1966 Syonfin Hill Climb

Mervyn Johnston entered nearly every class in his 1132 Mini Cooper, won two of them and second in another.

This article is reproduced from WHEEL Magazine July ’66.

Dessie McCartney is the first Hill Climb Champion of Ireland.

Story and Pictures by Esler Crawford.

FREDDY HEANEY did it last season at Knockagh, Alec Poole repeated the performance at Enniskerry and now Dessie McCartney has done it again at Syonfin. Setting BTD in saloon cars, and in particular in Minis, seems to have become something of a fashion in Irish hill climbs. On this occasion, not only did McCartney take BTD but also the title of Irish Hill Climb Champion.

After many years of running a well organised and enjoyable event, the Omagh Motor Club decided to upgrade their climb to this status and with generous support from John Player and Sons, they received a splendid entry of 95 cars. There were very few non-starters but unfortunately three of these were the potent single-seaters of John Pringle (Cooper-Oldsmobile), Richie Heeley (Lotus-Allard) and Frank Keane (Lotus-Alfa). But perhaps this would have made little difference to the final result for a steady drizzle all afternoon left the road in a very slippery state, which was added to by mud being carried on to it by various excursions into the ditches. In these conditions the more powerful cars just could not get the power on to the road and Malcolm Templeton in the Brabham could only share third fastest time.

We have now grown used to the phenomenal speeds of Minis but after the first runs it was nevertheless a bit difficult to appreciate that the battle for the honours would be between the 1275s’s of the brothers McCartney, Harry Kirkpatrick, Andy Kane, the ex-Heaney 1132 motor of Mervyn Johnston and Templeton’s Brabham. Of this lot, Kirkpatrick had been first up and did a time of 67.12 seconds. However he lost control going over the finish line and with the car lying in the bog with its front wheels at a most peculiar angle, it looked as if Harry’s motoring was over for the day. Then Ronnie McCartney recorded 67.50 but Mervyn Johnston quickly lowered this to 66.60, followed by Dessie McCartney, 0.18 seconds slower. Andy Kane had a 67.64 and Templeton finished the proceedings with a cautious 66.32.

Mrs. Doreen Frazer attacking the wire fence with her husband’s M.G. Midget.

On the second attempt, Ronnie McCartney lowered his time to 66.32 in a very determined run in which he used the bank at McDermott’s Corner to assist his progress. Next Johnston lowered his previous time by 1.2 to leave him with 64.40 which looked as if it might be the best. However, with a very smooth drive, quite unlike his normal style and showing that experience is beginning to wield its influence Dessie McCartney took even more off his time and recorded 64.36. With Kane doing no better than 67.60, Templeton unable to do anything on the skating rink surface, the honour of being the first Irish Hill Climb Champion fell to the younger McCartney. For this he received a magnificent trophy, a watch and £10. Not a bad day’s work!

Apart from the battle for BTD, some excellent tussles were seen in the various classes. In the small saloon class, Donal McEnaney’s functional DKW yowled up in 72.76 which was not all that much better than Rob Pollock’s Mini Van. Donal McBride’s Nathan Imp showed little of a rumoured potential of 90mph in third, in taking third place. John Hamilton enlivened this class in practice by throwing his Imp on top of the ditch without causing any damage whatsoever. In the 900-1200 class, Robin Lyons did a good time of 69.08 in his 1071 Cooper S. This was more than a second better than Mike Rolls’ 1071, who narrowly pipped Tim Jobling-Purser’s noisy NSU TT. The next class included the contenders for FTD with the class order being Des McCartney, Mervyn Johnston and Ronnie McCartney. Other good climbs were put up by John McClean (67.42) who was very neat, and local man John Chambers (67.04). These pair were in 1275S’s — naturally.

John Hamilton’s practice prang ended with his Hillman Imp in the ditch at McDermott’s Corner.

The large saloons created quite a bit of excitement with Mike Adams and Brian Metcalfe going off at the Dry Arch in Triumph 2000 and Cortina G.T. respectively. The contenders in this class were Dave Newell (Anglia G.T.), Billy Reid (Lotus Cortina) and Cathal Curley (Lotus-Cortina) with all three having the utmost difficulty in staying on the bumpy road with their rigid rear axle machines. Newell drove well to take the class in 71.64, with Reid, greatly embarrassed by the enormous power of his car, doing 73.22 and just pipping an all-action Curley by 0.02 second. Edgar Hutton was unobtrusive in getting a Rapier up in the good time of 74.50.

With a beautifully controlled drive Harold Hagan did a fine time in the G.T. class with his MG Midget. But Mervyn Johnston had entered his Cooper in this class also and Harold’s time of 69.50 was eclipsed by Johnston’s 66.40. Surely it is near time this ridiculous business of Minis being allowed to enter both saloon and G.T. classes came to an end? New boy Eddie Scott also drove his Midget nicely to record 70.56. Others in this class were not quite so neat and the spectators at McDermott’s Corner were kept amused by the sight of Spridget after Spridget spinning off into a very flexible fence which caused no damage to any of them. Seeming to revel in the adverse conditions, Mick Weiniger took the combined large G.T. and 1172 Ford classes in his Healey-Jaguar with 71.20, while the irrepressible Mervyn Johnston (who took the precaution of entering his Cooper in almost every class) won the Formula Libre category from Templeton. Of the other single-seaters, Adrian O’Connell in the Aster had 72.40 and Adrian Rea in his Lotus-Ford 18 blipped his way up in 73.32.

Despite the rain this was an excellent event, enjoyed by a vast crowd of spectators, while the prizegiving surpassed even the previous junkets and some people were still finding their way home at 5 o’clock the following morning!


BTD: D. McCartney (1275 Cooper S) 64.36 secs.

Class 1-—Saloon cars up to 950 c.c.:

  1. D. McEnaney (DKW) 72.76 secs.;
  2. R. Pollock (Mini), 73.38;
  3. D. McBride (Imp), 74.04.

Class 2—Saloon cars of 951-1100 c.c.:

  1. R. Lyons (Cooper) 69.08;
  2. M. D. Rolls (Cooper) 70.22;
  3. T. Jobling-Purser (NSU) 70.38.

Class 3-Saloon cars of 1101-1300 c.c.:

  1. D. McCartney (1275 Cooper S), 64.36;
  2. M. Johnston (1132 Cooper S), 64.40;
  3. R. McCartney (1275 Cooper S), 66.32.

Class 4—Saloon cars over 1300 c.c.:

  1. D. G. Newell (Anglia) 71.64;
  2. W. Reid (Lotus Cortina) 73.22;
  3. C. B. Curley (Lotus Cortina) 73.24.

Class 5—G.T. Cars up to 1150 c.c.:

  1. M. Johnston (Cooper) 64.40;
  2. H. Hagan (M.G. Midget) 69.50;
  3. E. Scott (M.G. Midget) 70.56.

Class 6—G.T. cars over 1150 c.c.:

  1. D. McCartney (1275 Cooper S), 64.36;
  2. R. McCartney (1275 Cooper S) 66.32;
  3. M. Chambers (1275 Cooper S.) 67.40.

Class 7—Ford Specials and Clubman’s Sports:

  1. M. Weiniger (Healey-Jaguar), 71.20;
  2. W. J. McGuiken (Ford Special) 72.56;
  3. W. Mullen (Ford Special) 72.68.

Class 8—Formula Libre:

  1. M. Johnston (1132 Cooper S), 64.40;
  2. M. Templeton (Brabham), 66.32;
  3. J. S. McClean (1275 Cooper S) 67.42.

Open Handicap: Mrs. E. Johnston (Morris 1100) 52.52 seconds nett.