1973 Circuit of Ireland (MN Report)

Jack Tordoff won the 1973 Circuit of Ireland.

Tordoff’s Circuit

Reproduced from Motoring News May 3, 1973.  Report Richard St-John Young.  Photos mostly by Esler Crawford.

AFTER a year’s lay-off due to the much-publicised Ulster “troubles” the Circuit of Ireland returned in most of its former glory this Easter.  Sponsored this year by the organising club themselves, the Ulster Automobile Club, the 1973 version of the Circuit featured several breaks with the tradition of the past few years.

Under new Clerk of the Course Malcolm Neill, the organisers had turned the route back to front, starting with the very tough stages in Donegal which used to provide the “sting in the tail” on previous events and running around the Emerald Isle anticlockwise.

A couple of alterations had also been made in the timetable to allow border crossings to be made in daylight, but happily intervention by IRA, UDA and other organisations which many people had feared, never happened, and the Circuit remained unmolested throughout.

Not surprisingly, the possibility of perhaps meeting a real live political Irishman kept many possible competitors safely on the other side of the Irish Sea, and of the hundred-odd starters, only four came from outside Ireland.  One of these, at any rate, found the journey well worthwhile!

As befitted the winner of the last Circuit to be held, Adrian Boyd was seeded at one with the Lombard and Ulster Escort RS which boasted a full 2-litre David Wood motor for the occasion.  Beatty Crawford, as usual, occupied the left-hand seat. Also Escort-mounted was Billy Coleman at No 7.  His entry for the J. C. Withers Datsun was changed when the Japanese car found its way to a new owner before the event.  Withers‘ stickers were however in evidence on Billy‘s famous tatty Escort which appeared yet again, fitted with an ex-Mick Barry TC unit.  Frank O‘Donoghue was the intrepid co-pilot.

No 8 was the property of Sean Campbell’s Lindsay Cars Escort RS, which caused no end of bother to its driver when, due to a faulty rev counter, the 1800cc mill demolished itself during testing on the Wednesday before the start.  A really high pressure “all-nighter” saw Sean and co-driver Peter Scott ready for the off on Friday.

Dessie McCartney had Drexel Gillespie with him in the Motortune of Bangor 1700cc RS, while the Cork-based pair John and Dick Keating had 1860cc of BDA under the bonnet of their beautifully prepared example, which was running in Team-Castrol livery.  Other highly rated Escort men included former circuit racer David Lindsay with Duffy Cunningham, rapid Dubliner Noel Smith who had Ricky Foote with him, and youthful Derry man Pat McCourt with Derek Smyth, the latter pair relying on twin-cam power.

If this year’s Circuit was notable for anything, it was the arrival of no fewer than three Porsche Carreras.  Ronnie McCartney/Mike Ford-Hutchinson were seeded highest of these at six, while Jack Tordoff‘s lightweight version was at 12 with Phil Short in the hot seat.  Another lightweight car, the property of Circuit veteran Reggie McSpadden, was running at 52.

BMWs have certainly caught on in Ireland, and nine of them appeared on the Circuit.  Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer, now with 200 plus Alpina horses in their lightweight version appeared at four.  Also Alpina powered, but in group two trim was the car Eamonn Cotter drove with Paul Phelan.  They were at 11, while David Agnew’s lightweight car was at 17 with usual map-man Robert Harkness.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell appeared at nine with the Gp2 Imp he last drove on the RAC and now restored to its former immaculate condition.  Robin (“I‘m really very-safe: I just make mistakes!”) was hoping for a finish rather than a share in the headlines and had Norman Henderson sitting apprehensively beside him.

A large question mark hung over Robert McBurney‘s much talked about VW Beetle, powered by a roller bearing crank motor of 2.2 litres for which 150 bhp was claimed.  Robert had been sending cheques as far afield as California (to Deano Dynosoar no less!) to get bits and pieces for this rather unusual motor car, and the outcome proved to be quite exciting, especially for spectators.  Norman Smith co-drove.

Although quite numerous farther down the field, Minis are steadily becoming fewer at the top.  Mervyn Johnston/Ian McFarland were the highest British Leyland powered seed with their Manx Racing Developments 1411cc “box” at 14 and the next Mini appeared at 27 in the hands of Roger Cree/Geoff Morrison.  How times have changed!

No rundown of the entry would be complete without a mention of the latest peculiar habit the Irish have acquired, that of rallying Chevron B8s.  Mick Dolan/Jim O’Brien were at 37 with theirs which sported a shortened “Monaco-type” nose, while Alec Poole entered his, but changed to a Gp1 Datsun 1200 at the last minute.  A wise choice as it turned out.  Former driver Frank Fennell showed him which way to go.

Despite numerous tales of last-minute panics in the Boyd and Curley camps among others, most of the 108 entries appeared at the start.  The most notable exception was Pat Moss-Carlsson, who was to have driven the Clark’s Renault Rally Team Alpine at five with Liz Crellin.  Unfortunately the car was still in Dieppe when it should have been in Ulster so that was that.  Entries for two works Lancias were received by the organisers but cancelled within a couple of days.  They were still in the programme at Nos 2 and 3 but were never expected to appear.  Perhaps the unluckiest non-starter was Donegal driver Robert Ward, whose lightweight ex-Jan Churchill BMW blew up between scrutiny and his hotel.

Venue for this year’s start was Portrush, a seaside resort on the North Antrim coast, and here, in sunny if rather-cold weather, Olympic star Mary Peters flagged Boyd and Crawford away at 12.30 on Good Friday afternoon.

The first stage was one of the traditional Circuit closers – Torr Head.  8.71 miles of twisty, undulating tarmac winding along the coast, at times perilously close to some pretty long drops and only a few miles from the Portrush Start.  Boyd started as he meant to go on, taking 9m 33s to get to the other end, pursued hotly by Campbell (9m 35s), and at a more discreet distance by D. McCartney (9.54), Coleman (9.55) and Curley (9.57).  Curley was in severe handling problems with the BMW, and had a lot of rude things to say about tyres until he discovered that, in their haste, his men had omitted to fit the front and rear anti-roll bars to the white car!

Dolan‘s Chevron punctured one of its 14in wide rear tyres here, and had to do the next stage with one wide and one narrow tyre on the back, which must have made the handling very interesting!  A couple of people ended their rally on Torr Head; Joe Greenan and David MacAuley came unstuck in their Wolseley Hornet without injury, and the rather extrovert looking BDA powered Mkl Cortina of Adrian Griffiths and Ross Young came to a halt with internal problems.

The very fast 9.8 mile Glendun stage came next, and here Coleman set the pace with 9.07 to Boyd’s 9.09, with Campbell and Curley next in line ahead of Ronnie McCartney in the Porsche.

Banagher, the only real forestry stage in the event. saw some people changing on to knobblies while others elected to take things easy on racers at this stage of the rally.  Boyd, despite an oil problem which was to recur later on, was a clear 20 seconds faster than anybody else here, with Campbell again second and Curley, still without anti-roll bars, third.  Many times Circuit placeman Charlie Gunn retired his Escort TC here when the clutch gave up, while Jody Carr rolled his similar car right out of contention without any personal hurt.

Pat McCourt and Derek Smyth were going well on Torr Head but wouldn’t see Banagher due to a water pump failure on SS2 – Glendun.

A long road section took the field across the border into Donegal via a loop to stay clear of any potential trouble spots.  Glen was the first stage after the crossing, a rather treacherous 5.81 miles which has claimed a few people in the past, notably Billy Coleman in 1969.  Boyd was again fastest here, but Curley now with all anti-roll bars in place (borrowed, it is said, from passing BMWs!) equalled the Escort drivers time only to break a rocker right at the end of the stage which put him out of the rally; an unfortunate end to what promised to be a real battle royal.

McCartney’s Porsche was next up ahead of the BMWs of Eamonn Cotter and local man Derek McMahon.  Cotter suffered a puncture here, having earlier changed a head gasket.

Boyd was fastest again on Atlantic Drive, ahead of Campbell, McMahon, Cotter and the two McCartneys.  McBurney was in trouble here with a broken rocker on the VW, but eventually managed to cure it after a visit to a local scrap yard had produced a replacement.

Dungloe Lake saw the demise of Sean Campbell with selection problems in his Jack Knight box.  Apparently pieces of the tune of £2 were required to put things right but the Newry builder was out of the running.  Billy Coleman was reported stopped on the road in the town of Letterkenny and he too took no further part in proceedings.


Sean Campbell and Peter Scott were in contention until the Dungloe test when gear selection gremlins set in.

Dungloe was a Des McCartney benefit, with McMahon second ahead of Boyd who was now in difficulties with a misbehaving starter motor.  For the first time, David Agnew featured in the top half dozen here.  A dose of ’flu was preventing the Ulster Rally Champion from giving his best in the BMW which had already suffered slight body damage on one of the Torr Head jumps.

Doocharry saw Marek Gierowsky/Dave West and their Renault Gordini depart with an oil pump which wouldn’t, while another former circuit racer, Jim McClements, retired his Mini with a broken constant velocity joint.  Mervyn Johnston got his MRD Mini well wound up here to record the fastest time. He had earlier suffered all sorts of problems, ranging from a total lack of brakes on Torr Head to a broken petrol pipe on Glendun.  Jack Tordoff, who had been going very smoothly in spite of a sticky throttle on the Porsche, began to make his presence felt with a third fastest behind Johnston and Noel Smith, and, in fact, from here on the Yorkshirernan was rarely out of the top half dozen.

A 6.4 miler at Rosbeg saw Tordoff fastest from McMahon and Boyd, while Roger Cree’s Mini was quickest on the 17 mile Lough Eske section, ahead of the Keating brothers, another crew who were running very rapidly.

Another longish road section took everybody South to Ladies Brae where a number of people came to an untimely halt.  Arnie Poole and Kenny Johnston attacked a bridge with some enthusiasm with their German registered Schnitzer BMW damaging the right-hand front suspension sufficiently to put them out and knocking down a section of the parapet.  Local journalist Richard Young followed this up by driving halfway through the hole in his ex-Eyre-Maunsell Imp and hanging over the edge for a while with spectators keeping hold of the rear of the car.  A tractor eventually got him back on the road, but he too was out.  Pat Wilhaire‘s Mexico hit a bank here and damaged the radiator.

All these sterling efforts, however, proved to be rather pointless when it was discovered that the timing was rather strange, and the stage was cancelled.

Mervyn Johnston and Ian McFarland overcame a series of niggles to lie 6th at Killarney and would eventually take a fine 5th place overall.

Tordoff was fastest again on Rockfield from Johnston’s Cooper and Cotter who was really getting into the swing of things.  John Walters and John Hobcraft retired their Tricentrol Escort here when a strange noise came from the engine department.  No sooner had they officially called it a day, or night, when the noise vanished, leaving the TC unit as sweet as before.

Another unsurfaced 6.25 miler at Course Top saw Tordoff fastest again from Ronnie McCartney with Cotter, Johnston, Boyd and Eyre-Maunsell completing the top six.  At Toberdan Cotter beat the Yorkshire Porsche pilot by a short head.  This stage also saw the first of a couple of rolls by the smallest car in the rally – Jack Wilson’s Honda Z, which gently fell over and dropped four minutes, continuing with several luggage elastics holding things together.  He won the “spirit of the rally“ award! ‘

Breakfast at the midlands town of Athlone was the next item on the agenda, and at 7.30, in daylight once more, the leaders set out for Circuit of Galway country and the next stage at Carrowreagh.  Boyd was fastest here ahead of Agnew and Ronnie McCartney, while at Lough Rea, Eyre-Maunsell was credited with the fastest time ahead of Cotter and Tordoff.

Lough Cutra saw Boyd in command once more, still leading overall, although hotly pursued by a host of eager rivals.  At Bohatch a new name appeared on the leader board, that of ex-circuit racer David Lindsay, who, with the coming of daylight, was starting to go very well in his Escort RS.

At Sugar Hill, it was Boyd again, and here Agnew finished his rally with a well-cooked differential on the BMW.  The Keatings were fastest on Mount Eagle, beating Boyd by one second, with the ever-present Cotter and Tordoff in close attendance.  On the final stage before Killarney, Knocknacullig, Boyd returned the compliment, the BMW and the Porsche following as before.

Positions at Killarney were:
1, Boyd/Crawford (Escort RS) 34m 05s;
2. Tordoff/Short (Porsche) 36m Sis:
3. Cotter/Phelan (BMW) 37m 18s;
4. R. McCartney/Ford-Hutchinson (Porsche) 38m 09s;
5. D. McCartney/Gillespie (Escort RS) 40m 41s;
6. Johnston/McFarland (Mini) 42m 02s;
7. Lindsay/Cunningham (Escort) 42m 44s;
8. Eyre-Maunsell/Henderson(Imp) 43m 10s;
9. McBurney/Smith (VW) 43m 59s:
10.Smith/Foote (Escort RS) 45m 24s.

Seventy-one cars arrived in Killarney still in the rally, and a further dozen arrived to take part in the Sunday “rally within a rally”.  Of the considerable Gp1 entry, none had yet experienced any kind of trouble, and leaders Jimmy Stewart/Tony O’Kane had their ex-Boyd 3 litre Capri well placed overall.  Alec Poole was having the time of his life with the little Datsun, and the front rims looked as though somebody had been at them with a file.

The Sunday run was its usual splendid self, starting with the 12 mile Molls Gap section which, when there is no rallying going on, is the main road between Killarney and Kenmare.  Even before Molls Gap, several had trouble.  Tordoff lost some road time when the Porsche refused to start, but the problem turned out to be a minor electrical one.  Mervyn Johnston also had problems, changing a carburettor O-ring and clocking into the first control three minutes late.

Most important of those earlier retirements who turned up for Sunday was Cahal Curley, who had sorted out his earlier problems and was eager to try his BMW‘s new-found power in a straight fight with Boyd.  Lombard & Ulster team manager “Passionflower” Taylor was backing his man with a £10 wager per stage but started off on the wrong foot when Curley beat the Escort driver by 2 secs on Molls Gap.  The Keatings were third fastest ahead of Des McCartney.  The Tim Healey Pass, which was covered twice, saw Boyd take the honours ahead of Des McCartney and Tordoff.  The Porsche driver was engaged in a struggle with Cotter for second place overall, but expected the Galway driver to come out on top on the oft-used Sunday stages.  Leading Group One contender John Eakin managed a double spin in his Group One Avenger when the back suspension broke becoming the first Gp1 retirement in the process.

The shortest stage in the rally, a twisty three-miler at Trafrask Bridge, halted a number of people, but not Curley, who took four seconds off Boyd, with Tordoff and Cotter in attendance.  Ron and Dave Smith from Cupar parked their BMW in the scenery on this one, as did John Walters and Hobcraft, the latter pair smashing two wheels and damaging the radiator but continuing, to retire later on with a burnt valve.  John McAlorum’s brand new Group One BMW rolled quite badly here but continued after a lot of sticky tape surgery.  John and co-driver Brian Dorman being determined to finish.

Curley was fastest again on Falls of Donemark ahead of Boyd and Tordoff.  Boyd was again in oil problems which necessitated frequent servicing, but he still managed fastest on Borlinn.

At Roughty River Des McCartney was fastest.  Curley broke a wheel here, and bent the steering, but still emerged sixth fastest.  Reggie McSpadden/Norman Taylor dropped the third Porsche out of the rally here when a puncture and a large rock in quick succession took the new look off the car.  Reggie had worked his way up to twelfth at this stage.  Roger Cree was another retirement here with a blown head gasket on the immaculate Cooper S.

Heroes of the Sunday run, with the crowd at any rate, were circuit racers Brian Nelson and John L‘Amie, who were doing official duty as sweeper cars on the stages in BMW 3.0 and Porsche 911S respectively.  L’Amie, in particular, was very rapid, and actually put up one fastest time overall later in the day!

Round the four stages on the Cods Head Peninsula, Curley continued to pull away from Boyd, but by the time they reached Tim Healy for the second time, the Lombard Escort was in trouble.  The rear axle was starting to break up, and it became a case of touring around and trying to hang on to the overall lead without breaking anything seriously.  Cotter was fastest on the narrow Ballaghbeama pass, while on the very fast Caragh Lake section, where the public appeared in thousands, the Keatings took the honours, but were later penalised 10 mins overall for using pace notes.  Ronnie McCartney, suffering from flu, never quite got it together on Sunday and just held station.

Back in Killarney, there was great excitement in the Lombard and Ulster camp which resulted in Robert Taylor departing for Boreham to get a replacement rear end for the Boyd car.  Cotter, who, as anticipated, had relieved Tordoff of second place, somehow resisted the temptation to start a major bomb scare at Heathrow!

The Sunday Run itself, of course, was the sole property of C. B. Curley Esq. who proved beyond doubt that in any further encounters with the Boyd equipe, he has the right equipment.  The Curley entourage left Killarney in high spirits.

At the restart on Monday afternoon, all eyes were on Lombard & Ulster.  Robert Taylor had reappeared with a large and suspicious-looking parcel under his arm which turned out to be a rear axle and not the rocket launcher that the authorities suspected, and as soon as his due time appeared, Adrian creaked and groaned around the corner into a convenient hotel car park where the necessary job was completed in 18 mins, and Adrian shot back into the fray.

Adrian was fastest by 15 seconds on the first stage out at Gortnagane, but Cotter and Tordoff both took six of these back at Mullaghanish.  Although Boyd’s Sunday night lead had been cut to 1 min 20 secs, over the next few stages Boyd managed to hold it there and keep the opposition at bay.  Cotter had a similar advantage over Tordoff, but the Porsche crew were quietly confident of making that back during the run North to Larne.  This happened sooner than expected when Cotter clobbered a boulder on Fahiry and damaged the steering, but he continued to press on.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell managed not to hit anything big and held 8th place Overall on arrival at Killarney

Lough Allua was another of those stages which many people would prefer to forget.  McMahon, who had been going very well in his BMW, despite running out of petrol at the start of Fahiry, rolled in a fairly big way here but without personal damage, as did Will Farren/Hugo McDaid.  Des Cullen/Graham Wilkinson, who had been leading their class in a Group One Daf Marathon, did the same thing and also left the scene, while Billy Ferguson’s class-leading Gp1 Avenger GT had an “off” which dropped him back a lot.

Boyd made the running on the next few. and looked set to repeat his 1971 victory as the route headed Northwards towards the supper stop at Carlow.  The Keatings were putting up some very competitive stage times, but their 10-minute penalty meant that they were not in a position to offer any serious opposition.

Just before Carlow, Robert McBurney’s spectacular run in the Beetle ended when the sump plug fell out on Slievenamon where Boyd was again fastest.  At Carlow Boyd was leading by just over two minutes from Tordoff who had Cotter again barking at his heels.

North again through Coan and Aughavannagh, Boyd was still fastest as he was over the notorious Sally Gap, where fog and snow made life unseasonably nasty for everyone, but on Glenasmole just outside Dublin, the Lombard Escort breathed its last when a connecting rod bolt fell out, and everything came through the side of the engine.

Tordoff couldn’t believe his good fortune when he came across Boyd stopped at the exit from a tight hairpin.  He had been pushing him hard and was within striking distance but the last thing anybody expected was an engine failure.  Both members of the McCartney family pushed hard all the way North to Larne, but without much success, for Tordoff was now firmly entrenched in first place, the Porsche sounding as sweet as ever, while Cotter, despite overheating problems (“We forgot to put any water in”) and strange steering, was pressing on as hard as ever.

Gearbox trouble became fashionable on the final run North. Robin Eyre-Maunsell, who hadn’t hit anything very big all weekend, was left with nothing but third gear when pieces of first gear jammed the box, but in spite of needing a push start at every stage, was still going very well.  Also in problems with gears were Greg Brittan’s Firenza and Norman Thompsons very steady Saab 96.

In spite of the fact that less than half the field was now running, Strangford, always a popular place for spectators, was packed early on Tuesday morning, and everybody put on a good show for the crowds.  Nicky Lindsay, who had been putting up some very fast times with his Escort TC, dropped it all here without injury.  Unfortunate, for he lives there!

Norman Thompson suffered somewhat from gear selection problems in his otherwise steady Saab 96

The final stage at Kilcross was held up for half an hour to enable a blushing bride to make the church on time, complete with an escort of sweeper cars!  And so to Larne, where Tordoff and Short arrived to a heroes welcome after a well-judged drive.  A very good win from the Circuit’s point of view, not to mention the driver’s!

Cotter/Phelan were a courageous second ahead of Ronnie McCartney/Mike Ford-Hutchinson in the Porsche and brother Dessie and Drexel Gillespie in the Motortune Escort.  Mervyn Johnston was a courageous fifth in the MRD Mini after a continuing saga which included runnings out of petrol at the finish of Moll’s Gap!

David Lindsay/Duffy Cunningham drove well, particularly in daylight to net sixth place ahead of Noel Smith and Robin Eyre-Maunsell.  The top ten was completed by John Bridges/Brendan Doyle (Escort TC) and Tom Lawther/Hugh Brown (Cooper).  Robin Lyons and his brother John, both normally found handbraking round pylons on the autotest scene, were an excellent eleventh overall in a very standard looking Escort RS which was originally seeded 83!

In spite of their penalty, the Keating brothers came home twelfth in their Escort RS ahead of the similar car of former Mini racer Steve Griffin, while Lombard & Ulster was kept alive with Rosemary Smith/Pauline Gullick and a fourteenth place overall.  They also won the poorly supported Ladies Class and managed to get into the top half dozen on some of the closing stages; a good consistent performance.

Fifteenth was Stewart’s Gp1 Capri ahead of Derek Boyd’s well-driven Escort TC, and the incredible Alec Poole who, not surprisingly, won his class in the Datsun.

A very enjoyable Circuit for all concerned, and one which proved beyond doubt that in spite of the things one hears on the news, Ireland is still a good place for an international rally. Perhaps next year the visitors who came in droves on previous occasions will see fit to return?

Final Results:

  1.  J. Tordoff / P. Short (Porsche Carrera)   86.45
  2. E. Cotter / P. Phelan (BMW 2002)  91.30
  3. R. McCartney / M. Ford-Hutchinson (Porsche Carrera)  92.49
  4. D. McCartney / D. Gillespie (Ford Escort RS)   93.34
  5. M. Johnston / I. McFarland (Mini Cooper S)   99.04
  6. D. Lindsay / D. Cunningham (Ford Escort RS)   100.43
  7. N. Smith / R. Foote (Ford Escort RS)   107.03
  8. R. Eyre-Maunsell / N. Henderson (Sunbeam Imp)   107.22
  9. J. Bridges / B. Doyle (Ford Escort TC)   116.03
  10. T. Lawther / H. Brown (Mini Cooper S)   116.37


Irvine Tannahill and Victor Armstrong in their striking Cooper S.