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40 years on, Browne and ‘Butter Bug’ to celebrate Scouts Rally SA anniversary

Jeremy Browne / Naomi Tillett - Mini Cooper S

Scouts Rally SA next weekend will mark a special anniversary for Jeremy Browne – he’ll be competing in the same Morris Cooper S he drove in the 1972 event!

But even though the Adelaide driver doesn’t expect to be an outright contender in the national or State championship divisions of the rally, this time he hopes to finish, unlike 40 years ago.

“In 1972 the steering broke, putting us out,” Browne recalled.

The Cooper S was nicknamed Butter Bug in honour of Browne’s then sponsor, dairy products company Amscol (long since closed), but in 1973 it went into storage in a shed.

Browne continued to be involved in rallying as a driver, co-driver and official, and having established a successful industrial gas equipment business he brought Butter Bug out of retirement in 2005.

Since then he has contested several tarmac rallies in the car, but Rally SA will be its first gravel rally since 1972.

“The Cooper S is better suited to zipping through the mountains on bitumen roads than bouncing along bush tracks, but it should be fine on gravel,” he said.

About the only things on it that are different from 40 years ago are the paint job and limited-slip differential, according to Browne. The 1310cc four-cylinder pushrod engine puts out around 100 horsepower (75kW) – nothing to write home about these days, but enough to make the Cooper S a pocket rocket in its day.

“Being a lot lighter than the other cars of the era, it was wickedly quick back then!” Browne said. “It’s fun to drive, although it can be a handful if you’re not careful. I’ve rolled it a couple of times ...

“After our DNF in 1972, I’ll be trying to finish this time!”

Sitting alongside Bowne in Scouts Rally SA will be versatile co-driver Naomi Tillett.

Although Tillett is best known as tarmac rally ace Tony Quinn’s regular co-driver, she has competed in National and State Championship gravel rallies and off-road events, in late model as well as classic cars.

Only last May she contested the Adelaide Hills Tarmac Rally with Rob Black in a 1973 Porsche 911 S.

Scouts Rally SA won’t be the first time that Tillett, Browne and Butter Bug have teamed up either. In 2005 they won their class and placed second in the Classic division of Rally Burnie in Tasmania.

While Tillett acknowledges that the old cars can’t hold a candle to their modern counterparts against the stopwatch, she believes that their technical simplicity is part of their attraction to rally drivers and spectators alike.

“The Classic cars don’t have electronic driver aids like all-wheel drive, ABS, traction control and stability program, but that’s part of their appeal,” she said.

“Most rally drivers like to control a car without a computer ‘nanny’ intervening – stopping the tyres spinning, the brakes locking, or cutting the power – when they’re close to the limit.

“When people watch one of these cars drifting through a corner, they know that the driver is the only one keeping it all together.

“Jeremy has his work cut out in the Cooper S, because being an old-style front-drive car it likes to go straight ahead when he turns the steering wheel.

“I’m glad I’m calling out the pace notes and not driving!”

Jeremy is one of Australia’s most experienced rally competitors. He’s been involved with the sport in one way or another since the mid-1960s.

“I started rallying in Jamaica in 1965,” he recalled. “I drove a Mini, not only because it was the car of the moment, but also because I could borrow my mother’s!

“After I migrated to Australia a few years later, though, I discovered that the Mini wasn’t the right car for rallying here.

“Back then, Australian rallies were navigation ‘trials’ held on open public roads. European ‘special stage’ rallies on closed roads didn’t take hold here until the 1980s.

“In trials, the idea was to drive to a series of locations, with a navigator using a compass and maps to plot the correct route from a set of co-ordinates or cryptic instructions.

“It was like orienteering, but in a car instead of on foot.

“The roads we used for trials wouldn’t be out of place in an off-road rally today. There were a lot of rough and boggy tracks that didn’t suit my Mini at all!”

After putting his Cooper S up on blocks at the end of 1972, Browne continued competing in local and international rallies. Mostly he drove locally built Leyland vehicles – a Kimberley, a Marina and even a P76! – during the once-great British car maker’s twilight years.

As a co-driver he won the South Australian Rally Championship four times, and as a driver he took out the Classic division of the 2000 Targa Tasmania in an ex-factory 1972 World Rally Championship Lancia Fulvia.

He has also driven the Lancia in the classic divisions of several European rallies and demonstration tours, including the famous San Remo Rally in 2002 and 2008.

By far the longest rally Browne has contested was the 1977 London-Sydney Marathon. He and two other South Australians finished 12th outright in the gruelling 30,000km epic, driving a privately entered Range Rover.

When he hasn’t been competing in rallies he’s helped to organise them. He directed Rally South Australia from 2001-03, and the Classic Adelaide tarmac rally from 1997-2001.

Naomi is one of Australia’s leading rally co-drivers, with victories in many top-line events to her credit.

Currently she is best known as co-driver with tarmac rally specialist Tony Quinn in the V.I.P. Petfoods Nissan GT-R R35. Their record of five victories in Australasia’s two biggest tarmac rallies, Targa Tasmania (2009 and 2011) and Targa New Zealand (2009-10-11) is unmatched.

Naomi has also scored outright and class placings co-driving in national and state championship dirt road rallies, as well as major off-road events such as the Australasian Safari.

Her ambition is to carve out a professional career as a co-driver in international rallying, such as the Asia-Pacific Championship or World Rally Championship.

Career Highlights:
Targa Tasmania – 1st in 2009 & 2011; 2nd in 2012; 3rd in 2010
Targa New Zealand – 1st in 2009-10-11
Rally Tasmania – 1st in 2009
Targa Wrest Point – 2nd in 2009; 3rd in 2011
Targa High Country – 2nd in 2011
Australasian Safari – 4th in 2010