1959 Larne Starlight

This report is reproduced from the Autosport Magazine 8th January 1960.
Report by Brian Waddell.


Driving for his first year in competitive motoring, 20-year-old Robert McBurney, a motor engineering student from Ballymena, County Antrim, has carried off the “Northern Whig” Trophy for the 1959 Ulster Rally Championship. With his Volkswagen, McBurney returned the best performances in eight out of nine major rallies held in the Province throughout the year. His closest rival was Sammy Moore from Cloughmills who finished six points behind the leader with his Austin-Healey Sprite.

From his eight best performances, McBurney collected 64 points against 58 scored by Moore. In third place was another Volkswagen driven by Frank Robinson who earlier in the year was one of the team of three drivers to represent Northern Ireland in the driving tests for the Ken Wharton Trophy, televised by the BBC.

After a very close struggle with Moore during the past few months, McBurney sealed the issue in the recent Larne Motor Club’s “Starlight” Rally, where he carried off the premier award – calculated on a percentage basis – and the first place in the general classification.

So tough were the conditions in the “Starlight”, with ice-bound roads and heavy patches of fog, that only 12 of the original 35 starters were able to complete the 200-mile course within the maximum permitted time.

Starting off from Ballygally, the cars headed north along the Coast Road for the first driving test near Garron Point, but when this had been completed three of the cars were already out of the running. Ralph Jones slid his Triumph Herald coupe right through a wall while taking part in the test, John McClean broke a half shaft in his Austin-Healey Sprite while John Davidson failed to make the test site at all in his beautifully prepared Ford Special. Taking a wrong approach road, he knocked a hole in the sump of the car on a large boulder and was forced to retire.

Fastest time in the first test was returned by Paddy Hopkirk with his blown Austin-Healey Sprite who clocked 20 seconds dead against 21.4 by McBurney and 22.0 by Adrian Boyd, another young Sprite driver who has improved considerably throughout the season.

Into the first control everyone was clean on the road but on the next short section to a control near Torr Head the icy roads played havoc with average speeds and the only car to arrive on time was Robinson’s Volkswagen, McBurney close on his heels but a minute down.

The test at this control consisted of a short 200-yard hill-climb round a series of tight hairpins where Hopkirk and McBurney both tied for fastest time in climbs of 45.2 seconds.

As the route then took competitors well inland the fog became considerably worse and the roads slippier with the result that at the half-way stage only Robinson had failed to collect penalty marks on the road. He had blotted his copybook considerably, however, on the fourth driving test when the front wheel of the Volkswagen slipped into a gully and he had to receive assistance to get the car back on the road – taking the maximum of 70 penalty marks.

Not wishing to “bend” his new Mini-Minor, Gordon McNally called it a day after four of the tests and drove straight home – what a number of other competitors had wished they had done when the final damage was surveyed the following morning!

It was only when everyone was tucking into a hearty breakfast in Carrickfergus that the story of the night – and especially the navigation section – could be put together.

Rounding one of the very slippery bends, it finally appeared, Frank Robinson’s Volkswagen slithered into the ditch damaging the near side front wing. With the sound of approaching cars in the distance, he managed to get his car out just as Stanfield rounded a bend 50 yards away. As Robinson moved off he was just in time to see Stanfield’s Austin do exactly the same thing as he did – but on a much larger scales – forcing Stanfield to retire.

It was on a main road near Cullybackey that Eyre-Maunsell finished his rally when the Hillman struck a bank, causing considerable damage. The driver and navigator, however, escaped unhurt.

After a few hours sleep that hard-working clerk of the course and meeting secretary, Jack Wylie, who had kept his 60 officials fully occupied throughout the night, was able to announce that Robert McBurney had carried off the premier award, followed by Robinson with Moore third. Moore’s Sprite won the open car class – Robinson’s Volkswagen the small saloons, while John Allen drove exceptionally well in the large saloon car class with his Sunbeam.


Starlight Trophy – Robert McBurney (Volkswagen) 478 marks lost;

Open Cars – 1st. Sammy Moore (Austin-Healey Sprite) 683.6; 2nd. C. Molyneaux (Austin-Healey Sprite) 901.4; 3rd. Adrian Boyd (Austin-Healey Sprite) 909.4.

Small Saloons – 1st. Frank Robinson (Volkswagen) 506.6; 2nd. B. Nelson (Ford) 912.2; 3rd. J. R. McElhinney (Volkswagen) 918.6.

Large Saloons – 1st John Allen (Sunbeam).

Novice – B. Nelson (Ford)