MC TC 2446 - Round Australia 1988

Early in 1988 the decision was made to drive Harry Pyle’s TC2446 to the Canberra Natmeet to mark Australia’s bicentennial anniversary. Deidre had work commitments, but Harry and his 22 year old son Philip were able to take 4 weeks annual leave to complete the trip. Here is Philip’s recollection of the journey.

“Contemplating the trip, while looking at a map late one night, it seemed to me that it would not be much further to do a big loop there and back rather than drive directly to Canberra. Besides it would be much more adventurous to follow Highway One right around. Dad agreed with this idea.

Between us, Dad and I checked and serviced the TC in readiness for our big trip and packed in any spares we thought necessary. On March 10th 1988 we set off from Perth with the hood down, in a clockwise direction into the heat of the northwest. This climate detail was factored into our planning. Dad had rigged up an ice container to sit on the seat between us, while Mum had sewn thick wadding into the crowns of our wide-brimmed cotton hats.

This plan saved us from sunstroke as we regularly dunked our hats into the melting ice to keep our heads cool and drank gallons of water.

To help the TC run cool in these conditions, Dad fitted an oil cooler and both water and oil temperature

gauges. Neither us nor the car had any real trouble with the heat. We made good time that first day

despite the howling easterlies creating a serious dust hazard.

Having left Perth at 5.30pm we made our first camp at Geraldton by 10.45pm

From the start our daily schedule was to take off very early, get a few hundred kilometers under our belts, then pull up at a roadhouse for fuel and a hearty breakfast. Somehow this plan enabled us to drive for long hours each day, often 1,000 or more kms, 400 of these at night. We did experience a few problems with our lights in the first couple of night driving episodes. We had no low beam for oncoming traffic; a major hassle.

When the high beam gave out we used the windscreen mounted spotty to find the road edge. Dad got up early on Day 3 and after much fiddling around we realized that an 8amp generator won’t keep up with 120 watts of lights @ 12v (10amps).

Hence as the battery ran low there wasn’t enough voltage to excite the light relays.

This excited us somewhat whenever a huge Mack truck road train passed, doing 120km/hr and our lights went out! The solution was to bypass the relays. We decided to press on in this mode and to keep an eye on the heat of the light switch at night. In Port Hedland we bought a new battery as the original one was well and truly ‘fixed up’.

We were right about the heat. Daily atmospheric temps were 44C, 80C on the bitumen and 50C in the car.

With the tacho constant at 3,200rpm, oil temp reached 72C (70PSI) and water temp 92c. Our 4.2 diff equated to 98kpm or 62 mph for up to 14 hours each day. Removing the front number plate allowed more air flow past the radiator and better cooling.

It was, after all late in March...still summer time in the north of Australia.

We drove into the beautiful tropical mecca of Broome as the sun was setting but resisted the temptation to stay a while and pressed on to Derby where we made camp about 9.30pm. We were pleased there were no mosquitoes. However instead we were harassed by hundreds of 5cm long grasshoppers and zillions of biting, microscopic midgies. “Jaws” we called them. Sleep was spasmodic until the skies opened and a tropical downpour drenched us to the skin and drowned the pesky insects.

A quick hood and tent pitch and we both fell into a deep sleep until 5.30am.

After a long hot drive on day four, we arrived in Kununurra in daylight, where we found a caravan park set in a lush tropical garden. To us it was paradise. After a very welcome shower we soaked in the swimming pool like two lizards drinking, then had a very satisfying meal in a Chinese restaurant.

After our previous night’s experience with a dousing and the unwelcome attention of “Jaws” we pitched

the tent, minus the fly for coolness and slept like logs.

The sights of the Kimberley region at the tail of the “wet season” are truly magnificent.

Wildlife abounds; we saw Jabiru, ibis, many smaller birds, mobs of Brahman cattle that are farmed in this area and unexpectedly, a 3 foot long crocodile lazing beside the road.

We turned north on the Stuart Highway at Katherine and as we drove into Darwin we were greeted by a monsoonal down pour. Arriving at my sister Krishna’s flat, she cooked us a nice meal and put us up for the night.

We spent the next day, doing our laundry and sight-seeing places familiar to us having previously lived in the city until we moved to Perth in late 1975. There were friends and relatives to catch up with as well.

It proved to be a good break from the days of constant driving.

Heading back down the track, south, we decided to call into Daly River. Dad had heard that the priest who married he and Mum was stationed at the mission there. Pulling into the mission we had second thoughts that perhaps this was not such a good idea when we were greeted by a sea of screaming, excited little piccaninnies who climbed all over the car. Fortunately Father Fallon appeared through the scrub, on his bicycle, to see what the fuss was about. We renewed old acquaintances over a cool drink and continued on our way south through Katherine to Mataranka Springs. A swim in the natural hot springs that form a beautiful swimming pool followed by a few beers, was the perfect way to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

We called in briefly, for necessities, to a few small towns traveling south; our plan was to get to the

Devils Marbles before sunset. With this mission accomplished we pressed on to Alice Springs after

driving 1,068 kms that day.

Alice Springs is my birth place. It warranted a nostalgic tour of the town before we headed out to Ayers Rock.

Dad had a friend who ran the Ernest Giles Tavern there. It proved to be a good night; nice people, a few

drinks and a good feed. We were up early the next morning to get out to the rock and climb to the top.

Having come this far, we decided to make a day of it and went on out to the Olgas. While enjoying these unique sites in the centre of Australia, tiny black ants were busy invading our tent and sleeping bags.

A whole tin of repellant finally got rid of most of them.

The ant episode heralded another mishap the following day. I failed to fill the TC tank to the brim with

petrol when we left Ayers Rock, as we had done on the way out. Consequently we ran out of fuel a

few kilometers short of Alice Springs. Needless to say, I won the job of hitch-hiking to the nearest service station where the owner took pity on me, loaned me a jerry can to fill, and then drove me back to where Dad was waiting with the TC. Another long day of driving 1163kms saw us arrive at Barkly Homestead, ½ way between Tennant Creek and Mount Isa, to camp the night.

Early the following morning heading east, I was driving into the biggest orange ball of sunrise ever,

when through the glare I sensed something in the way. Jamming on the brakes I locked up all four wheels just in time to save a more serious collision with a big kangaroo. I must have hit him with the front wheel on the down jump as there was no body damage to the TC. Dad and I aged a few years and the kangaroo looked pretty pissed off as he bounded away.

Not much further along the road, in the middle of nowhere which is a good way to describe this barren stretch of the Barkly Tablelands, the TC started miss firing.

We had completely run out of points gap in the dizzy. These were a new set of points when we left home.

It appears that the hot days up north helped to melt and wear the small red plastic cam follower.

We decided that this was a good time to clean/reset the spark plugs, check compression and lean off the mixture in the rear carby by two flats. Continuing on we found the road surfaces in this part of the world are very poorly maintained. The spoked wheel, timber framed TC felt every hole we fell into.

At Hughenden on day twelve, we woke to the sound and feel of an orchestra of flies doing a tap dance

on our faces. They hastened our start that day. A repeat experience with misfiring a few hours later was caused indirectly by the rough North Queensland road surfaces: the tacho drive reduction gearbox had come loose and whacked the dizzy cap so hard that it cracked; we fitted our spare. Despite these few mishaps the TC was serving us well; already we’d made a few side trips outside our original plan. Apart from the day off in Darwin, we’d driven an additional 200 kms on flooded dirt roads on the Daly River excursion, approx 2,000kms to Ayers Rock via Alice Springs and 700kms to see Cairns. We were making such good time that in Cairns we treated ourselves to a day off and went snorkeling off the Green Island Reef.

After over 2 weeks in fairly remote areas and well away from any MG club support, we were looking forward to connecting up with the MG brotherhood again. In Brisbane, we arranged to do a complete oil change and service, replace 14 spokes and fix the park lights and blinkers at Rod Hiley’s Abingdon Motors workshop. We were made most welcome. This work we carried out was in the company of the famous Lex Davidson TC Racer, Pip Bucknell’s R-type R0259, Max Henderson’s black K3 3004 (ex Frank Betts) and Rod Hiley’s burgundy K3 3016 (ex Otto Stone).

We only get grubby with the best of them!

Peter and Delia Rayment had given us a very comfy bed the previous night after having arranged an MG Car Club BBQ at their house, fed us like kings then escorted us to the NSW border where the 4 of us had a picnic lunch. Dad and I continued on. I was driving when a policeman pulled us over and asked me to blow into the bag! This was my first such experience, but it was all good and we had a friendly chat in the pouring rain. From this point we made a 4hr high speed dash of 400kms, with the hood down, to Forster where we camped the night.

Domestic duties took a little time the next morning and while the laundry and tent were drying we visited some old Northern Territory friends for morning tea. With a clean kit of clothes (luckily) we drove into a most

unexpected welcome from the Hunter Region MGCC. In Raymond Terrace we were met by members in

7 MGs and were escorted to a park in Newcastle for a BBQ with many others from their club. They’d arranged for a TV crew to be present, so interviews on camera were in order. We were royally hosted that night by MG owners Peter and Zel Wolf.

Traveling south, we called in to see Ron and Lindy Taylor in Gosford who very kindly offered us a meal and a bed for the night. Then on the Sydney Freeway, just past the toll booth was a red TC on the side of the road..our old TC mate Bill Newling from previous NatMeets had received a call from Ron Taylor that we were on our way. Whilst in Sydney we visited the Redheads at Sportsparts where we bought a few necessary spares i.e some new wiper blades and some shock absorber bushes. In Sydney we were in Dad’s happy hunting grounds where he had enjoyed a misspent youth (his words). We spent the next two nights in Sydney staying with my grandmother and took the opportunity to catch up with other relatives and friends too. We also found time to visit Stuart Ratcliffe’s MG factory and had a look at his superb work.

I was generously presented with an original air canister for my TC. Down the road we visited John Mullins’ incredible workshop where he gave us a guided tour. We saw racks and racks of new body panels for the monocoque MGs as well as brand new body shells. Amazing! It was time to make a dash to Mascot airport to catch up with Mum who had flown in to pick up a transit flight to Canberra.

It was a nice surprise for her, though I suspect she may have been silently critical about our basic

laundry skills. Later that afternoon we arrived in Canberra in time to pick Mum up from the airport.

The Canberra National Meeting that Easter was a 4 day weekend. It was great fun socially and competitively and a huge success for the organizing committee. The Canberra MGCC were hosting Jean Kimber-Cook and husband Dennis from UK; Jean being the daughter of MG founder Cecil Kimber and a high profile member of MGCC of UK. The whole place was a buzz. Dad and I were treated like celebrities too with everyone wanting to talk to us about our trip experiences. Mum was generously loaned an MG Midget to compete with, by Margaret Brown one of the main Natmeet organizers.

We were honoured to be presented with a “Longest Distance Award” certificate by Jean Kimber-Cook and she graciously signed the front of each of our Wilson McComb MG books.

Not only was this MG meeting being held in Canberra during Australia’s bicentennial year but 1988 would have been Cecil Kimber’s 100th birthday. The Natmeet committee too made a very nice presentation to Dad and I in honour of our trip.

Continuing our around Australia loop we called into Winton and had a look at the historic race track.

This will be the base for the 1989 MG Natmeet and I already had it in mind to drive my own TC over for this event.

In Melbourne our plan was to call on 3 MG businesses, Antique Tyres, Ballingalls Moss Motors and Hillman Spares.

We bought a handy variety of second hand spares from the latter and pressed on through the horrendous

Melbourne traffic to Geelong. Here at the site of the historic Eastern Beach Sprints I had a go at the standing quarter in a fully laden TC! The TC had competed at this historic Sprint site during the MG Nat Meet in 1983.

Next stop saw us experience the coldest camp site yet at Mt Gambier, SA. Checking the TC oil level at our next breakfast stop we were horrified to see it had dropped to half! So far the car had been using half a pint every 1000km at constant 3200RPM. The cause was a leak in a joint on the oil cooler tank. Then and there we re-plumbed the oil lines back to the original; there would be no more hot weather on the return journey.

In Adelaide we drove straight to Bazzica’s MG workshop, put the TC on his hoist and gave it a lube.

That night after a delicious pasta meal, it was beer and port at Shelley and Bazz’s lovely home until 2.15am with the South Australian T Register guys ! We rose quietly the next morning and drove off with thumping heads, bleeding eyeballs and the trots (Dad’s words) and neither of us spoke a word , but we suffered in silence for 300km until we stopped for a big breakfast. This was pay-back for the fantastic T Register Meeting/party the night before.

Our drive across the Nullarbor was uneventful. Until we reached Norseman, we were travelling some of the time with Stephen Ford, a young Perth MGB owner going home from the Natmeet. Since we were doing Highway One, Dad and I turned south to Esperance then on to Manjimup, where we stayed the night with Scott Mackie, the best man from my wedding and his family. The following day was Dad’s birthday so we had a bit of a sleep in, ate a hearty breakfast then drove on to Waroona to have afternoon tea with John Bowles and his Mum and Dad. En route we were “buzzed” by my mate Scott flying his crop-duster aircraft.

That added a bit of excitement to the day! We turned into the driveway at home that afternoon, to be

greeted by loud cheers and clapping from the TCOC members who Mum had invited over for our arrival and a slap up BBQ. It was a good feeling to successfully complete what we had set out to do.

The TC came through with flying colours.

Our trip totaled 21,600Kms. Two men in a TC with the hood down, driving for 21 days of the 4 weeks

away, might sound like a recipe for tension and dispute. Strangely the opposite was the case: obviously

the charm and rhythm of the indomitable TC 2446 prevailed.

Philip Pyle

3 August 2011