Robin Eyre-Maunsell – Irish Imp Wonder
This article, by Martin Holmes, is reproduced from Autosport, July 6, 1972.
It seems seldom that the great characters of rallying happen also to be extremely competent, for they spend their time and money engaging themselves in accidents and other improbable escapades and leave little time for the serious job of rallying for success. Robin Eyre-Maunsell seems to ﬁt both bills, for he has enjoyed more success than anyone else who propels himself around in Imps on special stage rallies this year, whilst all the time enjoying what he does, for the sheer fun of it.
To the extent that Robin’s whole rallying career, save for a couple of events in Hunters, has been spent behind the wheel of Imps, one can discount him as a man of little experience. But at the moment he is regarded by Chrysler UK as perhaps their most loyal supporter, and to reach such a level of confidence with a manufacturer’s competition department, however small that department may be, is a tribute. He insists that his loyalty has been handsomely repaid by Chrysler and in particular by Des O‘Dell who has supported and encouraged his activities at every turn.
Robin was born with Castrol R in the blood, for anyone who has followed the history of Ulster motor sport will know the surname, Robin’s father Charles being instrumental in that province’s success in the sport. In the fifties, they enjoyed organising those incredibly hairy motor races, in circumstances which would cause Jackie Stewart to expire at the very idea, whilst developing the driving test theme to such a pitch of perfection that anyone competing against an Irish team would reckon to come second at best.
Charles was in all this, starting off his sporting career when 40 years old, and competing right through till the 1968 Circuit of Ireland Rally. He never won that rally, or ever gained a class win though he filled almost every other position in his 20 years of trying! He raced HRG and Sunbeam
Rapier based specials progressing to Elva, Lotus and Crosslé. He won the Ulster Trophy handicap in a Riley Special and raced for the (hush!) Triumph team at Dundrod when they won the team prize in the TT.
He is now managing director of A. S. Baird, the Chrysler main dealer for the whole of Northern Ireland (hence the “hush”) which is where young Robin and his Imps come in.
Robin’s entree came in the early part of 1966, driving this time a Singer Chamois 998. He had previously driven a couple of minor events in a side-valve Husky and in younger days ridden as ballast in father’s cars. He tackled all the events in Northern Ireland and the bigger ones in the South as well, “bouncing off every bank” as he went.
That year he tackled the Circuit with father in another Imp; they were not certain which of them hit banks the greater number of times, though Robin’s efforts failed when his head gasket could not stand the strain. His first two navigators were John Grant and Peter Thompson.
In 1968, Robin reckoned he ought to take things more seriously. Things started off badly when he went out practising for the Monte. He picked up Beatty Crawford, who had agreed to be the co-driver, from Nice airport, and they headed for the mountains. With the engine screaming they set off up the first col. Robin sized up the first bend as a fabulous fast swerve and set the car up accordingly. In fact it was a hairpin. The car went flying through the retaining wall and launched itself into space. For seemingly ages it hung there, then slowly the nose fell and it crashed down to earth. It landed on the only bush for miles, just 15 feet below the road.
The rocks from the wall actually blocked the road 100 feet below! So far so good, except Robin found his wrist hanging at a curious angle. “What’s the matter with this, Beatty?”, he asked. “Colles’ Fracture,” came the reply from the medically qualified navigator. “Will it mend in time for the rally?” “No!” Beyond this Robin recalls little, save having a scrabble round the car with his injured hand for Beatty‘s glasses (they’d come off so hard they broke the screen) and then hearing Beatty yelling “Help! help! oh, what the hell’s the French for help!” Adrian Boyd drove the rally car for Robin, and Adrian and Beatty seem to have been inseparable from that day on. . . .
Few people ever seem able to make out the Irish. Robin tells the story about an accident that his father had, “his final one actually!” Charles had the misfortune to crash into a garden wall, and he jumped out of the car to examine the damage. He found that the car was smouldering, and called to his navigator to reach for the ﬁre extinguisher, in case it caught ﬁre. All the luckless chap actually heard was “the car’s caught ﬁre,” at which he hurled himself from the car, sans extinguisher, to dislocate his shoulder on landing in the garden. With a garden wall demolished, a car on ﬁre and an agonised rally-man wandering loose, the farmer’s wife came out of the house to see what was up, “But, you know, that farmer never budged from his tele- vision set at all!”
Robin is 32, unmarried, and although without the customary Irish chip on the shoulder, he still underrates his own competence. He reckons his driving at the moment to be on a par with that of Andy Dawson, though feels that Andy has age on his side. He enjoys the company of his navigators: like Norman Henderson who to Robin’s disappointment is unable to tackle all the British events. “He’s a real map man, never happier than when reading roads in fresh territory, and I suspect he doesn’t feel that stage rallies complement this flair. ”Then there’s John Brown, an argument a minute,” who can navigate for miles without even looking at a map, and who gets livid when you miss a junction.
He loves his Imps, perhaps his original works one FRW303C most of all: “I had that car for years, talk about getting your money’s worth from a car.” His latest car LWK700K was built as a works car but never used as such after the works team disbanded.
Perhaps his saddest day was having to retire from the 1969 TAP. This event has an extraordinary effect on its contestants. For Robin, tiredness stopped him appreciating that fan belts were wearing away the alloy pulleys. It was the year that Fall was excluded and only seven finished. He was lying second behind the eventual winner at the time, 200 miles from the end, He has suffered badly from doughnuts, a trouble from which Malkin strangely never suffered. “Maybe it was something to do with Colin’s handbrake style of driving.”
On the 1971 Welsh he retired when he had one of a bad batch of layshafts. He uses standard gearboxes, feeling that their life is dependent more upon careful assembly and maintenance than anything else. The doughnut trouble has now been licked by using similar items from fwd Triumphs, made to measure.
He cannot quite sum up the Imp’s success: “development finished with Cowan’s car in 1968. Apart from the doughnut problem, they haven’t altered one iota in specification. And they can hold off all but the fastest and best driven Escorts, even with only 95 bhp! I think my results are 90 per cent due to car design, and l‘ve got a horrible feeling that if someone like Sclater was put (squeezed ?) into an Imp, he’d take 30 seconds off my times.”
And what of the Irishmen that we see and fear so much these days? Curley is the hilarious one, who is always a great threat, and of course won the Texaco Rally last weekend. Robert McBurney is a long-distance man, with tremendous determination and immensely strong. Ronnie McCartney – well, what can you say when a man wins an International in a Triumph 2.5 PI, and then there’s always Boyd, who must be up to the very best International standard on tarmac. They are the remaining fellows from the old bunch.
Robin seeks to achieve little more than personal satisfaction from his rallying, with no specific goals. “I intend to win one of the national forest rallies, and if you are in and around long enough, it’s bound to happen.”
He’d like to be involved in the Avenger programme, if and when it gets off the ground, and he is thoroughly contented with his position in the sport. “I really care about my rallying: it makes the difference between my life being interesting and being dull.” He’s over the hill so far as the dangerous stage is concerned, and he’s deadly serious when he says that he is going to win one day.‘