By Jackson Russell
A Kilmore resident has returned from the road trip of a lifetime, taking his 1955 FJ Holden around Australia as part of the Repco Reliability Retrial 2019.
Mark Abela spent 28 days driving through bush, beaches and desert alongside co-driver Chris Orr in the same car that had travelled in the first Repco Reliability Trial in 1979.
This year’s event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial, and was won by Peter Brock’s Holden Commodore VB with two more Commodores close behind in second and third.
Mr Abela’s FJ finished 85th in 1979 but was even more impressive in 2019, finishing second overall.
Mr Abela said he found the car in a shed in Kilmore 19 years ago and had to have it.
“When the bloke opened the shed, I just about fell over with shock when I saw that car sitting there basically exactly how it finished the race,” he said.
“It’s still got the original stickers on it and it’s still got the motor they used. It’s exactly the same.”
“As a kid I knew about the rally because I was a Holden nut and I remember looking nightly at the papers and watching the TV looking for where the Commodores were and where Brocky was.
“When I saw the car, I knew what it was and where it was from and I just had to have it.
“When I found it, it was just meant to be that I was going to do the rally again in that car and take it around for a second time.”
The four-week event started in Melbourne on August 5, 40 years to the day the 1979 trial started, and travelled west to Perth, then to Darwin, inland to Mt Isa, across the top to Cairns, south to Townsville, inland all the way to Bathurst, then to Lakes Entrance and back to Melbourne.
Mr Abela said the trial was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It was exhausting but exciting and we got just a glimpse of the country every day,” he said.
Despite the classic Holden being more than 60 years old, it made it through the 19,000km journey and finished second overall in the event, which included many days of more than 1000km along with some timed dirt sections thrown in for good measure.
“The car was amazing. There were a lot of lucky stories with the car. We probably had about five or six minor issues but they were all right time, right place,” Mr Abela said.
“I just wanted to finish the race but the further it went on, the more we knew we were pretty competitive and how unbelievable that old car was.”
Mr Abela said Mr Orr was the perfect companion for the journey.
“As far as having a co-driver and co-navigator with me, I couldn’t have picked anyone better,” he said.
“We were going through Queensland and we lost an axle at 70km/h, the wheel and axle came out, we had no brakes, no gears and we just had to drag to a stop.
“Even then, we were lucky enough to roll into a bus stop and we had probably 20 cars pass us.
“With Chris’ knowledge, we fixed it up and away we went. Twenty minutes later we passed all those cars while they stopped for lunch.