Leading Australian rally photographer, Stuart Bowes, is the first entry in the new Rally of the Heartland, a classic event to be held in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia next June.
Bowes will drive a magnificently prepared 1975 Mercedes Benz 450SLC in the event, to be directed by Lightforce Rally SA clerk of course, Ivar Stanelis.
"Nothing could make me happier than to be the first entry for this new event," Bowes said.
"Ivar has been a stalwart of SA rallying for decades, he's put his heart and soul into the sport and I decided it would be good to jump in and put some weight behind his effort to expand classic rallying throughout Australia."
Having spent the last 25 years travelling the world covering the WRC, F1 and the ARC, the now recently "retired" Adelaide-based motorsport photographer decided to get back behind the wheel and committed to have a Mercedes Benz 450SLC built.
Early on the decision was made to keep it all in SA, so Bowes quickly assigned the project to local car builder Garry Kirk.
"Garry's work is first class and he's got a proven track record building and maintaining cars used on international long distance rallies and the Dakar, so he was the logical choice.
"The years pass so quickly. I haven't competed since the 1980s and I feel like I've spent a lifetime of watching others, so I thought it was about time I immersed myself in my passion and do a few things before I was too old!” Bowes said.
Stuart Bowes' magnificent Mercedes Benz 450SLC.His beautiful 450SLC has been built specifically for long distance classic gravel rallies and comes complete with air conditioning!
"There was no point building another Datsun 1600 or Ford Escort. I was never going to beat the fellas who've been doing it for years, so I decided to go down an alternative route and select a car for comfort, however, the performance improvements soon crept in."
The car was completely stripped to a bare shell before welding in the hand-crafted roll cage. Minimal strengthening was required - remember Mercedes twice won the Ivory Coast Rally in pretty well standard trim, and finished on the podium in Kenya, Argentina and New Zealand rounds of the World Rally Championship.
The engine was improved, AP Racing brakes all round, Murray Coote suspension, ATL fuel cell, Hollinger 5-speed gearbox (the 3-speed auto was a 'shocker'), Motec, all new wiring, etc. And three years later the car was wheeled out of Garry's workshop.
"The finished job has exceeded even my high expectations, and I can't wait to hit the roads in the mid north of SA next year.
"Classic rallying is booming around the world. I've looked at a number of events overseas and it's where the growth in our sport is coming from.
“The older cars and drivers need a home too and classic rallying is it. As much as we all love the action of the WRC, participation is now pretty well out of reach. It's become an exclusive club. I have no issue with that, it's what makes it desirable and marketable, but equally so, there are plenty of us who would just like a 'spirited drive in the bush' and events like Rally of The Heartland are just the thing,” Bowes added.
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