One of the most talked about incidents from the original Southern Cross rallies was the Tom Barr-Smith adventure.
In the 1971 event South Australian state champion Tom Barr-Smith was driving a Renault R16TS in the Southern Cross. Our Renault R12 Gordini had broken down early in the event and we hitched a ride with journalist Chris DeFraga to visit a few spectator points.
We went to a control located on the Pacific Highway not far south of Port Macquarie. There was a long unbroken line of cars parked along the highway opposite the road the control was on. As we were walking back up the highway to the control, which was about 300 metres in from the highway on a hill, a set of headlamps approached along the rally route.
As we watched, the rally car came over the brow of the hill but instead of stopping at the control point it continued at what appeared to be increasing speed. To our amazement it shot straight through the control area and was heading at suicidal speed towards the highway. From what we had seen when we arrived there were no spaces between the cars parked along the roadside, so a sickening impact seemed inevitable.to the other side. Fortunately there was no truck traffic on the highway at the time.
At the crucial moment, the service crew for Bob Holden pulled out on to the highway from the very spot the out of control rally car was heading for, directly opposite the rally road. The car, Barr-Smith’s Renault, careered through the narrow gap, crashed through the wire fence by the roadside and then mounted the railway embankment, leaping high into the air. We realized as the car flashed across the highway that it was a Renault, so we broke into a gallop towards the accident.
A shaken (and probably a little stirred) Barr-Smith and co-driver Rob Hunt were still sitting in the car when we scaled the railway embankment to the far side. The Renault service crew arrived at the same time, and between us and a few hundred spectators we manhandled the Renault back over the railway line, casting nervous glances in both directions in case a train was coming.
The cause of the drama was that the brake pads had completely worn out and had slipped out of the calipers, leaving the driver totally brakeless. To add to his problems, the brake and accelerator pedals are quite close together in a R16TS, and in his efforts to stop Tom was unwittingly pressing the accelerator down.
Incredibly the car survived both the impact of leaping the railway line and severe over revving of the engine. The mechanics refitted the valve push rods which had fallen outwhile the engine was attempting to break the 20,000 rpm barrier, and the car was on its way. Some months later Tom received an account from the property owner for damage to his wire fence. As this is a family publication, Tom’s response cannot be repeated.