This report was published in CCC Magazine in July 1971.
Perhaps the most popular of all the home Internationals – The Gallaher Circuit of Ireland – This year the property of Adrian Boyd – We were there in force, as is our wont for all the home Internationals, those Mecca occasions for all rallying British clubmen.
SOMEHOW EASTER wouldn’t be the same for this scribe without the annual trek, more a pilgrimage even, to Ireland. So it is also for many British Clubmen, who pit their cars and selves versus some of the most interesting Special Stages in Europe. The challenge: the smoothest surfaces of all the Home Internationals, the Gallaher Circuit of Ireland. With 3000 KV long since gone the way of all good Minis (to the next owner!), the editorial carriage was to be the very same Skoda, though in Group 1 trim, that carried the CCC flag on the last RAC.
The first real contact I had with the Circuit was loading up spares into the Rally car round at Skoda Great Britain, in your actual East End of Smokesville. This for Colin Taylor (Piccy Man, Scribe, Trialist and Movie-maker) plus self, was to precede a very long run-in overnight to Stranraer, with another trusty Skoda, loaded with two kitchen sinks, in attendance.
Since the RAC, the bucket seats and sports steering wheel had been substituted for standard ones, the Group 2 motor had been withdrawn to be rebuilt for the Welsh and a boggets unit, checked over most carefully by WRA Engineering’s George Whitehead, put in its place. Other major preparations consisted of Duckham’s 20-50 being taken on, and the RAC’s M and S Semperits replaced by all-rounder Semperit sports radials.
Feeling absolutely knackered after our long distance lorry driver’s journey, our entire party of myself and Colin, Skoda Sales’ Howard Bulcock and Mex Magnificent, Dash and Peter, managed a few hundred snores before crawling off the boat in disgustingly bright sunlight at Larne, Northern
Not too many minutes later saw us sightseeing Belfast and historic Falls Road. It all looked very peaceful, there being only one net covered Tommy Landrover to be seen. We were soon armed (!) with maps from Paddy Hopkirk’s Belfast speedy emporium and settling down a night early, like most sensible crews, in our hotel in Balmoral, Colin and Howard put the route down onto the maps.
Meanwhile, Dash and Peter checked the Rally car over round the back of the hotel (mustn’t give all our tweaks away you see). A good night’s sleep was had by the courtesy of Guinness and other bibular sponsors, our fellow guests being either imbibing Rallyists or hungry news hounds.
The next morn, the inmates of the Liverpool ferry fell off the boat in Belfast and started to make fettling noises outside the hotel in the car park. Considering the reputation of that crossing, plus such a concentration of Rallymen in the boat’s hold, they looked surprisingly fit. Amongst their number were Will and Sue Sparrow, faithful co~pilot Nigel Raeburn, and Nick Whitehouse, Will’s service car organiser on so many Rallies.
In the afternoon, scrutineering took place at a new venue for this Rally, the Royal Ulster Showground, where there was plenty of room. That night the floodlit ramp proved to be ideal for sending off the vast 181 starters, a record 82 from outside Ireland.
With the usual blinking of flash bulbs and ‘Good Lucks’ from an enthusiastic crowd at the start, it was soon my turn to propel the Skoda up and over the Gallaher ramp (the handout cigarettes were very welcome, thank you) — and off down the Motorway towards the south.
From then on, the usual haze of motoring adventures took over, with bleary looking people in the night, cars slewing past us in the fog, others stuffed off, blue overalled figures frantically doing their thing.
I was still getting to grips with the left-hand drive of my Skoda, particularly in the fog, when l was clumsy enough to catch a front wheel on a most inconsiderate boulder on the edge of one misty stage. This ruined a Semperit sidewall. Hardly surprising really, as it was one helluva bang. The wheel-change, always strange the first time, took far too long. This didn’t please, as the Skoda must have been one of the most standard, and therefore the slowest cars on the event, so losing even a minute on a stage would take a great deal of catching up. From this time on, I didn’t give the car much peace. It replied by not missing a beat and, apart from a change of dynamo, even our service crew didn’t have to get their hands unduly dirty.
Uphills, it is true, were a joke, especially every time an Escort came through, but downhills tended to make up for this understandable deficiency. A genuine touring car among Racers etc. As for where we went, always difficult to remember. The route went from the start into Counties Tyrone and Armagh, including one twenty-three miler, jokingly nicknamed ‘The Sweathouse’ by enthusiastic Clerk of the Course, Chris Gibson. I can assure him that I did lose weight on this one.
It was just like Hampton Court Maze at the ton, with everything from cart tracks to main roads; all closed, as are all the Stages on the Circuit, to other road users.
Next came the frontier into Eire, the fog, and the famous twenty-four miler over the mountains, nearly all flat in the Skoda, labelled Sally Gap. By this time I was ready for breakfast in Carlow. In between the usual anglers tales, I was to discover that the Alpine-Renaults were both out. Nigel Hollier and Phil Short, having put up some really quick leading times, had dinged a front wheel against a protruding lump of old Ireland when their rack had seized, and because of Sicilian truck handling had limped back to their impressive Equipe H and S Transit, trailer, and the boat to the next event.
Whilst Pete Smith and Mike Sones (onetime co~driver in my Min), in the Hewlett and Sumner (insurance Brokers from Brum) entry had slipped a front wheel off the railway lines on a hill and become bogged in. However, unluckiest of all was yet another Midland crew, John Bloxham and Richard Harper, in John’s smarter than smart Escort Twinkers. They managed to get things out of line in a narrow part of the very first stage of all, then went sideways, turning over.
From that first Eire breakfast, two stages later came the welcome kip of night one in Killarney. At a special service park, just outside the town and its frenzied holiday traffic jams in the main streets, all manner of rebuilding was taking place before Parc Ferme back down in the town.
Because of the roasting hot weather and to try to make things aft a little cooler, the Skoda’s thermostat was removed, and the twigs I had purloined to prop open the mill lid, discarded. Otherwise, all was well:
The next day was to be the famed ‘Sunday Run’, with its four mountain passes, such scenic classics as Borlinn, Moll’s Gap, Tim Healy and Ballaghabema Gap, plus Cod’s Head, Ardgroom and Lake Caragh, as well as the rough Lough Brinn. Quite a day — with separate awards from the Killarney hoteliers, and open to those who had retired earlier.
I spent this day following the general Racing line, my passage etched in tyre rubber on the stages, though trying not to emulate the unconventional records of those who had quite obviously had their unscheduled moments. I do have to confess to taking more unknown brows absolutely harry flatters, as opposed to lifty funkers, than I can ever remember doing in one day. I’m sure too that all competitors would wish me, on their behalf, to apologise to the cow who was relieving itself in the middle of the Cod’s Head stage for any inconvenience the passing of the Rally cars may have caused.
The only thing that happened to the Skoda that day was that oil started to appear on the motor and spread around the engine compartment. However, it wasn’t an oil leak at all, but simply Ducham’s coming out of the dipstick, lifting due to the aerobatic nature of some of the downhill bits.
One crew who really deserve mention for a very fast day’s Rally- ing indeed, were Sutton and Cheam members Tony Fowkes and Kevin Gormley, in Tony’s very impressive Escort. Despite being only blessed with a relatively mild 150 bhp twin cam unit, they were fastest of those who had previously retired and had just gone for the run.
Finally, a quick service done in the park on the way into the Parc Ferme, a Republican Bluebottle nearly absorbed the last few minutes of any allowed lateness left to me by the chaotic traffic conditions, by taking exception to my ‘Beat-The-Jam’ technique of regarding pavement, righthand side of the road and airhorns as ‘on ‘, even in such circumstances.
I escaped to tell the tale, making the Parc Ferme, still in the Rally, on time. The ale in the very hospitable Duckham’s caravan never tasted sweeter. I didn’t need any oil, as the Skoda’s consumption was negligible despite the day’s yumps.
Later that evening, at the Sunday’s prize giving ceremony, marred by the discordant janglings of a sort of Pop Group, the overall picture of the Rally became apparent.
After a dozen Stages, Chris Sclater and CCC’s Rally Correspondent, Martin Holmes, had led in their J. C. Withers of Winsford Escort RS1600, from their team-mates Roy Fidler and Barry Hughes in another Withers Escort. Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer then started to close up on Roy from their third place, whilst Chris moved ahead even more.
By Killarney, Cahal had put his Escort in second spot but over five minutes behind Chris. Roy was third alright, from Billy Coleman and Dan O’Sullivan in a Twin Cam, like Cahal’s. The first foreigners, Lasse Jonsson, with Alf Quist directing slots, were fifth in their Saab V4, but interest centred on Billy’s progress, on his home territory.
After ‘The Run’, Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford had rocketed into the reckoning, and second place, behind Chris. Billy was third ahead of Cahal, whilst our man Sparrow and Raeburn were up to fifth, upholding Mini honours despite a badly breaking up rear subframe which was consuming weld at an alarming rate.
Less lucky were Roy and Barry, whose BDA lump had a rag drag into its cam drive belt during a service stop. They were out, cruel luck indeed.
Next to go, on the run north, was Peruvian Henry Bradley, South America’s Number One Rally driver and three times winner of Los Caminos del Incas, having a working European holiday in his new RS1600. He hit a gate-post and, grinning, waved us through.
Next our Skoda was directed up a hairpin by Doug Harris and Mick Hayward, their Escort out with a half-shaft gone. And just up the road from here, Cahal and Austin were sunning themselves, their highly placed Escort beside the track and quite obviously a non-runner too, their clutch defunct. Everybody seemed to be having trouble. Even Chris. He’d had two rear springs break on the stages towards Galway that evening. But really putting the pressure on were Barry Lee and John Coles, some five minutes faster over the three Stages into Galway than both Chris and Adrian! Barry’s Clarke and Simpson Escort was suffering from severe gearbox leaks, but his motto was: ‘The leaks will stop when the gearbox runs dry.’
The order, with just the last night to go, was now Chris, Adrian, Billy, Will and Barry – a bit of an Escort benefit, apart from the CCC Min. Only half the starters were now left in the running, just ninety-one cars left.
In the service park at Galway, perhaps the most incredible piece of servicing took place. Again a feat of Sutton and Cheam members, who poured out at virtually every Stage end from Dick Ogden’s Cortina Estate. The object of their spanners this time was the Porsche 911S of Danny Margulies and Graham Batchelor.
Their feat? A clutch change, which involved taking the engine out, balancing it for a while on the service crew’s knees, and pushing the car into the Parc Ferme for its regulation hour.
After the hour it was wheeled out past the time control again for finishing off, this beautiful car then started to fire on all six (after a faulty plug lead had been changed) going on to finish, which was to prove vital. It was a critical member of the winning one-make team of Porsches, with Cecil Vard and Reggie McSpadden’s similar steeds, as well as Sutton and Cheam’s B Team, with Will and Nigel, and yet another 911, driven by Gemini Tripmeter King Stanley Palmer and Rodney Spokes, of very many hats.
As ever, the last night was the toughest of all, going on, and on, and on. For the trusty Skoda, no trouble. The main problem was really a personal one of trying to stay awake, particularly for Colin, with fairly demanding navigation. The breakfast halt at Rosapenna, in Donegal, was especially welcome. Just the last morning to go.
On the road to dawn, Chris had lost his lead by a spring giving out on a stage. He was therefore really having a go to get it back. It was daylight again, Atlantic Drive, before and after breakfast, Truskmore and Fanad Head taking the depleted field round the tip of North of Ireland, to cross the frontier back into Ulster at Lifford/Strabane. The 1500 mile route was drawing to a close, five hundred of them having been fought out on closed public road special stages. Over the epic spectator lined Tor Head, and down to the crowded finish in Larne.
I learned that Chris had been putting up some fantastically quick stage times, catching the Newtonabbey flier. But on Croagham Hill, disaster struck (or is it Sclater’s luck. . . . ), the Withers’ car left the road into a bog. Chris and Martin, plus helpful spectators, pushed the car over onto its roof and back into a nearby ﬁeld to rejoin the route, with maximum penalties for the section. He was now firmly behind Adrian, a popular victor, finishing second, ahead of Billy’s Escort, Will’s amazing Mini, Barry‘s Escort, Lasse Jonsson’s best—foreign-entry Saab, Noel Smith’s Mini, Cecil Vard retiring after this, his very last Circuit in the Porsche, Mervyn Johnston’s Min, and Cork’s Greg O’Gorman at tenth in an Escort.
I pottered into Larne and the final control, and all those people. The Skoda passed through the final checks at scrutineering without any trouble at all. To my surprise, at the prize presentation, I discovered that myself and Colin had some silverware to collect, with a Group 1 third in the 850 to 1150cc class.
This made our little effort amongst the little people a little more worthwhile; My headache on the boat next morning wasn’t so little. This might have been expected after the rigours of the post Rally official (and unofficial!) party in the Kings Arms Hotel.