Doug Stewart's passing this week has been felt right around the world, with the former Mitsubishi Ralliart Australia boss' impact on rallying being remembered. Martin Holmes looks at how Stewart was responsible for getting Mitsubishi into international motorsport activity * * * * * Australian rally legend Doug Stewart died at home in Tasmania last weekend. He had been a former President of CAMS, his national sporting federation, and one of his country’s leading drivers in rallying, as well as cross country events. In business he was international marketing manager for the Travelodge hotel chain and in later years he was the proprietor of Ralliart Australia. Internationally he was most highly respected for his work in bringing Mitsubishi into international motorsport activity. His long time colleague, Andrew Cowan, said that the whole Mitsubishi motorsport world came about completely by accident. Mitsubishi had sought Stewart’s advice through his connections in the Australian Sporting Car Club in New South Wales.
1976 Southern Cross Rally

Andrew Cowan driving a Mitsubishi Lancer in the Southern Cross Rally.

They needed an area to run an extended endurance test for a new production car, which led to Stewart suggesting they should enter a forthcoming Round Australia Trial, then Australia’s biggest off road road event. “At that time, Mitsubishi themselves knew nothing about rallying,” Cowan added. In 2002 Doug had, meanwhile, told me his memories of starting work with Mitsubishi. "I first became involved with Mitsubishi when the Australian distributors were asked to do some pre-production test work in the early 60s on the car which would become known as the Colt Fastback," Stewart said. "It had an 1100cc engine and it was planned to be exported to Australia, New Guinea and South Africa. The Japanese could not plan the work themselves so they suggested I do this for them.

Australian rallying legend, Doug Stewart. Photo: Stuart Bowes

"I already knew about Colts. In 1962 John Bryson and I had previously driven an older 1000cc Colt (with steering column mounted gear change!) and we had won the Mountain Rally in this car by seven minutes. "We knew that Colts were basically very strong cars. We could cut corners all over the place, driving through the trees. The car was totally reliable and impressed me very much. "I was therefore very happy to help with this work. There were four or five of us and they gave us two cars to test. "It turned out to be a truly gruelling 8000 mile trip around Australia! We went all over, from the north down to the snow country. I remember the cars were totally reliable except for one alternator connection failure. "We made some 53 recommendations for them to consider for production cars and the large majority were adopted.” After doing the Mitsubishi test work Doug casually proposed to Mr Kitane at MHI (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as it was then called) that the Colt 1100 would do well if they were entered in a forthcoming Round-Australian Rally. He asked if it was possible to finish in the top 10. “I said yes. He entered three cars and we finished (I think) fourth, fifth and seventh overall and took the manufacturers' prize.

Doug Stewart in a Mitsubishi Galant in the 1971 KLG International Rally of the Hills. Photo: Graham Ruckert

"In those days the sales of Mitsubishi cars were handled by the Chrysler Group, but they hardly sold more than 200 cars or so a month. "After the rally their interest continued. We went on to win the Southern Cross Rally five times from 1972 to 1976, and sales immediately shot up to 1000 or so a month." This is the same Mr Kitane who went on to become President of Ralliart, then he worked in Product Planning when it was a very small car manufacturing company. He later became the head of the department when Mitsubishi Motors Company was formed. Certainly the commercial effect of the Southern Cross impressed Mr Kitane that this kind of motorsport really made commercial sense, and Mitsubishi has believed in this philosophy ever since. Stewart continued: "By this time Andrew Cowan had agreed to drive for us. "Andrew had arrived on the Australian rally scene when he won the first London-Sydney Marathon in 1968, his first introduction to rallying in the Antipodes. "After the event I met him in my office. We got on well, so he was immediately on my list when I was asked to propose some drivers for driving the new Galant on long distance events, which were coming up. "We needed drivers who were both fast and who never wanted to give up. Andrew fitted into that group, along with Tony Fall, Edgar Herrmann, and we also managed to get Hannu Mikkola to drive for us as well. "Anyway, Andrew was the first one on my list and he just kept winning every time he took part, even though there was very strong competition in those days. He helped consolidate the company's approach to motorsport.” Mitsubishi finally officially withdrew from motorsport in December 2005. The memories will last forever of the world manufacturers’ title in 1998, four world drivers championship titles (1996 to 1999) from Tommi Makinen, and four Group N World Rally Championship titles with Gustavo Trelles (again 1996 to 1999). All thanks to the persuasive efforts of Doug Stewart.
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