Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The 1956 Ampol Trial dioramas

It's 1956, and the Ampol Reliability Trial, yet another of the round-Australia rallies testing the endurance of ordinary family cars, is underway, and it is generally regarded as the muddiest, toughest, and most punishing of them all so far. Heavy winter rain has turned hundreds of miles of barely formed Outback tracks into mud-wallows. And once the cars get through that muddy hell there's the prospect of countless swollen creeks to get through. We've positioned our camera team at a river crossing in outback Queensland ... let's watch them come through, one by one.

Morris Minor Series II
First car coming through is the Morris Minor, driven by father-and-daughter team Cyril and Lesley Davidson in the car sponsored by Zane's Drive Yourself Cars, the car rental garage in Melbourne where Cyril works. While they got through both the mud and this swollen creek, eventually their engine packed it in at Cairns in far north Queensland, and they retired after a wonderful effort.



Volkswagen Beetle
While Volkswagens distinguished themselves throughout the Australian long-distance rallies, for this next car through the creek crossing, the 1956 Rally wasn't a big success (although it was in second place overall earlier on, at Alice Springs in Central Australia), as this VW also retired at Cairns. However, the experience paid off in the long run, as the driver of this VW, Jack Witter, won the 1957 Ampol Trial in a VW Beetle. And even in this 1956  Ampol Trial the other VWs entered did very well, led by Max Goldsmith who took out second place overall.



Peugeot 403
Having won the first of the around-Australia rallies, the Redex of 1953, Peugeot had developed a loyal following in Australia, and when the newer model Peugeot 403 came out, the field for the Ampol Trials was liberally sprinkled with Peugeots, both the tough old 203s as well as the new 403s. And Peugeot won again, this time in the car pictured here, driven by Wilf Murrell and Alan Taylor, both from the small town of Hillston, in western New South Wales.



What didn't happen?

Last of all, the original diorama I was going to make had all three cars at the same river crossing at the same time, and I changed my mind about presenting it that way here. Nevertheless, here's a few shots of an extremely crowded river crossing that very probably never happened.

Pug leads the Veedub.


And the Pug leads the Morry across the creek.


Postscript, what happened to the Aussie Rallies? Bathurst, of course!

In 1956 the Around Australia rally craze was at is peak. There were two of them that year (Mobil and Ampol), two more the next year and then two more in 1958. And then they ended. The 1958 rallies barely caught any media attention, and so they fizzled out. However, the idea of endurance testing ordinary family cars never went away, and in 1960 the idea which eventually evolved to become the famous Bathurst 1000 was born.

At the old Phillip Island track in 1960, the first "Armstrong 500" endurance race for stock family cars was held. It was won (controversially) by a Vauxhall Cresta, with a Peugeot 403 second placed on the same lap. Australians loved to see their own family cars driven at speed, tested to the max, and the idea of sitting back at home, watching them do it on TV for one whole Sunday every year, proved wildly popular. It wasn't long before the Armstrong 500 moved from Phillip Island to Bathurst, and a motor racing legend began.


  1. Hi, I really enjoyed this post about the 1956 Trial! My first car, which had been my grandfather's, was a '55 Morris the same as the one in the post. Thanks for sharing the history and your really interesting dioramas! Cheers, Simon

  2. Thanks, Simon, glad to hear you enjoyed it. (PS: for a bit more on the Morris Minor, see the "Update 3" I did back in June):