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Barry Ferguson is one of the legends of Australian rallying, with eight state championships, two Southern Cross Rallies and a Bathurst 500 win to his credit. Adept behind the wheel in anything from Volkswagen Beetles to Mitsubishi Lancers and Holden Commodores, Ferguson’s story is one worth telling. Some years back, another Aussie rally legend, John Bryson, wrote this piece on Ferguson’s career exclusively for RallySport Magazine. * * * * * After the 1964 Ampol Trial I was working for the Volkswagen people in NSW, moving cars from storage at Lidcombe to the sales outlet at Fivedock. I soon realised that any VW Beetle that could race from Lidcombe to Fivedock in under seven minutes was a “good one” – not that we delivery drivers EVER told the new owners how good their purchase was! Consequently in 1966, when asked to navigate for Barry Ferguson, I “knew all about Beetles” – or so I thought. All through the 1960s the King of New South Wales rallying was Barry Ferguson, and Beetles with BJF-555 registration were the cars to try and catch. This was the period when rally cars were basically standard and events were generally 480 or 800 kilometres long with the majority of each event being competitive. Timing then was to the forward minute and stars like Barry Ferguson could often be up to 10 minutes ahead of the second placed car.

Barry Ferguson drives his Volkswagen Beetle in a Rothmans Rally in the 1960s.

So, it was quite an honour when I was asked to take the left hand seat and embark on my first event with BJF. There was no fuss, he idled the car up to the start of the competitive and waited. I was given the control card while watching the second hand sweep up to “GO”. One split second after wave-off I knew that I didn’t know anything about VWs at all. The speedo swept up to 120 klicks – and stayed there. The motor was at a constant full noise while Barry waved the gearstick in the direction of whatever gear was needed. Regrettably on that occasion I made the odd navigating error – mainly because I couldn’t accept the fact that Ferguson was so quick. Ferguson can drive, and navigate anything, anywhere. He is also quite a racing driver. Armstrong’s 500 mile race at Bathurst in 1963 for stock standard cars (the forerunner of the Bathurst 1000) had an unforgettable class battle, the dice for the class lead lasting the whole race. Barry and ARDC President Bill Ford fought the Don Holland/Lindsay Little Mini right to the wire and Barry won with a last corner pass that brought the nation to its feet in admiration. The Mini was quicker down Conrod Straight so Barry had to make sure he slip-streamed every lap. Amazingly, the Beetle could out corner and out brake the Mini so he had to wait for the last lap to come out of the ‘tow’ and use this ability. Public feedback on this VW - Mini dice was so great that it helped Channel Seven (the telecasters on the day) decide to cover the event the following year and from then on.

Ferguson and navigator Dave Johnson avenged their 1966 defeat by winning the Southern Cross Rally.

Actually, the most incredible statistic of a career which commenced in 1956 is that Barry Ferguson has only retired on five occasions - three times because of mechanical failure and two because of driver over-exuberance. Like most of the rally world in the 60s, he prepared his own vehicles until becoming a “works” driver. Barry John Ferguson was born in Goulburn NSW on August 7, 1938. His father ran the local swimming pool and young Ferguson was educated at Goulburn High School where he did well and went on to become an industrial chemist with Australian Iron and Steel in Wollongong. The best part of this job at Wollongong was the drive home from work. He would hit the start of Macquarie Pass about midnight and press on as hard as his Fiat 1100 would go, with the driver’s window open. It had to be open to hear the glorious sound of the Fiat motor as he wrung the living daylights out of the machine up the mountain and through the many cuttings and hairpins. He has always loved motoring and exploring any machine’s limits. Being an enthusiast it was logical for him to join the Goulburn Automobile Club in 1954 where he started to learn the craft of driving in trials and rallies and of long distance driving on outback tracks. In those days rally cars were standard, roads primitive and the target times ALMOST impossible to make. Along the way were many gates as public roads threaded through private property and Barry’s early events saw him as the gate opener in a crew which consisted of three. This was not an un-important job as critical seconds could be gained by an active and clever gate opener and closer. Ferguson went along with Bruce Parlett, who owned a Citroen Light 15, which gave the future champion his first competitive run and respect for the marque.

Another Southern Cross win occurred in 1970, this time Ferguson was at the wheel of a GTR Torana.

After becoming a legendary gate-opener, Barry moved into Stan Orton’s Peugeot 203 as navigator and then teamed with Bob Murray (VW) and John Sendall (Peugeot 403). Like most new to motor sport, Ferguson drove in club events and learnt the lore of rallying from the left hand seat, but it was not to be long before he realised that he could hunt a VW 1200 along as quickly, or better, than most of his peers. Opportunity knocked in 1962 when he became an Arnotts Biscuits country representative, based in Goulburn, and was responsible for most of the southern mountains and western slopes areas. What a job - station wagon supplied, fuel paid for and many interesting back roads to learn! Winter was the best time for practising when snow or ice would close the roads to most motorists. But Barry was the exception. The station wagon stayed home, out came his trusty personal VW and he did his regular calls because it was important that country people got their Arnotts biscuits! (He was subsequently nicknamed ‘the Bickie Baron’.) To this day Barry relishes the skills he learned to move swiftly on greasy, icy roads and with the satisfaction of being completely in control of a car at the limit. At this time the Goulburn Automobile Club was a tower of motoring strength and the club had all the southern mountains as their playground. It should be remembered that shire roads were used for trials and rallies and after dark it was rare to see another motorist.

In good company: Ferguson competed in the 1968 London-Sydney Marathon with (L to R) Dave Liddle, Doug Chivas, David McKay, George Reynolds and Doug Whiteford.

During the early 60s, rally organisers, such as the Australian Sporting Car Club’s Evan Green and Bob Selby-Wood, realised the purpose of rallying was to reward the driver while testing the performance and reliability of the car. Barry was a strong supporter of this theory. His efforts with a stock standard VW were rewarded by assistance from the Australian VW importers, LNC (Larke, Neave and Carter) through the company’s executive Bruce Fraser. Germany didn’t seem interested in vehicle modification so Fraser and Ferguson cobbled up a Beetle with a 1500cc VW industrial motor that was used in compressors, fire-fighting pumps and Pioneer concrete mixers! Many events were dominated by this standard-looking Beetle for the next couple of years. The car’s legendary traction and the ability for torsion bars to soak up punishment were now joined with startling performance – for the time. In 1966 Barry was promoted by Arnotts to Field Sales Manager for Newcastle and northern NSW. Luckily, this posting took in the future Total Oil Southern Cross Rally territory. Development of the Beetle continued, including conversion from 6-volt electrics to 12-volt by Newcastle friend and auto electrician, Ron Thompson. Ron also introduced him to air-craft landing lights which became the auxiliary driving light benchmark of the era.

Size was no problem to Ferguson. Here his Monaro heads to fourth place (with Roger Bonhomme) in the 1969 ‘Cross.

As elementary as it may seem now, relative to the day, Barry introduced bigger engines, 12-volt electrics and disc brakes to VW in Australia even before the factory did. He lifted the standards for rally car lighting and worked with event directors to develop “drivers” events and tighten competition. 1969 saw Ferguson marry Newcastle school teacher Mary Pollard and subsequently three sons were born – two of whom are into cars (“spending money”), the other into landscaping (“making money”) as he puts it. By the time Barry moved onto the Holden Dealer Team under Harry Firth in 1969, the Volkswagen was on steroids, featuring Maico disc brakes, a limited slip differential and an awesome 1600cc power plant developed by VW dealers, Worrals of Toorak, Victoria. This car continued the VW domination and went on to win the 1967 Southern Cross Rally against a full works Cooper ‘S’ team from BMC in England. It would take too long to summarise the long list of titles and event wins that Barry and his navigators (Tony Denham, Dave Johnson, John Hall, Lindsay Adcock, Garry Connelly and, on one occasion, a young Colin Bond) have achieved, but over a dozen years he won every major event in NSW, except the two excellent rallies run from Quirindi. He was third in the first, and then second in the second one and was out for a win in the next one, but it did not eventuate. After running the Holden Dealer Team’s formidable 350 Monaro, and then a Torana XUI with which he achieved a 71 ‘Cross win, an offer came to try the Southern Cross Rally in a Galant, which led to his career with Mitsubishi. Ferguson had always had the respect of Doug Stewart (CAMS NSW president for 10 years and CAMS National President for three years). Ferguson repaid Stewart’s faith in him with a third outright in the Southern Cross Rally which followed on from the secure second placings in 1973, ‘75 and ‘76. With second place in sight in 1974, a computer chip failed with just 20 kilometres to go. As a personal aside, one of my most memorable moments was driving into Port Macquarie and the last control of 1973 ‘Cross with our four Mitsubishi Lancers in line abreast, Andrew Cowan, Barry Ferguson, Doug Chivas and Joginder Singh the drivers. Barry was on my left and he said, waving across to the eight men in four cars, “What a team”. Indeed, it was. In those days team tactics were never discussed but it was always obvious that the lead driver would “go for the doctor” and the back up drivers would press on ‘safely fast’ so there would be a competitive car available if the star team got into trouble. It was bad luck for Barry that Andrew Cowan and I were the “star” team and we didn’t get into trouble! Even so, ‘safely fast’ was pretty quick in any Southern Cross Rally. There were a number of factory drivers that Barry rallied against (and beat) including Rauno Aalton, Shekar Mehta, Roger Clark, Joginder Singh, Harry Kallstrom, Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Makinen, Hannu Mikkola and so on, and so any Australian driver who finished in the top 10 against these drivers was a world-class rally ace.

Somewhere in the Flinders Ranges, Ferguson punts the big Monaro towards the finish of the 1968 London – Sydney Marathon.

Passion and the sheer love of motor sport is the driving force behind Barry Ferguson. “It’s no good if you don’t enjoy the competition,” he told me. “You have to do your best, enjoy the event and if someone is better, then good luck to him.” Team work has always been important to him, from his job as navigator in the early years to the driver of today, and Barry is a real team player. In the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon, Barry crewed a Monaro with Dave Johnson and Doug Chivas, but the brakes weren’t up the Barry’s speed and they finished 11th. The Citroen he shared with Doug Stewart and Jim Reddiex in the 1977 Marathon did a little better with ninth placing. I have known Barry from the early years. Seeing his performances, he seems to have enjoyed every event he ever went in, regardless of type. Trials, rallies, races, Australian Safaris, London to Sydney Marathons and Rallycross have all been Barry’s forte.

Barry Ferguson is highly regarded as one of Australia's most versatile driver.

I asked him about his most enjoyable or memorable events and the list was incredible. Highlights that stood out were the life-long friends he has made in the sport, competing in six decades of motor sport, winning eight State Championships, taking two Southern Cross rally wins (in ’67, ’70), the two Marathons, plus being second in two Round Australias – in ’64 and ’79 and, the re-run of the 1953 Redex Trial. Yes, motor sport is a continuing factor in Barry Ferguson’s life and he competes for the sheer pleasure of doing so. He likes historic type rallies where the machinery is more realistic for the average driver to own and prepare. We all know that rallying has a unique character in that people from any walk of life can compete fiercely against each other, yet, at the drop of a hat, help each other. Rallying is a sport, and the aim of the game is to win, if you can. And, if you can’t, then the aim is to still have a damn good time. “I hope to be having this sort of a good time for many years to come,” Barry adds.
  • Story by John Bryson

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