2010 Peugeot 505 on the Canning by Andy Sutcliffe

Only a handful of 4 x 2 cars have driven the entire Canning Stock Route
The first was in 1985 when a Beach Buggy and a Citroën 2CV became the first two-wheel drive vehicles to complete the entire route

Gaynor and Andy at Well 26 on the Canning Stock Route

Here is the tale of the Peugeot 505 driving The Canning Stock Route from Billiluna to Wiluna in 2010


Our little convoy left Kalgoorlie on Sunday June 6th 2010.  The party consisted of myself in the Peugeot with Mum and Dad in the 1983 HJ47b Landcruiser.  Well stocked and fuelled we headed out into the centre of Australia, Alice Springs, where I took part in the annual Finke Desert Race, finishing 71st Overall and pocketing $700 in prize money for coming second in the Masters Class. The Finke done-and-dusted, we moved on to main course, The Canning Stock Route.

We camped overnight at the Wolfe Creek crater, having first called in at Billiluna, the Aboriginal Community at the top of the Canning Stock Route where we checked on fuel supplies for the following day.  At this point something unusual happened. 

There was a South African woman there who had been doing voluntary work at the Community and strange as it may seem, she had ambitions of hitchhiking down the stock route! She had been looking for a ride for a week or two, but everyone going South was full.  I had a spare seat so offered her a ride.  I went to great pains to explain that I was driving a 4 x 2 car and that we may not make it and that she may have to dig or push, but I also assured her I had two other vehicles in our convey, so it was certain we would not perish.

Gaynor replied that she was game to try anything once, so we agreed to collect her and her bags the following morning at 10.00am.  We met Kevin and Jenny at Wolf Creek that night, friends we had planned to meet and were joining us for our journey south, driving a Landrover Discovery 300TBi.

Gaynor hitch hiking out of Billiluna in 2010 with Andy Sutcliff
We picked up Gaynor, topped up our fuel at Billiluna and headed out. Day 3 and Well 43 we started to encounter our first substantial dunes.  The first one’s were dealt with, with ease, but then a problem developed!  My clutch started slipping!  This surprised me as I had fitted a new plate and release bearing before leaving home.  Eventually, even with nursing, the clutch gave up all together and I was stranded half way between two dunes!  This was a worry.  I had a spare clutch plate with me but did not relish the thought of changing it in the sand so early in the journey, with around 600 dunes left to go.

Peogeot Jacked on the Canning Stock RouteShirt sleeves rolled up, I jacked the car onto the spare tyre. Investigation revealed that sand had been funnelling into the bell housing via the clutch actuator arm. There is no boot on a Peugeot!  This had picked up on the anti-seize grease I had used on the release bearing, clutch and input pinion, causing the release bearing to bind and the clutch to slip.  When I operated the clutch you could hear it grinding.

I came up with a solution and filled my Hills pump up spray bottle brought along to put our spinifex fires, and filled it with diesel from the Landcruiser. I directed a jet of diesel into the bell housing and clutch whilst Gaynor pumped the clutch.  This freed it up and away we went.  Over the course of the next two days we repeated the process this many times, until the sticky grease was washed away and eventually the clutch came good.

The Peugeot 505 racing up a Canning Stock Route duneEach vehicle had a UHF radio. Kevin was riding point, scouting the dunes in his disco, calling ahead any particularly difficult dunes that might require extra momentum.  Of the 661 dunes, I needed to take a second run at eight. One particularly big dune required three runs.  The problem we encountered was usually bellying out on the high mound in the middle of the track just as we reached the crest. Weaving from side to side up the bad dunes helped to avoid bellying out.  The Peugeot really did handle the dunes with relative ease. Even the Landrover had to have a second attempt at some dunes as did the Landcruiser.  There were many startled 4x4 drivers along the way who couldn’t believe what they were seeing. A 2x4 on the Canning and not needing to be towed!

Gaynor proved to be a great travel companion. We have both travelled the world extensively and never ran out of things to chat about.  A paraglider pilot, Gaynor was always on the lookout for ground and cloud formations and would explain the effect they would have on thermal up drafts.  She was also a keen photographer and ran ahead on the big dunes to take photographs.  Fortunately, Gaynor was not shovel shy either and got in and helped me extract the poor car on the occasions we needed to reverse down the dune for a second run.

Gaynor digging out the Peugeot 505 on the Canning Stock RouteAbout 80km north of Kunawarritji Community we hit a particularly bad section of corrugations.  Upon arriving at Well 33, just outside the Community, I noticed that one of the Peugeot's rear shocks had given out. We found the fuel depot not open on a Sunday, and so camped at Well 33. That afternoon we made good use of our time and did a thorough check over of all the vehicles, and finding that the Landcruiser had a broken left hand rear mainleaf.  We jacked it up and bound it like a splint, with an old inner tube cut into a 2 inch wide strip.  Fortunately I salvaged a spare spring from a belly up cruiser from the Community vehicle dump the next day and threw it in the back of the Tojo, just in case.

Over the stretch from Billiluna to Kunawarritji, I had averaged 21.50mpg and was still using the fuel I had purchased at Alice Springs.  I had been paying very close attention to my fuel consumption the whole trip, as the lighter the car is, the easier it is to drive in sand.  I was completely self sufficient and did not want to rely on any other vehicle for support or assistance.  The 70kg 6 foot blonde hitchhiker was a concession I was prepared to live with!

The petrol at Kunawarritji is Opal Fuel, used as a deterrent against sniffing. The octane rating is not as good as the BP ultimate I had been running till now, so I supplemented it with octane Booster.  I calculated there should be 20litres left in the main 110L tank in the boot and I topped up with 146L. My maximum total fuel capacity was 206L.  This would see me safely through to Wiluna some 900km away with fuel to spare.

Over the course of the next day the right hand rear shock also gave out.  This caused me a few problems. The back end started axle hopping violently when I put the power on in the sand.  I now needed to build more initial momentum and roll the power off as the car crested the dunes.  As we neared Durbar Springs, the dunes became smaller but closer together with less space for a run up. The sand was also looser and hungrier.  Despite the added challenges, there were no major dramas to peeve the Stock Routed Peugeot!

It was along this stretch that we met a tag-along crowd of about six vehicles.  The leader did a major dummy spit when he saw the car, waving his hands in the air in disgust.  The third car in the convoy beckoned me to stop. The bloke stuck his head out the window with a big grin on his face and explained that his car at home was a 504 Peugeot and good on us!  I gathered he’d later set the rest of his tag-along crew straight regarding the virtues of French engineering.

We had a couple of days rest at the idyllic Durba Springs.  A lot of people came over for a chat.  Everyone was enthusiastic about our venture and many had had a lot more problems than ourselves.  The route south from Durba had less dunes but many rocky creek crossings and there were those who expressed reservations about the Peugeot getting through.  A small amount of rock gardening and the use of our steel and plastic sand mats coupled with careful line selection, meant we avoided any mishaps.  The muffler, is however, remarkably dented and reshaped, but surprisingly, not leaking.

Bob and Mary Sutcliffe - Andys parents
I had a few other small issues, the Webber 32/34 DIR carby was a little on the worn side after 470,000km and occasionally sand would jam the butterfly on the second barrel partially open.  This made for a few quite rapid descents backwards down the failed dune climbs, much to the alarm of my blonde companion.  The sand funnelling into the bell housing eventually found it’s way into the starter motor.  The starter motor was removed 5 or 6 times (only a 5 min job on a 505) and tapped and spun until it was functioning again.  Some of the problem was due to the auto sparky fitting the wrong solenoid when he re-built it the year before?

Gaynor pushing the Peugeot 505 on the Canning Stock RouteA day and a half out of Wiluna, it became blatantly obvious to me that either A:  I was using a lot more fuel  than I should have been; or B: the servo in Kunawarritji, aka 44 gal drum, had short changed me 30 litres.  As I poured my second to last 20L jerry into the tank, I took carful note of the mileage and drove until it started to splutter.  I did a quick calculation. 19.8 miles per gallon.  Turns out the answer was B. I had been short changed.  Depositing the last 20L into the tank, I eased off the go pedal. Topping up in Wiluna, I worked out I would have had enough fuel to do 9.47km.  Now that was cutting it pretty fine!

Mum and Dad, 77 and 71 years old respectively had a great trip and with the 27 year old Landcruiser, we reckon probably had the highest combined vehicle and driver age on the stock route at the time.  The Tojo made it home with the broken main leaf still in a splint.

Kev and Jen’s Disco developed a leak on the back of the injector fuel pump housing  that couldn’t be repaired on the Canning Stock Route, but kept going.  Upon arriving home, Pierre received a new set of shocks, a service and clean and is now back in daily use.

Gaynor headed back to South Africa and we are still in touch.

CSR Hitchhiker Published Ref: Work Completed, Canning by Phil Bianchi

Andy Sutcliffe and Gaynor Schoeman completed the Canning Stock Route in a Peugeot 505

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2018 19:45

Go to top