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The legendary 1968 London-Sydney MGB blog


Ian Cushway profile Image

By Ian Cushway, 12th June 2020


Team effort!


Moss helps return the legendary 1968 London-Sydney MGB to its former glory


Every week the world over people machete their way through undergrowth and battle seized hinges to unearth derelict, long forgotten about classics. But when a junk dealer asked to clear the contents of a house in 2015 tugged open the garage doors to reveal a rusty, shoddily painted purple MGB Roadster with a peculiar-looking roll bar and what looked like a wheel spline on the boot, little did he know he'd stumbled upon a long-lost piece of MG history...


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 02

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Hidden gem
Intrigued by a battered metal plaque on the centre console that read, 'Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon 1968', instead of being sold for scrap the dusty discovery was subsequently advertised for sale and, to cut a long story short, was brought to the attention of MGB Car Club member Bill Price.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 03

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Being the former Manager of the BMC's Competition department, Bill instantly recognised the two obscure accessories as being supplied by Special Tuning, BMC's in-house race preparation department. Interest suitably pricked, after a quick check of the registration (UMD 534F) by club archivist, Peter Neal, the penny finally dropped.

Incredibly, the car in question was none other than the MGB Roadster famously campaigned by Jean Denton and co-driver Tom Boyce in the gruelling 10,000-mile 1968 London-Sydney Marathon. A feat that was to be completed in just 14 days, meaning they had to maintain very, very good progress just to finish.

Given its historic interest, the car was quickly secured by the MGB Register and restored by Abingdon Car Restorations, something made possible by crowd funding. Oh, and Moss Europe provided many of the parts to make it all possible.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 04

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Lady racer
So who was Jean Denton, exactly? Well, the Yorkshire lass (born Jean Moss, coincidentally) was quite a character – a thrill-seeker, and one for bucking the trend. As well as becoming British Women Racing Drivers' Champion in 1967 and 1968, she was also a successful businesswoman and politician in later life, being awarded a CBE in 1991 and gaining the title Baroness Denton of Wakefield a year later. Sadly, she died of cancer at the age of 65 in 2001. As for the car itself, well that had already seen plenty of action that summer on the racetracks of Europe although, as Jean explained, there was lots of work involved getting it ready, "What stands out without a doubt is the four solid months before we left when our whole lives were given over to building the MGB for the epic, and raising the money to pay for the trip – so much so that we now wonder what else we used to do in our spare time."


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 05

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Ready to rally
A friend of her husband and co-driver, Tom Boyce, ended up doing much of the preparation. The double fuel tank had gone in already, and additional racks were added to carry the three five-gallon jerry cans (two for fuel and one for water) that would be needed while on the more remote sections of the rally.

Incidentally, the engine had been detuned to allow it to run on inferior grade fuels they would inevitably encounter on route. Keen on keeping the drag as low as possible, Jean was adamant that nothing be carried on the hardtop roof, so one spare wheel went in the boot and another was mounted on the bootlid.

To cope with the extra weight, special rear springs, designed by Alex Moulton, were fitted at the rear, while at the front extra long coil springs were made up to retain a generous amount of ground clearance.
To negate the risk of damage by 'roos, a special guard was made by Rearsby Automotive. Cibié provided extra powerful headlamps, twin spots and twin fogs and bizarrely a reversing light free of charge to all entrants.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 06

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Pull out a chair
Inside, the most obvious modification was the absence of a passenger seat. Instead, the space was occupied by an alloy tubular construction, reportedly designed by the London College of Physicians, which had been strung with webbing with foam on top to act as a bed!

BP provided free fuel on route, co-driver Tom got a cordless shaver and Jean happily donned a new outfit courtesy of leading fashion magazine, Nova. But funnily, the perk Jean found the most useful on the journey was an enormous handbag which she used to store their passports and important documentation.

She vividly remembered the start from the now defunct race circuit at Crystal Palace on November 24, 1968, saying in a report after the event that, "We set off with extra determination just because everyone said it could not be done by two amateurs in an MGB."


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 07

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Along with 97 other entrants, having crossed the channel they weaved their way via Paris, Turin and Belgrade to Istanbul on a ferry across the Bosporus then on to Asia by way of Kabul, then Delhi, with their final destination being Bombay.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image A & B

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


From there the cars were transported by boat to Fremantle, and then via mostly unmade roads east through the outback to the finish four days later in Sydney.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 08

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Needless to say they encountered various hurdles on route, including Jean suffering car sickness in the Alps and being mobbed by crowds in India. The worst mishap though was when one of the engine mounts broke which resulted in the fan going through the radiator. It could have spelled a cruel end of the rally, but thankfully a replacement was donated by a member of the MG Car Club Western Australia that had driven out in his MGB to greet them – talk about club benefits!


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 09

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Race to the finish
Because the race was scored on timed average speed on stages, Jean noted that they averaged 85mph for six hours in order to get to their next checkpoint on time. You'd be hard pushed to do that today in a fast, modern car! The intrepid duo's MGB, entrant number 47, finally came in 42nd out of 56 finishers – the only sports car to complete the epic trip. Relieved to have made it, there was though as sense of anti-climax for Jean when she explained, "we could have done so much better as the engine of the MG was still going beautifully."


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 10

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Lost in time
Having we presume been shipped back to the UK, the MGB subsequently competed in the Scottish Rally, but then languished in a scrapyard throughout the latter part of the '70s. It was rescued momentarily, then disappeared again until it miraculously resurfaced once more in 2015.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 11

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Aside from the sorry state of the bodywork, the oddball bed on the passenger side was missing, as was the Roo bar, the frame for the jerry cans and the spotlights – although a set of replacements for the latter were kindly donated by a MGCC member. Ditto the missing factory hardtop. Wires had been fitted, but Moss Europe supplied a set of Minilites to replicate the ones fitted in the '60s.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 12

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Abingdon Car Restorations was given the task of carrying out the expert restoration and did a fantastic job, with the original stickers painstakingly recreated from archive photographs of the car. Other people worthy of mention include Pete and Sharon Smith, who had an input into the car's build originally and helped ensure it was authentic.


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 13

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Back on the road
The historic Roadster finally made its debut at the 2018 NEC Practical Classics Restoration Show, but as John Watson, chairman of the MGCC MGB Register told us, it's still very much an ongoing project. "We're still improving it. We'd even considered trying to replicate the bed for the passenger side, but when we contacted the London College of Physicians, they couldn't find the original design, so we'd be shooting in the dark a bit with that one."


London to Sydney MGB Blog Image 14

Photo credit: MGB Register/Andrew Coles


Still, for a car that could so easily have been scrapped, or sold for parts, it's amazing it's survived at all. And the fact that it's such an accurate match to the vehicle that left London over 50 years ago to race halfway round the world is a tribute to the effort, dedication and sheer passion put into it by the MGB community.

We should all be very proud of ourselves!



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