1978 Ulster Rally

Victory almost "in the bag", John Taylor and Phil Short cruise over SS27, Greenmount. Photo MN.

This Article is reprinted from Motoring News 7 September 1978.
MN Photos supplemented by photos from D. Smyth collection.


DEREK BOYD AND FRED GALLAGHER so nearly provided Leyland with a gift of a win on last weekend‘s Belfast Telegraph Ulster Rally. That is until the Triumph TR7 V8 wouldn’t budge from the stop line of the Ballyscally special stage on Saturday morning with zero oil pressure. There were just 21 miles of competitive motoring to complete for the Leyland to have provided a conclusive demonstration of its absolute superiority on tarmac.

No other car can match it in the power game and its braking handling on metalled roads is of a similarly high order. Couple that by employing last year’s winning driver (when Derek Boyd proved that knowledge was enough to win — his Porsche certainly not as quick as the TR) and Leyland had put together a truly unbeatable combination . . . accelerating away from the pack (at one point) at a rate approaching three seconds per stage mile. It was a great show of the car’s potential (yet another demonstration in fact) and an even greater demonstration of Boyd’s skill and experience to tap the power and exploit the road holding to such a degree that “full house” Escorts looked puny and nervous by comparison.

A near ultimate combination – Derek Boyd, Fred Gallagher, and V8 TR7 – established a new level of tarmac special stage performance. Photo MN.

That it stopped so late in the rally is really academic — except to John Taylor and Phil Short who. with a new Haynes Lucas fuel-injected RS1800, were unquestionably fastest in the rally going on behind the TR7 V8 and although their victory was inherited, it was nevertheless a very fine achievement by a “foreign” crew; John without the benefit of such a degree of intimate knowledge of the stage roads or the sort of help that only a local co-driver can give. On pure driving prowess Taylor excelled, reinforcing the opinion that as a tarmac Escort driver he now has few equals.

Taylor’s was the drive of a pure professional. a driver who works at his sport seriously and has the confidence in his ability to always strive to improve his technique to win a few extra seconds here and there. After receiving the applause due to a highly respected ‘Ulster’ winner, John prepared to fly straight to the Isle of Man where he is spending all of this week. On his own. Taylor will be driving the Manx roads until they are committed to memory, and driving them in the expected weather conditions and at the right times of day and night. After last weekend’s TR7 V8 performance. the prospect of two of the Abingdon projectiles on the Isle of Man (neither will be using fuel injection) must be daunting for everybody, not just Tarmac Organisers Championship leader. John Taylor. About the only thing other teams can be hoping for is some unseasonable snow!

The Ulster also provided a significant result for Malcolm Wilson who, with the highly experienced Terry Harryman calling the shots, finished in fifth place after taking a maximum with a wiring problem.  Take away that one stage delay and Malcolm and Terry would have been right in the thick of the hunt at the finish. With a hurriedly prepared “second-hand“ Escort, one wondered before the event if Malcolm was not being a bit obsessive in his desire to compete no-matter-what.  Wilson obviously knew just what he was doing, for the memory of his new-car Epynt accident of the previous weekend is now firmly wiped from the slate. His quick and tidy driving took full advantage of both Terry’s knowledge of the well-rallied stages and of the less familiar westerly territory where line-of-sight driving provided a great leveller and some spectacular stage times.

Ernest Kidney and Peter Scott on their way to a brilliant second overall in the Permapost RS1800. Photo D. Smyth.

Other notable performances came from Ulster drivers Ernest Kidney and John Lyons. Permapost’s son-of-the-managing-director, Kidney (with Peter Scott) gave a performance worthy of most-improved driver. His second place was the result of a great drive and it adds fuel to his most successful year to date. Castlederg Bank Manager, John Lyons, finishing in sixth place, proved that he thoroughly deserved his new Ford supplied snub-fronted RS2000 shell and other parts help from Boreham. An RS2000 is by no means the quickest accelerating group one car, especially for tarmac rallies, but Lyons’ driving is just “something else“. It frequently looks to be over-the-top but, in the same way as he demonstrated in Donegal earlier this year, it is an exhibition of car control earned from his days as an autotest champion which, to the outsider, looks faintly untrue – as if you are watching a film which is running a few frames too fast.

With more than 220 miles of special stage driving in an overall route of 450 miles, with just one two hour halt in 18 hours on the road, Clerk of the Course, Roy Sloan should be well-pleased at the way the Mid Antrim MC event was received.  Born out of the Texaco and Bushwacker rallies, the Belfast Telegraph Ulster “missed” inclusion in the Sedan Products Open series on a technicality that it had not been in existence for the requisite number of years, so for this year, the event was Castrol/Autosport status.  RAC Steward was Jack Kemsley and his report will obviously be the major factor in any decision for Open status next year.  It certainly seems to have won a great deal of respect from competitors. ‘

After scrutineering at Hillview Service Station on the outskirts of Randalstown, the Ulster was ready to start, at 19.00 hrs on Friday evening, from the popular Antrim Forum leisure complex.  Temperatures were unseasonably cold, but dry weather was forecast and it turned out to be an accurate prediction.

Jimmy McRae switched cars with David Porter before the start after his car developed a suspected piston fault. Damage came from an “off” at Coleman’s bend. Photo MN.

There were several changes to the published entry list. Heading the field was the red, white and blue Leyland product for Derek Boyd and “works co-driver and Ulsterman, Fred Gallagher, ready for another dose of high-speed tarmac motoring after his Epynt performance with regular driver Tony Pond in the Chrysler.  Behind them came the Taylor/Short Haynes of Maidstone Escort RS1800, a newly-built car. Jim McRae and David Brown started at three with an SMT Vauxhall Chevette — but it was not McRae’s usual single-cam Castrol/Autosport car.  SMT 1M was the twin-cam normally driven by David Porter, a late car-swap between the two drivers arranged when it was discovered that McRae’s single-cam engine had a piston on the way out and low oil pressure.  McRae transferred along with his four-pot caliper brakes.

Ronnie McCartney and Joe Law followed with their Team P.R. Reilly entered Escort RSl8OO with the familiar Tuca Carpet Tiles Porsche Carrera of Brian Nelson and Malcom Neill at start number five. With Nigel Rockey out of rallying (at least temporarily) “first reserve“ took on the unmistakable form of Derek McMahon and his Chrysler Ireland 1.8 Sunbeam while at seven were Malcolm Wilson and Terry Harryman with an unfamiliar ex-Rockey Escort RS acquired late last week from Peter Thompson. A great many components had been transferred to the rolling shell, including most of the four-link suspension. Cork husband and wife team Michael and Anne O’Connell were next (Escort RSl800) ahead of fellow Cork driver Gerald Buckley with John Caplice.

The place reserved for George Hill and Roger Evans (who bent all the valves of their Chevette on the Peter Russek event) was taken by Rosemary Smith‘s and Rita Farrell’s Chrysler Ireland Sunbeam. The entry continued with Roy Cathcart/Austin Frazer (RS1800); Ernest Kidney/Peter Scott and then at 13 — obviously not in the slightest superstitious — came the immaculate RS1800 of Edinburgh driver Willie Crawford and his Lowland Tyres Lothian Sports Cars machine. Crawford‘s entry had been lost in the post. Willie McVicker/Eric Hughes took over number 14 from the non-starting Noel Smith.

The ever-popular Bertie Law on the Owenreagh special stage. Photo D. Smyth.

Top entries continued with John Lyons/Derek Porter, David Stokes/Lyn Jenkins (fresh from the Castrol win in Wales), Ian Corkill/Michael Byron (Escort RS1800) from the Isle of Man, Terry Kaby/Brian Rainbow looking for group one victory with their Dunham and Haines Dolomite Sprint, Robin Eyre-Maunsell (Chrysler Sunbeam) with Rodney Spokes going along for the fun, Mike Jackson/Steve Howard (Chrysler Rallye Sport RS1800), Geoff Simpson/Drew Todd (Tyre Services RS1800), David Thompson/Ian Jemison (Vauxhall Chevette), David Porter (with single cam car) and Dunlop‘s John Horton, Peter Clarke/Howard Scott looking for another batch of Castrol/Autosport group one points, Willie Rutherford and Hugo Kennedy with no noise meter problems in Ulster for the twin-rotor Mazda, Tim Brise/Bob King with their yellow Dees of Sidcup RS1800, Ron Neely/David Johnston with Neely’s amazing Mini looking, as ever, like an Airfix plastic kit gone wrong, with John Coyne/Christy Farrell bringing up number 30 with their Chrysler Ireland Avenger.

Ron Neely brought Davy Johnston and the “Airfix” Mini home as winners of Class 5.  Photo D.Smyth.

The Ulster‘s route commenced with familiar stages around the north and east of Lough Neagh. Setting the pace and proving all the pundits right was Derek Boyd. Earliest- retirement — or so he thought — was Willie Rutherford who lasted just 3.6 miles before the Mazda made strange noises accompanied by the rear wheels locking solid. Although it has no conventional valves or any connecting rods it looked as though the twin-rotor engine had managed whatever its equivalent is quite comprehensively, although what broke (if indeed it was the engine and not clutch etc.) remains for the moment, a mystery. Alas, Willie couldn‘t even claim the record for earliest retirement. He was beaten to it by a lower-seeded Ford Escort driver who managed just one and a half miles before engine failure. Running not far behind in the retirement stakes was Derek McMahon who was forced to call it a night after the stage without gears.

Roy Cathcart and Austin Frazer gave Roy’s latent talent a brush off with a fine 4th place overall. Photo D.Smyth.

As the evening stages wound on, the rally settled into a predictable pattern with Derek Boyd simply driving off into the distance. At the rest halt, after fourteen stages had been driven, Boyd was more than four minutes ahead of Taylor and looking highly delighted with the TR7’s performance. Taylor, in second place just ahead of Kidney, had been suffering some premature rear brake locking but having achieved better brake balance he was looking forward to the south-west stages. Also in brake trouble was Jim McRae, the Vauxhall driver also complaining of bad handling, while David Porter in the single-cam car (a piston crown was suspected of having split) was smoking spectacularly on, and Peter Clarke who took a dive off the road had the perfect excuse — “couldn‘t see for his smoke!“ David Stokes never got beyond the eighth stage, which he drove almost entirely jammed in first gear before quitting while Ronnie McCartney was also forced out with gearbox problems — Ronnie”s due to his car falling off axle stands during service with one punching through the casing.

In group one, Terry Kaby was in second place to Lyons, Kaby at one point getting ahead of the Castlederg man when the RS2000 was off the road for 1m 30s with brake problems. Soon sorted, it was then time for Kaby’s car to start playing up with oil getting onto the rear brakes and a more alarming oil mist being pushed out of the engine and contaminating the rear tyres, Terry suspecting a breaking-up piston after the Peter Russek Manuals Rally.

Brian Nelson and Malcolm Neill, see here on the Circuit, found some of the stages a bit unsuitable for the Porsche, but still took a podium place with 3rd Overall. Photo D.Smyth

During the night the action travelled down the country to less familiar territory. Here Taylor and Wilson (particularly) started speeding up, though Boyd’s lead was such that he could afford to take things more quietly without seriously threatening his position prior to a sprint finish once back on home ground. Wilson had changed his gearbox during the halt after it had become stuck in fifth, Tim Brise had suffered a gear selection problem prior to damaging the radiator with an excursion (and retirement) while McRae was having more gear troubles and Kaby was forced out after closing the gap on Lyons to 13s when his suspect piston let go.

Back with daylight Boyd was still the leader, though Taylor had taken a minute off the Triumph‘s buffer and extended a similar margin over Ernest Kidney. Lyons was comfortably leading group one from Sean Campbell who had suffered a misalignment of his Escort’s front track after a slight indiscretion at a caution boarded jump.

John Taylor and Phil Short had a trouble free Ulster Rally and ran out winners after Boyd’s car lost all oil pressure. Photo D.Smyth.

Malcolm Wilson had plunged down to sixth place after coming to a halt when the wires to the petrol pumps shorted out sending a 60 amp discharge. With accompanying smoke and burning smells under the dash. Taping and insulating the wires had cost five minutes. With just seven morning stages to the finish, the top ten positions were set — except for Boyd‘s late retirement allowing Willie Crawford (who always seems to speed-up after a night out of bed) into the top ten. Once Boyd was out, Taylor had a safe-looking position at the front, Kidney content to finish runner-up rather than risk a do or die effort. Jim McRae nearly joined the growing list of retirements with a late moment at “Coleman‘s corner” just four stages from home. It cost McRae 3m 30s, and as he dived off into the bank the memory came flashing back that he knew the corner well — Airikkala had done the same thing on the Circuit of Ireland when only frantic arm-waving had prevented McRae from joining his team-mate.

John Taylor took the win – “thank you very much Derek Boyd”. Photo MN.

The Ulster finished like that back in Larne where, as is Ulster practice, cars were held outside town until a confirmed top-ten order was known before the impressive “motorcade” arrived at the Kings Arms Hotel finish, complete with commentary drinks and band. John Taylor had enjoyed an almost completely trouble-free rally — early brake problems apart — to take a highly deserved win. Ernest Kidney must have been delighted with his second place and similarly Brian Nelson (who suffered brake problems, a puncture, a split exhaust and some stage roads which just didn’t suit his Porsche) and Roy Cathcart. Malcolm Wilson should have been happy to finish (maximum or not) — even though he was later spotted rubbing his hands enthusiastically murmuring “great — it’s the Lindisfarne next!”. John Lyons‘ sixth-place deserves equal credit, his new car suffering teething troubles on every other stage, including a lack of front brakes and no third gear.

The disappointment was virtually all Leyland’s. Boyd’s 285 bhp engine did something unexpected and mysterious. The oil pressure went to zero without any warning and too quickly to have been run bearings. Oil pump trouble could not be the cause — delivery from the tank was as normal. No holes had appeared anywhere indeed Derek was keeping to a rev limit of 6000 rpm after he had extended a suitable lead. The engine was back at Abingdon when we went to press with David Wood eager to find a positive cause. Its failure must be found in time for any rectification necessary prior to the Mopar Manx, or there are going to be some worried Leyland faces around.

Belfast Telegraph Ulster Rally 1978
Overall Results

1. J. Taylor/P. Short (Ford Escort RS1800) 242.44
2. E. Kidney/P. Scott (Ford Escort RS1800) 243.58
3. B. Nelson/M. Neill (Porsche Carrera) 246.12
4. R. Cathcart/A. Frazer (Ford Escort RS1800) 247.04
5. M. Wilson/T. Harryman (Ford Escort RS1800) 247.16
6. J. Lyons/D. Porter (Ford Escort RS2000) 252.34
7. J. McRae/D. Brown (Vauxhall Chevette) 252.34
8. G. Simpson/D. Todd (Ford Escort RS1800) 253.10
9. W. Crawford/J. Easson (Ford Escort RS1800) 254.10
10 K. Shields/P. Lyster (Porsche Carrera) 254.35

Group One – 1. J. Lyons/D. Porter; 2. S. Campbell/D. Sandford.

Class 1: T. Noble/K. Campbell (Fiat 3P)

Class 2: T. Cathers/D. Wilson (Chrysler Avenger)

Class 3: J. Lyons/D. Porter (Escort RS2000)

Class 4: P. Appleby/K. O’Dell (Mazda Hatchback)

Class 5: R. Neely/D. Johnston (Mini Cooper S)

Class 6: J. Taylor/P. Short (Escort RS1800)