This report is reproduced from Irish Motor and Watersport Vol12 No3 1964.
A REVIEW OF THE 1963/64 NORTHERN RALLY SCENE
ALTHOUGH hard to pin-point, September is the generally accepted start of the rally season. Thus it was the comparatively young, but exceedingly energetic Dungannon Motor Club which started the wheel rolling with their September rally on the 6th. An interesting affair of regularity sections, timed distances and tulip sections with the odd driving test thrown in, this was won with a highly creditable only clean sheet of the event by Robin Steenson (Mini) from Ronnie White (Sprite) and Ted Hobson (Mini).
On the following day, Larne Motor Club held their Shamrock Trophy event. Seventeen competitors contested a short course near Broughshane with the seven driving tests deciding the event. Lee Lucas won with the Grasshopper from Robert McBurney (Okrasa VW) and Ian Woodside (Sprite).
On the same day Newry & District Motor Club held a driving test meeting at Cranfield where the twelve tests were bested by Ronnie White (Sprite). Also held on September 7th was the Sunbeam-Talbot Owners Club annual rally. This attracted 32 entrants who fought out a course around mid—Down which gave victory to Esdale Dowling (Minx) from Billy Connolly (Rapier) and Don Grieve (Mini).
North Of Ireland Motor Club held their September Rally on the following Wednesday. This conventional but enjoyable event was won by Don Grieve (Mini) by a big margin from Robin Steenson (Mini) and Jack Armstrong (Mini-Cooper).
Still in September, on the 20th, the Mid-Antrim Motor Club organised a test meeting at Clinty Quarry which met very much with the approval of the competitors. The four tests were each done three times and some extensive pylon-bashing was done by some competitors who ought to know better. Least trouble was met by Ronnie McCartney (Mini) followed by Lee Lucas (Grasshopper) and Robin Steenson (Mini).
On the 25th, Omagh Motor Club held their September event. This was quite hard on the heels of their Ulster Championship qualifying event of August 30th/31st, the Scallon Cup, which had been won by Ronnie McCartney (Mini-Cooper) from John Eakin (Sprite) and Ronnie White (Sprite). The September event was divided into four tight sections with interspersed driving tests. Winner was once again Ronnie McCartney (Mini-Cooper) from John Eakin (Sprite) and Robin Steenson (Mini).
Dungannon Motor Club again started off the October events with an excellent Night Rally on the 4th, this being their Ulster Championship event. Strangely, this attracted only 18 starters who enjoyed a tough evening’s sport devoid of any unnecessarily rough sections. Winner was Ronnie White (Sprite) from Ted Hobson and Jack Keatley.
South Down was the area used by the Mourne Motor Club’s Signpost Rally on 11th October. This put matters in reverse as competitors had to plot the references of given signposts, quite a good idea for the ‘Treasure Hunt’ type of event, in fact.
A more serious event was held the next day by Larne Motor Club. This was their Tresna Cup event being mainly a series of nine driving tests. The Woodside brothers showed great form with Robert (Mini-Cooper) winning from Ian (Sprite) with Derek Boyd (Mini-Cooper) third.
Support always seems lacking for the Newry & District Motor Club’s local event. Only seven turned up for their test trial on October 19th but Queen’s University M.C. was holding a sprint event at Kirkistown on the same day. Best over the seven tests was Ronnie White (Sprite) followed by Donald Grieve (Mini) and Dennis Naylor (Mini).
With its seven tests not very appropriately, but originally, named after the seven dwarfs, the Ulster Automobile Club’s Go As You Please rally had 45 competitors charging around Antrim in their individual ideas of the best route. Time wasn’t tight but the tests were the usual well managed affairs. Ronnie McCartney (Mini-Cooper) won with Robert Woodside (Mini-Cooper) second and Frank Robinson (VW 1500) third.
On the same day, October 26th, Armagh Motor Club promoted their first trial in the English sense – best described as a ‘mudplug’. Even with this competition ten competitors turned up with a variety of specials including three Cannons. Little publicity has been given to this type of event, so popular across the water, but the first trial at the Conlig Lead Mines near Newtownards was voted a huge success. Desmond Titterington, making a welcome return to competitive motoring in an Alexis, was outright winner with Frank Kelly (Cannon) and Thompson Glass (Cannon) tieing for second place.
Queen’s University Motor Club held their first rally of the season on October 31st. A quiet run over 30 miles of South Antrim introduced several ‘freshers’ to the noble art of rallying. Dennis Bell (Sprite) won from Fred Stinson (Mini) and Brian Mitchell (Sprite).
Dungannon Motor Club completed their season on November 1st with their Winners Rally. A straightforward tour around South Tyrone was won by Ronnie McCartney (Mini—Cooper) from Jack Keatley (Mini-Cooper S) and Ronnie White (Sprite).
The Mid-Antrim Motor Club test meeting at Toome on November 2nd gave us enough ‘copy’ to fill an issue. It was the qualifier for the TV Ken Wharton Memorial Driving Tests at Droitwich on November 23rd. Firstly a lot of people were upset by the new regulations which excluded specials and demanded a touring car of over 7ft wheelbase, secondly they were more upset by not knowing this until arrival at the test site, and thirdly they weren’t at all keen on the test site, Toome Airfield, it being ‘rougher than rough’! But the biggest bone of contention was picking such an important team from this one event. A seasonal points system would be much fairer and more acceptable, however Brian Foley has commented on this and we’ll resist the temptation.
The foregoing should not detract from Harold Hagan’s excellent performance with his Midget actually finishing 11 seconds ahead of Derek Boyd (Mini-Cooper) after the ten tests. Ian Woodside (Sprite) was third.
November 9th saw Armagh Motor Club running their Ulster Championship event in the shape of the Loughslieve Rally. 23 cars set off on some 120 miles around Tyrone and adjacent Antrim encountering four navigation sections and a like number of driving tests. Robert Woodside (VW) won from Jack Keatley (Austin—Cooper S) and Ronnie White (Sprite).
The next Ulster Championship event was that of the Ulster Automobile Club on November 22nd — 23rd, their Night Owls’ Rally. This was also the first round in the North versus South team event which quite a lot of people, who should know better, seem to be getting steamed up about. The Northern team, nominated by the U.A.C. lost 46 marks to the 68 marks of the Southern team under I.M.R.C. organisation. There are two more events in this contest. The rally itself attracted 46 crews for a tough drive over some 250 miles between Tardee and Antrim with a supper halt at Portballintrae and was voted the season’s best. Maurice Acheson (Mini-Cooper S) won from Adrian Boyd (Rapier) and Charles Eyre-Maunsell (Alpine).
Queen’s University Motor Club had run a slightly tougher event than their opener of the season, on November 21st. The first three, Esler Crawford (VW), Billy Dick (Turner) and Beatty Crawford (VW), all lost the same number of marks on the road so the tie was decided on the driving test giving Esler the edge over Billy and Beatty who tied for second place.
Queen’s came to the fore again with their Winter Rally on December 9th/1Oth, the penultimate in the Ulster Championship series. Start and finish were at Dromore, a circuit of 120 miles being covered. This was a very good event and well worthy of its status. Winner was Ronnie White (Sprite) with Norman Smith (Mini) second and Derek Boyd (Mini-Cooper) third.
The final event in the Ulster Championship was Larne Motor Club’s Starlight Rally. This 265 mile grind superceded the Night Owls as the best rally of the year and an excellent Championship culminator. 37 crews started out from Dunmurry and only 17 clocked in at Larne such was the hectic nature of the event and the number of “fatalities”. Reggie McSpadden (VW 1500 S) won from Maurice Acheson (Mini-Cooper S) and John Eakin (Sprite).
As always, Ulster Automobile Club had a grand turn out for its friendly Boxing Day Trial. No less than 70 entered, 68 actually starting and 58 finishing. Run in North Down, it finished amongst the quarries of the Newtownards area in one of which the traditional soup canteen was situated. Only Thompson Glass (Hayrake), Robert Woodside (VW), Victor Stanfield (Austin-Mini), Ian Woodside (Sprite), Maurice Acheson (Cooper), Cecil Molyneaux (A-Mini), Ronnie White (Sprite), Lee Lucas (Grasshopper), D. McComb (M.G.) and J. Ferguson (Ford) were clean on the road. The first two took the first two places through their performances in the ten tests and Robert McBurney (VW) was third, his 5 marks loss on the road costing him second place.
Armagh Motor Club continued its successful pioneering with the trials event. The December event was at Slieve Croob in mid-County Down when no less than 20 drivers took part. A feature of this type of event is that cars can be shared — in fact there were only 12 cars at this event. Ian Wilson and Roger Graham did very well in individual tests but the overall placings went to Desmond Titterington (Alexis), Mervyn Glover (Alexis) and Brian Emerson (Cannon).
On 11th January this circus was back at the Conlig Lead Mines, Newtownards, so beloved of the motor cycling fraternity, this time the number being up to 24. Again Desmond Titterington (Alexis) proved master of the situation (a long way from Formula One Vanwalls, surely?) with Wilbert Todd (Cannon) second and Mervyn Glover (Alexis) third.
Another of these mud-plugs was held at Wolfhill, Ligoniel over two short tricky circuits. This time the other fast owner of the redoubtable Alexis won – Mervyn Glover – with partner Desmond Titterington second and Brian Emerson (Cannon) third. .
In addition to the trials, the Armagh Motor Club still keep at the more traditional fare. Their January rally was a bit too traditional, however, six tests done twice at Meghabery Airfield in a biting wind being contested by 55 drivers. Once again the Woodside brothers headed the award winners with Ian (Midget) winning from Robert (Okrasa—VW) with Ronnie White (Sebring Sprite) third.
January 11th 1964 was the date of the Ulster Automobile Club’s Winter Rally. 52 of the 56 entrants started from Meghabery on the first part of this two stage event designed to give the less experienced crews an easy first part and a tougher second part more suitable for the experts. The first section to Newry for supper contained the six driving tests and gave us some new names as victors From amongst the 21 entrants electing to do only stage one, best was Roger Cree (Austin-Mini) from Brian Falcon (Turner) and Lee Lucas (Grasshopper). The second half, entirely navigational over a figure of eight course returning to Newry, gave overall winners for both sections as Ian Woodside (Midget), Reggie McSpadden (VW 1500 S) and Ronnie White (Sebring Sprite). No less than 12 of the 31 starters in the complete rally retired or were excluded from awards.
On the following week-end, Larne Motor Club held their Island Trial, a nine-test affair confined to the Islandmagee peninsula and nearby County Antrim, for which 30 entries had been received. The final test was cancelled since the officials packed it up before all the competitors had visited it. The best test times were shared between Robert Woodside (4), Lee Lucas (2), Robert McBurney, Thompson Glass and Derek Boyd (tie). Overall winner was Lee Lucas (Grasshopper) from Robert Woodside (Okrasa VW) and Thompson Glass (Hayrake).
Queen’s University Motor Club offered a very good event on January 30th over 60 miles of non—damaging roads and without ‘catchy’ navigation. Good ‘base’ organisation was slightly marred by poor ‘outfield’ marshalling. Brian Mitchell (Sprite) and Norman Smith (Mini) were the only competitors to complete the road section unpenalised and the tie-deciding driving test was in Mitchell’s favour. Billy Mullen (Triumph TR) was third.
Armagh Motor Club was once more to the fore on February 1st. A total of 38 competitors met at Meghabery for another “six-tests-done-twice” event. Robert Woodside (Okrasa VW) continued in the great form he had
already shown that week and won by a wide margin from Thompson Glass (Hayrake) and Lee Lucas (Grasshopper). It really is something to beat up these very potent specials with a relatively sizeable saloon car.
Newry & District Motor Club ran their Spring Driving Test meeting on 8th February, being contested by 20 competitors. Best times in the seven tests were made by Robert Woodside, Ian Woodside, J. Harris and Ronnie White, and overall victors were Ian Woodside (Midget), Ronnie White (Sprite) and Robert Woodside (VW).
The next week-end was Ulster Automobile Club’s turn again with their Crocus Rally. A very creditable entry of 69 was received, three non-starting, nine retiring en-route and five being excluded from awards. Starting from Long Kesh, the route included five driving tests, four at Gortnagallon, but it was the navigation that sorted the men from the boys. Seventy long miles later the rally finished at Dunmurry where once again Robert Woodside (VW) was declared victorious followed by Ronnie McCartney (Austin-Cooper) and Billy McKnight(Vitesse). It should go on record that Robert Woodside finished this rally, navigated by Brian McMeekin, without losing a single mark being clean on the road section and best in class in all the tests.
Queen’s University Motor Club’s final rally on February 20th was a well organised 100 mile event with very tight navigation sections. The tie deciding driving test had no bearing on the results this time since the whole field lost some time on the road. The winner, Mike Ford-Hutchinson (Mini), did well to lose only one minute. Billy Dick (Turner) was second and David Mitchell (Alpine) third.
Mid Antrim Motor Club’s test meeting at Toome Airfield on February 22nd should have been the first round in the 1964 Ulster Rally Championship but reference to our general notes will show why it was not. On a bright and breezy afternoon 36 competitors ran through four tests three times each. Toome’s usual rough and slippery surface making things quite interesting. Robert Woodside (VW) added to his phenomenal list of successes with a clear win by 11 marks from Ronnie McCartney (Mini-Cooper S) and Ian Woodside (Midget).
The now traditional Pre-Circuit Rally was organised on February 26th by Omagh Motor Club. Surprisingly only 30 crews took part this year although there was every likelihood of traversing at least part of the International Rally route. The exceedingly rough nature of the roads chosen for this event dropped it somewhat in popularity and several controls had to be scrubbed as no marshals turned up. But eventually it seemed to tum out that Ronnie McCartney (Mini-Cooper S) won from John Eakin (Sprite), who finished steering on one wheel only, and Bertie Bann (A60).
The Irish Experts Trial run by Newry & District Motor Club moved from Tandragee to a hillside between Newry and Warrenpoint this year on March 14th. With a new interest in mud-plugging created by Armagh Motor Club’s monthly events, the Experts took a new lease of life with an entry of 29, double driving being allowed. Last year’s winner, Stephen Griffin, had to retire on the first lap. Generally the strong Southern contingent was handicapped since all the serious Northern contenders are now equipped with proper ‘specials’ for this type of event.‘ The Alexis-sharers once again led the field with Desmond Titterington beating partner Mervyn Glover by 6.2 marks. A further 9.2 marks behind after four observed sections, a timed hillclimb and a driving test, all done twice, was Michael Johnson (Cannon).