1970 Moonraker Rally

Winners of the 1970 Moonraker Rally were Mervyn Johnston and Paul Phelan in their 1293cc Cooper S.

Motorweek – September 3 1970


[Photographs shown here were not with the original article (copy not good enough to scan) but most have been provided by Bryce Sands from his personal archive.]

Dungannon Motor Club’s Moonraker Rally 1970 was one of the greatest tests of driver and navigator to have been held in Ulster for quite a long time.  For most of the night, thick fog, with visibility of ten yards or less at times, slowed the drivers to such an extent that the overall winner was down 34 minutes on the road.

The “sign-on” team at the Rugby Club. [B Sands]
Mervyn Johnston was the gent in question, navigated by Southerner and sometimes Motorweek  contributor Paul Phelan, in the familiar Cooper S AIL 3300, taking over the lead after Cathal Curley retired halfway through.  In second and third places were two more Coopers, those of Ronnie White / Harold Hagan, and the Eire crew of John Bridges / Brendan Doyle.

After an 18 month lay-off from all night navigational rallies, nearly everyone of importance appeared in the entry list of 87 crews.  Among the names missing were Ronnie McCartney, who was moving house, and Adrian Boyd and Robert McBurney, both of whom seem to have graduated permanently to Internationals.

Running at No1 were Ronnie White / Harold Hagan (1293 S), winners of the last Moonraker to be held in 1968, and behind them were Cathal Curley / Austin Frazer in the “Twin Cam”.

At the start, Patsy Donaghy looks on as Mervyn Johnston helps Noel Smith replace the oil pressure relief valve on his Elf 1293 S. [B Sands]
First of the Southern crews came next, Noel Smith / Ricky Foote (1293 Elf S) who had oil pressure problems on the way up from Dublin and had to fit a new oil pressure relief valve at the last moment after a hectic search around Dungannon for the vital part.

Next came eventual winners Johnston and Phelan followed by Dessie McCartney / Norman Henderson in Neville Johnston’s Toyota – borrowed for the night, John Bridges / Brendan Doyle (1293 S) and the recently acquired ex-Chris Sclater TC Escort of Hugh O’Brien / Mike Harte.

The top ten was completed by John Chambers (1293 S) who in fact didn’t start, Jimmy Reid and Frank Donoghue (1293 S), who were never seen after the start, and Robin Eyre Maunsell / Norman Smith in the Rallye Imp.  Pat McCourt / Bill Saulters in the ex-Curley Lotus Cortina had very hard luck when, with plotting completed, Cathal examined the car and found a broken front suspension ball joint.  That ended their rally.  The 21 Semi-Experts and 41 Touring Class completed the entries.  11 non-started and only 28 finished, but that’s another story.


The very comprehensive route instructions (138 points to plot) were issued 2 hours before the 10pm start and gave everybody a chance to get it all on the maps before the “off”.  Clerks of the Course Gordon Taggart and Sydney Meeke had found a really marvellous 200 mile route, mostly in County Tyrone, and it was immediately obvious that the schedule was going to be tight, even without the fog.

Seeded number 1 were Ronnie White and Harold Hagan in their 1293cc Cooper S.[B Sands]
At 10:01, Ronnie White accelerated away from a crowd of envious admirers, the rest of the convoy following at minute intervals from the start at Dungannon Rugby Club.  Even the first section was competitive and after passing the motorway roundabout, the first “white“ was found.  The route led round Dree Wood through Syrlea and Ballymackilduff to the first time control outside Benburb.

This 32 minuter was cleaned by White / Hagan, Curley / Frazer, Jimmy Lennox / Duffin (in the ex-Ronnie McCartney Cooper S LRX 830E), Ernie Oliver / Derek Turkington (Rallye Imp), and Harry Crawford / Alan Cunningham (Cooper S).  Best Semi-Experts were Tony Alexander / Trevor Uncles (1600 Cortina GT) with 2 marks lost, and Jim Conlon / Trevor Wilson (Escort TC) plus Peter Little / Peter Scott (Cooper S) both on 4 marks lost.

Unfortunately for Ronnie White, Harold Hagan missed a route check and this cost them 15 marks.  Best Novices were David Gibson / Derek Smyth (Escort GT), 6 marks, and Harry Farr / Jim Taggart (Cortina GT) 7 marks.  Already several crews had retired including Des McCartney / Norman Henderson (broken brake pipe), and Ronnie Reid / Alexander McConnell (Imp).  Noel Smith did not reach the next route check.

After a drama over oil pressure, Noel Smith and Ricky Foote pull up to the start line in their 1293cc Riley Elf. Unforunately their run would be short.[B Sands]

The next 32 minuter deviated off the usual Sheet 5 and on to Sheet 8 for a few miles and then passed through Tullymore and Lisnacroy to TC B near Eglish.  Only White / Hagan, Johnston / Phelan, and Oliver Hadden / Dave Elliot (Cooper S) were clean here, Curley / Frazer being 1 minute astray with Bridges / Doyle and Jim Campbell / Brian Dorman (Imp 998) on 2.  Best of the semi-experts were Conlon / Wilson on 4 and Ken Irwin / P.J. Winters (Cooper S) on 5.  The Imps of Robin Eyre Maunsell  and Bert Reid / Austin Burnett were seen stopped  round here, Reid’s making expensive noises on the approach to the control.

Control C, one mile from Greystone was 26 minutes onward, and here Curley started to motor quickly, losing no time, while White was 2 minutes over, and Johnston 3.  In Class 2, Conlon was 7 down, and Little 8.  Top seeds in this class, Harry Frizelle / John Beattie (Escort TC) disagreed with a ditch and went no further, as did the Cooper S of Lennox / Duffin.  Harry Crawford  and Alan Cunningham also went missing, and Ernie got sick.  By this control, nearly all Class 3 were on their maximum lateness of 30 minutes, which they were to run on for the rest of the night.

Cathal Curley and Austin Frazer prepare for the off, and would lead the early part of the event. [B Sands]
The remaining clean sheet of White / Hagan disappeared on the way to Time Control “D”, where the best crews were three minutes overdue, these being White/Hagan, Curley/Frazer and Hadden/Elliot.  Eventual Class 2 winners Conlon/Wilson were 5 minutes adrift and most of the rest of the class lost 30 marks after going over their maximum lateness.

A short run up the main Dungannon Ballygawley road from Parkanaur to Cabragh Filling Station was included in the 20 minutes petrol and service halt, although in fact this time was desperately needed by many to get back somewhere near their running time.  There was little time for more than a fill of petrol with the first cars arriving here around midnight.

The time allowed for the next three controls, all 26 minutes, was a little more generous.  The route led to Control “F”, South of Ballygawley, and then on to Sheet 8 to Control “G”, just on the border.  Little/Scott had to drop a passage control here to keep within time, and Trevor Haydock / George Beattie (Imp) decided to cut the oft used loops at Fordross Mountain (the instructions said that one road had bad ruts, and they were right!) which cost them two passage controls.

Waiting for documentation to get under way are (L to R) Norman Reid, Bryce Sands, Derek Turkington, and Ernie Oliver. [B Sands]
Hadden/Elliot were wrong at the well known triangle on the corner of Sheet 5 (502½ 511) which was just short of Control “H”, the start of the selective.  This consisted of a private road of just over one mile for which the 70 seconds allowed was just not on, with many sharp corners and a couple of farmyards adding to the fun.  Fastest here was a runner in Class 2, the very quickly driven Ken Irwin/P.J.Winters Cooper S, which was 5 seconds faster than Curley/Frazer in the Twin Cam Escort.

Castlederg’s Ken Irwin, navigated by “P.J.” Winters surprised everybody with a brilliant time on the selective. Photo ECP.

Selective Times:  Irwin/Winters 161secs, Curley/Frazer 168secs, McCullough/Taylor 168secs, Little/Scott 172secs, Nesbitt/Morrison 173secs, Campbell/Dorman 173secs.

Marks were lost at 1 per 10 seconds over the bogey time.  There were complaints that the selective was unnecessarily rough but it is hard for any club to find a section of private land of reasonable length that is not in such a state, and it gave the drivers a chance to have a reasonable throw without depending on the navigator.

A short run brought competitors to the second petrol halt at Armstrongs at Clougher (approximately 1:30 am) for which 25 minutes were allowed.  Again, many chose to make up road time rather than use the petrol stop for service.

The positions at this point (approximately halfway) were:

Class 1

Curley/Frazer 14marks,

Johnston/Phelan 22marks,

White/Hagan 31marks,

Bridges/Doyle 43marks.

Class 2

Conlon/Wilson 36marks

Little/Scott 78marks

Irwin/Winters 119marks

Alexander/Uncles 131marks

Class 3

Hyde/Weir (Imp) 186marks

Gibson/Smyth (Escort GT) 208marks

Parker/Parker (Cooper) 208marks

Farr/Taggart (Cortina GT) 263marks


Then the fun started.  The time control after the petrol halt was between Clougher and Augher, and heading North from this point the cars went along the rough white with many 90 degrees left and right-handers at 567 556.  Then to Knockmanny and the well-known but unnecessarily rough and very steep white beside the forest.

Trevor Haydock reads out the map references to navigator George Beattie at the start of the event. [B Sands]
Curley/Frazer, now running first on the road, stormed up this, the greater ground clearance of the Escort being most useful.  White/Hagan, unfortunately, did not get more than half-way and then stuck.  This didn’t please Ronnie and try as he might he just couldn’t make it, his efforts baulking John Bridges and both of them losing a lot of time.

The Imps of Haydock/Beattie and Campbell/Dorman had no problems and Conlon’s TC Escort also got up with ease.  A little while later, Little/Scott failed to get up and blocked quite a few cars, but the nearly standard Cooper S of Irwin/Winters found things easy with plenty of torque low down.  As in all good stories, the Passage Control at the top of the lane was unmanned!

The Time Control at the end of this section was near the Ballygawley/Omagh Road and least time was lost by Curley/Frazer (6Mins), Johnston/Phelan (9mins), Haydock/Beattie and Campbell/Dorman (13mins), White/Hagan (18mins), Conlon/Wilson (19mins).


Cathal Curley holds the funnel while Patsy Donaghy fuels up “CBs” Twin Cam Escort. [B Sands]
Curley’s Escort was starting to give trouble, first going on to three cylinders, and then two.  Norman Reid / Bryce Sands retired when the subframe of their Cooper S split at the tie-bar.  The next Time Control was situated on the rough white through 655 720.  On the way to this there was a fabulous little unsurfaced but smooth lane through 616 688½, where a large group of spectators had lit a bonfire and seemed to be enjoying the motoring.

At the Control, marks lost were: White (0), Johnston (0), Bridges (3) and Haydock (3).  The well known white through Evishtrask was on the way to Time Control “M” at Cavanoneill, and White, Johnston and Bridges were clean, although Bridges had missed a Passage Control, and Haydock was down one minute.

The 18 minutes permitted to Control “N” outside Sandholes were more than enough after passing through the unsurfaced (!!!) white at 711 755 (the grass in the centre was so long that Peter Little refused to believe that any sort of vehicle had passed along in the previouss five years), and the popular Bardahessiah white.  White/Hagan were down 2 minutes, Johnston/Phelan 3, and Bridges/Doyle 5.  On these last three sections leading semi-experts Conlon/Wilson and Little/Scott cut out much of the route to stay within time.

Another 25 minute petrol halt at Sandholes came before the final two sections.  The Curley/Frazer Escort was seen here having retired with carb’ trouble.  A wing thumped earlier in the night was also noted.  Ronnie Nesbitt / Geoff Morrison (Cooper S) did a lot of servicing here and even with the allowance, dropped 8 minutes at the TC after the halt.

Winners of Class 3 on the night were David Gibson (Belfast) and seventeen year old Derek Smyth (Dungannon). [E. Crawford]
The penultimate 40 minuter went through Mulnagore and the marvellous little maze through Mullaghrodden to the control at Stughan.  White cleaned this, Johnston/Phelan were down 2, and Little/Scott 3.  The final one hour section, ending near Moy was a real sting in the tail and used nearly every rallyable road between Coalisland and Loughgall.  Again White was best, 3 minutes overdue, Jim Conlon was 5 minutes down, and both Johnston/Phelan and Little/Scott dropped six.  Back then to the Rugby Club and the end of an extremely tough but enjoyable night’s rallying.

The fog had made things tighter than even the organisers had thought possible, but in good conditions the hole route was very nearly “on”, and if one takes the best performance on each section, the total time loss would only be 11 minutes.

When the results were announced, they showed that Johnston/Phelan had pulled out a lead of 16 minutes over White/Hagan, who were in turn 48 marks ahead of Bridges and Doyle – a Mini “hat-trick”.  Although a long way behind, semi-expert crew Jim Conlon and Trevor Wilson were fourth overall.

Dungannon Motor Club must be commended on the most efficient way the rally was organised.  The marshals were, without exception, accurate and efficient, and the adoption of Longines Chronometers cut out all the timing problems.

Results Overall:

  1. Mervyn Johnston / Paul Phelan (Cooper S) 44marks
  2. Ronnie White / Harold Hagan (Cooper S) 60marks
  3. John Bridges / Brendan Doyle (Cooper S) 108marks
  4. Jim Conlon / Trevor Wilson (Escort TC) 207marks
  5. Trevor Haydock / George Beattie (998 Imp) 223marks
  6. Peter Little / Peter Scott (Cooper S) 250marks
  7. Jim Campbell / Brian Dorman (998 Imp) 255marks
  8. Ron Nesbitt / Geoff Morrison (Cooper S) 335marks

Class 1 – Experts:

  1. Mervyn Johnston / Paul Phelan (Cooper S) 44marks
  2. Ronnie White / Harold Hagan (Cooper S) 60marks
  3. John Bridges / Brendan Doyle (Cooper S) 108marks
  4. Trevor Haydock / George Beattie (998 Imp) 223marks
  5. Jim Campbell / Brian Dorman (998 Imp) 255marks
  6. Ron Nesbitt / Geoff Morrison (Cooper S) 335marks

Class 2 – Semi-Experts:

  1. Jim Conlon / Trevor Wilson (Escort TC) 207marks
  2. Peter Little / Peter Scott (Cooper S) 250marks
  3. Malcolm Pedlow / Robert Harkness (998 Cooper) 403marks
  4. T. Alexander / Trevor Uncles (Cortina GT) 491marks
  5. W. Thompson / E. McCullough (Cooper S) 494marks
  6. Brian Clarke / Dennis Todd (Cooper S) 502marks

Class 3 – Novices:

  1. David Gibson / Derek Smyth (Escort GT) 397marks
  2. Wilson Hyde / Lennie Weir (998 Imp) 476marks
  3. Harry Farr / Jim Taggart (Cortina GT) 530marks
  4. A. Parker / Gordon Parker (Cooper S) 581marks
  5. Rodney Burrows / Brian Quinn (Escort) 793marks
  6. A. Lowry / B. McCartan (Lotus Cortina) 903marks


It was very pleasant to see that the most efficient results team had half-way results ready at the finish, and full results a very short time later.

Breakfast at 7:30am by the Rugby Club voluntary staff for crews and officials was very appetising and most welcome.

This is Gordon Taggart’s last year as Clerk of the Course.  He is taking up a new post in England in the new year, but I’m sure it will not be long before some Club over there has the benefit of his organisational ability.

Rally Championship positions after the Moonraker:  1st M Johnston 25 points, 2nd C Curley 20 points, 3rd R White 16 points, 4th R Wilson 6 points, 7th J Conlon 5 points.