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When Kevin Bartlett went Rallying

Submitted by on August 23, 2012

Kevin Bartlett Ford Escort

Up until the 1982 Bathurst car race, Australian touring car legend and Bathurst winner, Kevin Bartlett had only rolled once in his 25 year motorsport career – Until the 1982 2GO International rally.

Was it an omen for things to come? – Until those eventful laps in the Bathurst 82 event where he was chasing John Harvey in the HDT Commodore to regain third position, coming out of the cutting his right rear tyre blew, ending in a wild opposite lock slide with the end result a big rollover, Dick Johnson in Tru Blu, nearly collecting him.

Bartlett got out fast – he knew what had happened, pointing angrily to the right rear showing it had gone flat.

Bartlett Escort

Bartlett at that stage of his career had been an open wheel driver and a very successful touring car driver. He had dabbled in rallying, competed as a navigator for John Keran in the 71 Dulux rally, an ill fated outing in the Castrol Rally in Canberra and Southern Cross Rallies, driving an ex Andrew Cowan imported VW Golf.

In June of 1982, the Deepwater Sporting Car club approached me to see if I would allow Kevin Bartlett to drive my RS 2000 Escort in the upcoming 2GO International rally. After we sorted out the details I agreed.

The 2GO as it was affectionately known had grown in status over the years from a clubman rally through to the State Championship. I had competed in the previous three events. Under the stewardship of Graham Roser and his team, the Deepwater club, was small by some measure, but with the help of many other clubs delivered what many today still consider the fastest rally in the country.

Sponsored by 2GO, the local Gosford radio station, the rally grew fast, earning a great reputation and provided sensational prize money. Craig Denyer, Grant Denyer’s Dad being the force behind the support of the rally by the local station.

The roads around the Central Coast were famous with rally drivers. Palmdale, Middle Ridge, Lemon Tree, Walkers Ridge and to top it off, the most famous rally road in Australia: Watagan Road.

Local drivers and heroes Ian Hill and Mike Bell were billed as the locals who could win in their ex factory RS 1800’s, the radio station promoting them constantly.

This was the rally everyone wanted to go in. The previous year Malcolm Wilson, now the owner of the M sport Ford World Rally team entered in club member Mike Bell’s RS 1800. He stole the show with his famous 13:13 run down Watagan Rd, over 27 km. A record that still stands, making that rally and that road in particular famous. On one pass of Watagan Rd he caught Geoff Portman, the current Australian Rally Champion. Unheard of!

In the early 80’s, only a handful of Ford Escorts competed in Australia the Ford Factory team lead by Colin Bond had disbanded, leaving privateers with a few RS 1800’s and they were backed up by a few RS 2000’s, Bond himself retaining IYK-000, our most famous rally car.

I had purchased John Berne’s RS 2000 and competed in various events with mixed results, although a top 10 placing ruined in 1981 2GO rally by rolling the Escort on the Palmdale stage at 160 KPH in top gear whilst leading the class!

The car was repaired and I competed in other rallies up until June of 1982 when I accepted the offer for Bartlett to drive the Escort, the idea behind the drive was to bring much needed publicity and the mainstream media to the rally.

Channel 9 insured the car, just in case the worst happened and it was written off. Gosford Dyno Tune, run by Ian Hill got the job of preparation of the car in readiness for the event.

With Keith Byrn repainting the car and Ian Hill’s team preparing the car, Bartlett called in his connections and two new experimental Recaro seats were provided.  These were amazing as they had small bulbs for pumping up the lumbar support and were very comfortable.

I had never seen the car look so good and it drove like a brand new car. The week of the rally and Bartlett was on hand to have his first drive. Wheels Magazine Editor and now Editor supremo, Phil Scott was called to navigate and provide an insiders view for an upcoming Wheels magazine edition.

On the Thursday of the Rally, I picked up Kevin to take him to a media shakedown in the forest where he could get to try the car out for the first time. No less than 5 media helicopters were there all shooting for the news as the rally had become big news especially as there were two Bathurst drivers competing, Bartlett and Bob Morris driving an Alfa, which eventually burned to the ground in the event. A rumor had circulated that Alan Jones was to compete in a Saab 99.

Kevin said to me, “I only want to beat Morris!” my recollection is that he did on every stage!

I took him for an exploratory run into the Forest and back to warm up the car, tyres and brakes, he was genuinely surprised at how fast the car was.

Kev completed a number of runs in between interviews taking the channel 9 camera man for a ride and other media. He felt comfortable in the Escort.

As the third round of the Australian Rally Championship all the hot shots had entered, Colin Bond, Greg Carr, Ross Dunkerton, George Fury, they were all on edge – this was the rally to win.

Friday was media day and the top team assembled at the Jilliby Autocross track in Wyong. These were the days when big events attracted the media with all the top stations attending, helicopters in the infield adding real atmosphere. Channel 9 Wide World of Sports team were there and this was the plan of the event organizers to attract attention, hopefully attracting a sponsor that could cover the event through to World status.

The depth of talent so great in this rally that the former Bathurst winner was seeded at 59th to start on Saturday.

Early Saturday and Bartlett and Scott were getting to know the car with average times, but better than many. After 17 stages, Bartlett had made up 19 places, he did admit that it took him a while to get into the groove of special stage rallying, the Gosford Forests only really rewarding the bravest rally heroes.

Late on Saturday night Bartlett had survived a minor excursion into the forest, damaging the front of the car but not affecting its performance. Watagan Rd was to claim him like it has so many others over the years; He ran wide and clipped the embankment, sucking in the front of the car and rolling in the air he claims at around 110 KPH.

The car luckily landed on its wheels, cabin full of dust with Bartlett asking Phil if he was OK.

They both scrambled out with Phil running the wrong way up the road nursing a broken thumb and trying to put out the safety triangles. They had to warn cars coming they had crashed.

Word filtered back to us who were servicing that “Bartlett had had a big one..”.  It took us a while to get up to the car and it certainly was a right off!

The car had rolled twice hitting a tree ripping a branch off 5.5 metres up; a big roll and they were both lucky they were not hurt badly.

Bartlett later had said he was in 4th when he needed to go back to third to power out of the slide, just not enough power in the 2 litre pinto engine to try that and the back just dug in and that was the end of it.

Interestingly the new ace Recaro seats did their job to protect the occupants, both were damaged badly and were returned to Europe for examination.

Kev went on to Bathurst and survive another roll, this time not of his making. JHV-260 was sold to Australian Safari winner Bruce Garland who reshelled the car, competing in the NSW Rally Championship with me navigating in 1983.

The car has had many owners and drivers over the years since, with Ross Dunkerton and Jim Richards driving it in the Toshiba Rally Sprint in 1985, Tony McMaster bought it for Graham Vaughan to drive and I got a chance again in the 86 National Capital Rally as Car 0. It was then sold again and again.

It’s had many lives and drivers; In recent years, Gerald Schofield spent a fortune on it fitting a 16 valve Warrior engine, Selholme Gearbox and more. He campaigned it and sold it to Justin Dowell who was last years ARC Champion.

JHV-260 would have had in excess of $600,000 spent on it over its life. A far cry from my purchase of $6000!

By Dallas Dogger

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