For many years the Walrus had harbored a desire to do a long outback trip in a vintage car and the idea of driving to that Australian icon, the Birdsville Races was chosen. The 1933 SS1 was considered a good reliable basis having completed many interstate trips. It is original in appearance but runs a 3.5 litre 1940's Jaguar motor, 5 speed g/box and 3.77 diff gears. This car has survived use on a lot on country roads and it handles the non-bitumen conditions easily but does not like corrugations due to the short firm, sports style suspension. It does have a bad habit of stopping outside country pubs but this was not considered such a bad thing as it's thirsty in the out back..We decided to prepare the car and give it a go anyway.
'Preparation involved removing the lever arm shockers and fitting telescopic shockers to the front, cutting the front leaf spring rubber bump stops by about a centimeter to give a whopping 5 centimeter front suspension travel. The points and timing were re-set. A spare set of 16-inch wire wheels which had 6.70 x 16 Light Truck tyres was put on the car. This tyre size matched the 1938 Ford wheels on our 1940 Tear Drop caravan we were going to tow. The trunk was filled with all sorts of spares that we might need. The van had been purchased some 6 months earlier and was original with a wooden chassis and frame, covered with a maisonite skin.
Due to our uneasiness about the van surviving the trip, we attached a steel sub frame to the wooden chassis rails. (Hopefully this would alleviate having to burn the van should it not survive) We luckily noticed several breaks in the main leaves of the van springs, so they were replaced with new trailor springs. A bit of rewiring gave us the option of plugging in an Engil beer fridge, plus other attachments.
Some other friends expressed interest in coming along, and they were going to travel in a 1933 Dodge Fire truck (ex S.Aust. Sepplents Winery) an original 1925 Chrysler that had been "uted" a long time ago plus a 1924 Maxwell, that had also been "uted" and runs Chrysler Royal V8 running gear. These vehicles were all from S.Aust.
We left Bendigo and traveled to Berriwillock for the first night. After a couple of hours and a couple of beers we became used to all the cars rattles and towing of the van. We took back roads where possible and this took us up through the sandy roads of Wyperfield National Park to Pinaroo and then Loxton in S.A. Here we purchased some copper and fibre washers to fix a petrol leak on the rear carby. It was here the car started to play up and mysteriously stopped outside the historical pub at Overland Corner and after a night of liquid enjoyment, the Mauler forgot to tell the Walrus to disconnect the fridges, which meant absolutely no battery in the morning. We knocked up a farmer's wifes husband who helped us out with a "jump start" and we pushed on to meet the others at Spalding in central South Australia.
Whilst we had all arrived at our mid-day rondezvue, the Dodge Fire Truck had encountered mystery water pump troubles, and was leaking considerable amounts of water. A decision was made to turn around, and head back to Adelaide, hopefully do some repairs and catch up. So in the cool of the evening, with a container placed on the bonnet and siphoning water into the motor, the 200 km return trip was made. In Adelaide, the problem was found to be a sheared water pump shaft and with no spare available at short notice, a heartbreaking decision was made to abandon the trip.
For the next night we broke down outside the Craddock pub and were entertained by the wanker barman trying to impress the pompous Volvo contingment from Adelaide. It was amusing in a pathetic way.
Traveling up through the Flinders Rangers and it was here we started to experience bad road corrugations. We were down to 30 km/hr and being shaken to pieces whilst the Chrysler with its 23-inch wheels, gaiter like, long suspension travel and poofy armchair seats soaked up the road. It was becoming clear why "pommy" cars have not survived too well in Australia's outback conditions. Once again the car mysteriously stopped for quite a length of time out side the North Blinman Hotel. However here a friendship was instigated with some other patrons ("Shark" from Duetchland and his Aussie mate) who we were to run into many more times over the next few days.
Our next night was at Farina where we got our only puncture (on the van) whilst in the camping ground. It was ere the Mauler had to set straight a shiney arsed, corduroyed dressed toffy dickhead who criticized us for taking such a car into the outback. At Maree, we enjoyed warm showers at the caravan park plus (wouldn't you know it) the car played up in front of the hotel again.
Maree is designated the start of the Birdsville Track and 550 km of dirt, dust, loose rock and corrugations. We drove the SS with the side curtains off and were taking some dust but the van was encased in dust and took a lot through the door gaps, which were not a good seal. The car was traveling excellently, but suffering from the corrugations. Along here, the front headlights started rattling loose together with the front bumper bar which nearly fell off. One of the bolts holding the windscreen had fallen out and we now had it held in with wire. The car ran a temperature of around 75 degrees whilst traveling but would percolate when stopped. After numerous attempts at securing the loose headlight, we took it off.
We camped at Mungerannie, and spent the evening in the pub being social. Again friendships were forming with other like travelers and it was here we met "Chainsaw Dennis' his cork head mate and the rest of their clan. This "mate" didn't have a personality so spent all his time imitating Rodney Rude.
The Birdsville track travels through the Stony Desert and for approx 150 km there is nothing but rock from horizon to horizon. The road here is about 15 metres wide with (sometimes) up to 6 tyre furrows to guide you along. The alternative is to forge your way through loose rock about 6 inches deep. With a clearance of about 5 inches, the SS and in particular the mufflers took a hiding. They ending up being a concave shape with rock punctures on the leading ends. The Chrysler had became hard to restart when hot, but after investigation, a change of coil solved that problem.
We arrived at Birdsville and naturally headed straight for the pub to wash away the dust of the last 2 days. The intrigue and amazement of three old cars having made the journey there, was enough to empty the pub of all the patrons. It was here that the Mauler met his name sake, the Birdsville Mauler, for the first time. After much answering of questions and beer, we headed out of town to find a camping spot on the river. We confirmed the rumors that the races had been cancelled due to the "Horse Flu" epidemic.
After setting up camp, the van was emptied of all its dusty contents; everything cleaned and then put back. The car was checked over and repairs made. The inside boot skin had sheared all the pop rivets leaving the boot to fall inwards and was resting on the petrol tank under it. The petrol filler cap had also lost its seal and dust had been entering the petrol tank. The grill had developed 4 seperate stress cracks about an inch long. The rubber in one engine mount had broken through. The van required re-glueing of several doors and some parts of the maisonite skin had parted from the frame, which was in turn, starting to part from the chassis. We used up our liquid nails, and lots of nuts, bolts and mudguard washers to secure it back together. We tried to buy some more liquid nails at the Birdsville Store but the lady replied "what the fuck's Liquid Nails" !!
During the next two days at Birdsville we went to Fred Brophy's Boxing Tent and watched the hopefuls from the public "do them selves proud" Our mate Chainsaw Dennis had a go and beat the boxer on points. What a hero! It turned out the Birdsville Mauler who we met at the pub, was from the traveling boxing troupe and after much ado and shit stirring from the commentator and the floor, "Mauler verses Mauler" became a match for tomorrow night's boxing. Details of the match are some what sketchy due to the liquid encouragement that was consumed all day. However large doses of Fosters courage and much pushing got the Mauler to the ring.
Now these matches are supposed to last 3 rounds but it was somewhere near the start of the first round and with a wink in his eye, the boxing Mauler let fly and clocked our Mauler fair and square, once in the guts, and once in the eye. The Feral Mauler thought that this was a breach of the "gentleman's agreement" they had, to whit, that no serious beating shall take place, and ran to his corner and chucked in his own towel. The crowd booed, but fuck it, they weren't the ones being bashed!
Street amusement in the absence of formal racing entertainment centered around the pub, in fact everything seemed to. With cans of beer at $5 ea. we filled the floor wells of the SS with ice and beer and used the cars interior as an Esky. We were told the crowd numbers were less than half of other years. Of the vehicles there, there were two other cars, our three vintage cars and the other 1500 or so vehicles were 4WD. We gave the large sand dune "Big Red" a go and managed about two thirds of the way up, before we beached ourselves with our low clearance and skinny tyres.
We decided to leave a day early and try to beat the crowd back down the road. We received advice of an inner road that reduced the first 250 km by about 50km. But more importantly, by passed about half of the rock and corrugations. This road turned out to be quite sandy but well worth it. We were back on the corrugations of the birdsville Track when the exhaust system totally sheared off about two inches below the manifold flange. After drilling holes in the pipe and with more wire (wonderful stuff) we pieced it back together and pushed on.
A bit further on we took off the remaining loose headlight. Along the way, there were many 4WD's pulled over with punctures and broken back (and the occasional side) windows due to rocks bouncing off their trailers. However it must be said they were traveling at up to 100+ km/hr. Our speeds of 20 - 60 km/hr over the rock and corrugations seemed slow, but then we never got a puncture on any of the cars on the road for all of the trip. At Maree we had the exhaust welded up.
At Farina we left the other two cars and headed off towards Port Augusta to look at and compare notes with the only 1933 SS1 Coupe in Australia. This car is in the process of being restored and should be on the road in a year or two. We stayed in the back yard of the Toy Museum at Wilmington and were at home with the 27 Land Rovers and numerous vintage Feral Dodge cars and utes, that he has collected.
In Adelaide we purchased some other headlight "buckets" (with steel supports) and grafted them on to our headlight shells. After 5 days we again had headlights. Following this day of rest and vehicle check over, we headed towards home via. Birdwood and Mt Barker. We visited our traveling friends who had by now returned to their homes, and viewed their car and truck collections. The headlight repairs had again failed, so we threw logic to the wind and with a borrowed welder, welded the non compatable parts together as best as was possible.
Part of our route home saw us on the highway between Melbourne and Adelaide where we did a petrol consumption test. Traveling at 90 - 100 km/hr with the tear drop caravan behind we were averaging 16.0 mpg. At Keith we left the bitumen and took gravel and "4WD only" back roads and visited some more friends. We then wandered our way across Victoria to Bendigo.
Overall the car ran fantastic, but everything without a spring washer or a lock nut on it came loose. The low clearance and limited suspension made for hard traveling but we made it and have stories to tell and memories for ever. We covered just on 4000 Km, with approximately half of that on dirt, in the 15 days away.
Da Mauler and da Walrus