Australian Driving Records

Notable Australian cross-country and inter-city driving records, including Cannonball Runs

Unlike the USA, where there is recognised start and finish locations for the cross-country Cannonball record that were established by the original Cannonball Run in 1971, all of the known and documented runs in Australia used varied routes.

In the early twentieth century, the public were captivated by attempts to set records between Australian cities. The mania started in 1907 when a pair attempted to set a Sydney to Melbourne record. The journey took two days, 17 hours and 26 minutes which included a long delay to repair the engine and radiator after the car struck a stump in the middle of the road.

Times fell over the following years, culminating in a record set in March 1930 by Don Robertson who drove solo and went from Sydney to Melbourne in 10 hours and 5 minutes, an average speed of 98.4 km/h.

Later that same year, two drivers were killed when attempting to beat the record and police stepped in and speed attempts on public roads became illegal. This ended official timing of these runs.

The earliest of the less than legal records that I could find documented was set in 1970 and was an impromptu event involving three Citroen DS21's. The cars were entered in the 1970 Ampol Trial and arrived late by ship in Perth and needed to be transported to the east coast. With an eye to publicity, Ampol suggested that the cars be driven across the country in an attempt to set new inter-city records as a promotion for the upcoming rally.

The cars started in the main street of Perth at midnight with one car destined for Brisbane (Jim Reddiex), one to Melbourne (Eddie Perkins and son Larry) and one to Sydney (David McKay and Graham Watson).

Little is known about the event other than what David McKay wrote in his auto-biography where he said that their crossing was uneventful and they made it to Artarmon in Sydney in a little under 30 hours. The Melbourne trip was also uneventful and is believed to be possibly 29 or 31 hours, and the run to Brisbane was completed in 35 hours and 51 minutes. [read more]

The next documented Australian runs were two trips made by Peter Robinson and Steve Cropley for Wheels magazine that were both from Terry Hills in the North of Sydney to Perth.

In 1977 they drove a V8-powered Ford XC Falcon and finished in 32 hours and 58 minutes, and in 1980 they made the same journey in 29 hours and 14 minutes in a 4-cylinder Alfetta sedan. [read more]

In 1981 Modern Motor magazine launched their own challenge on the cross-country record, driving from the GPO in Sydney to the GPO in Perth, a slightly longer route than the one used by Wheels magazine.

For their attempt, Peter McKay and Phil Harrison used a 1.4-litre Mitsubishi Colt, which had just been awarded the car of the year by the magazine. The little hatchback had only a 40-litre fuel tank and a top speed of 160 km/h.

When they weren't stopped for fuel (they stopped 17 times!), they managed to average close to the top speed of the car. Their best hourly average was 157 km/h.

Their final time was an impressive 29 hours and 52 minutes, having covered the 4,020 km at an average speed of 134.6 km/h. [read more]

In 1981 another team from Wheels magazine set a record of 29 hours and 59 minutes driving from Adelaide to Darwin. Journalists Bob Murray and Matt Whelan and photographer Warwick Kent did the trip in a Datsun Bluebird.

The same team sans Bob Murray ran again in 1987 but travelled in the reverse direction, Darwin to Adelaide, and knocked a massive ten hours off their previous time. This time they drove a Toyota Camry and their time was 20 hours and 52 minutes, an average speed of 145 km/h. [read more]

Next came the Cannonball Paradise to Perth which ran in 1984 and 1986, both times from Surfer's Paradise in south-east Queensland to Fremantle in Western Australia.

The finish times for these two events are a little vague but are recorded as 31 hours in 1984 and "around" 32 hours in 1986. [read more]

The 1984 Cannonball Cup is possibly the most recognised and the most participated event of this type. It ran from Digger's Rest, in the north-west of Melbourne, to Fremantle, but included a significant deviation to Albany in Western Australia, as competitors were required to stop at two checkpoints along the way.

The fastest team finished in 32 hours and 22 minutes but were later disqualified as they broke an event rule which was not to get caught for any significant breach of road rules (they were caught for speeding). The second team finished in 33 hours and 4 minutes and were awarded the win. [read more]

See also: Around Australia driving records

Summary of records and attempts

Average Speed Event Distance Time
145.3 km/h Darwin to Adelaide, Wheels, 1987 3,032 km 20:52
~142 km/h Paradise to Perth, 1984 ~4,392 km ~31:00
137.5 km/h Sydney to Perth, Wheels, 1980 4,041 km 29:14
134.6 km/h Sydney to Perth, Modern Motor, 1981 4,020 km 29:52
~130 km/h Perth to Sydney, Citroen/Ampol, 1970 ~3,862 km ~30:00
~117 km/h Cannonball Cup, 1984 ~3,779 km 32:22
108.8 km/h Adelaide to Darwin, Wheels, 1981 3,262 km 29:59

The author and website owner do not condone, endorse or encourage any attempts to break these records or drive contrary to any road rules and laws. This information is provided purely for historic reasons.