1964 Larne Starlight

This report is reproduced from Autosport Magazine 1st January 1965.


After receiving the most advanced publicity of any rally in Ireland (with the exception of the Circuit), and with sponsorship from the Regent Oil Company, great things were expected of the Larne Motor Club’s Starlight Rally on 12th/13th December 1964. And we were not disappointed. The 300-mile route, planned by Terry Harryman and Donald Grieve, had 100 manned controls and nine special stages and made use of most of the best rally country in Northern Ireland. Efforts had been made to attract cross-channel crews but because of the Shenstone Rally the same weekend (which incidentally ended up being cancelled) no drivers materialised. Nevertheless, five English navigators, Keith Billows, Doug Lockyear, Morris Bishop, Martin Holmes and John Davenport, came over to assist local drivers.

One hour before the start from the Marlborough Park service station in Belfast, the 69 starters were given the details of the route and by the end of the 40-mile run-in to the start proper at Portadown navigators had the route thoroughly sorted out. To assist in making this a drivers’ rally and not a navigators’ nightmare, the intended route was made quite clear by means of via references and any tempting non-goers were “not recommended”.

With rain pouring down, the event got under way with a nine-minuter towards Richill, and a recently changed main-road junction caused most crews an anxious moment, with Mervyn Johnston/Harry Johnston getting off to a bad start and losing 6 mins. Between controls four and five the correct slot was also hard to find, as the road was hidden by a name on the map, and this, combined with about a foot of water on the road, brought to an end most of the clean sheets at this early stage.

The route then followed it’s very tight way south-west towards Keady, with the changed roads near Seagahan Dam causing their usual quota of trouble (despite a warning in the roadbook) and the only remaining clean crew, Ronnie McCartney/Mike Hart in their big Vauxhall Velox, lost their first mark here. Early retirements included Noel Smith/Des Bradley with gearbox troubles in their Mini-Cooper, Derek Boyd/John Davenport with a cracked distributor in their Mini-Cooper, and the VW 1200 of Jack Bingham/Maurice Johnston with a fed-up crew. The organizers took the field through an unmarked road near Racarbry by means of a via reference between controls 17 and 18 and lots of marks were lost as the route turned north through the twisty and very wet whites to the east of Middletown.

Between Killylea and Ballygawley the pace eased a little and it was even possible to pull back a few minutes of the precious half-hour lateness which most crews had eaten well into. The first special stage was a new one in Favor Royal Forest, where the nearest approach to the bogey time of 2 mins. 40 secs. was Ronnie McCartney’s 3 mins. 16 sees., with Robert McBurney’s 1500-engined VW 1200 less than a second hind and Adrian Boyd in an Alan Fraser Rapier 2.5 secs. farther back after an off-course excursion. Charles Eyre-Maunsell had a more serious moment which resulted in his new Sunbeam Alpine being towed home by Reggie MeSpadden‘s VW 1500S which was itself suffering from a variety of troubles.

The following section had a generous time allowance to allow for a petrol stop and even supper for those not taking things too seriously, although the leading crews pressed on as soon as possible to make up time that they would surely need later on. At this stage the lead on road marks was shared by McCartney/Hart and McBurney/Esler Crawford, who had both dropped 20 minutes with Adrian Boyd/Beatty Crawford a further 8 mins behind. Immediately after the petrol halt came the Knockmany Forest Special Stage and here Cahal Curley made good use of VW traction on a very slippery surface to set best time in 5 mins. 14 sees. with McCartney doing very well to take the big Vauxhall through in a time only 4 seconds slower. Crawford Harkness parked his Saab off the island and took no less than 39 mins. while the timekeepers were somewhat surprised to see Peter Johnston completing the stage sans navigator! It transpired that Norman Devlin had retired due to sickness and Peter was having a go at the stages just for fun.

The navigation finished with a series of 26 time controls in the Magherafelt district. These were mostly two and three-minuters, and those people running close to their 30 minutes lateness found it very hards to keep up the pace and many fails were incurred. It was about half-way through this section that disaster struck Ronnie McCartney. Nosing the Velox into a tight slot, he got a front wheel into a ditch. Normally a touch of reverse gear would have sorted this out, but he had lost reverse earlier in the event and it was three long hours before rescue was effected by a farm tractor. This section ended at Toome and following another petrol stop, all that remained were five special stages. The first of these was Carnearney and was cleaned by McBurney who, oddly enough, lives not far away, while the other fast drivers all lost at least a minute! Tardree was extremely muddy and at times it was uncertain if the right track was being followed at all. Bertie McElhinney brought his Cortina GT on to the leader board when he dropped only one minute.

The three final stages, just behind Carrickfergus, were new to everyone and were absolutely fabulous, being well surfaced and very fast. North Cairn 1 saw McBurney fastest again and Billy Morrison being embarrassed by failing brakes on his Cooper S. Unfortunately, the second part of this had to be cancelled due to poor signposting (the only possible criticism of the rally) which saw half the entry taking wrong slots. Few people will forget the 80mph run along the dam retaining wall with an apparently bottomless drop on the driver’s side. Lough Morne was very slippery, but Adrian Boyd got things sorted out and beat the very consistent Curley by just 0.3 sec. McBurney nearly spoiled his night by almost clouting a gate post as he crossed the finishing line.

All that remained was a short run to the finish at the excellent King’s Arms in Larne, where visiting competitors were given free board for the weekend.

Beatty Crawford.


  1. Robert McBurney/Esler Crawford (VW1200) 0fails 119.8;
  2. Mervyn Johnston/Harry Johnston (Mini-Cooper) 11fails 145.3;
  3. Robin Steenson/Ian Turkington (Cortina GT) 13fails 135.8;
  4. Bertie McElhinney/Martin Holmes (Cortina GT) 13fails 154.5;
  5. Cahal Curley/Keith Billows (VW1500S) 14fails 128.1;
  6. Mike Ford-Hutchinson/Peter Lyster (Mini) 17fails 163.8.

Ulster Rally Championship 1964

The Starlight Rally had little effect on the final positions in the Ulster Rally Championship, as Ronnie McCartney was uncatchable in the lead, as was Ronnie White in second place (even though he was a non-starter).

Robert McBurney, however, has moved up into third place after his fine Starlight win, just pipping Ian Woodside by 0.5 mark. The final URC Positions for 1964 were:

  1. R.J. McCartney (Mini Cooper S and Vauxhall Velox) 60 (from 8 events);
  2. R. White (Austin-Healey Sprite) 51 (from 8 events);
  3. R.J. McBurney (VW 1200) 35 (from 7 events);
  4. I. Woodside (M.G. Midget) 34.5 (from 5 events);
  5. R.J. Eakin (Austin-Healey Sprite) 33 (from 5 events);
  6. R.J. Woodside (VW 1200) 31.4 (from 4 events);
  7. F.P Johnston (Mini-Cooper S) 27 (from 9 events);
  8. E.A. Lucas (Vauxhall Special) 26 (from 4 events);
  9. =M. Acheson (Mini-Cooper S) 24 (from 5 events);
  10. =W. Morrison (Mini-Cooper S) 24 (from 5 events).