1969 Spelga Hillclimb

The scene at the bottom of the hill as Tony Forsythe takes his Mini up the first straight.

Reid Sets New Time at Spelga

This report is reproduced from MOTORWEEK from May 24, 1969

The Newry and District Motor Club received an entry of 43 cars and drivers for their annual Hillclimb, held at Spelga Pass on Saturday last. The weather was, in the main, fine and sunny, and a reasonable crowd of spectators saw some very enterprising motoring, which included a magnificent performance by Tommy Reid, who took Mick Mooney’s Brabham FVA to the top in a new record time of 53.23 seconds, a new hill record.

The first class to attempt the mile-long hill, with long fast bumpy sections, was for saloons under 900 cc, and this proved a walkover for Pat Speer, whose racing type Imp made it to the top in 69.91 seconds, beating the previous owner, Jim Fitzsimons who was using his road going Imp Californian, and had to make do with second place.  Donacloney man H. Watson drove a very nicely prepared Imp Sport, which certainly looked right, but was surprisingly pipped for third by handicap winner Sandy McCutcheon, whose 850 Mini was credited with a time of 75.54 seconds.

Jim McClements made third FTD with his now familiar Riley Elf.

Class 2, for saloons 901–1300 cc, was the best supported with no fewer than 15 entries, 14 of which actually took part in the proceedings. Obvious favourites were the Kane entered Minis of Jim Clements (1300 Riley Elf) and Andrew Kane (1000 Mini), and these two actually finished first and second with 60.82 seconds and 63.86 seconds respectively, while Tony Forsythe had problems with his 1100 Mini and made both runs on only three cylinders.

There was quite a strong Escort GT contingent running in this class and they had a private battle of their own which was eventually won by former single seater pilot Mervyn McKinney from R. D. Hamilton, and “Newtownards lassie” Miss Jan Sloan, who incidentally was one of several Spelga entrants who had been on the Texaco Rally the night before. She had found time to wash the car before the event, which was more than a couple of others had done.


Due to the complete absence of saloons of 1301-1500 cc, there was no Class 3, but Class 4, for large engine saloons, did have a very representative entry, with Stanley porters Viva GT and C. Lilburns BMW 2002, taking on the might of the Ford Motor Company in the shape of Harry Frizell’s and Dennis McKeag’s Escorts T.C.,  Jim Graham’s Anglia TC, and Ronnie Dukes Capri GT, making what was possibly the first appearance by a Capri in competition in this country.

Winner of Class 4, Jim Graham, gets the rear wheels of his Anglia TC slightly airborne.

As with the other saloon classes, it was a car more normally seen on the race circuits that took the honours from its more pedestrian brothers, in this case Graham’s Anglia, which skittered and bumped its way up the hill in 63.80 seconds to win from the flying Escorts of McKeag (still in rally trim, including dirt) and Frizell.

Small sports cars (under 1300 cc) were fairly thin on the ground, but this looked like becoming a battle between the MG Midgets of Eddie Scott and John Hanley, which on paper seemed very evenly matched. Scott, however, justified his trek from Enniskillen by winning the day after Hanley had managed a nonsense on his second run in the Esses.


The large sports car class catered for just about anything, and the entry was quite big, and certainly varied. At the top of the list were the oversize MG Midgets of Archie Phillips (1360 cc) and Dessie McAuley (1310 cc) while, looking on down there was a Lotus 7 and a U2 (neither of which started) one MGB, a supercharged Midget, two TR3s, and an Aston Martin DB4.

A most unusual beast to find climbing hills these days, R. McGregor put up a very spirited performance with his Aston Martin DB4.

This list was added to when Dessie McAuley discovered that his Midget was actually fitted with a one-speed gearbox, and elected to drive his “cooking” MGC instead.  Needless to say, “that man Phillips” romped away with the honours, also netting second FTD with a first run time of 59.95 seconds.

Second came the Aston Martin, driven with considerable verve by R. M. D. McGregor, with a time of 68.12, to beat Chris Wards TR3, which suffered a broken rear spring on its first run but nevertheless managed 73.07 seconds.  Martin Donnelly brought BC 13, the triumph formerly used by top handicapper Bob Caughey, out of retirement, and although it didn’t exactly set the hill on fire, it was a pleasure to see. 

The Formula Libre Class, was naturally enough taken by Tommy Reid, with Archie Phillips second and Jim McClements third, but while Reid’s drive can easily be dismissed in a few words, it really was a great performance. To knock a full two seconds off the hill record is something indeed, and Spelga’s bumpy narrow top straight must look very tiny indeed at FVA type speeds.

The title of “hero of the day” must be awarded to Dennis McKeag who, after breaking his Escort’s gearbox on the Texaco Rally the night before, came home, fitted a new gearbox, and still made it to Spelga in time to compete. Some people are gluttons for punishment!

Watched by a policeman and a couple of marshals, John Hanley swings has MG Midget into the second hairpin.

Newry and district MC did a very good job to get the climb finished on time after a few early delays, and full marks must go to them for providing a worthwhile event with an excellent PA set up. The entry could have been better, but it seems as though for some reason, hill climbing just don’t have the following it had in years gone by, yet for those people who don’t want to incur the wrath of their bank managers, and yet have the urge to go competitive motoring, this is the thing. Keep up the good work fellas.


F.T.D: T. D. Reid (Brabham Cosworth BT23) 53.23 seconds (New record);

2nd F.T.D: J. A. Phillips (MG Midget) 59.95 seconds;

3rd F.T.D: J. McClements (Riley Elf) 60.82 seconds.

Class 1: P. Speers (Hillman Imp) 69.91 seconds.

Class 2: J. McClements (Riley Elf) 60.82 seconds.

Class 3: (no runners)

Class 4: J. Graham (Ford Anglia) 63.80 seconds.

Class 5: E. Scott (MG Midget) 65.10 seconds.

Class 6: J. A. Phillips (MG Midget) 59.95 seconds.

Class 7: T. D. Reid (Brabham BT23) 53.23 seconds.

Class 8: S. McCutcheon (Mini) 46.54 (handicap adjusted).