While 1980 wasn’t the most exciting year of rallying in Australian history, it nevertheless saw some epic battles between the smoothly-run Nissan team under Howard Marsden, and the Colin Bond Ford works team, which unfortunately always seemed to be playing catch-up. Reliability always was the Escort’s Achilles heel in Australia, while George Shepheard’s Turbo Geminis were never really a threat. Here’s a brief reminder of a memorable year. Total (or almost total) domination of the 1980 Australian Rally Championship is nothing new it seems, for the 1980 ARC was convincingly won by the Nissan-Datsun factory team, albeit with three different drivers. Factory-backed teams, because of their greater budgets, are always hard to beat and nothing much has changed over the years. The 1980 Australian Rally Championship, despite the domination by the factory-prepared Datsun Stanzas, was an exciting affair just the same with three factory teams – Ford, Nissan and the Castrol Gemini team – all fielding competitive cars. There were five rounds of the ARC that year, one in each of the mainland states, with the series being decided by the end of July to allow those competitors who wished to enter the Southern Cross Rally in October. So, all things considered, it looked like being an exciting year.

A Datsun Rally Team postcard from the 1980 ARC season.

Round 1:. Rally of the West The opening round required East Coast competitors to travel to Western Australia for the Rally of the West. This obviously deterred some of the leading privateers who, as a result, left it to the works teams to make the long haul over the Nullabor. Howard Marsden was in charge of the Nissan team of three cars for George Fury/Monty Suffern, Ross Dunkerton/Jeff Beaumont and Geoff Portman/Ross Runnalls. Marsden had put together a smooth-running operation and the team’s results were to highlight the attention to detail that he had built into their Datsun Stanzas. As for the cars, the 2-litre twin cam Stanzas were strong, reliable and fast, although engine problems in the form of timing chain adjuster breakages caused the retirement of Dunkerton’s car, and were to plague Fury’s car later in the year. Nissan’s main opposition that year came in the form of the new BDA Escorts in the hands of Greg Carr/Fred Gocentas and Colin Bond/John Dawson-Damer. While Bond’s car was a model of reliability, Carr’s Escort suffered mechanical problems of one sort or another in every round of the series. Ford’s lack of serious commitment to the team didn’t help matters either as their decision to enter a team was made at the last moment. Carr and Gocentas only managed to finish two of the five rounds, finishing fifth outright in the championship, which was hardly an auspicious beginning.

Greg Carr and the Escort RS1800s were fast, but unreliable in 1980. Photo: Ian Bray

The other semi-serious team was the Castrol–Gemini team under the direction of George Shepheard, but they only contested three of the five rounds, missing Western Australia and the Donlee Rally in Broken Hill. Two cars made up the Gemini team, an 1800cc car for Wayne Bell and Dave Boddy, while Barry Ferguson and Steve Owers were in an 1855cc twin cam Gemini. Their year was to be one of mixed fortunes and their effort was no match for the might of the Nissan team. Only one privateer team committed to the 1980 ARC (Western Australia’s Clive Slater), but he managed to contest only four rounds, finishing just one, his home event, in his Toyota Corolla. As always, cost kept the majority of privateer crews out of the title race, many preferring to do individual events or the Castrol International Rally. Fury and Suffern opened their account in the opening round, leaving second-placed Bond/Dawson-Damer in their dust, to win by four and a half minutes. Clive Slater/Barbara Stubbs were third, some 17 minutes behind, such was the dust problem. In fact the dust was so bad that the rally had to be severely shortened as later cars fell hours behind schedule. Round 2: Lutwyche Village Rally If dust was a problem in the West, it was a totally different proposition by the time Round 2, the Lutwyche Village Rally, came around in Queensland. Although Fury and Suffern added another first outright to their 1980 campaign, the winning margin was a little over a minute. Carr and Gocentas brought their RS1800 home in second place, with the other Nissan, the Stanza of Dunkerton/ Beaumont in third. Bond was fourth and the Turbo Gemini of Bell was fifth, while Ed Mulligan/Chris Heaney (Escort RS1800) were sixth. The final results were the subject of much drama as sections of the route became impassable after the first six cars had gone through. On top of that, the Ford team protested the provisional results, claiming the route instructions cost Carr second place. The protest was dismissed, but after complaints over the diabolical condition of the final stage, results were declared after the second stage of the division. Unfortunately, the Lutwyche event was an event that everyone wanted to forget.

The Akademos Rally provided George Fury with one of his rare retirements in 1980.

Round 3: Akademos Rally Just a fortnight after the Lutwyche rain dance, the ARC found itself in Victoria for the Akademos Rally. Nissan were to the fore once again, but this time it was Dunkerton and Beaumont who were the winners. Fury’s car once again succumbed to the dreaded timing chain problem that had plagued the team all season, while Bond ran off the road in the dust while chasing Greg Carr and had to be winched back onto the road. Carr was unluckier and had a puncture, being forced to drive 60 kilometres on a flat rear tyre, but then damaged the diff as a result. The subsequent differential change took 40 minutes and dropped him down the order. Wayne Bell’s turbo Gemini had rear brake problems and turbo problems, but team-mates Ferguson and Owers placed well in fourth spot. Hugh Bell started to make a name for himself in the super-quick Dazda, as did Bob Watson in a Peugeot 504 turbo, but alternator problems put Watson out while holding down third place. Dunkerton’s final margin over Bond was eight minutes, no doubt caused by the Escort driver’s off-road excursion. Carr was a further six minutes behind and Ferguson in fourth a further 4 minutes in arrears. Fury’s retirement meant that he would still have to work to win the 1980 title. It was an interesting situation that at least four crews were in with a chance of winning with two rounds to go.

Ford team boss, Colin Bond, pushing hard in the 1980 Bega Rally. Photo: Ian Bray

Round 4: Bega Valley Rally The fast shire roads of the Bega Valley beckoned a large field of competitors for the fourth round of the 1980 Australian Rally Championship. The event was an important one as the title hopes of a number of crews would be decided there. Both Ford and the Castrol Gemini team had two cars each, while the other factory team, Nissan, had entered a third car for Geoff Portman/Ross Runnalls, running under the Autosport banner. The traditional daylight stages saw a battle developing between the top contenders, Fury opening a narrow lead over Bond and Carr, who were equal second. Then it was Dunkerton narrowly ahead of Portman, who was settling into his new mount. While today’s events are separated by mere seconds, the 1980 ARC was a different matter. Carr had a spin on the first stage, costing him 10 seconds to Fury, but on the following stage he wound the Escort out to take 46 seconds off Dunkerton and 64 seconds off Fury – in 32 kilometres! But it wasn’t to last as the BDA shod a fan belt shortly after, taking a timing belt with it. From then on, the battle was played out between Bond, Fury, Dunkerton and Portman, and while they traded times for the rest of the event, Fury finally came home in front of a fast-finishing Bond, 37 seconds separating the two. It was a good event for Nissan. Barry Ferguson/Owers were the best of the Geminis in fifth, while locals Peter Nelson and Graham Moule were the first privateers in a Datsun 120Y, finishing sixth.

Ross Dunkerton was part of Datsun's three-car team in the 1980 ARC. Photo: Ian Bray

Round 5: Donlee Rally With the championship still not decided, both Nissan and Ford had to make a big effort to wrap up the series, both fielding a full team for the final round, the Donlee Rally at Broken Hill. The Donlee was a replacement event for South Australia’s Endrust Forest Rally and was not well supported, thanks to the event’s reputation of the typically rough nature of the country around Broken Hill. Nissan had three cars once again, with Portman gaining his second factory-supported drive for the year. Ford had both Bond and Carr in Escorts and gave some support to Gosford’s Ian Hill, who brought his new Escort RS2000 over. The rest of the 40 car field was made up of local South Australian crews, but Clive Slater/Barbara Stubbs made a final effort at getting a good placing and once more made the trip over the Nullabor. The Donlee was run in two long divisions starting and finishing at Broken Hill. Team game plans came into play straight away – Nissan could win the title if Fury finished no worse than fourth, but Bond’s task was to win outright and hope that Fury finished well down the order.

Gosford's Ian Hill in action in the 1980 Southern Cross Rally in his BDA Escort. Photo: Ian Bray

It was a long and rugged event and both Nissan and Ford suffered casualties. Dunkerton went out with a damaged cam timing gear, and Carr suffered yet another DNF, the Escort’s gearbox breaking. It had been a disappointing year for the Canberra star. Clive Slater’s long trip came to naught when the Corolla’s gearbox failed. Also in trouble was Ian Hill who missed a route check. Portman and Runnalls were hitting their straps and by the end of the first division had brought their Stanza into a handy seven minute lead over Bond/Dawson-Damer, while Fury was nine minutes off the lead, but still in contention. Division 2 was somewhat of an anti-climax as Portman first increased his lead, enjoying a dust-free run, then slowed down to preserve his car to the finish. Bond was unable to make inroads, and Fury was content to nurse his car along in third spot to wrap up the title. Portman led Bond home by nearly seven minutes, with Fury a further four minutes behind. In the end, Fury’s third place was enough to give him the ARC title for the second year in a row. It was a good year for Nissan, the Marsden-led team having won every round of the Series, a feat not achieved since 1973 when Holden Toranas won all six rounds. FINAL RESULTS – 1980 Australian Rally Championship 1. George Fury/Monty Suffern, Nissan Stanza, 31 points 2. Colin Bond/John Dawson-Damer, Ford Escort RS1800, 27 points 3. Ross Dunkerton/Jeff Beaumont, Nissan Stanza, 17 points 4. Geoff Portman/Ross Runnalls, Nissan Stanza, 12 points 5. Greg Car/Fred Gocentas, Ford Escort RS1800, 10 points 6. Barry Ferguson/Steve Owers, Holden Gemini Turbo, 5 points

Ed Mulligan in his iconic 'Marantz' sponsored 'Snoopy' nosed Escort. Photo: Ian Bray

FOOTNOTE Weather conditions caused huge problems in the 1980 Lutwyche Village Rally in Queensland. Drizzling rain had made conditions in the Beerburrum area very difficult and as the rally progressed the roads got progressively worse. By the third division the rain was bucketing down and cars were sliding off the road in all directions. The first few cars got through the early stages, but behind them following cars were fighting heavy rain and mud, getting bogged or crashing. While the majority of the field got through, Ed Mulligan and Chris Heaney had problems of their own other than the weather – they stopped with a broken gearbox down a wrong road. Co-driver Chris Heaney decided to go for help, walking 17 kilometres through the forest until he was able to find a house with a phone and ring for assistance. Mulligan decided to stay with the stricken car, but was not rescued from it for almost 24 hours. After that stage was eventually cancelled they were classed as finishing fifth, even though they had had the previously-mentioned problems. Also out of luck was Clive Slater in his Corolla. The Western Australian’s Toyota slid off the road so far that a crane was required to lift it back onto the road. Once mobile again, Slater’s car again slid off the road after the brakes failed. A crane was called for, but it toppled over in the mud and Slater’s run was over.

George Fury took a narrow four point victory in the 1980 Australian Rally Championship. Photo: Ian Bray


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