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Loose Bruce and Ed Hooligan

4WD WORLD has some characters amongst its members. There's the flamboyant Bruce Garland who runs a 4WD workshop at Rydalmere in Sydney and his best mate, Ed Mulligan, the creator of the 4WD WORLD concept.

Reprinted from "Motor" magazine August/September 1997, here's the story about their exploits in Holden Jackaroos. They decided to have some 'serious fun' and set cross country times in the Northern Territory where you can still have a lead foot and it doesn't cost you dearly.

The story is by reputable 4WD journalist, Chris Gable, and pictures by Steve Strike from Alice Springs.

BREAK FOR THE BORDER!

It's 12.45 and Bruce Garland grins and admits, "I don't actually know where the post office is". Potentially, this is a problem. Our ETD has already been revised from midday to one o'clock, and in the next 15 minutes we have to fill the other car, eat, say goodbye to the local GM dealer and be ready to shoot for a new cross-country record from Alice Springs to Tobermorey, on the Queensland border - almost 600 full-bore kilometres away along the inappropriately named Plenty Highway.

The morning has been one of Bruce's self-proclaimed "Outback logistical nightmares", and I'm about to suggest that our departure time should possibly be relaxed a tad to two o'clock.

At that precise second Bruce flings open the driver's door and leaps into his seat, all smiles and larger than life. He's farewelled the local dealer and got directions to the post office. "Mate!" is all he says, again with a big smile. We adjust our five-point harnesses, synchronise our clocks, drive around the comer and, in what seems like seconds, we're double parked outside the post office and ready for the countdown. One o'dock it is.

We're not exactly in a Ford Festiva, either. We're harnessed and helmeted inside Bruce's loudly sign written, 1996 Australian Safari-winning Holden Jackaroo, fresh from the bone grinding Finke Desert Race in which it finished eighth outright and first four- wheel drive the day before. Built like a Bathurst car - stripped and fabricated, bristling with a 225 kW plus 3.24itre 24-valve I-GM R&D department special V6 - the Jackaroo is road registered. Don't ask me how. It's also a brutally efficient cross country express. Just what we need.

The only disconcerting touch in the otherwise clinical cabin is the bicycle pump and tin can reservoir alongside my seat. Bruce's regular navigator, Harry 'Zuki' Suzuki, tells me it's to keep pressure up to the callipers that otherwise have a tendency to push away from the discs at speed. If I see the little gauge on the reservoir drop below around 50 kP, I have to pump like crazy.

Garland sees the bemused look on my face and laughs. "That's our high tech anti-pad knocker," he says.

Harry also shows me how to operate the more user friendly, custom made trip computer that's bolted to the top of the dashboard, directly in front of me.

Surprisingly, there are few auxiliary gauges in the car. 'Worry gauges," Bruce calls them. "You haven't got time to look at gauges anyway," he says. The speedometer and tachometer are standard issue Jackaroo, and there's only a small water temp gauge centre dash. The Jackaroo's fuel gauge is inoperative, and we're to rely on sight gauges built into the 310 litre alloy fuel tank that takes up most of the rear cabin space, behind the solid cargo barrier at our backs.

I buckle up the helmet I've borrowed from Harry for the occasion, pull down my intercom mike and peer down into the deep carbon fibre panelled pocket in my string-pull, bare bones door and find a battery powered knocking gun and a small cooler bag cable-tied to the side housing a bottle of still mineral water, a roll of racing tape, some rags and a roll of loo paper. I ask Bruce what the loo paper's for, half expecting him to tell me it's for wiping his glasses or something similarly practical, and he smiles again, "That's for if you can't wait". We're indeed ready for anything.

This record run - unofficial but official, if you know what I mean, will be the Jackaroo's swan song before a bigger engined, newer Jackaroo is prepared for this year's Safari. 'We don't need CAMS sanction because we're not doing anything illegal," Bruce says. 'We're in a road registered car, we'll do the speed limit in the signed areas. Then we can do whatever we want."

You should be told that the record attempt is the work of Garland and long-time rallying friend and cohort, Ed Mulligan. They've written their own rules, but the attempt is being made for a noble cause. And, let's face it, for fun.

And why not? Sir Francis Birtles and others established speed records between Australian capital cities as early as 1912. They wrote their own rules, too. And, you'd hope, they had some fun along the way.

"The whole city society we're living in is becoming over-regulated," Garland had said earlier, explaining the noble cause side of the equation. "out here, they've still got common sense. Once you get out of the cities and towns, there are no speed limits.

"It's constantly jammed down our throats that speed kills, but it's not speed that kills," he says, "What causes road crashes is lack of concentration and the fact that people aren't taught how to drive properly in the first place. I believe the revenue raising from speeding fines should be spent on your driver education. You've got to start with the schools if you're serious about teaching people how to drive.

"I want to show that speed doesn't kill if you do it properly," Garland says. "In the right conditions - you obviously don't go through a shopping centre at 100 km/h, and you don't do 180 in the rain - you can drive quickly without endangering anybody."

Mulligan will follow us, flat-out in a standard Jackaroo also shod with race-style Kevlar belted Bridgestones. The tyres are larger than showroom spec and just the thing for headlong dirt road record attempts.

Ed's participation in the stock Jackaroo is also in the name of research, of course.

Then it's suddenly one o'clock - time to zero the trip computer and move out into the ambling Alice traffic, made even more agonising by the relentless bright red numbers whirring on the digital stopwatch in front of me. There seem to be cars and medium level chaos everywhere. Panama-hatted bowlers crawl their Camrys in front of us. Pedestrians stroll across zebra crossings under the deep blue sky. Everything that had been going so fast a few minutes ago now seems to be slowing down ... everything except our heartbeats and those big red digits.

At last we're finally away. The Stuart Highway's derestricted sign, 5.65 km from the post office on the northern outskirts of Alice Springs, is the signal for Bruce to put the hammer down, and the Jackaroo's quad cam engine baaaaarrp, baaaaarrrpp, baaaaarrppps its way through the gears, Bruce changing each time just before the 7500 rpm rev limiter kicks in. Strangely, the engine noise seems to move back through the car as we build up speed; at an indicated 200 km/h and 6750 rpm in fifth, you'd swear the thing was rear engined.

I'm pleased to see Bruce button off when we come up behind slower cars, content to sit behind until the road ahead is clear, despite the relentless stopwatch.

The turn-off to Tobermorey arrives in a rush at precisely 69 km and 28 minutes and 25 seconds. Bruce grabs fourth, pulls down hard right and we're suddenly hurtling down the single lane bitumen that kicks off the Plenty Highway, the V6 right in its stride and sounding incredibly strong - and loud - behind us.

Vehicle preparation the afternoon before had been what you might call minimal. After almost 500 km of the Finke, the Jackaroo's oil had been topped up, tyres kicked, one and a half 44 gallon drums of Avgas hand-pumped in, and Garland and team manager Nigel Bowling had a quick look underneath while the car was up on a hoist. And that was it. I'd expected a bigger palaver. "You just have to know what to look for," Nigel said when he saw my puzzled look. "I can see every bolt of this car in my sleep."

Since last year's Safari win, the Jackaroo has new, US-made Fox air bump stops (that work like mini, inverted shock absorbers effectively cushioning crash landings, I'm pleased to hear), new 313 mm Brembo discs front and rear with four-pot callipers and an in cabin adjustable brake balance bar system. There's also a new Holinger five speed and a bunch of new 'Trooper' stickers on the body, especially for the Japanese market.

Back on the Plenty, there are water mirages in the dips up ahead, wedge tails with wingspans as wide as the Jackaroo hover over roadkill roos, the dirt is orange and sometimes almost crimson between stunted, ancient trees on either side of the bitumen, and the magnificent Harts Range looms into view... along with our first confrontation with a road train., It's trailing a thunder cloud of dust, and Bruce slows right down and pulls off to the left as the two dog behemoth lumbers past. "we're gonna give those big bastards absolute right of way!" he says over the intercom. Again I'm quietly pleased.

The first 100 horizon-shaking kilometres - including the crawl out of Alice Springs - takes 39 minutes. I pull the mike closer to my mouth and tell Bruce we've already knocked over our first century. "Whoeee," he hoots back. "It's great! I love it! And the cops can't pull us over!"

The thin black line of bitumen runs out 167.54 km from the Alice Springs P0, by which time we've been on the road for 1 hr 02 mm 55 sec. The fuel load is lightening and Bruce remains alert and focussed, making subtle corrections at the wheel as the now- orange dirt gets loose in some stretches, tramline in others. He's alert and focussed, that is, until he erupts over the intercom with, "We didn't buy any lollies!" We didn't, either.

We've overtaken a Kingswood station wagon and two four-wheel drives by now - one a LandCruiser crawling along mid road while the woman drive cleaned her glasses, oblivious to all around her - and each time Bruce has slowed down. "You can't gas it as you pass 'em," he tells me. "It just showers 'em. You get to the other end and they come in swinging." Sounds like the voice of experience.

Behind us at all times is the finely pitched bellow of that strong, sweet V6 bolted and seemingly Loctite-bonded to 6400 rpm and 190 km/h in fifth.

Our first 'air' happens at 185 km/h just past the Harts Range police station. It sneaks up quickly and we're airborne, probably a metre off the ground, in an instant. Bruce keeps his foot flat into it and the engine note hardly dips as we fly. The new air bump stops prove their worth during the landing. "I like those ones!" Bruce hollers.

But the biggest jump is still up the road, waiting for us somewhere on that blurred horizon.

We find it eight minutes later, while we're both intent on what looks like either a cyclist or someone standing on the side of the road. Bruce backs off, until it becomes obvious that it's neither, and he stomps on the throttle again. While we're both looking to see exactly what it is (it's a wooden post), the planet suddenly drops from under us and, oh shit, we're airborne again. Unfortunately, I am drinking from my water bottle at the time.

"Yee haa," Bruce hollers. "There's about 500 of them to Finke and back. Flies nice, doesn't it?" I don't have the heart to tell him my bottle cap has flown nicely too - across the cabin, lodging itself somewhere under Bruce's seat. I naively resolve to use my left thumb as a stopper next lift-off.

The 300 km mark arrives in 1 hr 49 mm 33 sec. I pass on the milestone to Bruce who answers "That's not bad is it? I can almost hear his mental calculations through the intercom and over the bellowing quad cam.

'Cookie' and Darryl, from Bruce and Ed's support crew, are waiting with Bruce's truck at the Jervois station turn-off 349.60 km from the Alice Springs post office. We arrive in a flurry and stop, partly so Cookie can check the fuel consumption (we've got 160 litres left) and partly so Bruce can have a pee.

The stop takes three minutes exactly, and just as Bruce is shutting his door, Darryl reaches in, hands me back my bottle and two Mars bars, instantly establishing himself a reputation as a great man.

The other members of the support crew left Alice Springs in a twin-engined plane around 2pm, heading for our overnight destination of Urandangi, almost 100 km north of Tobermorey, the border post at the end of the Plenty. And just before the 400 km mark, the plane arrives overhead and follows us for 50-odd kilometres, then pulls ahead, turns and heads back towards us at low altitude. Bruce is delighted.

We've seen a lot of big wedge tails on the side of the road, now carrion eaters feasting on roadkill and no longer proud hunters. The in-helmet intercom crackles in Brucespeak as we pass two birds picking at a dead roo: "Hit one of those, mate, and it can f--k the front of your car."

Then almost on queue, there's a big eagle up ahead, hunched over a recent roadkill roo but still standing nearly doorhandle high. It's seen us and no doubt heard us bearing down on it at 185 km/h. Bruce hits the brakes, and in rapid slow-mo the eagle unfurls its big wings, wheels left, then right, then straight in front of us. In a nanosecond it's sucked under the car and, I hope, out the back. (Ed Mulligan, next car on the road behind us and doing incredibly well in the stocker Jackaroo, said he didn't see any dead eagles.)

"Son of a bitch," Bruce says forlornly as the eagle disappears under the car. A smaller bird later suicides on Bruce's side, and we manage to avoid the straggling cattle and bullocks - "spectators", Bruce calls them - and the few roos we encounter towards the end of the run. They've helped us test the new brakes - although I haven't had to use the bicycle pump - and cost us seconds here and there.

"I don't know if we've got a back tyre going," Bruce announces at 510 km. "It could be a slow leak. Or it could just be the road." Great! Then he pipes in with: "The tyres could be overheating. There's friction between the tyre and the tube. It happens towards the end of the longer Safari sections. It gets a bit squirmy."

We've backed off to 170 km/h at 5750 rpm, and it gradually becomes obvious that the tyres are going to hold for the final stretch. Off to the right are two road train 'dogs' on their sides, stripped of their running gear already and surrounded by probably 30 rotting cattle. The stench is indescribable.

Minutes later we turn hard left into the small compound at Tobermorey and stop at 570.53 km. The big red numbers on the stopwatch read 3 hr 33 mm 50 sec, and that's including our three minute comfort stop at Jervois. An average 163 km/h for our time on the road and 260 litres of fuel. I look across and Bruce is practically glowing.

If you take away the 13 minutes the boys took to refuel the standard Jackaroo from four and a half Jerry cans, Ed Mulligan's 3 hr 48 mm 45 sec time on the mad also was impressive indeed. To average 150 km/h and effectively finish 17 minutes behind the reigning Australian Safari winner said a lot about both Mulligan's driving and the Jackaroo.

"I don't think either of us endangered anybody," Mulligan said later. Garland agreed. 'We went quicker than I thought we would, and I reckon we've just showed that you can drive that fast and still be safe," he said. "If speed kills, everyone in the Northern Territory would be dead.

"By fining people for speeding, the authorities in the states are trying to fix the cause, not the problem," he says. "The problem is lack of concentration and lack of driver training.

"I reckon people have no problem putting computers in schools, but they should be training the kids how to drive and how to use the roads," he said. "It doesn't matter if you make a mistake on a computer. Make one mistake in a car, and you're dead, or you can kill somebody else."

But did he have any fun, I ask later, on the light plane on the way back to Alice Springs. "No mate, it was horrible," Garland beamed, laughing long and hard.

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