1975 Donegal – Autosport

This report is reproduced from AUTOSPORT Magazine 26 June 1975.


Blitzkreig comes to Donegal

Peering over John Davenport’s shoulder gave you some idea of why the crew of the gleaming KWS Autotechnik BMW had won the day. John had in his hands the Teutonic riposte to the challenge of Donegal’s glistening tarmac. Seemingly infinite numbers of symbols dotted the carefully ordered pages — as much as three and a half daunting sheets of scribbled speed to cover a three mile stage – the Achim Warmbold formula for success. They had worked hard during the previous week and once the work was done they had stuck to the results of it implicitly.

Achim is at his best on pace notes — he has his own system for noting and once the job is complete to his satisfaction, he is experienced and confident enough to drive absolutely to the letter of the page — something which few Irish or British crews are able to manage successfully. The unbridled professionalism of the whole operation was a lesson in the art of winning.

Then there was the car; an aggressive, striped projectile which on close inspection only mirrored the precision and purpose of the men within it. As it lay silent in the soft Sunday evening light – its gold BBS wheels blackened by molten brake dust, the countless admirers stared at it as they had the Stratos just two days before. The standard of preparation and equipment made the German machine a master of the parc fermé, it was a pleasure merely to look at it.

Warmbold’s BMW screams through a fast left. The crisp sound of it’s Formula 2 based engine was an added treat for spectators.

Who could have believed at the start that after two days of fiercely competitive motor sport, there would be just two seconds in it to be fought over on the Sunday – it was almost a theatrical cliffhanger. Achim had seemed to spend the first day acclimatising himself to the strange conditions and road surfaces; he was content to let the others set the pace, finding out what they had to offer before beginning his drive to the front on Saturday. The BMW returned to Letterkenny on the second evening two seconds behind Billy Coleman and 29 seconds ahead of Dessie McCartney; the scene was set for a finish as tense and as critical as it was possible to be.

Under a blazing sun both Dessie McCartney and Billy Coleman strove mightily to stem the German’s remorseless advance; they drove with icy determination, the situation extracting unforgettable performances from both men that will live on long after the clouds roll back to plunge the scene of their efforts into shadow. It was tyres in the end that defeated them, but there was in the back of one’s mind the ever increasing suspicion that the calm professional at the wheel of the German car was rarely extending himself, the BMW was dictating the pace, and when a reply was needed to keep the hounds at bay it was delivered with a crushing ease that suggested vast resources of speed should the occasion have demanded it.

Irish scenery has a softness and an air of tranquillity that is totally unique to the country. Kerry is perhaps one area that immediately captivates the traveller with its sense of timeless space, rich colours and rolling country untarnished by man-made scars — Donegal has all this but its compelling charm comes from the abrupt changes in the geography over a comparatively small area, so that within the radius of some fifty miles there is rich pastural grazing ground reminiscent of the Sussex lowlands, there are high windswept plateaux, heather strewn and desolate, remote sea loughs festooned with mysterious islands, and outcrops of craggy mountains that seem to march endlessly into the misty horizon.

It is a part of the world that lends itself to rallying like nowhere else in the British Isles and the smiling convivial natives seem to have achieved the impossible with the elements. They now control the situation so well that the Circuit of Donegal has been blessed with sunshine for the previous four years. Friday was warm, Saturday warmer, and Sunday was blazing hot so that the ribbons of tarmac shimmered in the heat and molten rubber lay glistening treacherously on the interminable corners; a weekend of fierce competition, sunburn, fresh air, pint glasses, unforgettable scenery, endurance carousing and a sense of detachment from the mainstream of hectic everyday existence, this then was North West Ireland last weekend.


Most crews had spent the previous week in the vicinity of Letterkenny busily preparing their notes for the coming struggle so there was time for most to acclimatise and the machinery that assembled gave promise of what was to come. With just 15 minutes of lateness allowance and three cars being sent off every two minutes. timing was tight. There were no fewer than 14 Porsche Carreras entered, and the list though lacking in foreign entries, was still really exciting.

First away was to be last year’s winner, the “King of Donegal” Cahal Curley, in the Chequered Flag Lancia Stratos. With three events and three non-finishes behind it, everyone, not least the team, were hoping for success here. Cahal, however, had certain misgivings. He felt that the car, with its total lack of suspension travel coupled with the wide track and short wheelbase was not ideally suited to the yumps and bumps of Donegal. On the Thursday he lost his wristwatch while playing golf, it was to be an omen which he was not to forget — neither was he too enthusiastic about the Pirelli tyre situation and remarked that they were “like all Italians — risky!” With the very capable Austin Frazer as Clerk of the Course, Cahal had Drexel Gillespie sitting next to him, for the first time. The pair of them scarcely knew each other at the beginning of the previous week but after a few days in each other’s company the partnership was working smoothly and all looked well for the rally.

The second car away from the ramp represented the sole prominent European interest, it was the works built G2 BMW 2002 sponsored by KWS Autotechnik and driven by Achim Warnibold who used to drive BMWs for the works when they were participating, and John Davenport who has been partnering Achim’s efforts this season in a number of different cars. Achim’s BMW is without doubt one of the most painstakingly prepared rally cars to be seen; a cursory inspection of the interior underlines the methodically ordered minds which were consulted at its construction. The wiring is an electrician’s dream and the whole car, from its aluminium struts to its Formula 2 fuel injected 16-valve engine represents an ultimate rally weapon.

Rumours as to its power output were progressively increasing as the rally continued, but it seems that 240 bhp is near the mark with substantially more torque than an equivalent BDA Escort – a car to dream about and one which responds superbly to Achim’s neat driving style. Terry Harryman summed it all up when he said to Achim; “you’re doing this all wrong — you should have one seat in the middle of the car!” The team, like the Chequered Flag equipe, were using Pirelli tyres, but there was some quandary over exactly what would be used and they had borrowed six CN 36 radials on Minilites from Robert Ward to broaden their choice. For Achim’s part, he was slightly apprehensive of the width of the some of the stages and he was not sure whether to use 13 or 15 inch racers on the car.

The BMW finally arrived from Germany courtesy of the Irish Government after KWS bookings had fallen through. The government keep two vehicle spaces permanently reserved on Irish ferries and the Donegal Motor Club eventually secured them for the BMW and its service crew so that Achim could make the start.

Billy Coleman had his Thomas Motors Escort 2 over from Blackpool with tarmac suspension but otherwise largely unchanged from the Scottish; another last minute rush which left Billy short of tyres and without the race cams which he felt were very necessary if he was to be able to stay with the Porsche drag race. Adrian Boyd did not get his little blue Alpine back from Dieppe until the Tuesday prior to the event and after arriving at the docks to collect it, he was in the process of winching it onto the trailer when a large docker in even larger Wellintons casually asked him why he did not merely drive the car onto the trailer.

Adrian explained in some detail that it was inadvisable to start up such a new, expensive and highly tuned engine merely to drive it onto the trailer and any attempt to do so might result in expensive damage to the mechanicals —- to which a lilting Irish voice replied, “oh, it was alright when we drove it out of the holds!” Adrian seemed happy with the car although he had not had a chance of more than a very brief blast up the road in it — he would only say with a grin that it certainly felt different. Meanwhile he had been scouring the countryside for Elf Texograde, which he eventually ran to earth in Dublin.

Adrian Boyd drove a typically stylish and determined rally to finish fifth in his Alpine.

Behind Adrian came the first of the myriad of Porsches, Dessie McCartney with Terry Harryman as usual, and behind them were Brian Evans/Roger Roderick Jones. Jack Tordoff, making a brief return to rallying, was over with a stunningly beautiful 3-litre Carrera RSR, one of only five made in right-hand drive. Allan Greenwood, Bob Bean’s usual right-hand man, was reading the notes.

In the absence of Chris Sclater. who was not able to acquire the necessary parts to appear; and Brian Nelson, who was left without a car, current Castrol/Autosport leaders George Hill/Phil Short started next in the Martin Group Magnum. In their continuing search to get the suspension geometry right, the car had been considerably lowered all round by two inches, and George was running some really wide eight inch Goodyear racers. Behind the Vauxhall came a gaggle of Porsches led by David Agnew at 14. Behind him was Marek Gierowski, with Martin Holmes co-driving. Marek had managed to acquire a John de Stefano twin plug head 2.8 example for this event, while John Price brought along the car in
which he recently won the Circuit of Munster.

John Tansey was again unlucky with his Porsche and reluctantly had to stand down after the engine developed a crack in the block. Tony Drummond borrowed Paul White from Chrysler for the event and brought over the Derek Carman Escort equipped with race cams but otherwise little altered from the Scottish. Sean Campbell put a rod through the side of his engine in Munster the previous week and could not get the engine rebuilt in time and Andrew Dawson had the same problems as Chris Sclater. Thus despite gaps, the top twenty promised some very genuine excitement.

A notable last-minute absentee was the familiar figure of Paul Martin who, while propping up the edge of the bar, recounted a sad tale which explained away the plaster which now encases his foot. He had had the gearbox/engine unit up on chain shackles and was preparing to separate the two as they swung menacingly above the garage floor. Unfortunately he attempted to achieve this by tugging hopefully at the clutch with both hands. Suddenly the unit obliged him and it continued floorwards at a rapidly increasingly speed until it was met by Paul‘s unsuspecting foot. He will be hors de combat for some weeks while the bones heal.

It was left to Autoextra to provide the most spectacular drama for the pre-rally gossip columnists, despite the attempts of the local Garda to wrest pride of place from them by going off into the bog while proceeding through the first stage on Thursday evening. Vincent Bonner’s BMW which had just undergone an expensive rebuild at Autoextra, was being driven back to Dungloe from Dublin when the crankshaft went. That evening a light aircraft landed in a field near Vincent’s home with all necessary parts and an Autoextra mechanic. By breakfast time on Friday, the work was done and Vincent was ready to start. None of this of course helped Ashley Armstrong whose BMW also expired prior to the event and was left sitting forlornly outside the hotel.


Cahal Curlev was anxious to warm up the racing oil in the engine – it was only four miles or so to the first stage and in order to be sure of getting everything up to full working temperature he opened out the Stratos on the road. Despite its now very tall gearing, he was soon in fifth, the hedges a blur as the little car catapulted down the main road in the crisp early morning air.

Both men knew the way to the start of the first stage so both were watching the road ahead being swallowed up under their feet when a tractor pulled out of a concealed turning and staggered haltingly into the middle of the road before the horrified driver saw the black and white shape hurtling towards him. Cahal was heading for the only way round the road block, the right, when he was horrified to see the tractor moving again — to the right. In attempting to get out of the way the tractor was rapidly cutting off his only line of escape. Cahal twitched the Stratos violently to the left and the car slid past the rear of the tractor with only the prayers of the crew to separate the two vehicles.

It was not a good way to start a rally and three miles into Carn Hill, Curley made a rare mistake; they were approaching a right hand corner immediately prior to a bridge with a ‘flat’ crest over it. The car was off line from the start and grazed the bank just prior the parapet which swung the car sideways towards the menacing stonewalls. Lightning reactions saved the car from becoming a total loss and Cahal slid through with just a graze on the walls.

The damage however was done, a front upright was bent and the car continued on its way with the front wheel leaning drunkenly outwards, an inch of toe-out and resultant chronic steering and braking defects. A very chastened Cahal was forced to start the next stage with the car in the same state as there was no time to do anything there and then. Drexel had stopped reading pace notes by this time as the only requirement was to get the car to the end of the stage. The strain on the upright was proving too much, even at greatly reduced speed, and predictably it cracked. Ron Pellatt tried to brass weld it, but Cahal knew from his expression that it was not going to last.

Chris Wathen surprised almost everyone with his consistent high speed, which kept him in the top five for a day and a half.

On Glen, the casting cracked open again and at the end of Atlantic Drive the limping car had the upright removed and it was electric welded in a local garage. This was the final chapter to the saga. At the start of Crocknakilla the upright collapsed, the wheel being held on to the car solely by the brake pipe for some way before the wheel finally parted company with the car and it was all over. It is apparently a five/ten minute job to change an upright and its a spare part that Graham Warner has been trying to secure for the car since he took over ownership. Cahal flew out for Ypres on Monday, and the car will follow him later in the week — so long as Turin can oblige in the time available.

That first stage claimed two other principal contenders, both of whom fought back to worthy overall positions by Sunday. Tony Drummond had an off and bent the front nearside front wing. He reckoned that it was only the second time that he has hit a car on a rally and the experience upset him so much that “we were creepin’ about on Friday”. He lost three minutes with the excursion and it took him until Saturday to really get going again. By the final day he was really enjoying himself, flinging the Carman car around and entertaining the crowds with the sound and fury of a howling Drummond engine. As part of a grand finale he executed an enormous spin on Knockalla 2 in a place where there is a wealth of sea, sky and altitude and very little besides . . . he was lucky to escape with only time lost on his way to a fine seventh overall, just 9 seconds behind John Price.

Bertie Fisher visited the bridge on Carn Hill and finished up running precariously over the edge. Despite a rear wheel puncture in the incident, all was well however and he and Derek Smyth continued in the ex-Russell Brookes car to take the Group 1 award and get himself in the top ten despite having to virtually rebuild the car throughout the event.

At the front Dessie McCartney was rapidly establishing himself as the rally pace setter and it was to be mid-afternoon on Saturday before his superiority was seriously threatened. The pace at the top was hotting up but the German challenge had yet to reveal the nature of its true colours; the BMW had been overheating slightly owing to a slight leak from the gasket around the water pump and as far as the crew were concerned there was no sense in rushing it at this juncture. Adrian Boyd, in his first day of competitive motoring in the works-style Alpine, was slightly disappointed that his steed was not able to go faster. He was happy with the suspension which was now much softer, but he was having to work really hard to stay on terms with the Porsches. He felt that the principal advantage of the Alpine, its chuckability, had been negated by pace notes where the lesser handling cars could get set up for corners and there was not enough sheer go to compensate.

Bertie Fisher and Derek Smyth ran out winners in Group 1 (and tenth place overall) in the ex-Russell Brookes RS2000

These factors, coupled with the severe yumps and uneven surfaces contributed to making his ride a totally different experience from those in the Porsches. He looked hot and thirsty by evening. The crew however were in good spirits, Frank Main determined to maintain the international flavour by throwing away the pace notes and using French letters, though worried about the ground clearance of his seat which was expected to lead to “piles of trouble;” and Adrian voicing serious thoughts about Beaujolais. He was fifth at the end of the day and 20 seconds behind him was the man who had become the sensation of the event.

Chris Wathen in the Vospers Escort Mk2, still with its venerable 1700 BDA installed. Chris had been flying from the drop of the flag and had surprised everyone with his speed on his first trip to Ireland, not least the organisers who seeded him at 32. His fine run came to an end on Letterilly late on Saturday when a quarter of a mile after the start of the stage he severely damaged the car after a blind brow in a sequence of right and left hand bends. As you approached the brow there was nothing to see save the tip of a mound of earth. Apparently a half shaft broke at the critical moment and the car dived off the road and eventually assaulted a wall which must surely account for the bodyshell. No sooner had the car come to rest than hordes of eager spectators fell upon it, having thundered down through a corn field to get the crew out in a charge reminiscent of Crimea. They were too late for co-driver McNally however, who had wriggled out of the wreck in record time.

Meanwhile the Porsche train wound onwards, the only major reduction in their massed ranks was the disappearance of Marek Gierowski who had just begun to go well after his lay off from rallying. The oil cooler is mounted low down at the front of his car and a yump on Muckish Gap saw the Porsche land on its nose, breaking the cooler and ruling out any possibility of by-passing it. The order on Friday evening then was:

McCartney 53.38,
Evans 54.31,
Coleman 54.32,
Warmbold 54.46,
Boyd 55.13,

Saturday was going to be a big day.

Dessie McCartney overcooks his familiar yellow Porsche at Bunlin Bridge in an inspired effort to stay in front.

In Group 1 Derek McMahon, the famous owner of Donegal, was out in front, having overtaken Bertie Fisher. However, lying handily in fourth was well-known Spaniard Henry Innurieta who had come over in search of Castrol/AUTOSPORT points. Unfortunately he had forgotten to bring his service crew with him, and his hard working co-driver was faced with the prospect of changing the head gasket on the Thursday night to enable them to start at all. He was hard to work in the small hours when a hobbling Paul Martin tottered out of the darkness and immediately joined in, so that job time was appreciably cut. Henry had an exciting rally. Trying very hard throughout, he had had an enormous moment on Friday teetering on top of a wall, before assaulting a Chapel on Saturday — a contretemps which resulted in a victory for the church, and finally writing off the Allards RS2000 over Atlantic Drive on Sunday.

The previous stage he had put the car on its side but they had managed to right it again, though the steering was damaged and the car would not turn right very effectively. On Atlantic Drive the exhaust fell off and while they were debating what to do about it, a passing wall jumped out and attacked the car with very final results, bringing to a premature end a hard and determined drive that deserved better reward after coping with a
multitude of problems.

Saturday belonged to Warmbold and the BMW. He set a string of fastest times that demoralised many of his adversaries and as the long hot afternoon wore on, he and Billy Coleman reeled in Dessie who by 3.30 was losing oil through the seals of his gearbox. He was using about a pint of oil per stage and his concern over whether the leak would interfere with his clutch was sufficient for him to ease the pace fractionally, and so he found himself being passed by Coleman who in his turn was being pressed by the BMW.

At 4 pm the halfshaft broke on the Martins Magnum in a series of uphill hairpins over Glengesh 2. George had been having a miserable rally with the car refusing to handle properly. The problem area is the back axle whichis allowing lurid moments of rear wheel steering, especially over rough surfaces and yumps. It now appears that the suspension development on the car has regressed this season and the team are planning drastic revisions. Apparently nothing short of a major redesign of the rear axle location will cure the problem; but in the mean time the sun was out, and George, savouring the idyllic pastoral scene, settled down on the bonnet to await his service crew, intent on the serious business of acquiring a suntan.

Billy Coleman was having to make do with intermediate and wet racers as he had run out of dries, and he knew that when the crunch came on the last morning he would have to have dries to stand any chance of fending off the BMW. Eventually he borrowed some from Chris Wathen, but ironically it was these tyres which were to let him down and he was heard to remark later, shaking his head in disbelief; “l haven’t had a puncture for two years and I got two today.”

Billy Coleman and Peter Scott were unlucky to end up third thanks to punctures. They were leading the event at one stage.

Adrian Boyd appeared after a tough and frustrating Saturday, intent on hurrying out again to practice the infamous Knockalla; and brother Derek, who had been busily welding the front crossmember throughout the rally, had a brake pipe burst as he approached Gweebarra Bridge. Somehow he got around the corner and continued on his way.

The situation back in Letterkenny that evening was almost unbelievably tense with Coleman clinging onto a slender two-second lead from Warmbold, and Dessie McCartney 29 seconds adrift. After two days of high speed driving there was everything to play for.

The start on Sunday was a civilised 11.00am so the shouts of revelry and the roaring of the merrymakers could be heard far and wide on the still night air. Looking in the mirror after it was all over, Dessie muttered with a grin that he looked 50 years older after the last day’s efforts. He drove perhaps better than he has ever done in his attempts to snatch victory, and he had closed the gap on the leader to two seconds himself before
two punctures on the second to last stage, Fanad Head, finally wrecked his chances. It was on this very stage that the BMW crew re-applied the pressure, concerned lest the flying Dessie get any closer.

Achim got the BMW round the stage 18 seconds quicker than on his previous try. They had been saving their one remaining pair of good racers for a moment such as this, but as it turned out in the end, there was no need.

Jack Tordoff’s immaculate 3.0 Carrera RSR gets airborne, but he dropped out on Sunday.

Billy started the morning in the worst possible way losing 1 1/4 minutes with a puncture two miles into Kindrum Lake. He was forced to drive six miles on the rim and when he got to the end there was not a trace of tyre left to be seen. They damaged the engine mountings here too after the engine dropped onto the steering following a yump. Resigned to third place Billy nevertheless drove his heart out to keep the heavier, less powerful Ford in contention. Another puncture completed their day of frustration. . . .

Poor Jack Tordoff, chased hard by a determined Adrian Boyd, spun after a blind brow on the second tour of Knockalla; and with a sheer drop on the left 300 feet into the sea, he missed the end of the armco barrier and clipped a concrete post with the nearside rear wing of the Carrera deranging the rear suspension enough to put him out and handing fifth place to the charging Alpine.

David Agnew’s eighth place turned out to be hard earned. Just before midday in Robert Ward’s garage at Kerrykeel he managed to get the ailing gearbox out and swopped for Ward’s road going 911 unit in 26 minutes. After this tremendous feat of ‘mechanicing,‘ he made the next control four minutes inside his maximum lateness. Between Kindrum Lake and Garrygort, four of the principal G1 men retired and it was merely left for the final saga to be played out on Fanad Head 2 where the hard-trying McCartney’s luck ran out and where the hackles of the BMW, so often hidden, were raised in anger.

Achim’s win can only do good for this tremendous event. It has come at a time when Irishmen threatened to dominate their home events rather in the way locals dominated the Safari for so long. Not since Tordoff won the Circuit has anyone beaten the Irish at their own game; and that has got to be good for the sport. For Donegal’s future international status it is doubly good that Achim was the man to do it. It is impossible to think of a rally that is universally more popular than Donegal and it is hard to think of one whose organisation is so efficient and whose people are so hospitable in the process — Donegal is an unforgettable experience.

1975 International Circuit of Donegal

  1. A. Warmbold/J. Davenport (BMW 2002) 251.16;
  2. D. McCartney/T. Harryman (Porsche Carrera) 252.19
  3. B. Coleman/P. Scott (Escort RS 1800) 252 50
  4. B. Evans/R Rhoderick-Jones (Porsche Carrera) 255.08
  5. A. Boyd/F. Main (Renault Alpine) 260.35,
  6. J. Price/M. Sones (Porsche Carrera) 262.21
  7. T. Drummond/P. White (Escort RS 1975) 262.30
  8. D. Agnew/R. Harkness (Porsche Carrera) 263.44,
  9. D. Boyd/R. Kernaghan (Escort RS 1600) 265.00
  10. B. Fisher/D. Smyth (Escort RS 2000) 274.24

Group 1:
B. Fisher/D. Smyth (Escort RS 2000)