Holden VH Commodore

Driven by Murray Buchan and Darryl Penley

Car no.
Murray Buchan, Darryl Penley
Holden VH Commodore
Powder blue
T22 (WA)
3rd – 33h 5m 0s

The 1984 Cannonball Run was the best fun event you could have with your pants on. How my driver found out about the event was beyond me and I have been an avid motorsport fan since the 60's. Murray Buchan has been a rallyist since the early 70's in W.A. When he asked me what I thought about going in the event, 'Bloody Oath, I'll be in it.'

My job was to prepare the car, seeing as Murray was paying the entry fee. Being in the Motor Industry and having a Tuning business, I am sure I can make the Powder Blue 253 VH Dunnydore a flying machine. First we must have more fuel capacity, call number one friend Kevin around the corner at K-Craft.

Holden VH Commodore (Buchan/Penley) (Source: Darryl Penley)

'Errh Kevin, have you any stuff ups in the fuel tank department? Years ago there was one made back to front.'

Yes looks Ok let's see if it fits in the boot of the high power drilled air cleaner 253. Bingo! It fitted perfectly. A couple of brackets, a snazzy flip top cap and we're away, along with a pump and the biggest red light switch you could buy mounted on the bottom of the dash.

'Errh Murray looks a bit low at the back when both tanks are full. Hey, let's try the Nissan Rally shocks and see what happens.'

All fixed!

Expenses so far – 8 spark plugs, 1 second hand fuel pump, 1 new switch, 4x 25mm holes in A/cleaner n/c, 2 borrowed 100w globes for the Cibie Super Oscars.

'This is getting expensive Murray.'

Meanwhile Murray was dribbling the entrance fee over to the Organiser Adams, just in case it all went belly up, can't be too cautious.

The time arrived to leave for the start in Victoria. Our game plan was discussed and away we went. By the time we reached Merredin, it cruised at 150kph Ok but over that it sounds a bit busy and the big Rockchester 4BL drinks a lot more. A good thing about driving from the west we knew how many km we were capable of, about 1,000 – 1,100km range.

Holden VH Commodore (Buchan/Penley) (Source: Darryl Penley)

Arrived in Melbourne around midnight on the Wednesday and stayed at some flea ridden Motel in the centre of town but out of there first thing next day, down to Datrally in Cheltenham to change oil and a general check. Booked into another Motel, this time north of Melbourne, close to the Calder Hwy.

Murray paid the last instalment of entry fee and was told the start time and start location.

Next afternoon, Friday, we motored to a private property a few minutes north of the Calder Raceway. This position was well chosen as we were over a hill and had privacy from the main road.

What a sight, there we were in our High Comp 253 Powder Blue Commodore, along with numerous Brock Commodores, one Ton Utes, Fairlanes, Mad Max look-a-like Falcons etc.

I was starting to develop a complex!

The next minute our high powered 253 wets it's nappy! A tiny hole appeared on the lower radiator hose by the hose clamp. At 32,000kms I don't think a GMH warranty will cover it.

'Ok Murray, as vehicle preparer I will fix it, where's the spare hose?'

'Don't have any Darryl, it's only a new car.'

'Ok, take a walk Murray, I'll fix it.'

The entrance list was approx 43 cars, plus 1 one tonner mobile tanker with back covered...Mmmm!

Next minute a Helicopter arrived with the Organiser on board for a short briefing, he wished us luck and a safe trip.

At the start (Source: Darryl Penley)

'See you in Perth Sunday night for the presentation.'

Approx. 4.30pm the first car away, we were car 38, belt up and away we go. Drive over the rise onto the Calder Hwy and hey presto, cars and people everywhere.

'Thought this was supposed to be a secret?'

Photos taken by Police, now we were famous complete with mug shot!

The route instructions were very 'complicated' no speeding, obey all road rules, the Organisers are not responsible for your health or well-being. You will drive to the two control points between Melbourne and Perth, one being Berri S.A. and the second Albany W.A.

'We're going home Murray, do you have enough dollars for petrol? I can rattle the piggy bank.'

The Calder Highway was buzzing with activity, there must be another way.

'Let's turn left here and we'll cut across to Avoca. This is the way I used to drive from Puca to Adelaide years ago.'

That did the trick, no cars, no traffic and away we go on our cruising speed. We started to pick up other competitors when the Sunrasia and Calder Hwy merged. We were a virtual fast freight train through to Berri, with a lot of chatter on the CB.

Just short of Berri, parked on the side of the road was a Fairlane, they must have wanted to stop for a brew because the 'billy' was boiling vigorously, more on that later.

Evidently the Calder Hwy was very active with constables.

One car we were travelling in convoy with, was the GMH dealer of Berri. He broke contact to carry out small warranty adjustments to his VK EFI 6 cyl. I wonder what the warranty cost were at midnight.

The ra..run to Morgan and beyond was quiet, the presence of nature started to make some pressure felt, being a bit slow I then realised what the milk cartons on the back floor were for. My driver read the rules, no stopping until we fill the fuel tank – jees it's hard to tie that knot!

About an hour short of Pt Augusta we noticed lights in the distance, cresting the small hill at the regulation speed limit, there was a car on the side of the road, same colour as ours, with lovely strips and a big aerial at the back, just like ours. How nice - we slowed down, window down and wished them a pleasant night, they smiled the same greeting to us and we motored away. Cads, I bet they had a 308 in theirs.

Arrived in Pt Augusta early morning, refuelled, relieved and replenished. At the entrance to the bridge another window greeting with the boy's in blue. The S.A. guys were monitoring the drive, if you abided by the town rules all was Ok.

At this stage we knew jack sh.. what was going on, where we were in the field of 44. We must have been in front of a few cars after the alternative route we took in Vic.

Around Kimba we were passed by the red Falcon Rent-a-car crewed by the two journalists, as they say Red Renta's are fast cars. All was routine, a quiet country drive through S.A. until somewhere around Nullabour we were passed by two other competitors, making us look like we were on a Sunday drive.

Eucla was done and dusted and no more activity from the boys in blue, until approaching Madora. We were talking to an East bound truckie who informed us directly behind him was a blue car. We had no sooner passed the truck when the said car 'U' turned and proceeded to stop us. Lost for words..heck 110kph is the legal speed limit but being law abiding citizens we pulled over.

'I know what you are doing, you know what I am doing, so keep off the radio.'

With that we were allowed to go. Murray and I looked at each other and said,

'They know what's on, we'll have to be on our toes from now on.'

All was quiet again until approx 50-70 km west of Balladonia. Along the old road were a series of small valleys, the distance between each was approx 10km. As we approached the eastern side the Whistler gave one beep, down to 110km, down and down we travelled until as we bridged the last valley at the bottom approx 300mts in front, were 4-5 competitors on the side of the road and a patrol car doing a 'U' turn. As soon as he had straightened up the whistler went berserk. We were only doing 80km at this stage and all google eyed at what was going on.

After resuming our cruising speed, on clear roads with enough distance as far as radio range, we now had 5 cars following us. We could now start our CB chatter.

'Ok guys, road clear you can pass now.'

'No we will follow you, we've had the riot act read to us and have to report at Norseman Police Station.'


Norseman was our refuelling, relieving and replenishing stop, we refuelled at the station in the centre of town. The young guy manning the pumps was very supportive of our cause and informed us of 3 plain Commodores that had arrive that morning from somewhere and all units had been dispatched from country towns to head to the coast 'to catch those Cannonballers.'

With a keen eye, a good whistler and 110% concentration with our entourage in tow, who had been given our game plan, we found and passed the three cars mentioned and continued on our way.

All was quiet on the western front approaching Salmon Gums, we crested a slight rise at our cruising speed, low and behold a patrol car parked on the side of the road facing us with the radar gun 6 on the bonnet. Just short of flat spotting four tyres, we were below 110km by the time he realised and grabbed the radar gun. Must say they're well trained and courteous, we had to slow down and pass the time of day along with other pleasantries. As we left I said to Murray,

'Was that smoke coming out of his ears?'

We wanted to radio back to Perth via the HF radio, remember I mentioned our car looked just like a patrol car as we had the big aerial mounted on a bracket on the rear bumper. To use the HF we had to be stationary with engine off. We told the guys following what we were doing and to continue on to Esperence.

A road came up to our right, checked the map, it happened to trunkate Esperence and possibly save 5-10km. More than that, it allowed us to continue on our cruising speed instead of slowing down through Esperence.

Holden HX One Tonner (Kovacs/Walsh) (Source: Darryl Penley)

Onwards to Ravensthorpe, at that time the sun never sets when travelling west, we had been on the road just short of 24 hours, with very little sleep, only dozing. That sun sure plays havoc with your concentration, secret weapon No.1 Biltong or Beef Jerky, chewing that really wakens the face muscles – hey presto, awake! West of Ravensthorpe the sun was starting to set and the activity started to hot up. No other competitors had been sighted, passed or overtaken us but the constabulary were everywhere, up side roads, appearing from nowhere, the single 'beep' from the Whistler was all we needed.

We arrived at Albany control somewhere betwen 7-8pm and asked how many cars had been through.

'You're the third car.'

To our amazement we were told most of the cars had been stopped in Esperence for a friendly chat for a 'couple' of hours, a possible inspection or two and general enquiries.

It was Murray's turn to drive the last leg into Fremantle but with so much activity we knew the ra..run was over, so elected to cruise to the finish. Back in 1984 there were not a lot of vehicles on the road between 10pm and 5am, but the amount of times the Whistler was beeping was ridiculous. I'm sure there was more crime to solve than chase us silly buggers on a drive. Murray pulled the pin on driving because of concentration, our game plan was always, if someone is tired the other to take over, so no accidents occur. We arrived at the Round House in Fremantle approx 1am. The Black one tonner mobile fuel tank and the Beige/Maroon Brock modified SLE Commodore were the two cars in front of us.

We headed home for breakfast, debrief and sleep ready for the Sunday night slap up $10.000 winner take all cheque presentation. The presentation was held at the Chateau Commodore Hotel, the food and drinks flowed along with a million stories, some tampering with the truth, some bordering on the truth but what a night, not a bad word about each other, just what happened along the way...'Jeez you passed us like we were standing still'.. so it went on. A really good social night with like minded enthusiasts

Cannonball Cup t-shirt (Source: Darryl Penley)

Below are some of the stories that came out on the night

1. The Fairlane that cooked coming into Mildura, waited until Saturday morning, bought another car and finished Sunday afternoon.

2. Red Renta Rocket, expired somewhere in W.A. Imagine making up a story on that one, would have to include a few days delay in the claim form.

3. Mad Max Replica (entered by Dairybell Industries) left Calder on a trailer behind a tow truck, lack of vehicle rego –so we heard. When a safe distance away from activities, it was unloaded and driven along with Porsche Pace Car, when certain road blocks were evident, activities stopped for Champagne and Chicken picnic. They finished Sunday afternoon and probably don't eat chicken anymore.

4. Several competitors had multiple court appearances, i.e. Eucla and Norseman at 10am Monday morning. You would have to be a double sided coin and a split personality to be in two places at once.

5. Did we hear a rumour that the two vehicles ahead of us were also up for traffic offenses?

The amazing thing was, taking into account the long distance and reasonable high speed, not one vehicle accident or casualty happened. This maybe due to the high proportion of genuinely competent drivers involved.

The cherry on the top has to be when Murray informed me 2 days later,

'Guess what, the cheque bounced!'

Oh well as Malcolm said 'life wasn't meant to be easy', I'm sure like all of us competitors we couldn't have cared less, it really was a hoot. The organisers' expenses, i.e. the helicopter, airfares to Perth and return, accommodation and slap-up presentation dinner, may have had something to do with the rubber cheque.

Who knows!

Darryl Penley

Next team