Vale – Gerry Crown O.A.M. 17/05/1932-14/03/2021
It is with the heaviest of hearts I write this, my great friend and rally partner died peacefully in his sleep at 1.15am on the 14/03/2021 surrounded by family.
Not one to do things by halves, “in for a penny in for a pound” as Gerry would say, he finally succumbed to a very intensive fight with the most aggressive type of brain cancer there is.
A shock to us all.
Never one to give up, he was still planning our assault on the 2022 Peking to Paris and thinking of ways we could improve our efforts especially as he would be 90 by then.
Gerry was a successful business man, family man & rally driver.
Gerry grew up in Peckham London UK, an only child.
It didn’t take long for Gerry to realise a keen interest and love for speed and manoeuvring vehicles. He was a passionate cyclist, he and friends built their own bicycles and I’m sure terrorised all of greater London. It wasn’t until later Gerry found out his father was one of those heroic men who raced at Brooklands.
Leaving School he entered for his national service and joined the Air Force. This saw him posted in Tripoli where he contracted very bad pleurisy. Back to England and into a Convalescent home, as was normal in those days, he met Kevin Bell. Kevin is another lively character just like Gerry and the two shared many interests and became lifelong friends, but MOST importantly Kevin could drive and had a car!
As the two of them recovered Gerry was given driving lessons, he passed his driving test the day he was released and went and bought a car that day.
This would make you think Kevin was the world’s best driving instructor.
Gerry went to pick up his new car somewhere in London but was too scared to turn right across traffic so drove home over the next few hours in ever increasing squares turning left where he could.
Obviously with some time and practice things improved – a lot!
Gerry came to Australia in 1957 with his childhood friend Vic Andrews, Vic had been a few times and kept raving about it to anyone that would listen, Gerry thought he should “see what it was all about” and never left.
Gerry started rallying in the early 60’s at a time in Australia where the average run of the mill rally was at night time, 500 miles long and entirely competitive.
His Favourite stories from this period are as follows. (His words recorded before he passed)
“ I entered my first rally in a Mini 850, the 1963 BP Rally as it was the most prestigious and at that point I was the greatest driver of all time, I just hadn’t had the chance to prove it yet.”
The BP Rally was 4 days and 2500miles, hardly a beginner’s event.
“On the last day, having just seen a photographer and driving much too fast, I cut the next corner so fine I put the front wheel into empty air! We were on the Grand Ridge Road very narrow with a big drop on the right. The car rolled down the mountain about eight times, fortunately cushioned by young saplings so that when we stopped we were unharmed. The car was upside down, every panel was deformed but having looked at the car I considered that it would still go. This was my first meeting with the famous ‘Gelignite Jack Murray’. He called down from high up on the road to see if we were all right and promised to get us a tow truck. Many hours later when the tow truck did arrive I told him he had to pull us up carefully as I thought the car would still run. He looked at me strangely but sure enough when it was pulled the hundred feet or so back onto the road we gave it a push and it started. The rally was due to end at Chadstone shopping centre at three o’clock in the afternoon. We arrived at around 9 PM and met the rally director Don Thompson leaving the restaurant. We booked in with Don and won the novice prize!”
Gerry’s other story from the early days always came up in Peking to Paris style events when people ask “is he the greatest driver ever” or something similar.
He would say “I started rallying because in my mind I was the fastest driver on the planet, then on one of my first events I was driving very fast down a dirt road and there goes ‘Gelignite Jack Murray’ roaring past me, it was then I realised I might not have been the fastest driver on the planet”
Gerry has endless stories about the early days of rallying in Australia and the adventures they entailed.
He did develop greatly as a driver and he was always very modest about his results, results that proved he was in the end one of the fastest men in Australia (perhaps later the world) especially if he was given a reliable car.
He was successful enough to become a factory driver for Renault, driving their R8 Gordinis to multiple successes.
In the 1970’s he concentrated on business and took up rallycross with a supercharged escort which he thoroughly enjoyed.
In 1985 he entered the Wynns Safari (Australia’s safari/Dakar) a very tough off road event where out of 283 starters less than 80 finished. Gerry was one of the few finishers and won the “seniors “ award – yes back in 1985 they thought he was an old man!
He then took another break from motorsport to concentrate on business and charity work. He donated a lot of time and effort to children’s charities, something that was recognised with the Order of Australia Merit.
In 1995 he read in an English paper about an amazing event being run in 1997 by Philip Young, the second running, 90 years later of the Peking to Paris. He instantly called my dad to see if he was interested in navigating – the fact it was 3am in Australia and he woke the whole house up never worried him.
This started his voyage into modern classic endurance rallying something he would call a “significant part of his life” and although Gerry had known me for life, this was the start of our real friendship.
Dad and Gerry went on to come 2nd in the Classics on the 1997 Peking to Paris in their 1964 Holden EH, a car Gerry used a lot!
The 2007 Peking to Paris came around and according to the Chinese, both dad and Gerry were too old to drive. The Chinese licensing laws stated that no one over 70 could have a driving licence, Gerry would be 75 and dad 76, and with that a life changing and wonderful opportunity for me.
With a hand shake and “welcome aboard” from Gerry my life changed on that spot.
That was the beginning of a fantastic friendship and ended up the ultimate team of endurance rallying, together we were unstoppable.
We were often asked how we got along or how the dynamic worked and the honest answer is that we were just great mates, we got along extremely well, we were both extremely competitive and both very task orientated.
If something went wrong we worked hard and efficiently to rectify it and recover, then we would have a laugh over a drink afterwards.
Strictly business in the car, he knew how to flick the fun switch as soon as he got out and something that sticks with most of us is his infectious laugh usually heard in a bar straight after a long day in the car, or booming across a Mongolian campsite – something that endeared him to everyone.
Gerry was a late entry in 2007 as he had business commitments and was unsure if he could manage the time off. As a result the Classics section was full and we had to enter in the Vintageant section.
John Bryson (my father, Australian Rally Hall of Famer) had arranged a 1940 Buick straight 8 for their (and then our) entry, dad has a great technical knowledge of most things mechanical and all motor cars where Gerry had none, so if dad said it was good Gerry wisely took that word as gospel. He has chosen a winning car in the Holden and strongly believed the Buick was the winning choice of available pre-war cars – a decision we all stand by today.
Whilst on paper 2007 wasn’t our greatest event, Gerry and I often reminisce of the “one that got away” our experiences in the desert and 24 hours non-stop on a truck. Never a team to give up, we set about repairing the “unrepairable” car in Russia. We set many fastest times in the Buick not only in the vintage section but we also beat the times of the top classic cars , a testament to Gerry’s driving and dads choice in vehicle.
One of my strongest memories of all the rallies is the conversation I had with Gerry at the end of the 2007 Peking to Paris as we drove down Champs-Elysees.
Gerry says “well, that was ok, I showed I can still do it, we did ok, that was ok, we could have won if I didn’t hit that rock, it was ok”
I said “Gerry, you know there is a rumour that they’ll run it again in 2010”
Gerry instantly replied seriously but Laughing “2010!! Haha do you know how old I’ll be by then??!! 2010 haha yes I can see it now, I will be crossing the finish line with my zimmer frame. 2010 get out of here”
And as History shows Gerry and I went on to win the 2010 event in the trusty EH Holden.
2010 was a fantastic event, very hard, extra days in Mongolia, a memorable route and I’m sure it would have been a logistical nightmare for the organisation that was executed very well.
Following the 2010 event the organisation opened up entries to newer vehicles, classics had previously been limited to pre 1968 now were open to pre 1974. In Gerry’s mind newer cars had to be better and faster so the task was set to find a new better, faster car especially with the ERA’s new event Trans –America was looming. Gerry had in his mind big open American plains and really wanted a car that could keep up with the V8 Mustangs and Porsches that were on the entry list.
Dad who had been a factory driver and navigator throughout the 60’s and 70’s and had competed in several marathon rallies including Round Australia events, London to Sydney ’68 & ’77 and the World Cup rally , had always said that the Leyland P76 was the best long distance rally car he had driven. Before the organisational disaster with failing to supply navigational amendments to half the field, Dad and Evan Green were winning the 1974 World Cup Rally by a large margin. They won the Targo Florio stage and trophy as well as an award for “best condition vehicle to finish.”
Without hesitation Gerry and I were in the market for one. An existing car was found, stripped to a bare shell and built for endurance rallying at Matt Bryson Rally.
The 2012 Trans-Am (as it seemed to me for all Gerry’s events) was his “last one”.
We had never competed in America and got a bit caught up in the romance of frantically driving across the states in a manner that was completely impossible and illegal, we had totally missed that it was a regulatory rally and the need for anything to do with speed, rough roads or real endurance was not what the event was about.
We really struggled with the event as we both were learning regularity on the run and getting Gerry to drive at one constant pace was virtually impossible, at this stage he just could not fathom how someone could think going at a slow constant speed on a good road was motorsport. Although as we are both competitive and very task orientated people we took on the challenge of this VERY steep learning curve and finished in second place.
Towards the end of that rally in the absolute outback of Alaska on a very quiet back road Gerry opened it up a bit and said, “it’s a shame this event wasn’t tough like Peking to Paris, this would have been great on Peking to Paris,”
“They are running it next year again”
“Oh I’ll probably be too old by then”
I genuinely believe Gerry thought this for about 5minutes, before deciding to enter the next P2P and he never made the age comment again.
We went on to have great success. Gerry, the P76 and I made quite a team and whilst we were a super competitive team we did these endurance events for more than just the competition. Gerry decided to enter the Road to Mandalay without even looking at the start, finish or any route detail at all, it was the entry list that got him “ we have to do this, all our friends are doing it” .
The friends we have made on these events have been a very special element of the whole thing and for us most of them are and will be lifelong friendships.
Gerry was a great sportsman and very good loser, twice we were only just beaten on the East Asian events and in particular on the Road to Mandalay we were essentially dead even into the last regularity with Peter and Zoe Lovett. The Lovett’s won the rally by one second and Gerry was the first to congratulate them and really couldn’t be happier for them. His enthusiasm for Marco and Claudia who beat us on Road to Saigon was the same!
Gerry was a terrible passenger, regardless of vehicle.
I had come from a background of forest rallying with extensive driving and co-driving experience but Gerry had only ever been a driver and the fear of being a passenger was definitely real and obvious.
He once arranged to catch the Trans-Siberia railway to just avoid flying to Europe from Asia.
Airports were always fun with Gerry as an early arrival and essential bar time were required to get him on a plane. Which shows just how incredibly brave he really was in these rallies.
In 2007 he was forced to navigate for 3 days across China due to the licensing laws there, and we did share the driving from that point on something dad was amazed at – a privilege.
But in 2010 and 2019 he showed GREAT bravery as he had to navigate at competitive speeds on the tests.
In 2010 he sprained his wrist in Mongolia and couldn’t change gear, this ended up being a lifelong wrist injury for him and most will remember him wearing wrist braces on driving days to prevent a repeat of the following. Gerry was in immense pain and it got to the point where couldn’t change gear at all. We spent a day with me moving the gear stick from the passenger seat and Gerry doing the rest but it was getting difficult for us to always co-ordinate our actions in the conditions and his wrists were still deteriorating, the next day he said I had better drive. I could see just how hard it was for him to make this decision and how incredibly brave of him it was. A few days rest and he was back behind the wheel.
Gerry was a remarkable driver on dirt and loose surfaces. Neat, smooth and concise, but on tarmac and especially on racetracks something went wrong, he actually drove slower and he knew it. His decision to let me drive the race tracks was the bravest thing I’ve seen someone do, from the navigator’s seat it was everything he hated, but he just got on with it and encouraged me to go faster.
Gerry lived the fullest life you could hope for surrounded by friends and family and constantly planning and working towards another big rally or project.
The stories of our friendship and adventures we had are endless.
He held it flat till the end!
We are all better for knowing this great man and the world is a lesser place without him.
1997 Peking to Paris 2nd Classics 1964 Holden EH
2002 Trial to the Nile 2nd “speed” 1964 Holden EH
2007 Peking to Paris 20th Vintageant 1940 Buick (the one that got away)
2010 Peking to Paris 1st Classics 1964 Holden EH
2012 Trans-American Challenge 2nd 1974 Leyland P76
2013 Peking to Paris 1st Classics 1974 Leyland P76
2015 Road to Mandalay, 2nd, 1974 Leyland P76
2016 Peking to Paris, 6th Classics, Leyland P76
2017 Samurai Challenge, 6th, 1st in class, 1st speed, 1974 Leyland P76
2018 Road to Saigon, 2nd, 1974 Leyland P76
2019 Peking to Paris, 1st Classics, 1974 Leyland P76
With enormous thanks and appreciation to Matt for sharing this wonderful tribute to Gerry. It really has been an incredible rally ride for an amazing character who will be sorely missed but remembered for all time as his achievements are etched into rally folklore.
You can find Matt on social media @mattbrysonrally