Stuart Bowes has been around our sport for years, but mostly from behind a camera. In 2016 he’s off on a new adventure – which includes running a works replica Mercedes Benz in the Classic Outback Trial. This is Stuart’s story…
The car is a 1979 450SLC Mercedes and when finished it will look exactly like the original works cars with a silver body and black bonnet. The donor car was bought locally here in Adelaide, already fully restored and in wonderful condition (though my wife was none too happy when I said we were going to cut it up for a rally car!). In fact I bought another in Melbourne and let her chose which one we would use so now I’ve got an identical spare!
Garry Kirk, who is a well known Adelaide car builder, is doing the work for me. We both competed in the SARC during the 1980’s so we’ve know each other for around 35 years. Some time back I made a plan to have a 450SLC rally car built and suggested that he would be the one to do it. In 2013 we made a quick trip to Germany for a few days to look at the factory cars in Stuttgart and see/drive several privately owned works replicas. After that we made a plan and he got stuck into it.
The car has been completely stripped to a bare shell, seam welded and fully integrated roll cage fitted. We’ve had lightweight bonnet, boot lid and bumper bars fabricated saving many kilos. It’s fitted with a 5 speed Hollinger gearbox, Drexler LSD, AP Racing brakes, ATL fuel cell and Murray Coote suspension of course. A brand spanking new original 1979 Mercedes V8 engine has been built here in Adelaide with just enough hp to keep it nice and neat on the road.
From the outside it will look just like the original works cars but with all the modern bits for reliability and performance. The craftsmanship by Garry and his helpers is fabulous. Already most of the components have been test fitted to the shell then disassembled again for painting. Right now it’s back in Garry’s workshop and the reassembly begins. All being well it will be rolling out the workshop early in the new year with plenty of time for testing.
I live in Adelaide and my history in rallying goes back to the late 1970’s when Jeremy Browne got me involved in the SARC. I was hooked just coming along as service crew but knew I wanted to get behind the wheel so the obligatory Group G Datto 1600 hit the tracks with my brother Angus navigating. Jeremy had competed at ARC level and overseas as well as the Singapore Airlines London to Sydney Marathon in a Range Rover. He always said it you really want to make it in rallying you need to find someone to pay the bills so I started a motorsport photo agency in 1989 and never looked back. For the last 25 years I’ve traveled the world at some else’s expense covering hundreds of events including the WRC, F1, international motor shows, etc…. along with the ARC and AORC here at home.
But in 2016 I’ve decided to hang up the cameras and start driving again, the 450SLC is part of that plan. I’ve also recently bought an ex works TTE Celica GT-Four which I shipped home from Europe in July. It’s absolutely fabulous and the real deal, one of the last ST205 cars built by TTE with all the right bits (but not the variable restrictor they are famous for) so I’ve now got plenty of “toys” in my garage to play with. Toyota was one of our first photo agency clients and we shot these cars all over the world on the WRC.
Group B was great but they’re very expensive and difficult to maintain. The last of the Group A cars were every bit as fascinating. The technology transfer from rallying to the road cars of that era has never been repeated and it was the last time a manufacturer built a road car just to compete in motorsport. My expanding collection includes the Group A road cars as well so I’ve got the matching pair!
I’ve not been to the COT before but I’ve spent many years in the bush, particularly the NT. I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of kms on tracks and gravel roads so the long distances on the COT appeal to me more so that the shorter stages found on the ARC. We covered the Australian Safari in 1999 and the Finke Desert Race for the last 10 years so the roads in Central Australia are well known to me. Not sure we’ll be staying on for a holiday after the event? 10 days in the Alice will be plenty during the COT and I’m there a couple of weeks beforehand with my wife for the AFL match.
I’ve had so many wonderful moments in rallying there are simply way too many to talk about but I’m looking forward to adding the COT to those memories and opening a new chapter. I also own an engineering business with my older brother, Angus, where we manufacture specialist rock crushing and soil compaction equipment which we ship all over the world.
Thanks Stuart – a great story and a fantastic sequence of build pics. Please keep them coming as you progress! Here are Stuart’s build pics… (click for larger images)