The 1968 London-to-Sydney Marathon, was the first and arguably still greatest of the ultra-marathon car races. Not a rally but a true race that pitted car manufacturers from various countries against each other. Sir Max Aitken, the owner of The Daily Express, Britain’s leading newspaper and a Battle of Britain fighter ace, was staunchly supporting Britain’s isolationist policies against a massive push to join the European Common Market – and a win by an Austin, Ford Cortina or even a Hillman would be a huge call to arms. But on the last night of competition, after more than 16,000 competitive kilometres over just 10 moving days (do the math), a French car was leading, followed by a German one. The first British car was a relatively distant third. It was, from Aitken’s perspective, a disaster.

On the last competitive stage, the German Ford Taunus driven by Flying Finn Simo Lampinen failed spectacularly in a bust-or-bust-through lunge, elevating a British car to second place. But Belgian Lucien Bianchi in a works Citroën DS21 emerged from the last night of frenetic activity with an unassailable 11-point lead and was cruising to the finish at the Warwick Farm Grand Prix circuit. Then he was crashed out of the event by a head-on collision with a spectator’s car.

John Smailes covered the marathon in 1968 and co-wrote a book, The Bright Eyes of Danger, with Australia’s first touring car champion David McKay, who led the Holden team in the marathon. Over half a century on, Smailes has written its sequel, Race across the World (released last November to coincide with the anniversary), which, for the first time, tells the stories behind the world’s greatest long-distance car race. Publisher Allen & Unwin gave Wheels an exclusive inside view of the crash that saved the British motor industry. You can read the details and why Smailes now claims the crash was deliberate in this Wheels article on whichcar.com: https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/sabotage-at-the-london-to-sydney-marathon

Another article on the 1968 London – Sydney Marathon can be found here: https://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au/london_sydney_marathon. The comments are particulalry interesting as one person, Vic, writes; “The next statement is “It was rumoured that the occupants of the Mini were a pair of off-duty policemen who were both `drunk as skunks’.” Actually there were a number of rumours (including one which said that BMC had intentionally sent a Mini to crash into the Citroen) but the facts are more mundane. The Mini which collided with the Citroen was actually driven by a couple of 18 year olds who were neither drunk nor in the police force. The above can be confirmed in the recent book “The 1968 London to Sydney Marathon” by Robert Connor – and also in the January 1969 edition of “Racing Car News” in Max Stahl’s report on the event.”

And here is an old video documentary of the race (though the Citroën crash is not covered): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_kEPhEMSFY