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Part 4: The history of Australia’s Ford Escort Rally Team

From the mid-1970s until the end of 1980, the Ford Australia Rally Team was the team to catch, going head-to-head against the might of Datsun / Nissan.

Led by Colin Bond, and with Greg Carr as the lead driver, the team achieved many victories in their Ford Escort RS1800s. They were even joined by WRC stars Bjorn Waldegard and Ari Vatanen on occasions.

Former CAMS Rally Manager, and rally historian, Bruce Keys, tells the fascinating story of the Ford Australia Rally Team. At over 10,000 words, and combined with our impressive photo gallery, it's a story not to miss.

* * * * * *

The Ford Motor Company of Australia lost its sense of humour – at least as far as rallying was concerned – after a disastrous effort in the 1976 Total Oil Southern Cross Rally.

“Total Domination” was the pre-event corporate expectation. Consider the facts ..... Ford Australia had imported two of the best rally drivers in the world at the time, Roger Clark and Timo Makinen, and had two of the world’s best rally cars at the time, Escort Mk II RS 1800s in full Group 4 trim.

They brought out two of Boreham’s most experienced mechanics in Norman Masters (Clark’s long time mechanic) and Mick Jones (the Foreman of the Boreham facility) and locally providing a swag of mechanics, had several Falcon wagons to serve as service crew barges, a couple of RS2000 chase cars, and even a personal secretary for Messrs Clark and Makinen!

“Nearly absolute failure” was the post-event result.

The great Timo Makinen retired on the second night after holding down third place at the end of the first night. Some new and untested components led to a failure of the rear axle assembly.

The driver who most Australian rally fans thought they would never see in action, Roger Clark, eventually finished the four-day-and-night event in an ignominious and lowly 14th position.

Similar, but not quite as catastrophic, failures of rear axle assemblies as afflicted the Flying Finn, Makinen, were also Clark’s downfall. He got the only spare rear end the team had, before his team mate could claim it …

The brass at Ford’s corporate headquarters at Broadmeadows in Victoria were summarily unimpressed.

Colin Bond oversees the preparation of a works Escort shell in his Sydney workshop.

Then along comes Colin Bond ...

Meanwhile, in the same event, former Bathurst 500 winner, Colin Bond, was pedalling a massive 5-litre V8 Holden Torana L34, only to be afflicted with distributor and shock absorber problems on the first night, and then the consequent rearrangement of the suspension after hitting a stump caused him to retire.

The Southern Cross that year was to be Colin Bond’s last rally in the Holden Dealer Team L34.

For the 1977 season, Bond sensationally defected from the General and teamed up with Ford and Allan Moffat to tackle the Australian Touring Car Championship and the Bathurst 1000.

History records the sensational Moffat/Bond 1-2 form finish at the Mt Panorama motor racing circuit. It was stuff dreams are made of, and an effort which is still talked about today, 43 years later.

During the “let’s get to know you” period between Colin and Ford in late 1976 and early 1977, Bondy made friends with Ford’s Geoff Polities. At that time, Polities was Ford’s Manager of Marketing Plans and Research. Twenty-two years later he would become President of Ford Australia.

He was influential and powerful and most importantly, he was a motor sport nut – a real revhead! Geoff’s clout within Ford and his enthusiasm for the sport were to be very helpful to Australian rallying, especially in the later period of the Ford Escort Rally Team.

It soon became evident to Polities that, while Colin Bond was going to be a substantial and loyal asset for Ford as far as touring car racing was concerned, Colin’s first love in motorsport was rallying.

Colin talked and Geoff listened. A Ford re-entry into rallying may not be so bad after all?

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Bruce Keys

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