Reg Shepheard – father of the ReDEX Trial
- 5th June 2006, 2:20pm
One August day in 1914, a 13-year old boy walked into his classroom and told his teacher he wasn’t coming back to school anymore. “I’ve decided to enter the motor trade,” he declared. “And nothing will make me change my mind.”
Young Reg Shepheard had made the first important decision of his life. As things turned out, it was one of the few decisions that Shepheard ever regretted – he later had to spend three years at Nottingham University to catch up on his education.
Most of Shepheard’s decisions during his life proved successful but, like many decisions made by business people, many are made on the spur of the moment. For example, the first REDeX Trial.
The idea for an around-Australia reliability trial came to Shepheard in a London bomb shelter during one of Germany’s most vicious attacks. In an effort to take his mind off the surrounding blasts, Shepheard studied a map of Australia, a country he had long before decided he wished to make his home.
As his eyes travelled over the map of the vast continent, he was impressed that Australia was the only country in the world where a single trial could take drivers through a wide variety of climates. He observed that you could run a trial from a city of normal temperature, like Sydney, to a tropical city such as Darwin, and return via the snow country in the south.
Shepheard estimated that an around-Australia trial could become second-to-none in the world, and the first REDeX Trial in 1953 showed that he was right.
Shepheard was born at Grantham, near Nottingham, England, in 1901. After his sudden departure from school in 1914 he became an apprentice in a motor workshop. He worked on the practical side of the motor trade until 1926 in a number of different positions.
He was employed by a heavy transport company where his boss told him to test the prototype of an enormous new vehicle that the company was experimenting with. Shepheard thus became the first man in the world to drive a semi-trailer, known in those days as an articulated vehicle.
In 1926 he left the motor trade to join a company manufacturing slot machines that dispensed cigarettes, chocolates and razor blades. He did so well in this job that he became general sales manager for Great Britain at a salary of £5 ($10) per week, plus commission.
His success netted him the then-fabulous sum of £1,250 ($2,500) per year when the average salesman earned about £500 ($1,000).
However, one simple incident caused Reg Shepheard to make the biggest business decision of his career. He was offered a lift by a friend who drove a very dilapidated car which Shepheard had some time earlier advised the owner that he should get the motor repaired before it fell to bits.
On this occasion, Shepheard noticed that the car ran remarkably well, despite rattling ‘like a stoveful of boiling saucepans.’The motor ran smoother, had more power, and offered faster acceleration. “I see you took my advice and had it overhauled,” Shepheard remarked to the owner. “I didn’t,” the owner replied. “I treated the engine with a new oil additive called REDeX. Makes a difference, doesn’t it?”
It made a big difference to Reg Shepheard, too. He was so impressed in the change that it had made to his friend’s car, that he tried it for some months in his own car, a Vauxhall tourer. He found that the product, an oil additive that was added to the petrol as an upper cylinder lubricant, did all that was claimed of it.
Shepheard could see the opportunities opening up so he called on the firm that manufactured the product and asked to meet the firm’s founder. REDeX boss, Wayne Myers, was impressed by Shepheard’s enthusiasm and offered him a salesman’s job at a small wage (plus commission) that Shepheard worked out would nett him around £500 ($1,000) per year at most.
The job turned out to be a tough one as car owners in those times were skeptical of new-fangled ideas such as upper cylinder lubricants. However Shepheard liked taking chances, and he believed there was a good chance of him making a success of this venture.
It took quite some time for sales of REDeX to reach a worthwhile level and there were periods when Shepheard earned less than 13 shillings ($1.30) a week in commission. Add to this his retainer of £2 ($4) per week and it becomes obvious that there was barely enough income for a married man to live on.
Slowly, but surely, REDeX started to take off and as more and more people started using it, they recommended it to their friends. Eventually sales started to snowball and Shepheard grew with the firm. His sales talents had long been recognized and he was dispatched to establish REDeX in ten different countries – France, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, the USA, Canada, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
After the end of World War 2, Shepheard expressed a desire to move to Australia. As a reward for Shepheard’s excellent services, Myers offered him the Australian franchise of the product, and Shepheard arrived in the country with plenty of enthusiasm in March 1949. It wasn’t long after that REDeX Australasia was incorporated and Shepheard began selling the product.
As it had been in England initially, it was a tough struggle, but Shepheard’s enthusiasm and persistence eventually paid off. Once Australian motorists started using it, the word soon spread and before long Shepheard had a winner on his hands.
But there were some problems; getting motorists right around Australia to start using it, and salesmen were reluctant to travel far from home or to remote areas to promote it. Shepheard believed that car trials were a good way of spreading the word, so it wasn’t long before he started putting his war-time idea to the test.
He was approached by Norm Pleasance from the Australian Sporting Car Club to sponsor an event that was eventually called the Redex 1000, thus linking the REDeX name with car trials and rallies.
Early REDeX 1000s started off as short-distance events, the course gradually lengthened andtougher road conditions found. Finally he got together with the Australian Sporting Car Club who were looking for a sponsor for a really long event.
The result was that Shepheard agreed to sponsor the 6,500 mile (10,400km) 1953 Round Australia Trial under the REDeX name. Pleasance was assisted by Dan McFarlane and Tom Farrell, and there was some input from a new face on the scene, Doug Stewart.The rest is now history (Redex Trials were run in 1953, 1954 and 1955), thanks to a dream that a young Reg Shepheard had while sitting in a bomb shelter during the Second World War.
His idea launched long-distance rallying in Australia and set the scene for a sport that has continued for over 50 years, thanks to a simple oil additive that made his friend’s car run so smoothly.
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