1963 Circuit of Ireland – Autosport


Report by Brian Waddell, Photography by Brian Foley

Supercharged Austin-Healey Sprite Victorious in Annual Irish Classic – Class Win and Ladies’ Trophy for Rootes

A “blown” Austin-Healey Sprite, a Group 3 modified Volkswagen and a works-entered Sunbeam Rapier filled the first three places in this year’s Circuit of Ireland International Rally, which was sponsored for the second time by Lombank Ltd.

First place in the general classification and in the class for Grand Touring cars over 1,300 c.c. went to the 1,098 c.c. supercharged Sprite entered by Alexander Engineering Company and in the hands of the Ulster drivers Ian Woodside and Esler Crawford. There could not have been a more popular winning crew in the event, for during the rally they had their fair share of trouble, including a serious fire under the bonnet.

The winning Alexander-entered supercharged 1,100 cc. Sprite of Ian Woodside and Esler Crawford. They are at the speed test at Punchbowl Hill.

The Okrasa modified 1,295 c.c. Volkswagen driven by Robert McBurney and Derek Surgenor did exceptionally well during the last two stages of the event to finish in second place overall and to pull off a class win for Grand Touring cars up to 1,300 c.c., while Adrian Boyd and Maurice Johnston, who were leading the event at the end of the fourth stage with their Sunbeam Rapier, failed to give Rootes their third Circuit victory in a row through a navigation mistake on the final night, and could only manage third place. They did, however, win the Touring Car class between 1,300 c.c. and 1,600 cc. and took the one make team award for Sunbeams with similar cars driven by John la Trobe/Julian Chitty and Rosemary Smith/Sheila O’Clery. The latter pair won the ladies’ trophy.

Under new management this year with Robin McKinney taking over as Clerk of the Course from Gordon Neill, the Circuit was easily the toughest ever and no doubt was won—and lost—on the road where there were 89 time checks, more than 14 optional checks, 7 route checks and 35 controls to be visited in a route which covered around 1,300 miles. This, together with 7 speed tests, 9 driving tests and 7 special sections kept everyone busy from early on Saturday morning to Tuesday afternoon.


For the first time a separate touring class was run alongside the international rally with not too difficult road sections, a little navigation and some driving tests. It attracted 38 starters who no doubt enjoyed themselves exceptionally well, but from a publicity point of view it was overshadowed completely by the international event, and very little information about what was happening was released to the press.

When the results of this event were finally made public, first place in general classification went to Affie Carroll and Brian McCance in an M.G. Midget. Second place was taken by J. Armstrong and W. R. Robinson in a Morris-Cooper while third place went to Peter Jenkins and Michael Archer, two well-known trials drivers from Dublin who this year were taking it easy out of the international class in their Sprite.

Stage 1: Saturday, 13th April.

To save a day’s insurance premium, the first cars in the international rally set off from an impressive starting ramp on the Central Promenade in Bangor at one minute past midnight. First car to be sent on its way by the Mayor, Alderman Valentine, was the Austin Mini driven by Johnny Moore/Reggie Tilson from Dublin. Among the nonstarters was Pat Barr in her Austin-Cooper whose every efforts to secure the services of a female navigator failed. This left only two teams competing for the ladies’ award, Rosemary Smith/Sheila O’Clery and Pauline Mayman/Valerie Domleo, who were driving a Morris Cooper.

Almost right away the cars were thrown into a night navigation section with seven time checks and four optional checks to be visited on a Tulip type route card. Here a number of cars managed to return clean sheets but already the rally started to take its casualties. The Logan Morrison/Ross Finlay Healey 3000 was reported to be last seen halfway through a ditch, Brian Kehoe/J. L. Cullen went out when the throttle cable spring of their Austin-Cooper came adrift, the front suspension almost fell off the Austin Mini driven by R. J. McDowell/R. Charlesson but a quick welding job got them back on the road again, and Malcolm Alexander and his co-driver M. C. Barry had to extract themselves out through the passenger door of their Sprite, after it finished on its side in the ditch.

After the first of the new special stages held in darkness through Drumkeeragh Forest, the cars crossed the Border into Eire and pushed on to the first driving test near Slane where the two Woodside brothers, Ian in the Sprite and Robert in a 1,122 c.c. Morris-Cooper which was also entered by the Alexander Engineering Company, tied for best time of the day in 19.8 secs.

It was daylight as the cars reached the first hill-climb just outside the village of Duleek, where some of the “big ‘uns” began to show their paces up the very tricky hill. Adrian Boyd took 84.2 secs. in the Rapier, the Alpine driven by Charles Eyre-Maunsell/Alex Spence was up in 84.8, a time equalled by Ian Woodside, while the Triumph TR4 of Maurice Acheson/J. Long clocked 85 secs.

Works Rapier of Adrian Boyd and Maurice Johnston bursts out of the mist on their way down the Tim Healey Pass (right). After leading the rally on several occasions, they finished third.

This first stage ended with an early morning breakfast stop in Malahide where it was later reported that the Woodside Sprite had already gone into the lead with 8.6 marks lost. Second was John Kennerley/J. Jones in the 3.8 Jaguar entered by the Wirral Racing Team with a total of 9.4 marks — a car which at this stage was strongly tipped to win the rally because of the marking system used by the Ulster Automobile Club – while third was Boyd in the Sunbeam with 10 marks lost. With 15.8 marks on her card, Pauline Mayman was leading the ladies’ trophy and was going like a bomb!

Stage 2: Saturday, 13th April.

After a welcome wash up and the nourishing, if rather expensive, bacon and eggs the cars were off again on the second stage which was to bring competitors to Killarney later that night. Straight away again it was another series of time points in the Wicklow Mountains on a Tulip card, and this brought trouble for even more drivers. The Austin-Cooper driven by Sir Peter Moon and Bill Fritchy retired with a broken half-shaft; Bertie McElhinney, who was driving a Zodiac in the class for touring cars over 1,600 cc. with S. Gray, had to pack it in also with transmission failure while C. A. Gunn/R. Foot from Dublin pranged their Porsche and were out of the running.

It was Pauline Mayman who was among the first to reach an overgrown ford during this stage. After deciding it was too far to take an alternative crossing she ploughed through with her Mini to find that it almost came up to the door handles, but she managed to make the other side and was on her way again.

A driving test, more time points and then on to the second speed test at the Punchbowl Hill where among the drivers reported to have “had their moments” was Gerry McNamara in the Skoda which he was sharing with Brian Cusack. The car spun violently on the second hairpin, did a complete turn anti-clockwise on two wheels and continued up the hill as if nothing had happened. Interesting results given at this hill showed that Derek Boyd and Beatty Crawford had cocked 22.4 secs. in their Austin-Cooper compared with 24 secs. returned by older brother Adrian Boyd in the Sunbeam.

Another cross-roads driving test near Dungarven where best of the day was Robert Woodside in his Morris-Cooper at 23.2 sees. with Ronnie McCartney/ Terry Harryman second in a similar car at 24.4 sees., and then drivers were on their way through eight time checks to a meal and a good night’s sleep in Killarney. All the drivers, that was, except Ronnie Adams and David Skeffington in the works Ford Cortina entered by Ulster Television. After doing exceptionally well on the road and in the speed tests, the much modified Cortina blew a head gasket a few yards from the driving test. By a stroke of luck, a new gasket was found in the nearby village of Cappoquin where, in a little garage with tea specially laid on by the owner’s wife, it took Skeffington and Billy Reid, a former Circuit competitor who was passing the village at the time, just slightly over an hour to get the car on the road again. Adams was called upon to use all his driving skill to make the Killarney control, which he did with time in hand, but eight time points had to be missed completely, at a total cost of 160 marks.

It wasn’t until late in the evening that results on the first two stages were announced, placing Ian Woodside still in the lead with 8.6 marks. Rather dramatically, Peter Johnston from Omagh, who was driving an Austin-Cooper with his wife as navigator, had jumped into second place with 18.8 marks lost, while Adrian Boyd was still third in the Rapier. In general the overall classification was given as:

  1. Ian Woodside (A-H Sprite), 8.6;
  2. Peter Johnston (Austin-Cooper), 18.8;
  3. Adrian Boyd (Sunbeam Rapier),
  4. R. J. McCartney (Austin-Cooper), 20.2; 
  5. Cecil Vard/Dudley Reynolds (Austin-Cooper), 20.4; 
  6. R. McBurney (Volkswagen), 21.2; 
  7. Charles Eyre-Maunsell (Alpine), 24.0; 
  8. Cecil Molyneaux/Hal Patton (Austin-Cooper), 24.8; 
  9. Roger Clark/Jim Porter (Austin-Cooper), 26.2; 
  10. Noel Smith/D. Bradley (598 cc. NSU), 31.4.

In the Touring event the placings were 

  1. R. Duke/J. Twinem (997 cc. Ford), 2.8 marks lost; 
  2. A. Carroll (MG. Midget), 3.2; 
  3. J. T. Gray (Rapier), 5.4; 
  4. P. Jenkins (Sprite), 9.2; 
  5. H. Jordan/A. Tyndall (948 cc. Morris); and 
  6. C. Duffy/J. Farragher (VW), and C. Bourke/S. Cox (Hillman), 11.2

Stage 3: Sunday, 14th April.

When it rains in Killarney there are no half measures – or so it seemed on Sunday morning when the cars set off for a 200-mile stage in a figure of eight through Kerry and West Cork. What would have been some of the most picturesque country in Ireland was shrouded in heavy cloud and flooded with incessant rain which didn’t ease up until late in the day.

As forecast by “those in the know,” the organizers had decided to time the cars down the famous Tim Healey Pass, instead of up it as in the last few years. With the rain washing down the mountainside on to the road this speed event was made interesting, but caution was observed by most of the competitors and there were no serious incidents. Best down the hill was Roger Clark in the Austin-Cooper with a time of 3 mins. 12.6 sees. He was followed by Tony Fisher in the works Reliant Sabre at 3 mins. 15 sees. while the Adams Cortina and Boyd in the Sunbeam tied for third-best at 3 mins. 17.6 sees. Colin Andrew and Denis Erskine in their Mini Austin were best in the class for touring cars up to 850 cc. while John Kennerley, who by this stage of the event was counting his marks in the hundreds, took the Jaguar down in 3 mins. 34.8 secs.

Gerry McNamara and Brian Cusack found their Skoda in this position during the Punchbowl Hill test (left, but they did not roll! Cusack is reported to have said: “Get it down, Gerry!”

From Tim Healey the weather, and the roads, went from bad to worse. From a driving test south of Bantry there was a series of time points to be visited over roads which were almost impassable. To get to one of the early time points another ford had to be crossed, but when Malcolm Templeton and D. R. Lockyer were last seen floating down-stream in their Saab towards the Atlantic Ocean, it was officially decided to scrub two of the points. When the Saab finally came to rest it was towed on to the river bank and set off again to finish the rally. It was during this stage that Dr. Jack Keatley and Norman Devlin were sitting in their Morris-Cooper along a narrow road quietly minding their own business when Hugh McGrillen had a go at them in his Fiat 1500 entered by Telefis Eireann. Both cars were seriously damaged and were forced to retire.

Another car that didn’t turn up at the Killarney control that night was the Volkswagen 1500 driven by Frank Robinson and John Davidson after a carve up in navigation.

The final speed test on the Sunday stage was a hill-climb which started at Borlin School and went up a twisty mountain road for 3.9 miles. Best time of the day here was put up by Boyd in 4 mins. 38.8 secs. Second was Cecil Vard at 4 mins. 44 secs., third was Ian Woodside who clocked 4 mins. 45.4 secs and fourth was Adams who pushed the Cortina up in 4 mins. 47.2 secs.

That night again the leader board had some startling changes. Although Woodside was still in the lead, Peter Johnston had gone out with ignition trouble while lying second, letting Adrian Boyd jump up a place in the general classification. Third was now the popular Irish rallyist Charles Eyre-Maunsell in his Sunbeam Alpine while Cecil Vard was fourth in his Austin-Cooper. The next three places were filled by Derek Boyd, Ronnie McCartney and Cecil Molyneaux.

But with the issue of these placings, the organizers warned that one of the Sunday time point sections was under examination. This came as the result of a protest by Cecil Molyneaux whose route cards that night showed him to be in two different places at exactly the same time. Most people know that Molyneaux isn’t one for hanging around when there are miles to be covered, but this time, I’m afraid, someone’s watch was to blame. Later in the rally, the stewards scrapped the section on which this mix up occurred and Molyneaux quite rightly jumped a couple of places in the general classification.

Someone else who wasn’t too pleased on Sunday was Pauline Mayman who discovered on the results sheet that she had been penalized 300 marks at an observation check, presumably for “a breach of a provision of the Highway Code”!

Stage 4: Monday, 15th April.

With Woodside still in the lead, the cars set off on Monday morning north again from Killarney, and it was just before the first speed test—a hill-climb at Ballycannon outside Limerick—that things began to happen.

Just as he reached the control, the float chamber fractured completely off the SU carburettor on Woodside’s Sprite. With the help of some tape it was strapped into position but as he climbed the hill petrol gushed over the engine and at the top the car went on fire. It was blazing furiously as Ronnie White arrived on the scene in a similar car, and he dashed back to get an extinguisher. With the fire out, White gallantly pulled the carburettor off his own car and fitted it to the Woodside Sprite, thus forgoing all hope he had of a possible class win. After it seemed for some time that he was completely out of the rally, Woodside made the next control with a loss of only 41 marks, and found himself still in the running.

Although he didn’t know it, Boyd was now in the lead with the Sunbeam, but he lost a costly 5 marks by hitting a pylon in one of the driving tests. Eyre-Maunsell had also jumped a place and was lying second, but glory for the Alpine driver was short-lived when the back axle packed in shortly after passing through Galway.

Cecil Vard “hydroplaning” in his Austin-Cooper down the Tim Healey Pass on Easter Sunday Navigated by Dudley Reynolds, Vard finished sixth overall.

A hill-climb at Nafooey saw Ronnie Adams make the best time of the day in the Cortina at 42.4 secs. followed by the Acheson TR4 in 43.6 secs. and Cecil Vard with the Austin-Cooper in 43.8 secs. The Woodside Sprite was still going strong, having “borrowed” an oil pipe from Robert McBurney’s Volkswagen to replace a burned-out lead to the “blower.”

Having started out earlier in the day, competitors in the touring class had arrived in Sligo, where they spent the night, before the international drivers pulled in for a supper break. With so many changes during the day, it was almost impossible to decide who was now in the lead, but it looked as if Boyd was well placed and that Mc-Burney, Woodside, Vard and Molyneaux were fighting it out for the next few places.

Stage 5: Monday 15 April/Tuesday, 16th April.

A delay of more than an hour in the hotel at Sligo, when it was thought that some route instructions to be issued at the next control had got lost, kept drivers hanging around until 1 am. before setting off into every navigator’s nightmare – County Monaghan. However, as it later turned out, this section was easier than the series of 10 time-points which had to be visited after the cars crossed the border in the early hours of Tuesday morning. With distances between points around two miles apart, there was no hope of making a comeback after the slightest error in navigation, and indeed many hopes were dashed before breakfast in Omagh. Boyd had lost more than 30 marks on the road, and in came Woodside claiming a clean sheet to put him back again into the lead—an excellent bit of navigating by co-driver Esler Crawford.

Stage 6: Tuesday, 16th April.

FROM Omagh, the competitors set out on what was probably the easiest stage of the event. It did, however, include four special sections through forestry areas in the Sperrin Mountains where the 1963 Circuit came to an end for Pauline Mayman and Valerie Domleo. On the loose surface, the Morris-Cooper skidded and rolled over, but both the occupants escaped without injury.

The last speed event was at Cairncastle where the best time of the day went to Boyd’s Rapier in 98.6 sees, followed by Ronnie Adams at 100 sees. in the Cortina. Still motoring strongly, but making no mistakes, Woodside clocked 100.2 sees, on the hill and headed into Larne for the final test comfortably in the lead.


  1. Ian Woodside – Esler Crawford (Austin Healey Sprite) 116.7;
  2. Robert McBurney – Derek Surgenor (VW Beetle) 132.0;
  3. Adrian Boyd – Maurice Johnston (Sunbeam Rapier) 135.8
  4. Robert Woodside (Mini Cooper) 161.7;
  5. Cecil Molyneaux – Hal Patton (Mini Cooper) 161.9;
  6. Cecil Vard – Dudley Reynolds (Mini Cooper) 170.3;
  7. Maurice Acheson – (TR4) 193.7;
  8. John McClean – (Mini Cooper) 210.0;
  9. John Kennerley – J.Jones (Jaguar 3.8) 211.8;
  10. Ronnie McCartney – Terry Harryman (Mini Cooper) 216.4.

Touring Cars 

up to 850 c.c.: 1. David Clover (Austin Mini), 255.2 penalties; 2, Michael Ivis (Mini), 272.6; 3, J. Moore (Mini). 378.6,

850-1,300 c.c.: 1. C. Molvneaux (Mini-Cooper), 161.9; 2. 3. J.S. McClean (Mini-Cooper), 210.0; 3, R. I, McCartney (Mini-Cooper), 216.4. 

1,301-1,600 c.c.: I, A. 3. L. Boyd (Sunbeam Rapier), 135.8; 2, M. B. Day (VW 1500), 241.6; 3. J. la Trobe (Sunbeam Rapier). 249.4. 

Over 1,600 c.c.: 1, J. R. Kennerley (Jaguar 3.8). 211.8. 

G.T. Cars 

up to 1,300 c.c.: 1, R. D. G, McBurney (VW). 132.0; 2, R. J. Woodside (1,122 cc. Mini-Cooper), 161.7; 3. C. Vard cc. Mini-Cooper), 170.3, 

Over 1,300 c.c.: 1, 1. Woodside (Austin-1-Iealey Snrite s/c), 116.7 (overall winner); 2, M. Acheson (TR4), 193.7; 3, A. T. Fisher 0.703 cc, Reliant Sabre), 235.7.

Ladies Trophy:

Miss Rosemary Smith/Miss Sheila O’Ctery (Sunbeam Rapier), 250.7,

Best one-make team:

Sunbeam Rapier (A. J. L. Boyd, J. la Trobe, Miss R. Smith). 

Touring Event:

Touring cars up to 1,300 c.c.: 1, J. Armstrong/W. R. Robinson (Morris), 16.8 marks lost; 2, C. Duffy/ J. Farragher (Volkswagen), 23.6; 3, R. C. Armstrong/ J. Reilly (Volkswagen), 36.6. 

Over 1,300 c.c.: 1, K. H. Allen/G. M. McNeill (Morris), 36.8: 2, J. T. Gray/I, Ballantyne (Sunbeam), 51.4; 3, J. Johnston/N, Bell (Wolseley), 104.0. 

Grand touring cars: 1, A. T. Carroll/B. McCance (M.G.), 14.6 (overall winners); 2, B. P. Jenkins/M. D. T. Archer (Austin-Healey), 17.6; 3, C. P. Bourke/ S. Cox (Hillman), 77.7,