Michael Ward’s first rally in 1977 was something to forget. In a basically standard Mini and with a novice navigator, they placed last by a LONG WAY. So he “retired” until he could compete in something approaching a prepared car.
In the late 1970s he was able to use his “daily driver”, a KE20 Toyota Corolla with marginally beefed up suspension, half cage and 4 point harnesses. After running a few events on road tyres, he even managed to run some mud and snow tyres and was able to afford another road car, allowing for this to be a full-time rally machine. This car met its end buried in a large tree somewhere in the Daylesford/Trentham area after understeering off a wet greasy road. Not much was salvageable apart from the brand new Cibie Super Oscars!
He replaced it with a “fully prepared, ready to rally” machine. Another KE20 that had some nice bits left over from the 1979 Round Australia Rally, including a 5 speed close ratio gearbox. It also had bigger brakes and the bigger 1600 2T motor.
With navigation legend, David Smith, who was also a novice at this stage, the team did well in the Victorian Trials Championship.
Much money and time was spent on this car, but the State Bank Discovery Trial beckoned in 1986. Michael and Dave together with John Ellis spend most of the year converting a 1975 KE35 into a Group A TE37 (replica) and competed in the now famous event around all of South Australia.
After many mishaps, in the late stages of the event, the car rolled a number of times after aquaplaning in a sheet of water covering the road. Although Michael and Dave were able to finish the event, the car was a mess, and Michael “retired” from the sport.
This car was able to be repaired for the 1989 John Pryce Memorial Ye Olde BP rally in which Dave and Michael finished in the top 10 including winning division 4.
So a second “retirement” took place.
In 2009, with his children having left school, Michael now had the finance and time to return to his passion – and when trawling through eBay, he found a familiar car – not his original – but a KE55 Corolla hardtop with “all the good stuff”. Again, “ready to rally”.
More money, more time, a lot more money saw this car, and Michael’s driving improve, first with his daughter Di Bailey pointing the way, and then a variety of co-driver/navigators.
This car met it’s end in the 2013 Nissan Nightmoves when a bank jumped out and destroyed the steering and left hand rail.
Michael’s goal was to get back to marathon type events, and it was decided to reshell the car to compete in the 2014 Classic Outback Trial. The rest of 2013 was spent building the car , with its first outing being the 2013 Alpine Rally of East Gippsland, where it finished, albeit slowly, with the front suspension geometry being totally wrong.
The car now seemed to need more power (when doesn’t a rally car need more power!), so more time and money were spent sourcing “rally cams” and having an engine rebuilt.
Together with a longer diff, the car reached the start line of the 2014 Classic Outback Trial in Parkes with co-driver Jenny Pollock. Despite breaking a gearbox on the first stage, Michael and Jenny completed the event in 26th place. More of this adventure later.
While the car had more grunt, the power band no longer suited the gearbox. Using the 2015 Alpine of East Gippsland as a shakedown for the 2106 Classic Outback Trial showed the car had the speed but lost way too much time when it “fell off the cam” without an acceptable gear to choose.
A solution was required!
That came in the form of a 6-speed gearbox from a Lexus IS200 which bolted straight onto the back of the existing 2T-G motor!
Additionally, Michael finally had the TE37 bonnet and grille fitted so the car now looked the part of a Levin replica.
This made a huge difference and in the 2016 Classic Outback Trial Michael, with co-driver John Fraser, achieved their aim of winning their class and finishing a creditable 15th outright.
Although achieving a good finish, the crew was let down by the ageing suspension, which was not able to cope with the harsh outback terrain. A decision was made to fit bespoke “Murray Coote” suspension all round. McPherson struts up front and dampers for the rear leaf springs on the rear.
The engine was also now tired from 2 COTs, 2 Alpines, the State Bank Rerun and the Southern Cross Gold Anniversary Rally and it was decided to get it fully overhauled by engine wizard Les Collins.
The full rebuild was debuted in the Beyond the Black Stump TRE put on by the Historic Rally Club of NSW and ACT, where Michael and co-driver Raymond Daniel were consistently in the top 3 during the speed events.
In the 2017 Alpine Rally of East Gippsland, an “overrev” of the engine and a bolt holding a rear damper falling out meant a DNF, but the car is showing huge potential and was well placed in the class before retirement.