DAVID Frake, Leo Khouri and Mark Lamb are quick to reassure us that they aren’t madmen. Although, as we stand between two irreplaceable, iconic Aussie muscle cars covered in dirt and bug guts, it would be easy to query that.
This article was first published in the August 2019 issue of Street Machine
Making mincemeat of a triple road train outside of Kununurra is no problem for a GTHO. The far northern WA town was an important hub for the Odyssey; Leo said goodbye to his son Jacob, who had joined them in Darwin, while Mark and Matt Lamb rejoined the team in their Vermilion Fire GTHO
Leo explains that their seemingly insane plan – driving their near-priceless Phase III GTHO Falcons around Australia – was born of a simple premise. “We just wanted to show people what these cars were built for – and that’s Australian roads,” he says. He’s not wrong; after 40 days and 16,953 kilometres of their Phase III Odyssey, there’s plenty of those Aussie roads still stuck to their cars as they sit amongst their cleaner, trophy-sniffing brethren at the 2019 Falcon GT Nationals in Adelaide (SM, Jul ’19).
The Ultra White example is Leo’s car, and, impressively, it’s never been stripped or restored. “It’s had plenty of work over the years; if something needed doing, it just got done, but at no time has it been apart,” he says.
Conversely, David’s Yellow Glow GTHO was restored a few years back, but he wasn’t nervous about chucking it around Australia. “I’d already covered about 20,000km since it was done. It used to look like those concours cars over there,” he says, gesturing across the hall, “and when I wash it, it’ll come up almost as good.”
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It was “those concours cars” that actually led Leo to set the challenge of throwing their rare tin around our wide, brown land. “A couple of years ago, we were sitting at the Nationals, looking around at all the cars and discussing how half of them probably couldn’t even drive out of their displays under their own power,” he says. “So I said to David that we should drive ours around Australia, just to prove a point.”
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Dave initially took the proposal as a bit of a pipe dream, until the subject came up again last year. “Even then, we just talked about it,” Leo says. “Things didn’t reach critical phase until a club meeting back in January. David started taking me seriously; then suddenly it was on.”
The boys were racing against the clock with two cyclones forming as they drove towards Townsville. Videographer Mark Calleja says: “We arrived just as the town started flooding. Leo was pushing us and said we’d drive until the road ran out.” He pauses for a second. “Then the road ran out!”
If a few short months sounds like not nearly enough time to plot routes, ready cars and get shit together, spare a thought for Mark Lamb, owner of the Vermilion Fire GTHO that joined them. “I’d been told the date I was supposed to be going, then it bloody crept up on me,” Mark says with a booming laugh. “Work commitments meant my son Matt and I could really only do the first leg from Melbourne to Griffith, across to Sydney and then part ways with the Odyssey and head back to Melbourne. Then Facebook kept showing me the stuff they were doing and how much fun they were having. It was killing me.” It must have been killing Mark’s wife too, because she told him to just go and get on with it.
“We went straight up to Mildura, then past the base of the Flinders Ranges to Port Augusta, barrelled up the Stuart Highway to Katherine and finally caught them at Kununurra, WA,” Mark explains. “I didn’t think I’d be able to drive that far without getting tired. We covered 1300km one day, but all you need is the note of a Cleveland at 5000 revs. You never get sick of it.”
Mark Lamb’s Vermilion Fire GTHO was restored in 1989, and he’s owned it since 2004. “It was one of three cars sold by Murphy Ford in Ipswich,” he says. “It’s a straight poverty pack; it never even had a radio from new.” Mark’s journey was broken up by work commitments, but despite attempting to slap his son Matt in the face with a wedge-tailed eagle, they did manage to spend some quality time together
Given the distances travelled, it’s surprising how few dramas the team suffered. Fuelling issues surfaced in Leo’s ’HO while near the Gold Coast, with an old-school carby expert employed to sort things out. Leo’s cousin Ziad Awad flew into Broome with a new starter for David’s car, his having shat itself just up the road in Derby, WA.
Dramas, even minor ones, seem to come in threes, so Mark wasn’t immune to a little suffering. “Uh, I played a game of chicken against a wedge-tailed eagle,” he says, sheepishly. “When it was clear he wasn’t going to move, I slowed to 80km/h and went to swing past him. They look slow, but he made some air and suddenly Matt was wearing half the windscreen!”
The team ran into Pino Lenzo up near Ingham. They had convened at the end of Pino’s driveway to shoot some footage, and the sugarcane farmer raced to lend a hand, assuming they’d broken down. When he found what they were driving and why, he shared that his XY GT replica hadn’t seen the road for a fair while. The next minute, he had his old Falcon cranked and idling next to its homologated brothers. “He ended up cruising along with us for about 70 kays,” Boxy says. “He told us it was the highlight of his year”
Mark and Matt were outside of Coober Pedy when it happened, but Alice Springs was the next planned destination, so the team decided to press on. “I must have called every windscreen joint in the Alice,” says Mark. “The last place I called, WB Windscreens, were just fantastic. It’s a reproduction screen, but it’s got the clear glass and the tinted band, the same as what broke. God knows how long it was on their shelf for.” The incident was hard for Mark to live down, especially with the locals. “Everyone who saw my car would ask me if I cleaned up a wedgie,” he says. Fortunately, nobody got hurt and the eagle-related damage was contained to the windscreen.
'Leo’s son Jacob tagged along for a couple of days; with his old man normally based in Lebanon, it was important time together. With Leo a cancer survivor and all participants concerned about men’s mental health, moments like these were what the trip was all about
Standing behind his ’HO at the Nats, Leo slaps a torn and tatty roadmap onto the dirty bootlid. “Here it is,” he says proudly. “The original map.” It’s immediately clear that while the cars might have survived okay, the old Ampol Road Map of Australia may not have been fit for purpose. “We had to restore this thing,” Leo admits. “It fell apart. It fell in the water. Someone threw it in a rubbish bin by mistake. It was in about six pieces and now it’s all taped together.” He begins tracing their route with a meaty finger: an anticlockwise journey from Melbourne to Adelaide, covering 16,953 kilometres. It’s epic in scale, even when laid out on an A2-sized bit of paper held together with tape.
Knowing that this may turn out to be the trip of a lifetime, Leo engaged Mark Calleja from Cleargate Pictures to fully document the journey on film. What the output will look like will be anyone’s guess – Mark’s got hours of footage to sort out yet – but you can bet it will be a fitting testament to the Odyssey.
Filming a documentary can be a repetitive process, but nobody complained about putting in five laps of the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst. Being a 50km/h zone, the Odyssey boys were well behaved and didn’t quite clock the same speeds as Moffat back in 1971, although unlike Moff, they steered clear of the cardboard boxes
It’s incredible to think a bunch of blokes can throw a trio of 50-year-old muscle cars at this big country and come out smelling like guzzoline and roses. With plenty of characters met around the nation and people joining and leaving the Odyssey along the way, there was never a dull moment; we look forward to the Cleargate Pictures documentary.
Driving on WA’s iconic Cable Beach left a pleasant taste in Mark Lamb’s mouth. “I taste-tested the inside of the rear quarter afterwards; I detected a bit of roadkill jerky, but thankfully no salt,” he laughs. “The sand was packed that hard and we went through so many freshwater crossings, you can all rest easy”
For Darryl ‘Boxy’ Rule, who took in the whole route as a co-driver and general support, the journey was personal. “My best mate Scott Blanchard took his own life a while back,” he says. “He was a detective sergeant; it’s part of the reason I did the Odyssey and one of the reasons we decided we should raise funds for these charities.” The Odyssey crew are working towards a goal of $50,000, to be split between Men’s Mental Health, Kids With Cancer Fund Australia and Police Legacy.
“I was having a snooze in my motel room when Matt took my Phase III out for some shots at Mark Calleja’s request,” Mark Lamb says. He knew nothing of their antics until he fired up Facebook and saw this pic. “‘WTF?’ I said! But I had to laugh; how good does it look?”