One of Australia's most iconic rally cars of the 1990s, Graham Vaughan's McDonald's Lancer Evo 3, has resurfaced and will soon hit the rally stages again, as Tom Smith reports.
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During the mid-90s, Canberran driver, Graham Vaughan, showed he had what it took to compete at the pointy end of the Australian Rally Championship in an ageing, but quick Mitsubishi Galant VR4.
It was not only Vaughan’s speed and some deserved great results that drew attention. The other thing that stood out about the car was the bright red paintwork and the ‘Golden Arches’ sponsorship of McDonald’s restaurants.
Graham’s friend and mentor, Tony McMaster, was the owner of successful McDonald’s franchises, and after occasionally trying the left hand seat as a navigator, decided that team ownership and management was to be his forte.
The big VR4 in Vaughan’s hands proved to be a fast car, but the competition at the top-end of the national series at that time included Possum Bourne in his Group A Impreza and Neal Bates in his ST205 Celica.
Lancers were prominent with Ed Ordynski, Stewart Reid and Michael Guest in Lancer Evo 3s, and Wayne Hoy and David West in Evo 2s. It was clear that a step-up was needed.
Vaughan jumps the McLancer through the banana plantations of Coffs Harbour. Photo: Peter Whitten
Sticking with a Mitsubishi product, the team acquired a brand new Evolution 3 Lancer in factory white paint to prepare for the 1996 season.
Prepared in Neal Bates’ Canberra workshop with much of the fabrication work done by Brian Dunbar, the car was beautifully presented in the familiar bright red, with the giant ‘M’ adorning the doors and bonnet.
Such is the brand recognition of the ‘golden arches’, that this simple signage was all that was needed to define the sponsor.
During the year, the team developed the car further, and achieved some excellent ARC results, including a third outright in the Saxon Heaters Southern Safari in Tasmania.
Vaughan and Tom Smith pushing hard at Rally Queensland. in 1996.
Vaughan conscripted legendary co-driver, Lofty Drews, into the Lancer for the WRC event in Perth, but problems with multiple flat tyres meant a disappointing DNF.
With the car’s development continuing, including a 6-speed H-pattern Holinger dog box – quite unusual and innovative at the time – plus the use of Michelin tyres, 1997 brought a mixed bag of results. A fifth outright at the Forest Rally and fourth outright at Rally Queensland were highlights.
A very slow speed ‘fall-over’ (it could almost not be considered a ‘roll’) during Heat 1 of Rally Queensland caused cosmetic damage, and the car had a gearbox issue at Coffs Harbour.
A slow roll hampered Vaughan's chances at Rally Queensland. Photos: Lorne Close
The reluctant decision was made at the end of the season to sell the vehicle and an advertisement appeared in Australian Rallysport News in January 1998 (see below). At that time, the Lancer was one of the highest-developed PRC Evo 3s in the country.
Over the past 20 or so years, the car has gone through a number of hands and continued to compete around the country.
Vaughan re-appeared in the Subaru Impreza RS series in the mid-2000s, where he competed in a handful of events.
Recent reports confirm that the former McDonald’s Lancer Evo 3 has been acquired by a well-known Brisbane rally personality Bruce Fullerton, and he has the car undergoing a freshen up with a view to competing in some local Queensland events at the earliest opportunity.
Vaughan at a typically dusty Rally of Canberra in the 1990s.
The car will remain predominantly red, with a colour scheme sympathetic to the era of the Evo 3.
The ownership history of the car indicates that it was originally sold to Tolley Challis in Western Australia, where the car remained for much of its life, before making its way back to the east coast.
Most recently it has competed occasionally in the Victorian Rally Championship.
Graham Vaughan contested rounds of the Subaru RS Challenge in 2003.
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