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Wes Nalder is probably typical of an Australian who lives outside the large cities and of people who prepare their own rally cars. Resourceful, hard-working and uncomplicated. You can probably throw in self effacing and honest too. Alan Baker takes up the tale ..... Wes will tell you that in his rally career he was always at the other end of the field to the Bob Watsons, Dinta and Kate Officers and Ross Dunkertons, but an examination of his long distance rally results suggests that Wes was being modest. Perhaps Wes meant that he never enjoyed the factory support that the others were able to attract at various times. Take, for example, the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial. Around Australia in three weeks: a pace so hectic that many of the service crews could simply not keep up with the field and abandoned their mission at Perth. An event that saw General Motors Holden’s ‘walk’ 16 VB Commodores, destined for the Repco, down the production line, calling for extra welds and brackets and bracing before the shells were even painted. Holden also took its stars - Peter Brock, Matt Philip, Barry Ferguson and Wayne Bell - added in Shekar Mehta and Rauno Aaltonen no less, and then teamed them with Noel Richards, Dave Boddy and Barry Lake - gun navigators with a wealth of experience even then. Ford threw its stars into Cortinas - Colin Bond and Greg Carr no less, and imported Datsun star George Fury. Now there’s a who’s who of Australian rallying! Then add in the brilliant Ross Dunkerton - who would go on to win the Australian title five times - in a factory backed Volvo.

Despite looking well worn, the interior of the RA60 should clean up okay.

Who do you think was the next best after that lot then? Edgar Hermann/Dean Rainsford in a Porsche Carerra? Bob Watson/Garry Harrowfield with four Victorian Rally Championships between them? Rising star Geoff Portman? Already legends Andrew Cowan/Jim Reddiex/Jeff Beaumont in a Citroen CX2400? No. The bloke from Stawell in Victoria in an Toyota RA40 Celica he prepared, along with Geoff Boyd and Ian Richards (brother of Noel, the winning navigator). They were 6th and first privateer. From 208 starters! Wow! Noel Richards was originally going to join Wes and Geoff, but received the offer from Holden and left with Wes’s blessing. This wasn’t Wes’s first long distance event though. Two years earlier, and with the support of Victorian Toyota dealers, he took a Toyota Corolla to London for the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Marathon, with Noel Richards as co-driver.

In India, some of the car's green 'wrap' simply blew off at speed.

They finished an amazing 20th from 47 finishers. This was in a field that included Paddy Hopkirk, Andrew Cowan, Ross Dunkerton, Barry Ferguson, Jim Reddiex, Doug Stewart, Evan Green, Bob Holden, John Latham and Francis Tuthill, to mention just a few stars. Also in the field was one George Harris who, along with Gerald Bartlett and Geoff Eldridge, took a Citroen CX2400 to a comparatively lowly 44th. While Wes thought George, boss of a chicken empire (rivalling Steggles, but sold to Inghams) was not his cup of tea, they later formed a great friendship through father rallying exploits. The late George Harris is the father of David Harris, founder of Harris Farm Markets, a successful fruit and vegetable retail chain in N.S.W.

Testing the car's unique dual rear wheel set up for the sand dunes.

Back to the RA40 though. After the highly successful run in the Repco, Wes ventured overseas and did the Mediterranean Rally and the 1983 Himalayan Rally. He rates that RA40 highly and wishes he still had it today. Regrettably, it was destroyed at the hands of an acquaintance on a dirt road back home. Exit the RA40. Enter the new RA60. In 1984 a massive rally was on offer; the ‘Amerithon’. 68,000 kilometres through 15 countries of the Americas between May and July. By now, Wes was a confident competitor in marathon events and as the family business was a Toyota dealership in Stawell, he sought support from the Toyota factory in Port Melbourne. It turned up in the form of a good deal on a red RA60 Celica, body number 2, that had been an evaluation car, living at the A.M.I. plant. Despite being built in 1981 it had travelled just 500km, and although the build plate advises that it was an A40D trans/axle (denoting it a self-shifter) it turned up with a 5-speed manual box! Work commenced on the car in Stawell where a lot of the body was strengthened and modifications made, building on experience gained in the last five years of rallying all over the world. The plan was for Wes to be joined by George Harris and Richard Comley in the event that travelled as far north as Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, right down to the southern end of Chile, starting and finishing in Los Angeles. Harris Farm Markets came on board as the major sponsor and a patriotic colour scheme of green and gold was devised for the car to show off Australia to the world. Australia had won the America’s Cup the year before remember, and the boxing kangaroo was taking over! Rather than re-paint the car, the lads decided to do their version of a vehicle wrap. Armed with an idea and many metres of green and yellow contact adhesive vinyl, they plastered the car exterior and cut out their own sponsors’ decals and took the car to Parliament House in Canberra for some publicity photos. With the car fully prepared, shipping containers and travel were booked for the car, plus $4000 worth of tyres. The tyres were duly despatched to LA, but the shipment of the car was delayed by industrial action at Melbourne port. A stroke of luck as it happened - a telegram advised that the event organisers had gone broke, the event was off. The $8000 entry fee was lost and the tyres were not heard of again. Fortunately, the car was stuck at the port and could be retrieved. All dressed up and nowhere to go? Wes decided to try his luck again at the 1984 Himalayan Rally. In preparation for the sand expected on this event, Wes made up some stub axles that would bolt up to the rear wheels, giving dual rear wheels for drive. Mounting posts for the stub axles were installed in the boot and grab handles were added to the boot for the crew to hang on to while bouncing the car over the dunes. The 1984 Himalayan Rally started on October 28, Wes seeded as car 6. By October 31 the crew were sitting in an excellent fifth position and leading their class. That morning news came through that Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, was shot dead while walking in the garden of her residence. The rally was off and the country was in turmoil, virtually civil war. Wes was not even able to get a phone call out for four days to get news back to Australia that he was okay. The crew flew back soon after and the car followed a few weeks later with the help of some friends Wes made in India. The car was pressed in to service again a few years later when Wes, his son and Simon Brown entered the 1989 John Pryce Memorial Olde BP Rally, finishing an excellent fourth place. Since then the car has passed through several hands, but did no rallying. It turned up recently for sale and apart from being badly painted an odd shade of blue, is almost as Wes prepared it for the Himalayan Rally. Amy Jane Cranston snapped it up with a view to restoring it to its rally glory days look. It is a good template on which to begin, as everything is still there, but time and the environment has taken its toll. As you can see from B Team Media images, the preparation was extensive and is all there, ready to roar back in to life.
  • Story: Alan Baker
  • Photos: Paul Mollison, Wes Nalder collection, Ian Richards.
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