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Australian rallying legend, Greg Carr, made his name in Ford Escorts, but most wouldn’t be aware that the Canberran hit the big time in Datsun 1600s. Greg Carr takes up the story ….. * * * * * "I've never been one for reliving the past, much preferring the excitement and challenge of planning for the future, however, a car that is particularly dear to me is, of course, the Datsun 1600. Unlike so many other Australians, I don't think that I was ever intimately linked with the 1600. Perhaps the reason for this is that I ran them for a comparatively short time, just over two years in fact, although in that time I managed to do 20 rallies in them! Most people, though, identify my early years in the sport with the Datsun marque. Although I didn't commence my rally career in a 1600, they featured prominently in my formative years in the sport, those important first five years.

Ford man, Greg Carr (left) made is early inroads in Datsuns, starting with the 1600.

Prior to getting my first Datsun I had had only one season in a Ford Cortina Mk1. That was 1972. The next four years were all Datsuns, with the 1600 being replaced in 1975 by a 180B SSS, which was in turn replaced by a 710 SSS the following year. I bought my first 1600 in early 1973. This was no ordinary 1600 but an ex-Peter Lang car that was run by the king of the 1600 at that time, Gerry Ball. Peter and Gerry were the first people to rally the 1600 and had put in many great performances, nearly always leading the established stars of the day. The performances turned out to be too good as far as Gerry was concerned, as the inevitable happened and Peter was snapped up by the Holden Dealer Team. Peter went on to win the Australian Championship in his first year with them. I tried to emulate this feat when I left Gerry for the Ford team in 1976, but had to wait until the following year before I won my ARC title. I remember Peter ringing me up one night telling me that he was to join the HDT and Gerry was looking for another driver. Peter, I dare say, was feeling more than a little guilty at leaving Gerry, so offered to find a replacement. So that night we went out in Peter's car for the big test, which I can remember as clearly as if it occurred only yesterday.

Greg Carr excelled on home soil, and is seen here in the 1975 Don Capasco Rally. Photo: Vic Hughes

In my mind I was totally convinced that I had stuffed it. I was incredibly nervous, having only ever driven my Cortina on dirt before, and being auditioned by someone who I really admired put me on edge. I was nervous as I backed the car out of the workshop and remained nervous the whole night. We drove slowly through the forest to a stretch of road Peter had found when looking for new roads to rally on. I had no idea where we were. I started as if I was doing a special stage in my Cortina, for some reason forgetting I was in a totally strange, and substantially faster car. Well, we scrambled around the first two corners, misread the first crest (nearly putting us over a very large drop) and spun on the very next corner, ending up with the nose hard up against the bank and the engine stalled. Peter opened his door and got out. I was left wondering whether he was planning on walking home or finishing the test by observing from behind a solid tree, or, was he going to get back at me by exchanging places! Fortunately, Peter realised my condition and suggested that he show me how to drive a Datsun 1600, I dare say hoping that during the break my nerves would settle down a bit. Well, surprise, surprise, Peter did virtually no better than I did. This did wonders for my disposition and from then on I settled down and got on with the job. As it turned out, we found the car had three different brands of tyre fitted, two were nearly bald and one was half flat! Hardly the ideal conditions to be trying to impress someone. I passed the audition (how could I fail after Peter's performance?), bought the car and joined the Gerry Ball Rally Team. I was then part of one of the top teams in Australia at this time, and being in only my second season of rallying, I can honestly say that I was rather thrilled.

A rare colour photo of Greg Carr's Datsun 1600 in the 1975 Don Capasco Rally. Photo: Vic Hughes

But I knew I had a lot of learning to do, particularly in rallies outside Canberra. In that first year I did nine rallies, four of which were away from home. Results were nothing to speak of, although I did have one win. I had a good mixture of mechanical failures, and of driver and navigator errors. I also had a good mixture of navigators, with five having a turn. I had learnt a lot. Interestingly, this is the only time I ever had a female navigator and as it turned out she was with me for my solitary win for that year. Her name was Christine Cole. Another interesting navigator in that year was a rather casual chap by the name of Fred Gocentas. I say casual because Freddie was dropping off some rubbish at the local tip when I arrived to pick him up on the way to the start of the rally. Fred had got the start time wrong and only after a mad and highly illegal dash across town saw us in time to start, just before we ran out of late time. But unbeknown to us we had missed a vital redirection for the first stage. Consequently we got hopelessly lost and ended up finishing nowhere. To say I was unimpressed was an understatement. Up to that time he was the worst navigator I had had! Fortunately, Fred learns from his mistakes and I bet he never did that again.

Carr's early mentor was Gerry Ball, who's seen driving himself, here on the 1974 Don Capasco Rally. Photo: Vic Hughes

As a matter of interest, my next rally with Fred was not for another three years. We teamed up for a big international rally in Victoria, the Holden Dealers International. The car was a Datsun 710 SSS and our result was a big improvement over our previous effort. Not only did we win the rally, but we won two air tickets to England which took us to the Burmah Rally in Scotland. My first 1600 was sold at the end of 1973 to Peter Lang's brother David. I had temporarily lost my way and bought a Holden Kingswood, which I rallied in the Southern Cross of that year and had intended to campaign throughout 1974. However, a traffic accident which wrote it off proved to be one of the big turning points of my career and would see me back in 1600s.

An early photo of Greg Carr in his Datsun 1600 at the start of the 1975 Akademos Rally in Sale. Photo: Bruce Keys

1974 saw the birth of probably the most significant rally ever staged in Australia, the Castrol, or as it was known then, the Don Capasco. I had to be in it, but I had no car and virtually no money. Two weeks before it started I bought a road-going four-year old 1600 and commenced a frantic building program. Only the essentials were tackled, like sumpguard, roll cage, Halda etc. Front struts were Pedders, rear shocks were ex-factory gas borrowed from a friend (as were most of the parts), and springs were standard. The only concession to performance was to strengthen the rear crossmember and A-arms. This didn't make the car faster, only more reliable. The 1600's forte was its speed over the rough, but it needed that strengthening at the rear if it was not to break. This, by the way, is the only place any of my 1600s were strengthened, so strong were the standard cars. This car got me sixth outright and 1st Clubman and a whole lot of exposure, which was to hold me in good stead later on. Good fortune smiled upon me straight away with a phone call from Graham Krimmert, a Sydney panel beater and owner of a hot 1600 rally car.

Greg Carr upgraded from a Datsun 1600 to this Gerry Ball-prepared Datsun 180B SSS.

He offered to swap his rally car for my wrecked Kingswood. It didn't take me long to agree and it was not long before I found myself behind the wheel of another 1600, my third and final. This was my first performance Datsun. It had a bored out 1800cc engine with a very, very big head, cam, Webers, etc. It had a lower final drive and the right “Z" 5-speed gearbox. The Krimmert suspension was rubbish and quickly replaced with some factory gas and the softest standard springs we could find. Compared to my previous 1600s this was a real rocket ship, although fairly tame in relation to ultimate spec 1600s people were running some 10 years later. This car gave me two wins straight out of the box, but was destined to give me two very important victories. Although I didn't know it at the time, these two victories were the most significant of my career. The first was my first ARC win, the Bunbury Curran Rally. This was my first really big win and certainly got me noticed. Beating the established stars, and particularly the XU1's of the HDT was the ultimate any privateer could hope for. I had achieved what every young hopeful strives for. That was the turning point in my career, for after that result I knew that my Datsun and I could beat anyone in Australia, and I knew that a lot of other people knew it too. This started a run of rallies where I was supremely consitent and I drove every rally thinking I could win. And I did win, as long as the car stayed together. In the next nine rallies I won five, DNF'd three and got a third after seven flat tyres! My penultimate rally in a 1600 gave me the second major victory. The rally was the 1975 Castrol.

Strong performances in Datsuns, like this 180B SSS, led to Greg Carr being picked up by Colin Bond's Ford team. 1976 Marchal Rally, Victoria. Photo: Bruce Keys

This was just as significant as my first ARC win, but for different reasons. I had already proven that I was at least as quick as anyone else in Australia at the time, so defeating everyone again was not the issue. The issue was publicity. Rallying at that time was still conducted away from major population centres and run during the hours of darkness only. The Castrol changed all that. It had daylight running, overseas drivers, a start in the middle of town, plenty of razzmatazz and television. It was the perfect event for getting noticed. It was after this win that Datsun Japan showed interest in me, paving the way for me to go on to bigger and better things, in Datsuns of course! My career was now well and truly on the right track. My first rally in a 1600 saw me leading until a holed radiator put me out. My last rally in a 1600 finished almost the same way, only it was broken front strut mounts that put me out. My time with the 1600 wasn't always rosy, but for sure, the Datsun 1600 served me well and there is no doubt that without it, I would not have gone on to achieve the things I have."
  • Written by Greg Carr for Australian Rallysport News, May 1991

Read our exclusive Greg Carr interview:

https://rallysportmag.com/australian-rallying-greats-greg-carr/
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