1979 Repco Reliability Trial

The 1979 Repco Reliability Trial, often known as the Repco Round Australia, was a 14 day car trial circumnavigating the island continent of Australia. 167 crews started the event with 92 classified as finishers, however only 13 cars completed the entire route. The final results are provided below. The stunning 1-2-3 finish by the Holden Commodores, headed by Australia’s best known driver, the late Peter Brock, was the public story of the event, however the countless other stories of competitors, service crews, organisers and spectators are not widely known.

Many consider this to have been the last great round Australia trial. As was written on the back cover of Bill Tuckey’s book, An old dog for a hard road, “The 12th round-Australia motoring event run since the first (1953) Redex, the 1979 Repco is now acknowledged as the toughest long-distance rally since the continent-to-continent epics of the first decade of the 20th century.” The previous round-Australia was in 1970, the Ampol Rally and Trial, but it did not go to WA. Also over two weeks, the 1970 Ampol was about the same length as the Repco but had much less competitive distance.

The Repco was run during what many consider to have been the golden years of Australian rallying, where many events were arduous and challenging. Events such as the international Southern Cross Rally typically comprised several throusand kilometres of competitive stages over four days, making a modern WRC even seem like a bit of a picnic. In this tradition, the intensity of competition and the difficulty of the terrain covered in the Repco was unprecedented and set it apart from earlier round-Australia events or the London-to-Sydney marathons. About 41% of the Repco route was competitive and quite a lot of the remainder was not on sealed highways. As such, no subsequent road rally event has reached the level of toughness of the Repco.

Like earlier round-Australia trials and the London-to-Sydney epics of 1968 and 1977, crews in the Repco were expected to drive virtually non stop for days at a time with limited rest breaks. Nowadays this would be considered irresponsibly dangerous. The subsequent Mobil 1 Trial in 1995 and Playstation Round Australia of 1998 were necessarily quite different types of events, largely as a result of safety concerns. As the Mobil 1 Director Bob Watson observed, “The event equalled the Repco for length, at 20,000 kms (sic), but took three weeks because CAMS rightly insisted on more rest breaks for crews”. In fact the 1995 Mobil 1 Trial was a special stage event with many long and tiring liaison stages. Of the total distance of 18,300, only about 2,300 km (12.5%) were competitive stages. Additionally, only 16 of the 54 stages conducted were held at night. In addition to the full rest day in Broome, ten other overnight stops were taken.

In the modern era, the Repco is more comparable with rally raid events such as the Dakar, although being run for 4WD vehicles (and in some cases motorbikes), these events can tackle even more challenging terrain. Nevertheless, some of the terrain in the Repco would not have been out of place in a modern Dakar Rally despite the fact that all cars were 2-wheel drive.

The full event story is provided for each of the six Divisions:

  • Division V (Melbourne to Adelaide)
  • Division S (Adelaide to Perth)
  • Division W (Perth to Darwin)
  • Division T (Darwin to Townsville)
  • Division Q (Townsville to Sydney)
  • Division N (Sydney to Melbourne)
1st: Brock/Philip/Richards
Barry Ferguson, Wayne Bell & Dave Boddy
2nd: Ferguson/Bell/Boddy
Shekhar Mehta, Rauno Aaltonen & Barry Lake
3rd: Mehta/Aaltonen/Lake
4th: Dunkerton/McKay/Jones
5th: Carr/Morrow/Gocentas
6th: Nalder/Richards/Boyd


The full entry list appears in the Official Results.


The final scores of the 13 cars that did the entire course are provided below as they actually appeared in the results:

PlaceCrewCarTime Penalty
1Peter Brock/ Matthew Philip/ Noel RichardsHolden Commodore3.39.18
2Barry Ferguson/ Wayne Bell/ David BoddyHolden Commodore3.52.39
3Shekar Mehta/ Rauno Aaltonen/ Barry LakeHolden Commodore4.53.39
4Ross Dunkerton/ Peter McKay/ Geoff JonesVolvo 2448.24.54
5Greg Carr/ Dave Morrow/ Fred GocentasFord Cortina9.12.13
6Wes Nalder/ Ian Richards/ Geoff BoydToyota Celica9.57.25
7Dale Loader/ Ian Hill/ Frank NealeMitsubishi Lancer12.24.11
8Edgar Herrmann/ Dean RainsfordPorsche Carrera12.39.02
9Jurgan Barth/ Roland KushmaulPorsche 92413.09.03
10Gil Davis/ Phil Eather/ Graham TonerDatsun 180B SSS16.09.38
11Bob Watson/ Garry HarrowfieldPeugeot 504 Diesel16.22.18
12Steve Mizel/ Rod Hall/ Rod Fricker/ Adrian MortimerChevvy Blazer27.05.38
13Robert Jackson/ Des West/ Ross JacksonHolden Commodore29.02.06

Extract of the Official Results

Further detailed results (with the placings of the remaining 79 finishers)


The route is shown on the map (click on the map to see a detailed plot on Google Maps). It is approximately 19,000 km and comprises both competitive sections (shown in red) and transport sections (green), the latter in theory being easily able to be completed while driving at a fairly sedate pace on normal public roads with many other road users. In modern lingo these are called liaison sections. In fact some of the competitive sections were designated as special stages, timed to the second and on closed roads, but most of the competitive sections were on remote, albeit non-closed roads, and were timed to the minute.

A plot of the competitive stages is available on rally-maps.com.

The total distance of the event ‘as run’ was 18,616 km of which 7,580 km was competitive (of which 281 km was designated special stages, the remainder were trial stages). Therefore the competitive stages comprised 41% of the overall event. It comprised 6 divisions and a total of 134 stages, of which 13 were designated as special stages, 45 as trial stages and 76 as transport stages.

By comparison, the 1970 Ampol Trial was 13,400 km (or about 19,000 if the Rally is included) but the competitive distance was only 2,700 km, or about 20% (or 4,260 km or 22% if the Rally is included). The subsequent Mobil 1 Trial in 1995 was 18,350 km in length but with only 2,350 km of competitive stages, or about 13%.

Further details of the route, including detailed descriptions of all stages, are provided in the full event story here. All the Roadbooks are available below:


A copy of the Regulations is available under Other Event Documents below. Minor changes to these were promulgated in Further Regulations.

The event did not run under the National Rally Code of the time but had its own standalone set of regulations. These were pretty straightforward and can be summarised as follows:

  • There were relatively few restrictions on vehicles but they had to be 2 wheel drive and of course had to be roadworthy and registered. Most components were able to be modified.
  • Perhaps surprisingly by today’s standards, required safety equipment was fairly minimal, including a roll cage. Due to the challenges of carrying a crew of 3 and for gate opening, many crews opted for normal lap-sash seatbelts rather than full harnesses. No special clothing was required and helmets were certainly not required (and almost no-one used them).
  • All crew members had to be in the car at all time during competition. If a crew member dropped out they could not rejoin later. There was therefore no opportunity for resting crew members by overflying and there were spot checks at various points.
  • Work on cars, including the use of outside assistance, was permitted anywhere except in controls, which included the parc ferme at the end of each division. Cars were released from parc ferme one hour before their due time of departure to allow for servicing.
  • While all the route instructions were fully tuliped, instructions on Transport Stages were advisory, which meant that mistakes in those instructions were not a basis for complaint!
  • Timing was strictly point-to-point between major controls, either to the second (on special stages) or to the forward minute. Competitors accumulated time penalties in hours, minutes and seconds for lateness relative to the target time for each stage (there was no distinction between trial and transport stages). Upon early arrival crews could nominate their due time, otherwise early arrival incurred penalties also.
  • Competitors had to report to controls within their overall late time limit on each division or would be deemed to have missed the control. A progressive late time limit was used whereby the allowed overall lateness was increased at key points, typically from 2 or 3 hours initially, up to 6 or 7 hours late in the division. Competitors close to their late time limit could book in early in order to regain late time, often by skipping controls.
  • Competitors who entered a major control from the wrong direction or missed a passage control (used to check that the correct route was followed) were penalised up to 4 hours. This was also the maximum time penalty on any stage although a small number of stages had a 1 hour maximum penalty.
  • Placings were determined initially by the number of controls missed and then by the total time penalty so in practice, the outright results were among those who visited all major controls within their late time limit.

Media Coverage

There was plenty of pre-event coverage, including a Preview in Auto Action. The organisers commissioned an extensive Souvenir Guide (see below). which appeared to have a significant input from Holden. There was a brief Ford Preview in Auto Action in which team manager, Colin Bond, stated that he was confident that they would win.

The event received considerable media coverage during the event, often for the wrong reasons, such as the tragic double fatality on the Gibb River Road in northern WA. Some media clippings from the daily newspapers of the time are included in the story of the event.

Soon after the event reports appeared in the traditional motor sports publications of the time. It was front page news in Auto Action.

Racing Car News report

Several books were published after the event, including An old dog for a hard road by Bill Tuckey and Thomas B Floyd, and Challenge Australia, by Candy Baker. Tuckey’s book was written very quickly in the weeks after the event with a view to capturing the interest while the event was still fresh in people’s mind. It is unashamadly about the media coverage and contains many stories about the media contingent’s travels, but its coverage of what actually happened to competitors is full of errors and omissions. Baker’s book was written more sedately, with considerable research and input from many competitors and is therefore a much more accurate account of what actually happened!

The ABC made a documentary about the event which is available on YouTube. It has some fabulous footage and certainly captures the spirit of the event but because it contains hardly any night time coverage it fails to tell the true story of how the event was won and lost. Many of the decisive moments are just not mentioned. 

From Australian Motorsport Yearbook 79/80

There was considerable advertising after the event, especially from Holden but also Volvo and Toyota. Ford was understandably somewhat subdued.


The Repco was organised and promoted by Australian Sporting Promotions, a company established for the purpose by South Australian businessman, Stewart McLeod. It was really a pretty small team that did most of the work, being somewhat enlarged immediately before and during the event. Considerable details of the organisers and their intentions for the event were provided in the Preliminary Regulations.

Executive Chairman:
Stewart McLeod
Stewart was unquestionably the driving force behind the Repco and was officially the Executive Chairman. Much of the route was surveyed by Stewart and pretty much all the negotiations with sponsors, manufacturers and overseas entrants was done by him. Stewart had been a reasonably successful rally driver during the 1970s. Sadly, Stewart was murdered in Melbourne on March 5th, 1987.
Road Director:
Frank Kilfoyle
Frank was listed as the Director of the event, what nowadays we would call the Clerk of Course. How much of the route was surveyed by Frank remains something of a mystery. Frank was a previous Australian Rally Champion (1969) and drove for the Datsun Rally Team during the first half of the 1970s. He had faded from active competition during the mid 70s but had directed a number of other events, most notably the 1974 Alpine Rally and several BP Rallies prior to that. He was well regarded for his judgement, but somewhat less so for his timely organisation, as he had a tendency to leave things until the last moment! Frank lived out his retirement in central Victoria, but sadly passed away in 2013.
Event Co-ordinator:
Ivar Stanelis
Ivar is a South Australian businessman and rally organiser, and was listed in the Repco as Event Co-ordinator. He was widely believed to have been largely responsible for the Northern Territory and Queensland stages of the Repco and consequently was criticised, rightly or wrongly, for the ridiculously easy times that were set. Ivar continues to be a rally organiser in South Australia.
Event Manager:
Tom Snooks
Tom is the quintessential motor sport administrator and was listed as General Manager. Tom ‘rescued’ the Repco in the months beforehand when Stewart and others were running out of time. Tom’s list of achievements are well known. Tom worked for CAMS for many years but is now retired and lives in Melbourne. He was Clerk of Course for the Classic Outback Trial in later years.
Event Scorer:
Terry Bain
Terry was widely involved in rallying usually doing the scoring. He was the Chief Scorer on the Repco and, given the questionable accuracy of the results, he was not an entirely popular person during and after the Event!


There were thousands of people involved as officials during the event, many sourced from local car and 4WD clubs around the country. Local club members manned controls, checked the route where necessary ahead of the field, provided rescue and recovery vehicles at designated trouble spots, and cleared the course after the last car. This was nevertheless a far cry from modern events which have multiple ‘zero’ cars (some stages on the Repco had no zero car at all, and where there was a zero car it was sometimes more than 24 hours before the field!), and rapid response crews (in most places on the Repco crews had to fend for themselves or alert local emergency services). Not only did all these officials need to be found, briefed and set-up, but they needed to be thanked afterwards. Here is a typical thankyou letter.

Other event documents

Personal Stories

From the Winning Car – Noel Richards

Success Factors – Ian Richards

Dispelling the Bullshit – Barry Lake

Photo Gallery