1973 Donegal International

This article is reproduced from Motoring News, Thursday, June 28, 1973.
Report by Richard St. John Young.

Cahal Curley by a whisker

The 1973 International Donegal Rally, the first Irish event to permit the use of pace notes for some time, went to Derry driver Cahal Curley, partnered by many times Circuit of Ireland winner, Terry Harryman, in a newly acquired Porsche Carrera RS. Second, just 45 seconds behind the flying Curley, was Lombard & Ulster’s Adrian Boyd, while in third place came Billy Coleman in the now infamous tatty Escort RS, TIU250.

Whether the use of notes for the first time made any appreciable difference to performance of the top men is difficult to say, Boyd admitting that on several stages he found them more of a hindrance than a help. But they certainly made a difference to residents along the route, many of whom had to put up with competitors rushing past their homes for days before the event. It was firmly stated in the regulations that when notes were made, speeds were to be kept to a minimum, but all things are relative.

Based in the Ballyraine Hotel in Letterkenny, the organising team, led by Curley’s normal partner Austin Frazer, did an excellent job to keep everything running smoothly, producing an excellent rally supplement to the local paper which had the effect of making almost the entire population of Donegal rally fans for a couple of days.

There were surprisingly few non-starters, although several people had problems of one sort or another before and during scrutiny. Both Boyd and Curley were late to appear, the Lombard crew changing the front struts down the road before putting in an appearance, and Curley’s very recently acquired Porsche Carrera taking a long time to materialise, although his old lightweight BMW was present to be handled by the Porsche’s former owner, Ronnie McCartney.

Porsches were plentiful, with Curley running at number two, Circuit of Ireland winners Jack Tordoff/Phil Short at four, David Agnew at eleven, and former circuit racer and London to Sydney competitor John L’Amie at twelve, the latter in his much modified 2.4l 911. Alpines were handled by Pat Moss-Carlson in the Clark’s Renault Rally Team 1800, and Welshman John Price in his privately owned example.

Perhaps the most interesting car to appear at scrutiny was the Bertorelli Ice Cream entered Alfa Romeo GTAm of Andy Dawson/Kevin Gormley. This former racing car had been changed remarkably little before its rallying debut, and was the centre of much attention. Then, of course, there were the Escorts. Adrian Boyd/Beatty Crawford were at number one in the Lombard car, still fitted with the 1800cc David Wood BDA that went so well on the Scottish. Billy Coleman/Frank O’Donoghue had their evil green car at number three, and Harold Morley, although down to drive his Porsche, appeared in a 2-litre Ford Pinto powered Escort (with claimed 200 bhp) at number six. The car, however, went out with head gasket problems. Dessie McCartney had the Motortune of Bangor RS1700 at eight, just behind Eamonn Cotter’s BMW2002, and Mervyn Johnston/Ian McFarland led the Mini brigade with the 1411cc Manx Racing Developments car at 14.

When the start time rolled round (this was altered to allow a wedding to take place in Glen Village!), it was wet, in marked contrast to the brilliant sunshine of the day before, and this brought its own problems. The first stage, at Trentagh, saw Curley take 22 seconds off Boyd, setting the scene for the rest of the event. Tom Lawther’s Clan Crusader went off for a time, but got back on again thanks to some handy spectators. Malcolm Patrick, who had been going well and leading his class with the Imp, had a puncture on the second stage, and bent the rear suspension driving to the finish. The end result was a fairly large “off” on the Glen stage, and while the car was not badly damaged, it was definitely out. A pity this, as the stage was later scrubbed, much to the relief of Billy Coleman who had stopped for a time.

Stage four, Ards forest, was the one on which practising had been expressly forbidden. This proved to be immensely smooth, but virtually impossible to “read”, as Mervyn Johnston found out, planting his Mini in a tree, but continuing! At the front of the field, the Boyd/Curley battle was continuing, but the Escort driver was having the greatest difficulty in matching Curley’s times, getting the car into some quite spectacular poses from time to time.

Down through the Western stages, Cashelnagor, Dungloe Lake and Doochary, a few more went missing. Russell Brookes/John Brown were putting up some pretty incredible times in their Group 1 Brooklyn Mexico but were put off the road by Kevin Twomey’s Escort RS which they tried to pass at the end of one stage. The Mexico rolled harmlessly and lost little time, but it did look a bit second-hand.

Dungloe Lake claimed quite a few victims. Noel Smith broke a steering arm on this racing suspended Escort RS and put it neatly into a bank, while fancied runner Pat McCourt, who had been going very rapidly, did the engine of his Escort TC a lot of no good.

“Flat” Pat McCourt, with Derek Smyth reading the notes, would suffer camshaft failure on the Dungloe Lake special stage

Sean Campbell came to a halt on Doochary, his Jack Knight gearbox having failed for the third time this year. Another man out at this stage was visiting American Bob Hourihan, whose nicely prepared Datsun broke its gearbox, letting Bob get on with his other main activity of the weekend – taking photographs of anything and everything.

Local man Robert Ward, whose extensively lightened, ex-Jan Churchill, BMW was one of the prettiest cars at scrutiny, was definitely one of the main surprises of the event, putting up some very competitive times indeed. Fellow Donegal man Derek McMahon, after a very good showing on the Circuit of Ireland with his BMW, had it finished in the Works paint scheme, but the thought of repainting all those coach lines in the event of a shunt was obviously a bit daunting, and he was taking things comparatively easy.

One man who was opening a lot of eyes was Harold Hagan, the Autotest king, who was using his regular pylon bashing MG Midget, and had persuaded it up to tenth place by stage 10! It didn’t last, however, as the gearbox packed up shortly afterwards.

Stage eleven was a modified version of stage one, several of the morning stages being repeated in the afternoon. The second time Ards forest was used it caused rather more damage. Jack Tordoff had a 4 minute “off” here, which dropped him out of the top ten for a while. Also out of luck was Ron Neely, partnered by sister Irene. Ron had been going well, assuming the role of “leading Mini” after Mervyn Johnston started bouncing off solid objects, but his efforts, which had got him into the top half-dozen, came to nought when he had petrol pump trouble and ran out of time.

Also out of time after a busy morning was Russell Brookes, who had another “off”, on Glen this time, so he went out. Robert McBurney and his incredible VW finished their rally here when third gear broke. Andy Dawson, whose Alfa racer had been going well in the early stages, had proved to be something of a handful with its ultra-wide rubber and very stiff suspension. The very rough tarmac of Cashelnagor, Dungloe Lake and others, proved too much for the Alfa’s rear end, and Dawson’s rally came to an end when the rear axle casing broke. The honour of being the final retirement on Saturday went to Marek Gierowski, who managed to roll his Renault 12 Gordini across the finish line of the final stage.

“Never say die” Mervyn Johnston and Ian McFarland press on despite the clear evidence of hitting a tree very hard.

Back at Letterkenny, the results after the first day showed that Curley led Boyd by 35 seconds, with Coleman third some 3 minutes back. David Lindsay (Escort RS) was a very good fourth ahead of Eamonn Cotter, Robert Ward, Des McCartney, Jack Tordoff, Nicky Lindsay, and Ronnie McCartney. Nick Lindsay’s run was a particularly good one, this being the first time he has had a power unit comparable with that of brother David. Incidentally, is this the first time two pairs of brothers (the Lindsays and the McCartneys) have appeared in the top ten of an International Rally?

Among the Group 1 contingent, local man Patrick John Wilhaire had his Mexico in front of David Hardcastle’s Opel Ascona. He, in turn, was just in front of John Eakin’s well driven Avenger GT, and former racer Kevin Glynn’s BMW2002. With the departure of Brookes, this class had taken on new meaning, and Wilhaire, with only 4 seconds in hand over Hardcastle, looked likely to have a busy day on Sunday.

With rather brighter weather to greet competitors on the Sunday morning, the signs were that the Boyd/Curley struggle would be really hotting up. It was rumoured that Adrian had spent much of Saturday evening driving over the Sunday stages in the Lombard service car, but when asked about this, he said nothing.

Over the opening stages Curley was again faster, but on the incredibly fast Knockalla section, Boyd, driving as near the limit as he ever has, took 20 seconds off the Porsche driver. That, however, was as close as he ever got to relieving Curley of the lead, for Cahal was undoubtedly the master all day. Billy Coleman got into the swing of things, putting up leader-type times with a beautifully controlled display of sideways motoring, although he was unable to do much about his deficit from the previous day.

Back among the class contenders, John Eakin had a slight excursion on the first stage on Sunday and dropped some time, while on Derrylaggy (which was actually part of the previous day’s Glen stage) David Hardcastle managed to spin into the bank on the same corner that put Malcolm Patrick out of the running, and dropped a lot of time getting going again. Derek Boyd threw away an almost certain class win with a wall-of-death act on Lough Fern, but eventually got going again, minus windscreen.

The crowd of spectators present on Sunday’s stages were possibly the largest ever seen on a rally in Ireland, and, in fact, many of them were lucky to survive as they persisted in standing in some very silly places. The very competitive band of “00” drivers, who included Brian Nelson (BMW 3.0) and Robin Eyre-Maunsell (Avenger Tiger) having several near-misses to report. While on the subject of sweepers, it is perhaps worth noting that Nelson, had he been a competitor, would have finished tenth overall!

So it finished with Curley coming home almost a minute ahead of Boyd, and Coleman third. Robert Ward used the Sunday stages, many of which were close to his home, to good advantage, and moved up to fourth ahead of David Lindsay, who in turn had Brother Nicky treading on his tail. Dessie McCartney made it to seventh place ahead of Tordoff, while Cotter had an uncharacteristic run in ninth ahead of Ronnie McCartney, who had difficulty getting to grips with the ex-Curley lightweight BMW.

In all, a very enjoyable event. The Lombard & Ulster machine suffered a slight check with Boyd’s defeat by Curley, and Pat Moss-Carlsson’s win in the ladies category from Rosemary Smith, but the battle will definitely be on in the Texaco, and public interest has never been higher. Could ’73 be a vintage year after all?


General Classification:

  1. C.Curley/T.Harryman (Porsche Carrera) 228.29
  2. A.Boyd/B.Crawford (Escort RS) 229.14
  3. B.Coleman/F.O’Donoghue (Escort RS) 233.18
  4. R.Ward/A.N.Other (BMW2002) 240.52
  5. D.Lindsay/D.Cunningham (Escort RS) 242.13
  6. N.Lindsay/D.Sandford (Escort RS) 242.37
  7. D.McCartney/D.Gillespie (Escort RS) 243.13
  8. J.Tordoff/P.Short (Porsche Carrera) 243.18
  9. E.Cotter/R.Murphy (BMW 2002) 244.41
  10. R.McCartney/M.Ford-Hutchinson) (BMW 2002) 246.22