An 87-year-old Australian has won the world’s longest and toughest challenge for historic cars, driving a 45-year-old uniquely-Aussie Leyland P76. It’s the third victory in the classic car section of the Peking-to-Paris Motor Challenge for Gerry Crown and his co-driver and car builder Matt Bryson. They won in the P76 in 2013, when Crown was ‘only’ 81, and in 2010 in a 1964 EH Holden. The following report is from Geoff Harris. This year’s 36-day event began on June 2 from the Great Wall outside Beijing, the capital of China although the old name Peking is still used for the event, and finished 36 days later – and after 13,695km – at the Place Vendome in Paris yesterday. Crown and Bryson in the 1974 4.4-litre V8 Leyland P76 won the classic category from Americans David and Susan Danglard in a 1973 Porsche 911 and another American pair, Chris and Tjerk Bury, in a 1972 Datsun 240Z. The vintage category was won by Graham and Marina Goodwin from Britain in a 1925 Bentley Super Sports. Leyland’s P76 was a polarising car, widely derided as a lemon but winner of a Wheels magazine Car of the Year award and with a cult following to this day. It was introduced, with the slogan ‘Anything but average’, as a rival to the Holden Kingswood, Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant. Only 18,000 were built from 1973 until 1975, when the first oil crisis increased fuel prices dramatically and curbed demand for larger cars. The field of more than 100 classic and vintage cars in this year’s Peking-to-Paris travelled from China through Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Belgium and into France. It was the seventh Peking-to-Paris event – it’s now held every three years after first being run in 1907 – and was open to cars produced before 1976.

Bryson Snr. has always said that the P76 was the best long-distance rally car he has seen.

A gala prize-giving was held last night at the Intercontinental hotel on Rue Scribe in Paris. A report on the Endurance Rally Association’s website, endurorally.com, says: “Top of the bill … was Gerry ‘Triple’ Crown, who along with Matt Bryson have both made history and made the Peking-to-Paris Motor Challenge their own”. “Their massive Leyland P76, sometimes known as the ‘Time Machine’, was built by Matt and his intimate knowledge of the car must surely have been a large part of their success over the years. “Gerry said that ‘our third win in the Leyland was the toughest yet, but it was also very enjoyable. What we really needed though was a few more 87-year-olds in the field to keep me company’. “I must also congratulate the organisers for keeping the spirit of the rally alive – it’s the blue-riband event of the historic world and it needs to be tough.”

Phillip and Lynda Blunden were one of nine Aussie teams in their EH Holden.

Bryson – son of John Bryson, who was co-driver to motoring journalist Evan Green in the 1974 London to Munich World Cup Rally in a P76 – added that “driving with Gerry is always a pleasure, no matter how hard it is”. Bryson senior was an accomplished rally competitor on both sides of the car, with his illustrious record including three victories in the Southern Cross Rally and significant placings in the 1968 and 1977 London-to-Sydney marathons. An Australian rallying Hall of Famer, Bryson has always said that the P76 was the best long-distance rally car he has seen and he convinced Crown it was the way to go in historic endurance rallying. Bob Watson, an Australian rally champion and fellow Hall of Famer, announced the latest success of Crown and Matt Bryson on Facebook last night, calling it “a superb effort” and adding: “Party time when they get back to Australia!!!” Commenting on Watson’s post, Kaye Kilsby pointed out that there were nine Aussies among the 20 crew members in the top 10 cars, with David and Steve Gainer fifth in a Datsun 240Z, John Henderson and Lui MacLennan sixth in a Volvo 144DL, Phillip and Lynda Blunden eighth in an EH Holden and Paul Hickman ninth in a Bristol 403. Story credit: Geoffrey Harris and Motoring.com.au
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