1973 Circuit of Ireland

This article has been compiled from three of the Circuit of Ireland Programmes from that year.  The three programmes are from the private collection of Mervyn Johnston.   Photos are by Esler Crawford.

Circuit of Ireland 1973


Seeded No. 1 and with two victories already under his belt, it may be assumed that Adrian Boyd is home and dry for Circuit honours in 1973, but a look at the entry list will soon dispel that illusion. This year, as never before, Adrian is up against it, for while competition of international rating is virtually absent, the lad from Carnmoney, sponsored by Lombard & Ulster, has to face the grim determination of Circuit veterans like Cathal Curley and Billy Coleman seeking their first win, and Ronnie McCartney seeking to repeat his success of 1964.

Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford – could they be the winning team?

In rallying when a group of drivers of international repute are competing, a local star like Adrian who is also on a par with these people has some advantages for he knows their form and what to expect. Local, or if you like non-professional, drivers will not enter too much into his calculations, nor will they represent proportionately so much of a challenge. True, there is the odd occasion when a dark horse comes to the fore but the odds are that the early places will always be filled by the big boys.

Eamonn Cotter in his much bedecked BMW rolling off the ramp after being flagged off by Mary Peters at the start in Portrush, while Paul Phelan settles down to do some map reading.

This year, all that is changed. Adrian stands head and shoulders over the whole entry but on his tail are some really tough men and women who will be out to get there first. Jack Tordoff in the Porsche Carrera is just one example from across the water, but nearer home will be the strong challenge from Cathal Curley, Ronnie McCartney, David Agnew, Dessie McCartney and Mervyn Johnston. Ronnie having won before, knows the way to the front, so to speak, but of the others, the danger men are likely to be Jack Tordoff and David Agnew.

The ladies who will be chasing Adrian are no feminine weaklings. If one can suggest it -strictly in the context of rally driving — Pat Moss-Carlsson and Rosemary Smith are just about as tough as they come. Both have competed often enough to know the score and both have been well-placed in the past.

One thing is certain: Circuit ’73 will not be an Adrian Boyd benefit by any means. He’ll probably win it, but think of the fun we’ll have watching the pursuit, and his efforts to keep ahead of it.


THE spectacular parts of the ‘Circuit’ are of course the special stages on closed roads where the cars charge along like bats out of hell. Numbering 54 in all, spread all along the course, there are some which deserve special mention.

First on our list, and the first section of the rally, is TORR HEAD on the North East tip of Co. Antrim, from there the route doubles back across to Donegal beginning with GLEN outside Milford and on to the spectacular ATLANTIC DRIVE.  Used in the Donegal M.C. Rally, Atlantic Drive offers some good vantage positions for spectators and some very interesting bends!  Then it is down through the mountains to LOUGH ESKE just outside the town of Donegal, with the first car due here at 22.40.  This is a 14 miler which has claimed such notable victims in the past, as Paddy Hopkirk.

The first car should arrive in ATHLONE, the breakfast halt, at 05.41 — rally headquarters is in the Royal Hotel.

LOUGHREA, LOUGH CUTRA, BOHATCH – some of the Saturday morning sections leading the cars towards KILLARNEY to be there at 14.4O.  Now fill up with petrol—there is none available on Sunday morning.

The Sunday run is really a rally within a rally with the old favourites back again in the shape of TIM HEALY (it is actually tackled twice), ARDGROOM, LOUGH CARAGH.

The cars leave Killarney at 14.00 on Monday (which should give everyone time to recover from Sunday night) and head for Carlow before tackling the Wicklow Mountains.

SALLY GAP, AGHAVANAGH — just two of the superb Wicklow stages bringing the cars close to Dublin and then on to TOLLYMORE FOREST outside Newcastle, which should prove to be very exciting, not to mention the STRANGFORD stage after it, with the cars going through Killinchy and Ardmillan.

Then it’s up and away to LARNE, where the rally comes to an end with the first car due to arrive at 11.30.


After all the excitement of the pre-circuit days, with comings and goings, rumours of cancellations, and all the activity which builds up into the great event that Circuit ’73 will hopefully be, the start at Portrush was almost an anti-climax. Nothing went wrong. Boyd’s car started, so did Curley’s, and so did the others as they were most efficiently flagged off by that girl who knows all about the thrill of big-time international competition, Mary Peters.

Coming down to Earth – a lovely four-point landing by Cathal Curley – before he went out.

It was to be a hard-fought event from the very start and Adrian left no one in any doubt about this. He was reported (or was it wishful thinking on the part of some of his rivals?) to have gear-box trouble but this did not prevent his setting a hot pace on Torr Head. Even so, Sean Campbell managed to come within 2 secs. of him, with all the rest very far down indeed.

Torr Head:
1. Boyd 9:33, 2. Campbell 9:35, 3. D. McCartney 9:54, 4. Coleman 9:55, 5. Curley 9:57, 6. Cotter 10:00, 7. R. McCartney 10:01, 8. Keating 10:12, 9. McBurney 10:18, 10. Maunsell 10:20.

Glendun saw the first challenge to his superiority when the lad from Cork came up and whipped the best time from Adrian by 2 secs. Most of the others were close here and half-a-minute covered the first eight. The situation at Banagher became rather different with the Boyd/Crawford Escort really trouncing the opposition, and by almost 20 secs. Here it was noticeable that Billy Coleman did not figure in the top half-dozen and when the overall placings came out he was in eighth place. Since he started off fourth this was not so good for him.

1. Coleman 9:07, 2. Boyd 9:09, 3. Campbell 9:14, 4. Curley 9:22, 5. R. McCartney 9:23, 6. D. McCartney 9:30, 7= Agnew 9:37, 7= D. Boyd 9:37

There have been the inevitable mishaps and one of the early casualties was Dublin driver Charlie Gunn who did some clobbering on Torr Head but was able to keep going although he had to give up on Banagher. Jody Carr and Alan Algeo in an Escort t/c had the dubious honour of being the second crew to go out which they did by going off somewhere on Banagher.  David Agnew was reported to have some bodywork damage although no official report of any mishap reached us by SS3 (Banagher).

1. Boyd 9:43, 2. Campbell 10:02, 3. Curley 10:08, 4. McBurney 10:09, 5. Cotter 10:19, 6. Keating 10:24.

Overall after SS3:

1. Boyd, 2. Campbell +26sec., 3. Curley +57, 4. D. McCartney +1m 36sec., 5. R. McCartney +1m 39s, 6. Lindsay +1m 47s, 7. Keating 1m 55s, 8. Coleman +1m 57s, 9. N. Smith +2m 0s, 10. Cotter +2m 01s.


Hot on Boyd’s tail was Cathal Curley and Austin Frazer but it all ended on SS4.

The first of the big names to fall victim to disaster was Cathal Curley who broke a rocker arm on SS4 (Glen) just before heading for Atlantic Drive. Interviewed, he looked glum and said: “Tough luck!”

The other big name in the rally that has been swiftly erased is Sean Campbell who blew his
engine up in Donegal. Hard luck On Sean and his ace navigator Peter Scott – they were
certainly amongst the favourites.

Ronnie McCartney in the Porsche Carrera was reported as being plagued with suspension trouble. He is known to have been looking anxiously at it.


At the start of Atlantic Drive our reporter interviewed Adrian Boyd who said he was well pleased with his performance so far although he was beginning to feel tired now.  And no sooner was this said than we heard that he had a new oil pump fitted and was having starter trouble.


An aggressive Adrian Boyd keeps up communication with navigator Beatty Crawford as he lands the Lombard & Ulster Escort at Torr Head.

Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford in the Lombard & Ulster Escort RS 2000 were first into Athlone this morning. It was a tired, but still smiling and friendly, Adrian who expressed his satisfaction with the night’s drive, but it has by no means been roses all the way.  He has been plagued with starter trouble and for a while also with an oil leak.  This he now seems to have cured.

One of his nearest rivals is Ronnie McCartney in the Porsche Carrera 2700, who with his brother Dessie, certainly look as if they mean business and intend to hound Boyd and Crawford all around the course.  Next we have Jack Tordoff, Eamonn Cotter and Mervyn Johnston who are fighting it out tooth and nail.

The heavy weight of the challenge to Adrian has now fallen by the wayside: Cathal Curley out in Donegal, Sean Campbell on Doocharry and Billy Coleman at Banagher.  Of the serious contenders left, it has been reported that Noel Smith, Eamon Cotter and Derek McMahon are all driving sick motor cars and may not last the pace.  “Flat Pat” McCourt and Derek Smyth were also out after SS2 with a failed water pump on their Escort t/c.


It was a tired but happy Adrian Boyd who took off from Athlone on Saturday morning after a good wash and breakfast. He had a comfortable lead and he was going to keep it and, if possible, extend it a little. He is too shrewd a driver to take any unnecessary chances, and while the pack behind scrapped and squabbled over the seven special stages that separated them from a night’s rest at Killarney, the Boyd/Crawford Escort sailed on to a 3- minute lead at the end of the day.

J.C.Tordoff in Porsche JCT600 carries the regulation six front lights and an outsized sump guard.

Leading their pursuers was the Yorkshire team of Jack Tordoff and Phil Short in the Porsche Carrera but with almost equal times on the special stages came the BMW 2002 of Eamon Cotter and Paul Phelan to finish only 23 secs. behind at the end of the day in Killarney. Driving a Ford Escort RS1860, the Keating brothers John and Dick from Kanturk, Co.Cork, were in there also going very well.

The fraternal rivalry between the McCartney brothers, Ronnie and Dessie, was delighting followers as they kept getting closer to each other on times and swapping places.  Ronnie and Mike Ford-Hutchinson in the Porsche Carrera had a decided advantage in power but Dessie’s Ford Escort RS17OO which he shared with Drexel Gillespie, was reported to be handling better on some of the special stages. At the end of the day, it was Ronnie who ended 2 mins. ahead of his brother.

Things happened to people on the way. It was reported that the Keatings had been penalised 10 mins. for using pace notes; David Agnew and Robert Harkness in the BMW 2002 had been doing extremely well and improving from 11th place at the start until they met with brake trouble on the 10-mile Sugar Hill section and were out. David Lindsay was another hopeful who was having a spot of bother, the spot being in one of his carburettors. He was reported at Killarney to be offering his kingdom for a Weber.

Roger Cree and Geoff Morrison in a Cooper S had been going great guns early on but a spot of alternator trouble deprived them of lights during the night.  At the end of Part 2 (Killarney, Saturday) the position of the leading score of cars was as follows, with the number in brackets showing the change in places since their starting position:

1, A. Boyd/D. B. Crawford (Escort RS) 34m.05s (=)
2, J. Tordoff/P. Short (Porsche) 36.55 (+7);
3, E. Cotter/P. Phelan (BMW 2002) 37.18 (+5);
4, R. McCartney/M. F.-Hutchinson (Porsche) 38.09 (-1);
5, D. McCartney/D. Gillespie (Escort RS) 40.41 (+2);
6. M. Johnston/I. McFarland (Cooper S) 42.02 (+4);
7, D. Lindsay/D. Cunningham (Escort RS) 42.44 (+8);
8, R. E-Maunsell/N. Henderson (Sunbeam lmp) 43.18 (—2);
9, R. McBurney/N. Smith (VW 2200) 43.59 (+4);
10, N. Smith/R. Foott (Escort RS) 45.04 (+4);
11, R. McSpadden/D. Grieve (Porsche) 46.05 (+32);
12, D. McMahon/S. Graham (BMW 2002) 47.13 (+13);
13, J. Bridges/B. Doyle (Escort t/c) 48.54 (+19);
14, J. Keating/D. Keating (Escort RS) 49.54 (—2);
15, T. Lawther/H. Brown (Cooper S) 50.03 (+12);
16, R. Smith/D. Smith (BMW 2002) 51.27 (+17);
17, R. Lyons/J. Lyons (Escort RS) 51.30 (+55);
18, J. Stewart/T. O’Kane (Capri 3000) (51.39) (+29);
19, D. Boyd/C. Crawford (Escort t/c) 52.45 (+12);
20, M. Forde/D. McSorley (Escort t/c) 52.54 (=).

From the above table, it is easy to see who had been making progress. The most spectacular improvement was that registered by the Lyons brothers who in a potent Escort leapt from 72nd position at starting to 17th by the end of Part 2 of the Rally. Other good gains were made by Reggie McSpadden and Donald Grieve who brought the Porsche up by 32 places from 43rd at the start to 11th. Surely that was bad seeding!

The unwieldy 3-Litre Capri being well wielded by Jimmy Stewart and Tony O’Kane.

Another car that made a big jump was the 3-litre Capri of Jimmy Stewart and Tony O’Kane who started off at 47 but rapidly pulled up to place 18. These gains were all the more remarkable in that not so many top drivers had dropped out.  At the end of Part 2 there were still 68 left out of the original 100 starters.

Class Leaders at End of Part 2
Class 1 & 2: D. Cullen/G. Wilkinson (DAF);
Class 3: B. Ferguson/D. Gray (Hillman Avenger);
Class 4: J. Stewart/T. O’Kane (Capri 3000);
Class 5: R. E-Maunsell/N. Henderson (Sunbeam Imp);
Class 6: D. Boyd/C. Crawford (Escort t/c);
Class 7: E. Cotter/P. Phelan (BMW 2002);
Class 8: J. Tordoff/P. Short (Porsche);
Class 9: M. Johnston/I. McFarland (Cooper S);
Class 10, A. Boyd/D. B. Crawford (Escort RS).


The Sunday run around the mountains of Cork and Kerry is one of the most spectacular parts of the Circuit. It usually produces the drama early on and by early afternoon one sees broken machinery and tired drivers limping back into Killarney.  This time was no exception only the drama came late and was all the more startling in that it concerned the last team one would have thought possible – the leaders Adrian Boyd and Beattie Crawford in the No. 1 Escort.

On Knockoura, near Castletownbere, Adrian cracked the casing of the rear axle and had to limp the remaining stages back to base.  The result was a big drop in his lead but he managed to stay in front. However, the problem was to get a replacement. Gone are the days when the local blacksmith could repair a Ford: Model T perhaps but Model RS, definitely no!  The Lombard & Ulster camp, however, has a resourceful Manager in Robert Taylor.  Making arrangements to get replacements from at least three different sources, he dashed to Cork airport and caught a flight to London en route to the Ford Competition Dept. at Boreham in Essex.

Ronnie McCartney and Mike Ford-Hutchinson getting to grips with SS18 Bohatch on Saturday.

He hoped to get a flight back on Monday morning and have all his bits and pieces assembled outside the Parc Ferme by 2 p.m. when the car would be released. The position is that the mechanics have about half-an-hour to complete the job; can they do it?  We would know by Monday afternoon.

True, the position of the leader is serious, but he is still the leader even if his lead has been cut to 1m. 46s., and he has the power and the skill to make up for lost time at least by Larne.  Hot on his tail is Eamon Cotter who was in a similar predicament on Friday night when he had to change a cylinder-head gasket in Letterkenny.  He did this in 49 mins. and worked his way back to second place. All is not lost for the Boyd/Crawford car and the saying of the old dog for the hard road may well apply here.

Only 61 cars are left for the remaining two parts of the Rally, Part 4 to Carlow and Part 5 from Carlow to Larne.  Amongst those to go out was a team that had been doing very well indeed: Reggie McSpadden and Donald Grieve in the Porsche Carrera who had a puncture that caused them to hit a bank and damage the car.

Positions at end of Part 3 (Killarney)

1, A. Boyd/D. B. Crawford (Escort RS) 54m.58s. (I);
2, E. Cotter/P. Phelan (BMW 2002) 56.44 (+6);
3, J. Tordoff/ P. Short (Porsche) 57.26 (+6);
4, D. McCartney/D. Gillespie (Escort RS) 60.38 (+3);
5, R. McCartney/M. F-Hutchinson (Porsche) 62.14 (—2);
6, M. Johnston/I. McFarland (Cooper S) 66.24 (+4);
7, R. E-Maunsell/N. Henderson (Sunbeam Imp) 67.24 (—1)
8, R. McBurney/N. Smith (VW 2200) 67.55 (+5);
9, D. Lindsay/D. Cunningham (Escort RS) 70.03 (+6);
10, N. Smith/R. Foott (Escort RS) 72.28 (+5);
11, J. Keating/D. Keating (Escort RS) 73.23 (+1);
12, J. Bridges/B. Doyle (Escort t/c) 74.02 (+20);
13, D. McMahon/S. Graham (BMW 2002) 74.53 (+12);
14, T. Lawther/H. Brown (Cooper S) 76.58 (+13);
15, R. Lyons/J. Lyons (Escort RS) 78.42 (+57);
16, D. Boyd/C. Crawford (Escort t/c) 80.00 (+15);
17, J. Stewart/T. O’Kane (Capri 3000) 80.01 (+30);
18, W. Farren/H. McDaid (Cooper S) 81.20 (+5);
19, Miss Smith/Miss Crellin (Escort RS) 82.07 (+9);
20, S. Griffin/R. Murphy (Escort t/c) 85.35 (+15).

It is interesting to note from the above table that all but two teams have shown some improvement in position, especially the Lyons brothers who have improved two places on the earlier list.


So, Adrian made it, but the congratulations must go to the energetic Lombard & Ulster team manager Robert Taylor of R .E. Hamilton, Ltd. He has nothing to learn from Stuart Turner, surely the most efficient and crafty in the business.

Faced with calamity, Robert rose magnificently to the occasion. Enquiries at the hotel revealed that a hell-bent dash could get him to Cork airport in time to catch a flight to London. A phone call ensured that a pair of half-shafts would be waiting in Boreham. Another phone call brought the axle from Belfast. Robert caught the plane, got his brace of half-shafts at a cost of £68, got the next flight back and arrived in Killarney in a state in the back of a Daimler limousine!

A short distance from the parc ferme all the bits and pieces were assembled on the side of the road and Adrian got off with his new parts fitted only 10 minutes later. He then made the fastest time over the first SS, Gortnagane.  Bully Robert lad!


A total of 54 cars set off on the last leg from Carlow. Weather conditions in and around the Wicklow mountains began to deteriorate rapidly — rain, sleet and snow, and lower down fog. Tired drivers and even more tired cars just hadn’t a chance under these inclement conditions.

Eamonn Cotter three-wheeling around the Killarney run on Sunday.

The first to be reported in trouble was Eamonn Cotter whose BMW was overheating on Coan, the first stage out of Carlow. (Remember his very fast work with a cylinder head gasket on Friday night?). Dessie McCartney was said to have a badly missing engine. It was reported that even Jack Tordoff was slowing — but that may have been wishful thinking. The weather was enough to slow anybody.

And so to the deadly stages of Sally Gap and Glenasmole and the first sensational bit of news:  Adrian Boyd is OUT.  He appears to have damaged the engine on Glenasmole, has stopped, and is out of the rally.

The new leader is Jack Tordoff who is described as “definitely slower”, but whether this is because of the weather, or trouble with the Porsche, or just plain caution is not clear.  Also in trouble: Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Norman Henderson in the Sunbeam Imp.

At this stage, it has been announced that the entire rally will be held up for 40 minutes!  The reason is a wedding: let not Circuit hinder Cupid!  The place is the very last special stage at Kilcross near Dunadry, so who can say that in the heat of battle we are not human.  One does not need to remark on this point that the break of 40 minutes could be very welcome to some who have overheated engines.  Let’s hope that the bridegroom is in better condition than some of those he is holding up!

Robin Eyre-Maunsell showing us some of his own spectacular brand of cornering.

Weather conditions had improved by SS 50 (Great Freffans) and SS 51 (Annahunshigo) and the leaders were recording quite fast times.  It could now be seen that two gentlemen at least are playing it cannily, Messrs. Tordoff and R. McCartney.  Both realise they are in with more than a chance now that Adrian has gone but they are not going to spoil things, for that gap mentioned earlier between the first five and the rest now assumes some significance.  Of the other three, one has gone and the other two are in trouble.

Another name should be noted amongst the leaders, Tom Lawther from Comber in the Cooper S.  He has now got into the top ten after solid consistent driving all through.  The times for the Strangford SS (53) show Dessie McCartney and David Lindsay as the fastest with 8 minutes dead, but hot on their heels is Tom Lawther with 8m. 06s.  Nick Lindsay went off at Strangford and Joe Pat 0’Kane pulled out with ignition trouble.  The Cooper S of Brian Clarke suffered a broken diff.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell was in some difficulty for he lost all his gears bar third. This means that he has to be push-started on each of the sections.  Obviously, he is losing time but with all the determination of Charles in him he is doing his best to be a finisher.  Car No. 40, the Escort T/C of Dublin drivers John Bridges and Brendan Doyle, was reported to be disintegrating along the way but still going and likely to be in at the finish.  Miss Smith was complaining, and not for the first time we hear, that the signposting on the sections was not good.

And finally, the leaders have arrived at Lame and it looks as if Yorkshireman Tordoff is the winner.

Final Results:

  1.  J. Tordoff / P. Short (Porsche Carrera)   86.45
  2. E. Cotter / P. Phelan (BMW 2002)  91.30
  3. R. McCartney / M. Ford-Hutchinson (Porsche Carrera)  92.49
  4. D. McCartney / D. Gillespie (Ford Escort RS)   93.34
  5. M. Johnston / I. McFarland (Mini Cooper S)   99.04
  6. D. Lindsay / D. Cunningham (Ford Escort RS)   100.43
  7. N. Smith / R. Foote (Ford Escort RS)   107.03
  8. R. Eyre-Maunsell / N. Henderson (Sunbeam Imp)   107.22
  9. J. Bridges / B. Doyle (Ford Escort TC)   116.03
  10. T. Lawther / H. Brown (Mini Cooper S)   116.37