1977 West Cork Rally

It could only be Ireland. A Group 1 Escort holds off a rapid Mini down a closed-road.

This article is reproduced from RallySport Magazine May 1977
Report by Martin Holmes


PETER RUSHFORTH, for once, was confused.  Maybe the alcohol was dulling his senses, but whatever the cause he couldn’t recall beyond the first three or four accidents that he and Derek Skinner had had that day in their MGB V8. Derek wasn’t too sure either.  That immaculate car had dents in places which the designers had never even dreamed would get dented, but then the designers in those way-off days had never heard of the West Cork Rally.  Ireland is unique when it comes to rallying. It is one of the very few places where drivers survey their battered cars after an event and smile.

West Cork was something new on the calendar. A two-day, daylight, secret route tarmac event based on the sleepy little harbour town at Clonakilty, where they couldn’t do enough to make the whole thing a success.

Right up to the time of scrutineering there was just one missing ingredient: there was no car for Billy Coleman. Many leading names had hoped to cross the Irish Sea to compete, but of all the names, the one car that the organisers really wanted was the Chequered Flag Stratos. It looked as though Coleman would not start. Then Gerry Buckley, Coleman’s cousin and owner/driver of a full 2-litre RS1800 which still carries Billy’s old registration number TIU 25O, offered the driving seat to Billy. It was the final sacrifice for the perfect occasion.

Dessie McCartney’s Porsche must have an instinct for second place by now. Terry Harryman was in the co-driver’s seat.

Coleman led the West Cork Rally from start to finish. He suffered only two minor problems on the second day, when firstly the throttle stuck and he had to resort to the ignition key, and then the following stage when he had a flat tyre. Behind him fought the Porsches of Des McCartney and Brian Nelson; first one, then the other, gaining the ascendancy. On the second day the battle really hotted up, and so did the problems. Nelson had a puncture, McCartney had his clutch begin to slip and then, with two stages left to run, the Tuca Tiles Porsche of Nelson had its gearbox fail.

Behind the Porsches a gaggle of Escorts were in battle.  Eventually, Mick O’Connell gained the coveted third place, but this was only after several others fell by the wayside.  O’Connell was at last happy with his car, the fuel injection, although not the cause of his Galway miseries, had been abandoned and he was back with carburettors.  Peter Thompson used his red and grey RS1800 and drove sensibly to take fourth place.  The RS1600 of Don Keating had an engine failure just before the final stage, but it looked to be handling badly in any case, and Norman Harvey’s RS1800 suffered a broken throttle linkage on the first stage.  He had to stop for about 10 minutes and spent the rest of the rally fighting back to the front.  Eventually he came sixth; but for his delay he could have been fourth.

Ireland would never be Ireland if it were not for the Porsches, even if Mr. Coleman has systematically destroyed the myth of their invincibility.  Not so many went to West Cork: Steve Carr in his Autofarm car was fifth after another sensible run, although Sean Campbell had to abandon on the first day in his ex-Agnew car when the fuel pumps failed, and David Shacklock had the oil cooler pipe break.  Geoff Crabtree with his Porsche had a similar problem, though more painfully as the pipe split in the car and scalded him.

Ron Neely’s Mini went out early; on the first stage the driveshaft broke, on the second it was a piston. Richie Holfield, the man who markets the Holtrip digital trip meters which Ford have been using for the past year or so, was leading his class comfortably in his ex-Works Cooper S, but he then met a service car sharing the same space on a road section and the Mini lost a wheel in the ensuing accident.  Not a good day for Minis.

Norman Harvey powers his Escort down a typical Irish closed-road special stage.

Group 1 was a walkover for Michael Dolan’s Escort RS2000 Mk2, after some initial worrying from Bernard Banning in his Dolomite Sprint.  Banning had an off-rally.  He got baulked on a stage, he then had a puncture, and when he was re-fettling his car for the second day he found a cracked disc which made further progress unsafe.  Dan Jones’ RS2000 was second, whilst a very creditable third was the ex-Porsche driver Fred Patterson driving a BMW2002 tii.

What made the West Cork organisers really happy was the interest that their event attracted in mainland Britain.  They had a number of entries from Ulster, although this was pretty predictable.  The surprise was the fifteen from Great Britain and the two from the Isle of Man.  Thompson and Carr/Harvey were the only British drivers to make the top ten, and most of the others had tales of woe.  Rob James and Alun Rees both abandoned their Group 1 Avengers on the first stage, both with piston failures, whilst their fellow Welshman, Brian Field had the steering rack bend on his MGB GT V8.

“It was more dangerous retiring than competing,” James later complained, rather painfully, “I think I have alcoholic poisoning.”  Brent Fowler’s Imp almost lost a rear wheel and had its silencer fall off, and then on the second stage almost lost a wheel again, lost the silencer again and retired with brake trouble.  Pat Barrett, Shacklock’s fellow Manxman, had his alternator belt come adrift.  That was not too serious, but what was worse was that it removed the timing belt at the same time.  That is terminal on an Escort BDA!

The stages were fantastic.  Two of them started right in Clonakilty, at the start of each day’s run.  On the Sunday, the stage ran alongside the harbour wall around the estuary.  Here Peter Dalkin’s GS Citroen punched a hole in the wall and Sean Crowe went through, almost toppling into the sea below.  Both finished. Lowney, a local driver of a Triumph Stag, had driveshaft failure on the Saturday, but completed the Sunday stages.

It was difficult to know who had the most fun on the West Cork: the competitors, the organisers, the spectators — or simply the inhabitants of Clonakility, most of whom never really knew what rallying was all about until Cork Motor Club showed them.


1. B. Coleman/T. Caplice (Escort RS1800) 11454
2. D. McCartney/T. Harryman (Porsche 3.0) 11624
3. M. O’Connell/A.O’Connell(Escort RS1800) 11664
4. P. Thompson/A. Thomas (Escort RS1800) 11950
5. S. Carr/M. Whale (Porsche Carrera 2.7) 12181
6. N. Harvey/T. White (Escort RS1800) 12410
7. M. Dolan/J. Stewart(Escort RS2000) 12788
8. D. Jones/J. Jones(Escort RS2000) 13080
9. F. Patterson/J. McAlroum(BMW2002tii) 13144
10 S. Hawkins/S Hanley(Escort GT) 13151