1969 March Hare Rally

Photo: Esler Crawford
Frank Robinson slides his Cortina 1600E to a great win.

This report is reproduced from Motorweek 22 March 1969

Frank Robinson comes out of retirement to win


WHEN the Larne Motor Club last held their “March Hare” Rally three years ago it was a daylight Special Stage event. In those days most people used to look on it as a good event to do to get their cars sorted out for the ‘Circuit’ which came a few weeks later. Whether competitors remembered the damage which resulted from the ’66 “March Hare” when a surprising number of cars ‘fell over‘, or they just don’t have their “Circuit” machinery sorted out in time these days, I don’t know, but the ’69 version of the “March Hare” which took place last Saturday was very disappointedly supported.

A serious discussion between Derek Boyd (left) Stanley Robinson, Billy Leather and Brian Robinson.

Always on the lookout for something different for their customers, the Larne boys, led on this occasion by Dr. Esler Crawford, went to the Water Commissioners plantation at Woodburn to run a Special Stage Rally with a difference. The difference was that the entire event took place OFF the public roads, and inside the one forest. And what a marvellous afternoon‘s sport it was too.

The plot was a simple one: 4 dashes through the trees and the man with the lowest total time was the winner. The four actual stages were all different from each other although most of the route was common to all four.

When conditions are normal Woodburn Forest is undoubtedly one of the best in Ulster as far as rallying is concerned, being fairly smooth and with a wide variety of corners and gradients. However, on Saturday conditions were far from normal with a couple of inches of slushy snow covering most of the forest when things got underway. As the afternoon progressed the passage of the cars broke the snow down but the ground underneath then became rather “gooey”, these surfaces making the going very interesting, to say the least.

Brian Boyd’s sump guard gets very close to the ground.


As mentioned earlier the field was disappointingly small with only 25 competitors turning out, Ronnie White (1293 Cooper ‘S’) Norman Thompson (998 Cooper) and Ken Carson (Midget) being among the non-starters, the latter pair having ‘blown’ their engines on the way to the start. However, the line-up included some interesting driver/car combinations and provided a number of surprise results.

Favourite for outright victory was undoubtedly Robert McBurney who on this occasion was driving neither his familiar Porsche-Beetle, nor his Beach Buggy but brought along Reggie McSpadden’s quick 1622 ‘Beetle’, as his own cars weren’t ready. Sure enough on the first 3.1-mile stage which started on the Carn Hill side of the forest, went round the main reservoir and down to finish beside the lower reservoir, Robert set the pace in 4 mins. 35 secs., despite being the first car through and having to contend with the worst of the snow.

Rally-winning style is shown by Robert McBurney in Reggie McSpadden’s VW, but on this occasion his luck was out.

Showing that he has lost none of his driving talent, ‘Texaco’ Rally Clerk of the Course Frank Robinson was next best in his standard Cortina 16O0E with a time of 4 mins 42 secs while a further 7 secs behind came young Brian Boyd (1275 Cooper ‘S‘).


The organisers had given drivers the option of whether to carry passengers or not, so that some did and others didn‘t. McBurney, Robinson and Boyd were all running without ‘ballast’ whereas the next three fastest, Terry Harryman (NSU TTS) (4 mins. 51 secs), Peter McConnell (Rallye Imp) (4 mins. 53 secs) all had passengers aboard.

Noel Haugh’s motoring didn’t last too long as he put his ex-Mike Ford-Hutchinson 1275 Cooper ‘S’ in amongst the trees about halfway through, fortunately without personal damage.

Noel Haugh’s Cooper looks pretty well immobilised.

The second test ran back over the same route to within half a mile of the previous start but then led back round to finish on the other side of the lower reservoir, this resulting in a slightly longer but faster test. Fastest this time was Frank Robinson in 4 mins 32 secs with Brian Boyd next (4 mins. 41 secs) and then Neville Johnston who was making a welcome return to motor sport with a very light, twin-Webered Toyota Corona (4 mins. 43 secs). Behind them came Terry Harryman (4 mins 45 secs), Ronnie Nesbitt (1275 Cooper ‘S”) (4 mins. 50 secs) and Harry Crawford (4 mins 53 secs) who was making his Mini Motoring debut in a 998 Cooper.

Neville Johnston’s Toyota Corona was not fully sorted but gave a good account of itself.

Four more people came to grief this time, the most notable being Robert McBurney who got the tail of his ‘Beetle’ hung out just a little too far and slid over the hedge, although with no damage at all. Twenty minutes later he was back on and completed the Stage but his chances of victory had now been completely spoiled.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell touched a largish rock with one of the Hunters front wheels and bent a track rod, this putting him off and seemingly out for the rest of the afternoon, However with the help of a spectating Dessie McCartney who was one of a tremendous crowd of people who had turned out to watch the event, the offending arm was straightened with some skilful blows with a handy rock and Robin was able to have a go at the final test.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell explains his problem to Maurice Johnston.

Drexel Gillespie also put his Cortina GT off the road but without any damage while Trevor Fleming retired his 998 Cooper with a dead engine. Brian Rowan (1498 ‘Beetle’), who was having a tremendous scrap with his brother in law Roy McBurney (1584 ‘Beetle‘), nearly brought his afternoon’s motoring to an early end when he ‘lost it’ just over the finishing line and almost collected one of the many piles of logs along the side of the track, just getting the car pointing the right way at the crucial moment.


The third test was simply the second one in reverse and this time Robert McBurney took it just a little more cannily, but despite this and having a valve spring cap break just before the finish he was still fastest in 4 mins. 31 secs. Frank Robinson had a bit of an exciting run this time and nearly didn’t make it but even so, he got through in 4 mins. 38 secs, this time being equalled by both Neville Johnston, who was ‘throwing’ the Toyota in a grand manner, and Terry Harryman who had given his passenger his cards after the first run. Two seconds behind them came Brian Boyd and then Peter McConnell 14 mins 45 sees) and Ronnie Nesbitt (4 mins 49 sees). This time everybody got through without any more than the normal moments.

Terry Harryman applies a touch of opposite lock on his way to fastest time on the last stage.

The final stage was the first one in reverse but with the finish a tenth of a mile short of where the original start had been. With nothing to gain and with the chance of wrecking an engine Robert McBurney was a non-runner this time. Probably realising that he already had it “in the bag” and not wanting a repeat of his excitement on the previous run, Frank Robinson took things a little easier, and quickest time went to Terry Harryman in 4 mins 26 secs with Frank only three seconds slower. Driving very consistently, Brian Boyd was next up in 4 mins 33 secs and then came Neville Johnston and Robin Eyre-Maunsell (4 mins 35 secs) and Peter McConnell and Ronnie Nesbitt (4 mins. 41 secs). The only casualty was Malcolm Pedlow who “plopped” his 998 Cooper off into the shrubbery but again without any damage.

Jim Campbell gets the Imp well tweaked up on his way to third in class.

And that was it. The Results were quickly worked out and announced in the Edenmore Hotel. These showed that Frank Robinson had indeed come out on top and finished up with a 19 secs lead over Terry Harryman who had just scraped past Brian Boyd who took third place. A tremendous performance on Frank’s part in what one wouldn‘t have thought was a highly competitive rally car especially as it was only equipped with a sump-guard and some more suitable tyres than are normally fitted. It is rumoured that the Texaco Rally will he using Woodburn so perhaps Frank knew his way around a little better than most, but even so, his progress showed that he has lost none of the driving ability which brought considerable success a few years ago. Perhaps after this win, we’ll see a bit more of him in competitions in the future.



  1. F. A. Robinson (Cortina 1600E) 18min 21 sec;
  2. T. A. Harryman (N.S.U. TTS) 18min 40sec;
  3. J. B. Boyd (1275 Cooper S) 18min 43sec;
  4. N. Johnston (1498 Toyota Corona) 18min 53sec;
  5. P. G. McConnell (998 Rallye Imp) 19min 17sec;
  6. R. Nesbitt (1275 Cooper ‘S‘) 19min 19sec.

Up to 1000 cc:

  1. P. G. McConnell (998 Rally Imp) 19min 17sec;
  2. H. Crawford (998 Cooper) 19min 32sec;
  3. J. J. Campbell (875 Imp) 20min 05sec.

1000-1300 cc

  1. T. A. Harryman (N.S.U. TTS) 18min 40sec;
  2. J. B. Boyd (1275 Cooper S) 18min 43sec;
  3. R. Nesbitt (1275 Cooper ‘S‘) 19min 19sec.

Over 1300 cc

  1. F. A. Robinson (Cortina 1600E) 18min 21 sec;
  2. N. Johnston (1498 Toyota Corona) 18min 53sec;
  3. R. McBurney (1584 VW) 19min 35sec.
Open-air fanatic Gavin McLean braves the weather in his Sprite.