London to Sydney Car Marathon
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London to Sydney Car Marathon

The London to Sydney Car Marathon 2004, apart from the London start and the Opera House finish it was virtually an all-new route.

India was colourful and fascinating and the route across the remote Australian outback a revelation.

Scotsman Andrew Cowan in a Hillman Hunter won the original London-Sydney Marathon in 1968. This was history-making, 98 cars set off from London to drive half way around the world, 56 of them survived to see the famous Opera House.

The London-Sydney Marathon is an icon event - it's the event that needs no explanation. What made it special in 1968 was that all 98 cars taking part were showroom cars of the day.

In 2004 we celebrate the Spirit of '68 by running the event for today's showroom cars. You can do what Andrew Cowan did 36 years ago - take any car up to 2-litres (no 4wd, no turbo) and come on the definitive adventure marathon rally.

In '68 Paddy Hopkirk was second in an Austin 1800, third place went to Australian Ian Vaughan in a Ford Falcon. In 2004 their modern equivalent - Holden Astra, a Ford Focus, VW Golf, BMW, Honda, Peugot 306, Proton Satria... the list is endless.

The Route was a FIA Long Distance Rally with closed road special stages timed to the second. Daily distances are between 400 - 600 kms with two, sometimes three, demanding stages, anything from 10 to 40 kms long.

The European leg crosses the channel from its London start and winds through rural France, over the Alps to pick up some of the famous World Championship San Remo rally stages. Then down the leg of Italy along part of the legendary Mille Miglia route and then an overnight boat across the Adriatic to Greece to tackle stages from the Acropolis Rally. From there to Turkey, down the Gallipoli peninsula and across the Dardanelles and then an airlift from Ankara where a pair of giant Russian Antonov cargo planes lift the entire entry to Cochin in India.

The Indian leg was six days in the relative cool of the hill country amongst tea and coffee plantations. Overnight stops in smaller towns away from the hurly burly of major cities, the region is redolent of the distant days of the Raj and there's time to visit the famous Maharajas' palace at Mysore. Another Antonov airlift moves the cars to Australia while a chartered passenger plane lifts the competitors.

The Australian leg started in the heart of the ‘Red Centre’ at Alice Springs. This is Outback Australia at its romantic best. Started with an overnight stop at Ayers Rock where at sunset the rock is said to change colour seven times.

Through remote and eerily quiet privately owned properties which are measured in square miles, the owners wouldn't know what an acre or a hectare was if you offered them one!

To Coober Pedy, the Opal mining centre, where some of the hotels are underground to escape the fierce heat of the summer. June is the cool time and from here we were into real Outback country across the Sturt and Stony Desert to the first of our own specially built Marathon Camps under canvas.

In the real Outback there are no hotels. So we've created our own camps.

We followed famous stock routes along which years ago cattle drovers moved herds of a thousand head from the Northern Territory down to the slaughter yards of South Australia. Stop for a drink at the most famous of all Outback pubs, the Birdsville Hotel. On to the second night under canvas at Windora where we left the bright red soil and head towards Brisbane and the lush green of the coast. The coastal run took us through banana and sugar plantations to the finish, and that spectacular view of the world's most famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Everyone who made it to the finish were entitled to feel as thrilled as Andrew Cowan did 36 years ago.

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