Sun Shines on Syonfin.
This report by Richard St John Young is from Motorweek, 11 June 1970. Photos not credited in the publication.
It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the officials of the Omagh Motor Club have reached some kind of agreement with the powers that control the weather, for once again, they enjoyed fantastic weather for their annual epic, the Syonfin Hillclimb Dance and the associated speed event.
As usual, things got underway on the Friday night with official practice, for which a relatively small number of cars turned out, the majority of entrants preferring to take their chances on the big day. Small though the gathering was, however, it was certainly exciting, for Tommy Reid, giving the Irish Racing Cars Brabham BT30 its first home outing since the Japanese Grand Prix, stunned everybody with a blistering ascent in 45.70 seconds on his first run up the hill, well inside the record he set last year with the BT23.
This performance was all the more remarkable considering the rather slippery state of the hill after a couple of days sunshine has softened the surface. Surprisingly, there was comparatively little drama during practice this year, quite a contrast to previous years, allthough the straw bales on the outside of the ‘dry arch’ were looking slightly secondhand by the end of the evening.
By the time things began to happen on Saturday morning, the hill was very slippery indeed, and by the time the majority of the entrants (the list totalled 70, 63 of them actually got around to completing) had got their practice runs in, the going was very difficult, and getting the power on to the road was a real problem for the drivers of faster machinery.
The class for small saloons had no fewer than 26 entries, of whom Joe Greenan, making a triumphant return to motorsports at the wheel of the Mini previously raced by Dessie McGranaghan was very much the quickest. Greenan’s time of 55.25 seconds (he had done a 54 and practice on the Friday) was a full three seconds faster than second man, Ron Patton’s Minisprint was able to manage. Tony Forsyth brought his Mini into third overall a further 0.05 seconds adrift.
At the end of the day there was some excitement when the cars of Greenan, Patton and Omagh man S.McCabe were stripped by the scrutineers. As a result, McCabe was excluded from the results, while the other two were found to be legal in all respects.
The class for 1400cc proved to be another Jim McClements benefit, but he didn’t win just as easily as most people expected him to. The man responsible for this was Ian Johnston, who’s very rapid driving of the ex-Patterson Cooper S took him to within 0.3 seconds of McClements 54.66 climb. Mervyn Johnson kept the local flag flying with third place in his very rapid rally Cooper S.
As usual, the large saloon class contained a rather motley collection of motor cars, fastest of which were the Escort TCs of Cathal Curley and Robert Ward. “CB “was as a surprising fastest in his familiar yellow rally car, with Ward’s “racer” in second place. Eamonn Harvey joined Ward in keeping the Donegal flag flying high with a third place in has Anglia TC. Edgar Hutton gave the Hillman Avenger its Ulster competition debut in this class, but was rather outclassed by the “roaring Fordies”.
A chap by the name of Archie Phillips took the honours in the small sports car class, driving his familiar white MG Midget to take the hill in 53.59 seconds. Don Hanley took the car he shares with Desisie McCauley to 2nd in the class, while Robin Lyons kept Omagh supporters happy with third, also in an MG Midget.
Michael Nugent won the large Sportscar class with his newly acquired, lightweight, Lotus Elan, his first run time being quite sufficient for the job. This was just as well, as he did a neat flip while leaping into the bog at the last corner on his second run. The car was fairly straight considering its experience, but obviously was unable to take any further part in proceedings.
Another man to vanish into the undergrowth was Andy Nielsen, whose ex-McMahon MGB was the first car of the meeting to invert itself. This was at the end of a big long nasty moment at the top corner, and Nelson was lucky to escape unhurt from his rather bent motor car. Derek McMahon took his MGB powered midget up in second place, despite a split sump (which did little to improve the state of the hill); Joan Dobbs was a good third with her rather unsuitable E-type Jaguar.
Formula Ford Crosslés dominated the class for ‘odds and ends’, and as at Spelga, it was Derek Boyd who made the running with a climb in 51.65 seconds (3rd fastest overall), ahead of Brian Édgar (52.35) and Harry Acheson (53.56).
Robert Ambrose, who’s Mystere also found itself in this class, earned himself a CDM (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk medal), and a round of applause from the assembled multitude at the top of the hill when he held a nasty moment in fine style on his second run.
Five cars were entered for the vintage class, of which only two appeared, the Austin Sevens of Rodney Barbour and Bill Beatty. Of these, Beatty had the misfortune to break a crankshaft in practice, while the Barbour machine suffered a variety of misfortunes, and eventually non-started with severe indigestion!
The ‘big banger ‘class was rather better supported than of yore, and featured no fewer than three large rapid single-seaters. Of these, of course, Tommy Reid was the favourite, but the red Brabham was pushed pretty hard by Brian Nelson, on this occasion driving his own Crosslé FVA. Reid’s first run was a record-breaking 47.42, while Nelson fluffed his start, and took slightly over a second longer. On the final run, Reid pulled out one or two stops and came up with 47.38, the Brabham looking decidedly twitchy all the way up.
Then it was Nelson’s turn, and all eyes were on the blue Crosslé as it shot away from the line. It looked like a good run too, and it was, but not quite good enough, the final time being 47.43, only 0.05 seconds outside Reids time but still under the old record. A fitting end to a very exciting and enjoyable event. Patsy McGarrity made it to 3rd in the class with a badly misfiring Brabham.
The motoring over, and the vast crowd of spectators dispersed, the Hillclimb Dance, which as everybody knows is what Syonfin is really all about, took place. Among the highlights of an enjoyable evening was a demonstration of “music to undress by” by George Windrum, while there were one or two other attractions as well! A full report would not really be fitting as Motorweek is after all a family motoring paper! Many thanks to Omagh Motor Club, you are doing a grand job!
Class 1 – Saloons up to 1000
- J. Greenan (Cooper S) 55.25
- R. Patton (Minisprint) 59.00
- T. Forsyth (Cooper S) 59.05
Class 2 – Saloons 1001-1400
- J. McClements (Riley Elf) 54.66
- I. Johnston (Cooper S) 54.98
- M. J. Johnston (Cooper S) 55.71
Class 3 – Saloons over 1400
- C. Curley (Escort TC) 54.34
- R. Ward (Escort TC) 54.53
- E. Harvey (Anglia TC) 56.72
Class 4 – Production Sports Cars up to 1400
- A. Phillips (MG Midget) 53.59
- D. Hanley (MG Midget) 60.82
- R. Lyons (MG Midget) 61.31
Class 5 – Production Sports Cars over 1400
- M. Nugent (Lotus Elan) 57.00
- D. McMahon (MG Midget) 59.19
- Miss J. Dobbs (E-Type) 65.34
Class 6 – Formula Ford, Clubman’s etc.
- D. Boyd (Crossle 16F) 51.65
- B. Edgar (Crossle 16F) 52.45
- H. Acheson (Crossle 16F) 53.56
Class 8 – Formula Libre
- T. D. Reid (Brabham BT30) 47.38**
- B. Nelson (Crossle 18F) 47.43
- P. McGarrity (Brabham BT18) 53.58
** denotes a new hill record.