SYONFIN A STAGGERING SUCCESS
Report and Pictured by Esler Crawford, first published in MotorWeek 14 June, 1969.
Last week-end the Omagh Motor Club Annual Rave-up took place. Probably in order to satisfy the R.A.C. this masquerades under the title of the “Player‘s No. 6 Hill Climb Championship of Ireland.” The events starts at about 7 p.m. on Friday evening and by all accounts ends about 2 p.m. on Sunday and take place chiefly in the Knock-na-Moe and Royal Arms Hotels in Omagh. However the really keen types do make a couple of excursions to a mile-long hill at Syonfin near Fintona – there to do battle with motor cars with the end in view of getting to the beer caravan at the top as quickly as possible.
The happenings in Omagh could well fill the whole of MotorWeek, but as this is a publication devoted mainly to the field of motoring, we will stick to an account of the proceedings at Syonfin.
The main practice session took place on the Friday evening and as usual was enlivened by several hairy moments, although no personal injuries were sustained. Billy Alexander rolled his new Viva G.T. fairly comprehensively at the Dry Arch, Robin Phillips rolled spectacularly over the bank at McDermott’s Corner but amazingly his Cooper was ready to do battle the next day.
Almost incidental to all this excitement was the fact that Tommy Reid with this Brabham BT23 FVA unofficially broke his own hill record – set at 50.23 as far back as 1965, when Tommy was pedalling a Lotus 22 Twin Cam.
Saturday dawned fair and as the time for the 1.30 off approached conditions were just about ideal for fast hill climbing with dry roads and an overcast sky so that there was little prospect of melting tar which slowed things a bit last year. There were huge crowds lining all the natural vantage points on the hill – and with commentator Mervyn Armstrong appearing to be in his usual good voice, everything was set for another fine Syonfin event.
The proceedings started with a further practice session. And it wasn’t long before the Dry Arch claimed another victim with Jack Ferguson gently rolled his Cortina G.T. into the field to the detriment of the car‘s roof, and the driver‘s nose. Then “the finish” had its turn in the form of Eddie Scott in Laurence Mulligan’s Lotus Anglia. However the car was not badly damaged and the bold Eddie had it ready for the official runs – just to give himself that extra bit of time to change the radiator he had taken the precaution of breaking the timing wires on his way off the road! Then hardly had the official runs started when there was another hold-up when the second car on the hill – Hugo McDaid’s Mini – ran out of sparks at McDermott’s. However the car was soon pushed out of the way and thereafter the proceedings ran like clockwork in customary Omagh M.C. fashion.
Although class one for saloon up to 900cc was dominated by Minis, it was George Windrum’s solitary Imp which took, despite misfiring, 63.96 seconds. He was close run by Victor Leckey’s “maid-of-all-works” Mini which had a second run in 64.19 while David Johnston – the younger brother of Mervyn – was third in 66.31.
Class two for saloons of 901 to 1100cc was all BMC and Andy Kane put up his customary faultless performance — well almost, for he hit the bales at McDermott’s on his first run — and he would go on to win with 54.89, well ahead of Mervyn Johnston’s Elf (57.13) and Tony Forsyth’s Cooper (57.18).
In class three for saloons of 1101 to 1300cc, Ford Escorts were challenging BMC but they had little hope against several very hot Mini variants. There was a great battle for the class between Jim McClement’s immaculate racing Riley Elf and Dessie McCartney’s rough looking Cooper S. McCartney was in excellent form and on the first run hurled the Cooper up the hill in 53.00 to lead McClements by 0.58. On the second run, McClements lowered his time to 52.80 and despite McCartney crossing the finish sideways, his second time was slower at 53.10 and he had to be content with a very honourable second place. Third was local man Robb Pollock in 55.25.
Class four was the run of Ford With Rootes, VW, Vauxhall and Aston Martin not being in the running. Star of the class was undoubtedly the darling of the crowd, Cahal Curley, who was an easy winner with two stirring runs in his Escort Twin Cam in 55.17 and 54.27. Cahal’s driving was one of the highlights of the day and he must surely qualify for the title of the Most Improved Driver over the past year.
Donegal man Robert Ward, also Escort TC mounted, was second with a first run of 57.09 with the slightly restrained Eddie Scott third in 57.92. Nobody else broke 60 seconds but Ronnie Johnston tried hard in his Lotus Cortina to clock 60.03 — faster than Tommy Murphy’s Cortina Savage and Malcolm McGregor’s Aston Martin DB4.
The sports cars were divided at 1300cc which kept Archie Phillips out of some people’s hair at least. Harold McGarrity’s first run in 54.25 was his best with the open Midget and gave him the class from Eric Scott’s hard top version, which had 55.61 at the second go. As Mervyn Armstrong explained, this was the first time Eric had driven his own car in the event – before it was always the girl friend’s Mini!
It was quite predictable that Archie Phillips should win the big class. And so he did with 53.62 but Harold Hagan’s 54.83 in his driving test Midget was very commendable and the result of two very exciting runs. If Harold concentrated more on speed events he would certainly be as successful as he is in tests. Another very good time in this class was Derek McMahon’s 56.60 in his rather clumsy MGB.
The “small’ Formula Libre class was a Patsy McGarrity beneﬁt. This was Patsy’s first ever hill climb yet he took his FF Merlyn to the top in an excellent 51.88. Second with 55.90 was U2 pilot Mike Weiniger although, 1f commentator Armstrong is to be believed, Mike’s 16½ stone must considerably reduce the U2’s power to weight ratio. Paddy Wilhare did well to take the Firecrest up in 56.55.
This only left the “Big Two” to come – Tommy Reid in the Brabham and Brian Nelson, having his first ever hill climb outing in the Lola T60 Twin Cam. Nelson was first to go with a very neat drive and despite bottoming heavily at the dip near the top, did an excellent 49.40 to officially beat the hill record. However this did not last long for about 30 seconds later Reid screamed up in 47.89 to put the issue well beyond all reasonable doubt.
No doubt this time dissuaded Nelson from trying any harder on his second run and he was slightly slower at 49.88. Leaving the line on his second run Reid felt the FVA engine hanging back a wee bit and turned on the electric fuel pump to give it an extra boost. This entailed looking down into the cockpit and this momentary loss of visio was more than enough to account for his second run being 0.04 seconds slower than his first. However this changed the results not in the slightest and that was that.
Then it was back to the Royal Arms in Omagh for the prize distributions among other things. But just one small point Tommy, the Hill Climb Champion of Ireland, only gets the Player’s No. 6 Trophy, not the young lady who presents it.
F.T.D. and John Player Cup – T. D. Reid (Brabham).
Best lady driver — Miss P. Johnston (Cortina G.T.).
- G. Windrum (Imp) — 63.96;
- V. Leckey (Mini) – 64.19;
- D. Johnston (Mini) – 66.31.
- A. Kane (Cooper S) — 54.89;
- M. Johnston (Elf) — 57.13;
- D. A. Forsyth (Cooper) — 57.75.
- J. McClements (Elf) 52.80;
- D. McCartney (Cooper S) — 53.00;
- R. Pollock (Hornet) — 55.25.
- C. B. Curley (Escort TC) — 54.27;
- R. L. Ward (Escort TC) — 57.09;
- T. S. Scott (Anglia Lotus) — 57.92.
- H. McGarrity (M.G. Midget) 54.25;
- E. Scott (Midget) — 55.61;
- J. Hanley (Midget) -— 60.30.
- J. A. Phillips (M.G. Midget) – 53.62;
- W. H. Hagan (Midget) 54.88;
- D. McMahon (M.G.B.) — 55.60.
- P. McGarrity (Merlyn) — 51.88;
- M. Weiniger (U2) — 55.10;
- P. J. Wilhare (Firecrest) – 56.55.
- T. D. Reid (Brabham) — 47.89;
- B. Nelson (Lola) — 49.40;
- P. McGarrity (Merlyn) – 49.40;
Class 9 — (General Handicap)
- H. McGarrity (M.G. Midget) — 44.25 nett;
- D. McMahon (M.G.B.) — 44.60;
- C. B. Curley (Escort T.C.) – 45.27.
Class 11 -— (Saloon Handicap)
- D. McCartney (Cooper S) — 45.00 nett;
- C. Curley (Escort TC) — 45.27 nett;
- S. McCutcheon (Mini) — 45.58.