Special Tuning Department at Abingdon under the direction of Basil Wales - one each for the Royal Navy and the RAF. All of the Works cars were painted in the traditional BMC works colours of red with a white roof with the exception of the Royal Navy car offered here, which was all white.
The final specification of the Marathon cars was based on the newly introduced Mk2 1800S models but with some major modifications. They were built up from bare shells, using Mk1 suspension with the larger front displacers fitted to the rear to cope with the increased load. The body was strengthened in the area of the boot floor and suspension housings to allow fitting of Koni telescopic shock absorbers with front and a rear anti roll bars fitted, as was standard on very early Mk1 cars.
The engine was not highly tuned. The capacity was increased to 1894cc and the camshaft was standard MGB with the cylinder head re-worked by Downton. Twin 1.75 inch SUs carburettors were fitted and the exhaust exited through the rear apron. The gearbox ratios were standard, although a competition clutch was added and a reliable 100bhp was achieved at the lightened flywheel; not much for such a heavy car. The final drive ratio was 4.1, again from the Mk1 and they ran on 13" Minilite wheels shod with 175/13 Dunlop SP 44 tyres, or for the Nulabour in Australia, SP Sports.
A quicker 3.25 to 1 steering rack, with a 16 inch Mountney steering wheel, replaced the slow, standard 4.4 to 1 ratio rack. The interior was fitted out for the three man crew with the rear seat convertible into a bed. A Hydrolastic pump sat on the rear parcel shelf; some, but not all, of the windows were Perspex and the doors, bonnet and boot were aluminium skinned to save a little weight. Twenty six gallons of fuel in twin tanks filled the boot, so the spare wheels had to go on the roof. This resulted in the finished car with crew weighing in at around the 2 ton mark.
VLM 128G was sent to the Works by the British School of Motoring to be prepared for a team from the Royal Navy to compete in the Marathon as a Works prepared and Works supported car. The drivers were J. Hans Hamilton, Phillip Stearns and Ian Lees-Spalding and they finished in 31st place out of the fifty six finishers from one hundred starters, winning the award for the smartest finisher. After the event was over, VLM 128G, unlike the other BMC 1800 Team Cars, was immediately sent to Singapore on a Hercules transporter plane and then back to the UK by Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship to do the rounds of the sponsors. The car was then handed back to BSM for use as a fast pursuit training vehicle, which accounts for its having survived in such original condition.
The car was discovered in Southampton in 1981 when owned by a South African marine cadet. It was purchased by the current vendor, a keen amateur road rally driver, who wanted to compete with it. However, the discovery of documentation referring to the Royal Navy entry in the Marathon under the rear sea t caused the new owner to realise he had acquired something out of the ordinary and a period of thorough research commenced. The car was rebuilt in 1985 and used extensively on the road as well as attending various events celebrating the increased interest in historic rallies. A second, fastidious, rebuild was undertaken in 2013 to the condition the car is presented in today.
A huge and impressive history file accompanies the car. Among the many documents is a Works photo album showing pictures of the car being built at Abingdon and of it taking part in the Marathon itself. Also present are many items specific to the event such as roadbooks, an original Daily Express navigator's folder, the original bonnet badge and decals, press cuttings and correspondence with the drivers.
VLM 123G is considered to be the most original of the four surviving Works entered BMC 1800s from the 1968 Marathon and it is worth considering that the fiftieth anniversary of the event is a mere three years hence. The car comes with a current V5C registration document, original logbook, Heritage Certificate and invoices for parts used in the rebuild. We are informed that a new MoT certificate will be obtained prior to the sale of this historic and highly collectable survivor from the days of long distance rallies.
Interested parties should satisfy themselves as to the description and condition of each lot prior to the sale. Buyers are advised to inspect the car in person or use a professional to carry out this service.