- This article is reproduced from Autosport, June, 27, 1974.
- Report by John Davenport
- Photos by Martin Holmes and other sources
A Convincing Victory for Curley
There is an old joke about Niagara Falls which puts people into two categories: those who have seen the mist and those who have missed the scene. In Donegal last weekend there was no mist and the sun shone strongly all the time as local hero, Cahal Curley, teamed with Terry Harryman in a Porsche Carrera, came home a convincing winner of the International Donegal Rally for the third year in a row. The only people who missed out were those who weren’t there, as a more ideal event for competitors and spectators alike has not yet been devised.
Second to Curley was Derek Boyd who, teamed with Victor Armstrong, was in the second of Lombard & Ulster’s Ford Escort RS, and this young man was perhaps the talking point of the rally. When his elder brother Adrian Boyd went out after just five stages, he shook off a strong challenge from a parcel of Porsches headed by Dessie McCartney and a bunch of BMWs led by Brian Nelson, to chase Curley and keep the pressure on right to the very end of the rally.
Curley reckoned that having to beat one Boyd was enough but now there were two of them right on to form. In addition to worrying about the Boyds, Curley had his own problems to think about outside the rally, for his wife, Margaret, had been rushed off to hospital the night before the rally where she had given birth to their son some six weeks earlier than planned.
Brian Nelson and Derek Smyth drove valiantly in their BMW 2002 despite the driver’s desperately blistered hands, to wrest fourth place overall from Jack Tordoff/Phil Short in Tordoff’s new extra-light, extra-aerodynamic 3.0-litre Porsche Carrera by a margin of 29 seconds. Third place went to Dessie McCartney in his “more normal” Porsche Carrera, with Drexel Gillespie who, despite brake and tyre problems, kept the leaders well within sight.
A little further back was the dice of the year with Russell Brookes/John Brown in their new Escort RS2000 staving off a very determined Robin Eyre-Maunsell/Peter Scott in the Chrysler Dealer Team Avenger GT. The prize was the Group 1 honours, and the fight, though resolved by Maunsell going off about half way through the rally, took Brookes eventually to eighth place overall and the Chrysler man to tenth.
The rally was excellently conceived and carried out with only one special stage having to be cancelled, and that was after a spectator had been hurt and an ambulance was sent in to the stage. The weather was fantastically good, which resulted in a high rate of tyre wear, a lot of sunburn and a lot of accidents which accounted for many of the retirements.
The Donegal International Rally was based in Letterkenny and not the town which gives the county its name, as the North-eastern part is that most given to tourism and is best supplied with hotels. The Irish Tourist Board are one of the rally’s biggest sponsors and it is thanks to their attention that the prize fund is so large and the community co-operation of such a high order.
This rally is one of the few in the British Isles which allows a recce of the route, which means more income for the hotels but more tolerance on the part of the people who live on or near the 38 stages which comprise the rally. Naturally some people did stretch this tolerance a bit far by practicing as if the roads were closed, but those that were caught were excluded from the event, while Ernest McMillen had an accident and damaged his rally car too badly to start!
Because of the cancellation of the Scottish Rally, Donegal had kept its entry list open as late as possible and gained several good crews as a result. Jack Tordoff, who had just sold his rebuilt Carrera to Chris Benyon, had managed to purchase (for an alleged £12,000 plus) a 3-litre lightweight Carrera originally ordered by Reggie McSpadden, and turned up with this exotic beast to take his number one spot. Behind him was the Dealer Team Opel Ascona 1.9 of Tony Fall/Mike Broad. This car had been suffering brake problems at the last moment which were only solved when the mechanics found a man in a brand new Opel Manta in Letterkenny on the night before the rally and bought the servo from it.
The other Group 2 Ascona destined for Rosemary Smith had suffered a wiring fire on the way to the start but the news from Dublin was that her father had died and she would not in any case be doing the rally, her debut for Opel. Tony Pond did not start with the DOT Group 1 Ascona and consequently Frances Cobb was free to take up the hot seat of David Hardcastle’s Apollo Magill Group 1 Ascona.
Curley’s Carrera was presented at scrutineering by his mechanics and Terry Harryman as he was still waiting for news of his wife and child some miles away in Londonderry, and there were doubts expressed as to whether he would start or not. These were dispelled when Cahal turned up on Friday morning with the news that he was a father.
Behind him was his great rival from the Lombard & Ulster Team, Adrian Boyd, again driving with John Davenport and using the ex-Ford of France, ex-Boreham Monte Carlo Escort RS1600 with Watts linkage rear end that he had such an unhappy time with on the Circuit of Ireland. Fifth in the seeding was Billy Coleman partnered this time by Frank O’Donoghue in the ex-Chris Sclater Kleber Wheelbase Escort RS. He had 50 per cent of his problems before the start with an engine that seemed to leak oil no matter what was done to it. The mechanics finally got it ready and with a bit of co-operation from the organisers, it got into the Parc ferme at the eleventh hour.
Andrew Cowan was a non-starter in the White Horse World Cup Escort and a little bird whispered that in fact, Mr Cowan did not actually know he had been entered at all! The idea was to get him over there, as the Whisky company were running a big reception for foreign drivers two nights before the the rally and the entry was done while he was away on the World Cup without assessing its feasibility.
Missing too was Will Sparrow in the DTV Firenza but he had not been stopped at the border for bringing in too many cigars, it was just that when his Firenza was repainted, the paint refused to take, and rather than do a streak in a nude Firenza, he stayed at home. Also a non-starter was Jill Robinson who at present leads the ladies section of the Castrol-AUTOSPORT championship by a healthy margin, but she was not feeling too well and decided not to start.
With the non-appearance of Rosemary Smith, the ladies award was now to be contested by just two crews: Jenny Birrell/Alexa Davenport in the Halesford Motors Simca Rally 1 and Melanie Fitzgerald-Smith/Katherine McCollum in a Group 1 Avenger GT.
Fortunately, the entry list had very few holes in it by the time of the start and, in addition to the Irish and British crews, there were a couple of true foreigners in the persons of Wolfgang Stiller in a BMW 2002 (remember he co-drove for Ruano Aaltonen in the Safari?) And a very pleasant Swedish policeman, Ruben Borjesson, who had turned up with an immaculately prepared Group 1 Opel Ascona 1.2-litre, and a very easy-on-the-eye co-driver in the person of Miss M Sterner. Eventually 146 crews took the start from outside the Ballyraine Hotel just after lunchtime on Friday to tackle the first nine stages, all just to the North of Letterkenny.
The weather was very hot and this began to affect the road surfaces, especially on some of the roads which comprised the first test at Carn Hill. The tar was practically running around on the surface and making the going very slippery, which probably helps to explain the carnage on that first test. Before the competitors had a crack at it, Kevin O’Kane, driving a Datsun belonging to none other than King Curley, and using it to open the course for the organisers, shot off at the very finish of the test which was on a sharp left and right.
Poor Mr Stiller, who had spent just over a week practising, found his resting place much earlier and perched the BMW on the top of a wall half-way round a tightening left hander. Much more difficult to understand was the fact that local man, Robert Ward, hit the final corner in his BMW and also retired, but he did feel there was something wrong with the handling before that. As if to prove a point, he took the car out on Sunday and used it as a course opening car – the rally was running a bit short of them after a couple of days! – in the course of which he blew up the engine.
Alec Poole in the Rent-A-Datsun Sunny spun in the same place but managed to avoid hitting anything and stayed on the road. The Datsun was using a lot of oil during that first day but seemed to keep going and with a few pace notes to help him, he did not repeat his Circuit mishap with that car.
Marek Gierowski/Dave West in the ex-works Autofarm Porsche Carrera clobbered the bank on the right hand bend of the finish but only lost a little bodywork. Despite doing equal fastest time with Curley, their rally was to finish on the next stage when the engine cut. They had previously had some trouble with one of the petrol pumps, which was assumed defunct, and had switched to the reserve pump. The fault seemed unlikely to be in that, but try as they could, they could not trace the source of the trouble and pushed the car off the stage to retire.
Later, the original pump was re-tried and the car ran perfectly. Gierowski might just wish that it had remained dead, for on the Sunday when his mechanics were ferrying it between two stages, it burst into flames, and despite the efforts of other competitors, burnt out completely leaving nothing of the expensive car but a burnt crisp.
Back on stage one, another Carrera had a puncture and this was the one crewed by Maurice Ford and Kenny Johnston, which occasionally appears in the hands of Gerry Forde. Gavin Waugh/Peter Handy collected the, by now, famous bank after the finish line in their White Horse Avenger GT and henceforth ran with a bent wing. Arnie Poole/John French merely deranged their steering on the BMW and ran the rest of the rally with one front wheel further back than the other.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dessie McCartney was lucky to reach the first stage at all as a rotor arm broke on the way to it, and he only got mobile by buying one off a passing hired VW for a couple of quid. The non-cut-out rotor from the VW lasted the whole of the first day until he was able to get a proper Porsche replacement. Then Tony Fall got to the end of the first stage only to find that the big end bearings had run in his Broadspeed 2-litre engine and there was nothing to do but retire.
The hot weather was causing a lot of overheating problems and Billy Coleman, Adrian Boyd and Derek Boyd were all suffering with their Escorts and various remedies were tried, like propping open the rear of the bonnets and removing bits of the grille. On stage 2, Curley really hotted up the pace by being 16 seconds quicker than the elder Boyd, who was having problems with a misfire which was traced to a split exhaust manifold.
He was still second fastest however, with Derek Boyd third, so it didn’t look too bad for the Lombard & Ulster hopes until stage 5, Horn Head, the injected Escort hit a protrusion in the road going uphill and very severely bent the crossmember and steering rack. Boyd got the car off the stage but it was impossible to straighten it and he retired.
Power/Carron were among the casualties when they rolled their Renault Alpine on stage 2 causing it to resemble a glass fibre dustbin, but the crew emerged unscathed. One stage more and there was one less Porsche Carrera when Noel Smith/Ian Turkington’s second gear split into three parts and brought them to an expensive halt.
The Lindsay Cars entry of Sean Campbell/Brendan McConville had the first of two breakages of it’s Revolution Wheels and lost a lot of time on stage four, while the sister Escort RS1600 of David Lindsay/Duffy Cunningham was holding down equal 10th place with Tony Drummond/Dave Richards in their familiar Escort RS.
Poor Nigel Rockey, out with Martin Holmes in his works replica Escort RS1600 on loan from the factory tried to take a bend a bit too fast on stage five and swung over a small wall and into a field. The speed of the accident was such that it took them almost 200 yards to stop on their Goodyear rally/racers and the severely damaged car wound up just inches away from the next farmhouse. The same test saw Tony Drummond in trouble but with the gearbox on the Escort now lacking second gear.
On the Atlantic Drive, Mervyn Neely went off and retired with his Avenger GT, but most have been very careful where he did it as most of the stage would need a lifeboat for rescue operations! The fight for the ladies award was short lived as Jenny Birrell succumbed to a blown engine in her Simca on special stage six, which looks to have been caused by thumping up the sump and breaking the oil pick-up pipe. She later had the watches and helmets stolen out of her stranded car when it was left there overnight.
Perhaps the saddest story of all concerned the two Mulcahy brothers from America, Kevin and Rory, who had entered with a lovely lump of De Tomaso. They got the exotic thing round six stages and then went off on stage seven. The dreadful things that were done to the bodywork in the accident were nothing compared to what they had to do to cut the front wing off to get it even remotely mobile again.
Even with all these retirements, 107 cars came in to the Parc Ferme on Friday evening and plenty of those showed damage to prove the fierceness of the pace. Curley had established a lead of just over a minute on Derek Boyd, who had Billy Coleman and Dessie McCartney less than a minute behind him, with Nelson, Tordoff and Agnew all inside the next minute. Next was Drummond who had David Lindsay closely on him now that his choice of gears was restricted.
The battle royal opened the next morning with a long stage to the South of Letterkenny, where Coleman set the fastest time with Derek Boyd on the same second as Curley, seven seconds adrift of the Cork man. For Coleman, the fight was over, for warning noises from the gearbox became a motionless reality and he was out. Boyd and Curley were never many seconds apart during the next few stages, but it was not until stage 13 that Boyd got his first fastest time, and repeated it twice more during the day.
The struggle was going the Porsche driver’s way however and by the end of the day and 14 stages he had increased his lead to 2 minutes. Behind Boyd now was Dessie McCartney who was trying all he knew to stay with the Escort, despite not being happy with the handling of his Porsche, which seemed to be going wildly into oversteer on most of the tight corners. He in turn was being threatened by Brian Nelson, now ahead of Tordoff , and straining to stay there despite the most painful blisters on his hands.
Behind the leaders there was more drama and the rally lost Brian Evans/Dave Marston in the Express TV Porsche Carrera when his differential failed and he had to limp back to Letterkenny. Bertie Fisher/Brian Quinn in a group 1 Escort RS2000 rolled out of the rally on the first stage of the day while Sean Campbell spent some time off the road on the second stage and dropped right back down the field again after making up from his first mishap. He was later to have another wheel break and lost his rear windscreen.
Team-mate David Lindsay had to stop after this stage to change a front strut which had gone soft, and this was quite a strain on the service crew as, though there was no lateness penalty, the exclusion time was 15 minutes.
On the coastal road at Portnoo, Gerry McNamara rolled his Escort RS1600 and John Gemmell/Ian Knox went off in their Avenger GT avoiding the stricken car, and were unlucky enough not to find anybody to push them back on, and they were out of the rally. The cars run at 30 second intervals on the stages in Eire which had given McNamarra little time to alert the following car.
Another Group 1 contender retired when the BMW2002tii of John McAlorum/Tony McMahon put the fan through the radiator when the engine moved too far on its mounts, while on the same stage David Hardcastle/Francis Cobb planted their Ascona on a wall, and in doing so, removed both front tyres. Even when they got off the wall, they would drive no further as they only had the one spare.
Peter Clarke/Phil Boland retired too with a broken half-shaft in their Escort RS1600 while the same malaise stopped David Lindsay two stages later. The Swedish “copper” (Ruben Borjesson) was out, while Tony Drummond lost more time with a gearbox that was now jamming in two gears at once.
By lunchtime, most of the interest was centred on Robin Eyre-Maunsell’s chase of Russell Brookes, but on stage 21, when he was just about two seconds behind the Escort, our man from Chrysler put it off for five minutes. Robin Lyons, who had worked his Escort RS1600 up to within sight of the top 10, committed a similar fault just after lunch, but his was no simple case of push back on the road and continue.
Nobody was hurt, which could not, unfortunately, be said for an accident that occurred on the last stage of the day where a young girl was hit by a rally car that went off on a particularly nasty corner. The stage was stopped while an ambulance took her to hospital, from which she was later discharged, but had she not been standing on the outside of such a dangerous bend, she could have avoided injury. The stage was cancelled.
The results at the end of Saturday showed that Boyd was not making any impression on Curley, nor McCartney on Boyd, but Brian Nelson/Derek Smyth were now just 32 seconds behind the second Porsche, and well clear of Tordoff. Drummond, despite all his troubles, lay eighth ahead of Brookes and Campbell, surely the unluckiest man in the rally, just squeezed into the top 10. Best Mini man was Roger Cree at 12th overall, while further down, Eyre-Maunsell was creeping up again and in 18th place.
The long mid-Summer nights that broke up this rally into three parts were taken up with a certain amount of merry-making, and perhaps this accounts somewhat for the rally’s best story. It concerns the owner of Curley’s winning Porsche Carrera from last year, Joe Pat O’Kane, who went to Mass on Sunday morning and fell asleep in the Chapel. This left his car without a driver, so co-driver Tommy Tennant drove it alone over the first stage of the morning. They were duly excluded, even though the devout owner had been located and caught up with the car.
That stage on Sunday saw quite a lot of action with Brian Nelson coasting to a halt with a broken condenser at the distributor. The four minutes lost identifying and correcting the problem put him behind Agnew and Tordoff and his struggle for fourth place began all over again.
At the front there was little pressure, though Curley admitted to a rare spin on the descent of the Knockalla hill climb, while at the same place, Dessie McCartney was looking a bit white as his brakes were now failing. On the first stage, Brookes had a petrol union come loose from the carburettors but was able to coast over the finish line losing very little time. This was the only real trouble he had with his car, except for a spring shackle that came loose earlier and had to be tightened.
The heartbreak department was for Tony Drummond whose engine expired, and for the battling Minis of Ron Neely (engine) and Roger Cree (driveshaft). Sean Campbell too retired with a blown engine, a sad end to his sad rally. The fire that was Gierowski’s Porsche delayed competitors between stages and the rally was a bit late arriving at the finish, but a little inexactitude is tolerated in Ireland and there were plenty of cheers just the same for Curley and Harryman in a repeat of their win last year.
The rally was blessed with good organisation and a sympathetic clerk of the weather that resulted in one of the best events of the year so far, and if, on paper, the event may have looked a trifle easy for an international rally (with every night away from the car) the 63 finishers from a field of 146 was eloquent testimony to the toughness of the rally.
DONEGAL INTERNATIONAL RALLY 1974
- C.Curley/T.Harryman (Porsche Carrera 2.7) 262.11;
- D.Boyd/V.Armstrong (Escort RS1600) 264.26;
- D.McCartney/D.Gillespie (Porsche Carrera 2.7) 266.06;
- B.Nelson/D.Smyth (BMW 2002) 270.20;
- J.Tordoff/P.Short (Porsche Carrera 3.0) 270.49;
- D.Agnew/R.Harkness (BMW 2002) 272.36;
- M.Forde/K.Johnston (Porsche Carrera 2.7) 279.17;
- R.Brookes/J.Brown (Escort RS2000) 287.37;
- A.Poole/J.French (BMW 2002) 288.00;
- R.Eyre-Maunsell/P.Scott (Avenger GT) 289.10;
- P.Wilhare/S.McGettigan (Escort RS2000) 290.29;
- A.Poole/F.Fennel (Datsun Sunny 1300) 291.28;
- V.Bonner/M.Bonner (BMW 2002) 295.09;
- G.Waugh/P.Handy (Avenger GT) 295.11;
- R.Smith/D.Smith (Dolomite Sprint) 296.55.
Class 1 – T. Lawther/M.Jellie (Fiat 127)
Class 2 – R.Garret/D.Hadden (Escort 1300)
Class 3 – R.Eyre-Maunsell/P.Scott (Avenger GT)
Class 4 – R.Brookes/J.Brown (Escort RS2000)
Class 5 – P.Jones/J.Wilson (Imp Sport)
Class 6 – A.Poole/J.French (Datsun Sunny)
Class 7 – G.Waugh/P.Handy (Avenger GT)
Class 8 – D.Boyd/V.Armstrong (Escort RS1600)
Class 9 – No entrants
Class 10 – C.Curley/T.Harryman (Porsche Carrera)
Class 11 – N.Kittle/H.Shields (Cooper S)
Class 12 – D.Agnew/R.Harkness (BMW 2002)
Miss M.Fitzgerald-Smith/Miss K.McCollum (Avenger GT)