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The Off Road History Lesson Begins
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Friday, 19 April 2013
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As time inevitably moves forward, history is often lost on those that follow. The third generation and over forty years of Australian off road racing is now upon us; this most evident in one of Australia’s oldest and still competing off road racing families, the Owen’s of Warrnambool. Along with Reg Owen, Garry Baker also witnessed the birth of Australian off road racing and has taken up the challenge of documenting the early years.

In Garry’s words, “these are the building blocks for how the sport evolved in Australia. The wide view of history of the first decade of off road racing in Australia has never been documented, so these extracts form a much larger narrative. One must remember the growth in the sport was nothing short of explosive from that time onward. The climate was very different then, and one might liken the innovation to that of a Woodstock Festival.”

“Unlike today's information age, surviving records are difficult to come by, so one must seek and find the tribal elders of that era, and do so before the stories are lost forever.”

With the Sea Lake Mallee Rally set to celebrate its 40th anniversary in June and the Sunraysia Motor Sports club also reaching their 40th year milestone, it is a fitting time to share some of Garry’s research. Garry’s writing style is unique and relays a ‘sitting around the fire having a yarn’ tone.

1833b_sm Over the next few weeks, in the lead up to the Sea Lake Mallee Rally ruby anniversary event, extracts from Garry's narrative will be released along with some rare image memorabilia.

The founding years …
As an eye witness to the beginnings of the off road phenomenon in Australia, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to commit some recollections to paper, since virtually none of the pioneers are still active in the sport, more than four decades after the original fires were lit. During this time, nothing of depth has been written about the sports genesis.

Adding to the initiative, if there is to be a fossil record outlining some of the early footprints, then it may as well render a tolerable account of what went on. Albeit, a somewhat personal reflection of the times.

Although this chronicle is grounded in a timeline for events that took place in the state of Victoria, it does include a broad brush outline of what was going on elsewhere in the country during the formative years. Though to provide some qualification, it might be suggested that, like a lot of memorable events in the past, - if you can remember them all, you probably weren’t there.

The beginnings - Bruce Meyers and his concept for the Manx Buggy in the mid 1960’s
1833c_sm To set the scene… the proving ground was Baja Mexico, prior to 1967 where individual timed runs by car, or back then more particularly bikes, was the custom. In 1962, Dave Ekins, representing American Honda, had set the 953 mile (1,530 km) record from Tijuana to La Paz, covering the distance in a time of 40 hours, over an admixture of rocks, sand washes, dry lake beds, cattle crossing, mountain passes, and paved road, making for an average speed of 24mph.

The seeds for a buggy craze had been planted as early as 1964 when the tinkering with a new idea first began. However, it wasn’t until 1967 when Ted Mangels and Bruce Meyers decided to challenge the Honda motor cycle record in Baja.

In a Meyers Manx Buggy, the two of them started their individual record breaking attempt back to Tijuana from La Paz at 10:00pm on April 19, 1967, with a journalist from ‘Road and Track’ magazine following the two to witness the attempt. The record shows they had bettered Dave Ekins motor cycle time by more than five hours, making for an average speed of more than 27mph.

1833d_sm Following the event, Bruce Meyers and his Meyers Manx buggy became an overnight sensation, and the competition between four wheels and motorcycles for the fastest Baja run began. And so the buggy craze had its genesis.

Six months later and it was time for the 1967 Baja 1000. The first official off road race in America started in Tijuana, Baja California, on October 31, 1967, and was named the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally. 68 vehicles started the race competing in four classes, and the course length that year was 849 miles nonstop; ending in La Paz, Baja California Sur, with the overall winning time of 27 hours 38 minutes set by Vic Wilson and Ted Mangels driving a Meyers Manx buggy.

Since the Volkswagen craze had years earlier taken hold both in the US and elsewhere in the world, then it wasn’t surprising that a Meyers Manx buggy - powered by a VW engine sitting at the end of drastically shortened VW chassis, inspired others to take the hint, and so the buggy craze was born in America.

In the words of Bruce Myers “almost overnight we had 350 orders”. Notably, within the next three years he managed to make and sell more than 5000 of his Meyers Manx creations.

MBL Sea Lake Mallee Rally ARB 350 event information can be found here.

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Source: Garry Baker