The 1980s

Decade in review

Special stage rallying thrives, trialling survives

Grassroots rallying was at its peak at the start of the 1980s with a strong state championship and numerous club level series. The “open slather” Group G vehicle eligibility presented few barriers to participation and talented drivers could enter the sport with a relatively small budget. From 1980 the Victorian Rally Championship comprised all special stage events with considerable daylight running and greater spectator access.

It was not surprising that the Victorian Trials Championship sprang up in 1981 to cater for those more attracted to navigational and endurance events. Such events were also organisationally simpler, even if longer and sometimes in more remote areas. Some events struggled to attract sufficient entries but lower costs made them viable anyway.

Although the VRC included a Clubman Award, the Victorian Clubman Championship was re-introduced in 1984-86 to offer less experienced competitors non special stage events but without the navigational difficulty of the VTC.  However, it struggled to attract enough entrants and was ultimately rolled back into the Clubman Award within the VTC.

Group G rear wheel drive cars continued to dominate the sport but in 1983, in a bid to bring Australia into line with the rest of the rallying world, Group A (Production Rally Cars) was introduced into the ARC. After a few years, PRC cars came to dominate the ARC, especially in the form of new 4WD models such as the Subaru RX Turbo and Mazda 323 4WD.

However, at the state and club level, Group G continued to dominate with rear wheel drive cars such as the Datsun 1600 being developed to their ultimate capability. The ubiquitous Datsun 1600 with ever larger engines won the VRC in 1984, 85, 87 and 88.  In addition to PRC, a Clubman Rally Car category was introduced to replace Group G. A National edict from CAMS eventually saw the demise of Group G from the VRC in 1989, although a 4WD car did not win the VRC until 1991.

Event organisation was becoming increasingly complex, especially for daylight special stage events comprising the VRC and ARC. These require large numbers of officials and ultimately, under agreements reached with the the state authorities towards the end of the decade, legal road closures with associated documentation and controls. The time and costs of organising such events began to spiral upwards resulting in less events and higher costs for competitors. Most rallies were now gaining closer scrutiny from all authorities and road damage in bad weather was no longer being tolerated, so event cancellations due to weather became more common. While close to a hundred rallies ran each year at the start of the decade, this almost halved by the end of the decade.

Geoff Portman steers his Nissan Bluebird around the Bright Sports Ground in the Alpine Rally. Photo: Bruce Keys