1974 Circuit of Ireland MN

This article is reproduced from Motoring News 25 April 1974.
Report by Rupert Saunders and photos from MN and Auto Ireland May 1974.

Cahal Curley – Circuit Master

IT is perhaps fitting that, while club crews in England were experiencing their first stage event of the year, across the Irish Sea several of the country’s more senior crews and all the top Irish entrants plus a smattering of Continentals were taking part in the first of this year’s home internationals. Held over the Easter weekend, the Benson and Hedges Circuit of Ireland International Rally proved to be a classic tarmac event with Porsche Carreras taking six out of the first ten places and first overall going to the Northern Irish crew of Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer. Second place was taken by Ronnie McCartney and Peter Scott, also in a Porsche, while the first Escort home was the ex-Kleber/Wheelbase car now driven by Billy Coleman and Leo Whyte.

The rally really developed into a series of smaller rallies and little battles, with almost every class being hotly contested (there were one or two exceptions to this) and the route being divided into highly concentrated stages and then long rest halts. The result was rather like a collection of mini-rallies each one with its own point of interest.

“I sure hope Brother Dessie isn’t watching”. Ronnie McCartney throws the family Porsche Carrera into a hairpin bend and then powers out in the appropriate fashion. Co-driver Peter Scott appears to be trying to get out! Photo Motoring News.

For the first night and the next morning it was the lead that was being hotly contested with Cahal Curley and Billy Coleman fighting it out while the others lagged behind. The expected challenge from Adrian Boyd didn’t materialise (for a variety of reasons) and then, on the second day, Coleman went off and dropped back leaving Curley well established out in front and second place became the subject of all the contention. Boyd was climbing up, Coleman was fighting back and Ronnie McCartney was trying to hold his position against the ever-increasing onslaught.

Meanwhile, the Gp1 battles were being decided with Russell Brookes just being pipped at the post by the RS2000 of Bertie Fisher, and Robin Eyre-Maunsell taking the Ulster Dealer Team Avenger home ahead of the Scottish version driven by Ian Gemmell.

The rally and the fights for places are easily described but what no report can effectively describe is the atmosphere and attitudes behind the rally. Alongside and intermingled with the competition runs one of the most sociable and enjoyable weekends of the rallying calendar matched, perhaps, only by other Irish Internationals and the Manx. The Irish are determined to enjoy their rallying and are determined that everyone else should enjoy it too. There are prize-givings or celebrations at every halt and the whole area enters into the spirit with people coming from far and wide to join the drivers and wish them well. To those of you who have never been to an Irish event, we say go and try it for yourselves, you will have a time that you will never forget.

From Aughnacloy, Oliver Hadden and Chris McCaul thread their Porsche through the narrow stages and try to keep clear of the rocks. Photo Auto Ireland.

The 1974 Circuit of Ireland was something of an unknown quantity not only for the English and other foreign crews but also even for the Irish. The rally had a new start, a new finish and a new Clerk of the Course, ex-press officer Malcolm Neill. Based as always on closed tarmac roads with no pace notes this year saw for the first time the inclusion of some rougher sections, in some cases a little too rough, and a reshuffling of the famous Killarney Run so that almost all the stages were new and previously unrallied. The petrol economies had made some differences to the route but even so Malcolm Neill was determined to produce a ‘new look‘ Circuit so that there could be no question of local crews having an advantage and no question of old memories or memory reminders being dragged out. All the stages were watched for signs of practising and note checks were made during the event itself.

For some time it looked as though the Circuit was not going to happen. The Circuit of Galway had had to he cancelled alter supplies of petrol could not be guaranteed and only a month or so ago the situation in Eire over oil supplies was fairly bleak. The Ulster Automobile Club went ahead with arrangements however and, after enlisting the support of the Irish Tourist Board, supplies of petrol were sent to particular garages specifically for the rally.

All competitors, officials and service crews were issued with windscreen stickers to ensure that their needs were dealt with. In fact, by the time that the rally actually took place the situation had eased considerably and keeping thirsty engines running was no longer any problem. All praise must go to Ulster AC for going ahead with plans to run the rally during those early months and indeed seldom have we seen such a small team work quite so hard and quite so efficiently as they did on the rally itself.

As we have said the petrol situation did cause one or two changes, notably an easing of the pressure by providing longer rest halts and more time for even more celebrating, but it also altered the start location and resulted in the cancellation of some of the stages. By choosing Enniskillen as the starting town the organisers moved the whole rally down to the border areas and avoided any mileage in the troublesome northern provinces. In fact, the town provided an admirable starting point with several large and pleasant hotels, one or two small and not so pleasant ones, and a large garage that turned its premises over for the purpose of scrutineering.

From the early evening start on Good Friday there was the now obligatory ‘spectator special‘ stage on an airfield and then one more before a supper halt in Sligo just across the border in Eire. The route ran on round its circuit in a roughly anti-clockwise direction with nine night stages in the Mayo Peninsula before an hour or so’s breakfast halt in the City of Galway. While the tourists, who had come to see the sun set in Galway Bay slept on, the drivers saw sun rise over the hills and then headed on directly south with five quick stages before arriving in Killarney for a late lunch. The first mini rally was over.

The 1974 route was tailored to the tough political and fuel situation, more compact than normal and minimal stage mileage in Ulster.

The famous Sunday Killarney Run started early in the morning and eleven stages were concentrated into a minute area of the Dingle and Iveragh Peninsulas ensuring that service would be hard to arrange and the pressure would be constantly on. It was the most punishing day of the rally and, after such hard work, there seemed to be only one logical thing to do; so the whole event stopped for twenty-four hours while everybody congratulated each other for surviving so far, or commiserated with those who had gone out.

The restart was after lunch on Monday and from here on there was no let up as the third of the mini rallies took the crews across country to Kilkenny and the Wicklow Mountains and then overnight back across the border to finish in Newcastle around lunchtime on the Tuesday. There were 48 stages in all of which two were forest and the rest mainly tarmac with the odd unsurfaced white thrown in; there was even one short stretch of good old three-ply to make the English feel at home.

There is no doubt that the troubles in Northern Ireland kept several English and Foreign competitors away and indeed there were even instances of service crews refusing to come over with their employers because their wives wouldn’t let them. It would be impossible to ignore the problems when driving around in the Province and it would be foolish to do so. but it must be pointed out that the rally went ahead totally without incident and indeed that every rally since Galway two years ago has gone ahead undisturbed and without interruption by the local populace or others. Non-Irish entries are on the increase but more crews from across the water would still be welcomed and certainly those who came over from the Continent for this year’s run went away fully satisfied and intending to return.

The Porsche Carrera is, of course, the demon rally machine to have in Ireland being ideally suited to the fast open tarmac roads and sufficiently strong to take the pounding that all rallies subject a car to. Those of you who still think of the Porsche as a straight line or racing machine without the chuck-able qualities of the true rally car need only watch one of the Irish sliding on full opposite lock to have all your theories dispelled.

There were nine of these high speed machines entered on the Circuit and all were destined to show well in their various ways. Cahal Curley had bought the ex—Harold Morley car after the RAC and this specially prepared rally version was perhaps the most immaculate of all the German cars there. Reregistered but otherwise unchanged. the car carries no sponsorship stickers apart from Castrol and Dunlop and appeared like a sleek, white bullet running without trouble and in the first three on the road for most of the event.

The ever-exuberant Cahal Curley demonstrating Porsche style cornering. Photo Auto Ireland.

Jack Tordoff and Phil Short, still alive and well after flying lessons in the Spanish mountains, had accepted the offer of the loan of a car from one of Jack’s customers and it was this road-going Carrera that they brought with them. An engine guard was fitted to protect the most vital parts but there was no time to fit the full length skid and it was not possible to fit a roll cage either so the car was very standard indeed. The rear suspension was raised slightly, a Ziebart sticker attached to the bonnet and, complete with electric windows and stereo cartridge player, they set about finishing fifth overall. A highly satisfactory result.

The McCartney brothers Carrera, this time in the hands of Ronnie, was perhaps the most consistent of the German machines, with the yellow Gp 4 car hardly ever being out of the top six on stage times and once again proving Porsche reliability by requiring the absolute minimum of service. Although most of the Porsches seemed to have trouble with boiling brake fluid on the long stages, this was the only real problem that they experienced and all managed to avoid the suspension rebuilds and shock absorbers changes that dogged the other competitors. Gerry Forde and Paul Phelan made a late bid to finish well up the field after a fairly slow start but most impressive of all the lower Porsche runners were the English crew of Brian Evans and David Marston in the Express TV car which had climbed up to fourth overall in the general classification before retiring on the Sunday Run with a broken driveshaft coupling.

John Tansey and Rea Inglis have rebuilt Malcolm Patrick’s old car that was rolled on the Manx and were to show well and Joe Pat O’Kane and Tommy Tennant had the ex-McCartney, ex-Curley car for the rally. They certainly get passed around in Ireland. Oliver Hadden and Chris McCaul entered a Carrera at the last minute and there was another similar car for Jack Cassidy and Dan Doherty.

The Escort challenge to the might of the Porsche was led by the might of the Lombard and Ulster Rally Team complete with two rally cars, full service crews and with David Wood on hand to tend to the vagaries of his BDAs. Adrian Boyd teamed up with Beatty Crawford, who had flown back from the United States for the occasion, and the car that had been built by Boreham for Ford France to use on tarmac events. Featuring some sophisticated form of racing suspension, the car sat low and squat on the tarmac and looked most purposeful when rolled out of the R. E. Hamilton workshop for scrutineering. An immaculate front spoiler lasted all of three stages and the car had been converted to right-hand-drive and the gear and diff ratios changed to make it more suitable for both Boyd and the Irish roads.

Sitting firmly and squat on the road, the “racing” Ford Escort of Adrian Boyd and Beatty Crawford looked more stable than the Porsches, and that precisely was the problem for Adrian. Boyd had to be content with all four wheels on the ground. Photo Motoring News.

The second Lombard and Ulster car was the familiar LVX942J, now looking not quite so familiar with a new shell fitted and in the new colour scheme. With Adrian in the first car, his brother Derek was given a drive with Frank Main in the co-drivers seat and apart from having to spend the first few stages running in a new motor (the old one having given out in testing two days before the start) these two set about a determined chase of their
better known team-mates.

Billy Coleman’s arrival at scrutineering is always awaited with interest since nobody is ever quite sure what the car is going to look like and, with his new car not yet finished at Boreham, Coleman was forced to bring along the ex-Chris Sclater, Kleber/Wheelbase Escort that he had used on the Firestone. Despite the somewhat hasty overhaul that he had had to do and the new engine and gearbox that had been fitted, the car looked remarkably clean and tidy and Coleman was quietly waiting for the off. David Lindsay had brought an RS1700 for himself and Duffy Cunningham while brother Nick was running an RS2000 (pushrod version) in the Gp 1 battles, and John Keating was running another RS1700 from the number 10 spot.

Sean Campbell in the Lindsay Cars RS1800 started well but dropped out early on with engine failure and of the English crews with modified Escorts, Clive Holker and Jack Coulthard in their multi-coloured Twin-Cam were to show well and win their class. The paint scheme on this car even extends to the Minilites which are pink for the knobblies and a sort of indescribable (in print at any rate) mucky yellow colour for the racers.

Interest for the children was added by the arrival of the RS of Roger Davies and Derek Tucker complete with sponsorship from Marx Toys of Wales; the crew handing out free Lone Ranger kits and, very bravely, Lone Ranger masks to match the “Hi Ho Silver” decals on the car.

Apart from Carreras and Escorts the other popular machine over in Ireland is the lightweight BMW 2002 and there was a fair selection of these machines about with both David Agnew and racing driver Brian Nelson (having his first competitive rally) putting up very fine displays. Agnew was very badly troubled with the old BMW problem of weak suspension and had several rebuilds throughout the course of the event. Vic Carlisle brought over his immaculate version from England and Robert Ward had a good run in his Gp 1 version.

Brian Nelson and Drexel Gillespie showing signs of contact with something along the way.
Photo Auto Ireland.

Continental competitors were rather few and far between, unfortunately. but those that did come over showed fairly well. Erik Aaby and Bjorn Lie were the highest seed at six with their GP2 Ascona and with this being Erik‘s first all tarmac rally the crew were approaching the whole thing with a certain amount of trepidation. They felt that their sideways style was not quite suited. More in his element was ex-racing man Phillippe Farjon who with Jacques Jouvin had brought out his 1800 Alpine and a full service crew. They caused quite a stir by appearing to have brought only racing slicks with them as rubber-wear and the Irish were confidently predicting a high speed excursion the first time that the car hit gravel. In fact the tyres seemed all right and the little French car held the road remarkably well.

Another continental Alpine came over in the hands of Anne-Marie Pedelahore and Danielle Minier, this version being almost brand new and indeed 1974 specification with revised suspension and four stud wheels. The girls arrived without a service crew, with only five tyres and even without a sumpguard but were soon taken under the wing of the organisers and thanks to some translation work by Eric Silbermann, the Castrol man, had most of their problems sorted out. No such problems beset John Haugland and Arid Antonsen who with their very Gp2 Skoda finished half-an-hour ahead of their nearest class rival and eighteenth overall. The final entry from across the channel was the Daf 55 of Francis Gourreau and Michael Rousseau, these two arriving rather unprepared but certainly
out to enjoy themselves.

With the demise of Gp 5, much of the interest over class battles, and many of the lower budget teams, resorted to Gp 1 and the various classes within it. The biggest effort in this direction came from the DTV set up, with their newly homologated 2.3 Magnum in the hands of Will Sparrow and Rodney Spokes. For the first time it looks as though Vauxhall have realised the advantages of some clever homologation and the Magnum shell has been
homologated with the 2.3 motor and the American emission control equipment. It just so happens that the control equipment consists of, amongst other parts, a fabricated manifold, thermostatically controlled air intakes and a polished big-valve head. It cuts down pollution and gives 143 bhp in standard form, which makes it quite some Gp 1 motor car!

Winners of the Group 1 competition for series production cars was Will Sparrow and Rodney Spokes in their Vauxhall Magnum, and took 11th place Overall. Photo Motoring News.

Perhaps fortunately for those drivers with Ford machinery the classes had been divided at the 2-litre mark so the only real challenge to the Vauxhall was the 3-litre Capri of Jimmy Stewart and James Conway. In the under 2-litre class the newly homologated RS2000 was popular with cars for Eamonn Cotter and Patrick Kelly, Charlie Gunn and Harry McEvoy, Nick Lindsay and David Sandford and the very quick version of Bertie Fisher and Tony Anderson that was to eventually finish twelfth and win the class. Mexicos were much less popular being not totally suited to the hilly stages and only Russell Brookes managed to show at all, surprising the Irish in the process with his incredible methods of keeping the speed up. Stuart Gray was sat in the hot seat for the rally since John Brown was tied up in an election campaign for his wife. There was a sole Ascona 1.9 for eventual ladies award winners Sue Sinclair and Phyllis Thompson and a 1.6 version for Ian Wilson and Peter Anderson in the next class down.

In the up to 1600cc class the rally was an Avenger benefit with the main battle being between the two 1500cc versions of Robin Eyre-Maunsell and Ian Gemmell. Eyre-Maunsell was entered by Chrysler Dealer Team Ulster and is now concentrating on Gp1 with Neill Wilson co-driving for this event while Gemmell’s entry, with Ian Knox. was from Maconachies of Kilmarnock. There was a sole 1600cc Avenger entered with Derek McMahon and Starritt Graham as the crew and a further eight of the 15OO versions started the rally. On down the scale the smallest class was a benefit for the Fiat 128 of Robert Craigie and Richard McAllister.

The entry was as interesting and varied as befits a good International with the Datsun Sunny of Alec Poole and Mike Greasley, the Alpine of Geoff Shepherd and ‘Harry’, the Renault 17 ofJohn Price and Brian Brophy and the VW Passat of Robert McBurney all adding to the spectator’s enjoyment at various stages of the event and for a variety of reasons.

Scrutineering, held in both Belfast and Enniskillen, went ahead with remarkably few problems though several crews had come without laminated screens and even more without the obligatory towing hooks to the front and rear. There were some queries over fireproofing and the safety equipment on Gp1 cars but basically everybody was cleared and free to get on with the rally. The French girls had a sumpguard fabricated for the underside of their Alpine and all was ready for the off.

On any rally with a major sponsor a couple of spectator stages are a necessity and immediately after the start the Circuit of Ireland launched into a rather atypical thrash around the St. Angelo Airport just north of Enniskillen. All great fun for the uninitiated, of course, and Jack Tordoff reported pulling maximum revs in top down the back straight as a demonstration of Carrera speed and acceleration. Most drivers took it fairly easy as a run in and others got through without incident but best value from the publicity point of view came from Sue Sinclair‘s Ascona which decided to throw a throttle cable and, with co-driver Phyllis Thompson perched on the bonnet and accelerating hard, the girls mis-timed a bend and went straight off in a bush! Mervyn Neely, in an attempt to catch quicker brother Ron, went off and ended his hopes of continuing, and the rest of the rally went on to the first proper stage, Mullaghmeen.

Sue Sinclair and Phyllis Thompson recovered from a number of throttle cable woes to come good and win the Ladies’ Trophy. Photo Auto Ireland.

Like almost all of the stages of the rally, this was a series of narrow tarmac lanes interspersed with tricky bends and blind brows, every one a hazard for those unused to fast tarmac work and particularly to those who weren’t playing themselves in slowly. Noel Smith and Ricky Foot were suffering with an Escort that wasn‘t picking up its fuel properly and Ian Wilson and Peter Anderson in the Scottish Ascona were getting too much fuel through a sticking throttle that caused several moments. Vic Carlisle put his Alpina BMW through a wall and damaged the suspension beyond repair and darkness started to settle over the Irish countryside as crews headed south and across the border to a supper halt in the town of Sligo.

For those who thought that the Circuit was going to be a fairly easy run, the first night must have come as something as a shock. The rally may have had nice long rest halts but this night was one of highly concentrated stages and more than one crew heard to remark on how much hard work it was. For Adrian Boyd things started to go wrong from the very start. On the stage immediately after supper a throttle cable snapped and he lost two minutes fixing up a makeshift repair job. Then the stages started to get a little rough with potholes in the unsurfaced roads and the racing Escort was just totally unsuitable. The rear end was far too stable and front wheels just wouldn’t lift in the time honoured Adrian Boyd fashion so the car became “unchuckable”. As Boyd said ‘It would have been fine on pace notes where one knew what the bend was going to do.’ When the rear brakes faded completely and the service crews were unable to do anything about them, Boyd began to lose a bit of heart and settled down to a steady run until daylight.

In the final few hours of the event, Billy Coleman tried desperately to make up time that he had lost earlier. The crumpled wing shows evidence of the fateful brick wall but otherwise, the car looked remarkably neat. Photo Motoring News.

Out in front Curley and Coleman were already settling down to a great battle but all was not well with Coleman‘s car and he too was having braking problems, with the car tending to understeer off the moment that he braked on any loose. Indeed the inclusion of quite so much unsurfaced road at the beginning of what was supposed to be an all tarmac rally
had several people very worried. Further hack down the list other problems were cropping up. Clive Holker had his gearbox jam when a cir-clip came loose and had to finish one long stage in third gear while just one stage later, Derek Boyd nudged a wall and John Price’s Renault 17 disappeared from the runners. With only two night stages gone it was an indication of what was to come.

Walls and wings were coming off worst of all. Brian Nelson, quickly getting back into the hang of rally driving, pushed one load of rubble into a river after it had been weakened by Alec Poole in the Datsun and Poole himself went off on the next stage, with such effect that it took two hours to get the little Sunny back on the track but well out of the rally. Sean Campbell had started well in the Lindsay Cars Escort but the strain was proving too much and the timing gear finally cried enough in a scream of clattering. The night got colder, the stages seemingly tougher and the field started to stretch out. As the route turned South, Curley pulled out a few more vital seconds, with McCartney not really happy with the fast downhill sections and Coleman still having brake trouble. More understandable were the problems that Erik Aaby was suffering from. Throwing the car sideways before the bends wasn’t having the same effect as it did on the loose and besides which he was frightening the spectators and himself. The car was balanced wrongly and he was working through rear brake shoes at an alarming rate.

With just four stages to go to the breakfast halt, Tommy McAloon, having narrowly avoided his almost traditional high speed accident, retired with a half-shaft failure and Dave Palmby, now back in Escorts after a brief sojourn with 24OZs, had the car’s electronic ignition pack up miles from the service crew and with no spare parts to solve the problem himself. Both were back in the rally for the Sunday Run. Ian Wilson put the Ascona off the road and the fan through the radiator and the leading crews made their way down the Galway coast for a hasty and expensive breakfast while the toll of the night’s rallying was counted.

Undoubtedly the unhappiest man at that halt was Robert Taylor of Lombard and Ulster. Adrian Boyd had lost out heavily on stage times and was very dispirited, which probably slowed him even further. The only solution was to make the car handle badly so that it would slide more and, since there was no time to actually change the rear suspension set-up, the team decided that the best they could do was raise the whole rear end about half-an-inch and see what effect that had. The brakes they would try to cobble up as best they could until more time could be found further south.

From the Continentals’ point of view it had been a night of fierce activity. Phillippe Farjon had had to perform a lightning drive-shaft change (there only being 15 minutes maximum lateness) and the Daf crew had been off so many times that they were well over their scheduled minute and in fact were excluded, a situation that they chose to ignore by running on at the end of the field.

A typical Circuit stage with fast open bends, blind brows, big drops and a Porsche; in this instance the Stuttgart prepared Carrera of Brian Evans and David Marston just seconds before retirement while lying in fourth place. Photo Motoring News.

Gerry Buckley, who had been hurrying on despite an Escort with a blown head-gasket, decided that the engine would take no more and the DTV crew were already showing their speed to the rest of Gp1. The class battle seemed to be between Brookes and Cotter with the latter watching dumbfounded as Russell’s supposedly slower car took time off him on stage after stage. The Irish decided they had a lot to learn about Gp1 and set about it as fast as possible. Another worried man was Robin Eyre-Maunsell, out for the first time in anger in the Avenger and finding himself trailing behind Ian Gemmell in the similar motor car.

Dawn broke and the first few crews left the warmth of the hotel and started on the long journey South to Killarney. Compared with the night that had just gone, this was a relaxed section. just five stages spread out over some 100 miles. It was daylight and suddenly some drivers started to show their paces. Boyd perked up considerably and started to climb back up through the field. Not, he claimed, because the handling was that much better but because in the daylight the car was easier to drive and the stages were more to his liking, faster and more open with plenty of opportunity to use the power. Englishman Brian Evans was in a similar situation. After an early puncture had slowed him and David Marston by several seconds, he really got the bit between his teeth and pushed his Stuttgart-prepared Carrera just as fast as he could. More seasoned campaigners watched in horror as in those few stages the number 28 seed climbed into the top five places.

Those who took advantage of the daylight and put on sudden burst of speed might have been forgiven for thinking that they could be catching up, but they had reckoned without the incredible pace that the two leaders were putting up. While Boyd, Evans, Agnew and McCartney put in consistently fast times, Curley and Coleman were actually taking time off them and by the time Killarney was reached these two were separated by a mere 40 seconds and led the rest of the field by over four minutes.

Ken Shields and Peter Lyster always seem to find the right balance between speed and consistency and beat all comers in the Over 2000cc Group 2 Class in their Viva GT.
Photo Esler Crawford

Life wasn’t roses for all the drivers of course. Charlie Wood in the Competition Car Avenger had an almighty moment when his throttle cable snapped leaving the jets wide open on a fast downhill stretch and Geoff Shepherd was alternating between sowing to preserve his Alpine on the rough and slowing to prevent it overheating on the tarmac. Will Sparrow was badly baulked on one stage and, when a piece of three-ply caught almost everyone out, Farjon came off worst with a puncture. The night had been hard work and the morning fairly steep, the Irish were confidently predicting that the rally proper was about to start.

If the Welsh is centred around Llandrindod and the Scottish around Aviemore. then the Circuit has only one home and that is Killarney. The whole town turns itself over for the weekend and half the population of the surrounding countryside move in to join the fun. The bars seemingly are open from the moment the first car arrives to the moment the last car leaves and, while tired crews and service crews slept off their exertions, the locals set about welcoming the rally in their own inimitable way. Easter Sunday in Killarney must be unique in rallying circles. There are tough stages for the drivers, there is hard work for the service crews, fun for the spectators and even those who have retired from the first sections of the event are allowed to run at the back of the field for the special awards donated by the Killarney Chamber of Commerce.

The Run itself started fairly early, at seven in the morning, and would have run until five in the afternoon but the petrol shortage enforced a cut back and the day‘s rallying finished just after two o’clock. The stages were fast and open and well suited to the power of the Carreras and BDAs. Boyd started well, his service crew had finally found how to get the rear brakes to operate, (they removed the fine adjust control that was mounted under the rear chassis and just connected the pipes straight through) and, apart from a slight misfire on one stage. the car was now to his liking. The other Lombard car with Derek Boyd at the wheel sheared its exhaust on the second stage which was to make for a noisy day and Erik Aaby had a moment when he clipped a bridge parapet while in mid-flight. From then on he started to make up ground but co-driver Bjorn Lie still reckoned that he was braking too early and not making full use of the tarmac.

Despite pressing as hard as this on the first stage, Gerry Forde and Paul Phelan made little impression on the leaders until the closing stages. They also suffered from several punctures over the weekend. Photo Motoring News

As the rally took in a long fast stage around the edge of Lough Caragh the strain was starting to show. Robert Ward had the engine shift on its mountings in his BMW with the result that the alternator kept jamming up on him and then freeing itself, all the while accompanied by a high pitched whine, while Ian Gemmell was losing time with pulling brakes and a couple of minor offs that damaged little more than a few body panels. Charlie Wood. in a similar Avenger, took time out to change a rack but the saddest news of all that came through was that Brian Evans was out with a broken drive-shaft coupling. It was a bitter blow to this up-and-coming rallyman who had climbed to fourth overall at the time of his retirement.

Every Irish rally, it seems, has to have a hair raising cliff-top stage and the Circuit is no exception. Slea Head is some 12 miles long, most of it with a cliff on one side and the sea on the other, and it was here that the battle for the lead was settled. The long starting straight led into a deceptive right-hander that was to catch almost everybody to a greater or lesser extent. Curley admits to going within a grass blade’s breadth of going off but Coleman was not so lucky. His rear wing clipped the wall and buckled inwards taking the rear panel and the battery cut out switch with it. Seven vital minutes were lost while the wires were sorted out and life returned to the motor. It was just plain bad luck.

Others were having all manner of problems on the same stage. Phillippe Farjon was finally forced out when his Alpine succumbed to the hammering and dropped its battery box and Ian Gemmell lost some more time when his battery came loose. Erik Aaby lost time when he stopped to change a flat tyre and had to drive on unmatched tyres, and Will Sparrow was fighting a car that was in dire need of some new shock absorbers. Brian McBride rolled his Magnum on one stage and then went off more permanently on the next, and the rest of the field struggled back into Killarney via the Connor Pass for a much needed rest. There had been eleven stages in seven hours and the course of the rally was now settled. Erik Aaby summed the whole thing: “Today is not rallying; today is drag-race”.

Eric Aaby had a period on mis-matched tyres but he still managed to finish in the top ten.
Photo Auto Ireland

Curley had pulled his lead out to over seven minutes. Coleman was now back down in third place mixing it with Ronnie McCartney and David Lindsay while Boyd continued to fight his way up and David Agnew held the BMW camp firm with some stirring driving. Already however his suspension had been rebuilt once and the problem was never to be properly cured. Russell Brookes was pipped for the Sunday Run prize in his class by Bertie Fisher, and Will Sparrow was pipped by Jimmy Stewart in the 3-litre Capri while overall fastest of the unofficial Sunday runners was Tommy McAloon in his Twin-Cam.

The 24-hour break was much needed by everybody and even if most of the cars looked tired at the restart on Monday, at least the crews felt better. There were six stages to supper and then the pressure was on again with a long haul up the country and back into the north. The sun that had shone for the Killarney run was still with us and spirits were high. From the point of view of the stages the competitors were now back in the lanes with hedges and fields replacing the cliffs and open spaces of the day before and it took only a couple of competitive sections before somebody was caught out. Ian Gemmell, pressing hard to gain his lead back off Eyre-Maunsell, misjudged a downhill right-hander and spun into a bridge parapet altering the shape of the car quite drastically. Undaunted and only 50 yards from the finish line he reversed across it, clocked a time and set about tidying the remains in order to finish the rally.

The real meat of this section came in the 18 mile stage at Moan Vaun. Long and fast, the stage was terribly punishing on brakes and suspension. Jack Tordoff‘s Carrera was the first to experience total brake fade, a problem which recurred for the rest of the event and Gerry Forde reported similar problems. Even Cahal Curley said that his were giving trouble. not that it seemed to slow him down at all. Geoff Shepherd’s Alpine threw a rod. Nick Lindsay rolled his RS2000 and Russell Brookes, now fighting to keep the lead in his class, spun and hit a bridge reducing his fuel tank capacity to a mere three gallons. Dessie Nutt in the leading Mini had a wheel fall off and drove for six minutes using the limited-slip diff, and the two French girls spun and crossed the line backwards. Those who survived without incident breathed a sigh of relief and went on to the next stage.

Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer on the Slea Head Special SAtage on Easter Sunday.
Photo Auto Ireland

With supper in sight, the rally ended for David Lindsay, his RS1700 leaving the road on the final stage before Kilkenny. Brian Nelson, following hard behind, spun off avoiding him but managed to regain the road, and Billy Coleman suffered yet another blow when, having caught Ronnie McCartney, one of his tyres punctured and he was forced to slow down. Curley had further increased his lead to eight and a half minutes and only now admitted that he might ease off. The others wondered what the long night would bring.

From Kilkenny the route ran North and back into the mountains, this time with the infamous Sally Gap stage to run. David Agnew was praying that his suspension would last the distance and Clive Hoker was putting enough oil into his engine at the start of every stage to keep the Arabs in business for years. Others were nursing their cars towards the finish treating every yump and bend with caution. Out in front Curley had indeed eased off, Boyd cracked a manifold and was losing water and it looked as though Coleman was going to get second place after all.

McCartney was still there as steady as ever, just holding on. Then Billy‘s luck struck again. The dashboard fell into his lap mid-stage knocking the cutout switch off in the process. Total darkness ensued and a minute was lost while the matter was put to rights.

Will Sparrow and Rodney Spokes were leaders in Group 1 from the start.
Photo Esler Crawford.

The cars headed west and then North and, as dawn broke and the final night ended they crossed the border back into the north. Derek Boyd parked his car by the side of the road when the engine started to play up and brother Adrian was back in trouble again with a fuel starvation problem that seemed to be caused by dirty petrol. The Wood BDA refused to rev causing some very nasty moments mid-stage. With four stages to go to the finish Agnew‘s BMW cried enough, the wheels and struts almost dropping off with the strain.

It was a sad blow leaving Tordoff firmly established in fifth place with the battle for second still raging over the last few miles. Further down Paul Martin had to change a diff in order to complete the final miles and Charlie Wood was having problems with brakes before he ran out of fuel on a stage and had to coast over the line. Sue Sinclair, after a day and a night of breaking throttle cables, finally solved the problems and was finishing strongly to take the ladies‘ prize while Russell Brookes and Bertie Fisher were still neck and neck for the class.

It would be a long trip home from Killarney for Norman Thompson and Herbertr marshall after damaging the car on the Sunday Run in a relatively minor “off”, forcing retirement. Photo Esler Crawford.

The final stage on a rally is normally fairly uneventful. Perhaps we should have known better in Ireland. Laid on for the spectators, for whom it was great value, the final stage ran through a forest down to the park in Newcastle and directly into the finish. It was a neat piece of route planning and good public relations, but with the drivers so used to tarmac, it wasn’t popular with them. The most embarrassed man of all was forestry expert Erik Aaby. He was caught by an uphill right-hander into darkness with a resulting bent front wing, and he wasn’t the only one. John Haugland caught the same tree on the same bend and pushed in a headlight while Russell Brookes, being one who never does things by halves, shortened the Mexico by about six inches and crossed the finish line in a cloud of steam. Joe Pat O’Kane removed one wheel of his Porsche with that same tree and crossed the finish line with his co-driver sat on the bonnet to balance the weight, and Fred Wadsworth finished an already rather fraught event with the gearbox almost falling off. It was an incredible end to an incredible rally.

Now it was all over bar the celebrating. McCartney had held second place, just, and Coleman really deserved his third. Boyd had fought his way as high as fourth but could make no further ground and Jack Tordoff was well pleased with fifth overall in a road car. But what of Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer, the pair who had tried so often and this time finally made it?

They had driven a well-judged and fast rally, showing just why they are one of the most highly regarded teams in Ireland and just why their victory was one of the most popular ever. It was a fine demonstration of how to rally on tarmac and we look forward to seeing a repeat in Donegal where Cahal will have to find another co-driver since Austin is Clerk of the Course.

For those English and Continental crews who had made the effort to come over, the rally had been a great success. The event had lived up to all expectations and the fears had all been for nought. Many intend to return next year and many intend to go to Donegal in June. For our own part, we can’t wait to get back but more than that we would like to see more of the Irish crews over here on the loose. They could learn something about a different driving technique and teach us something of a most refreshing attitude to the sport.

1974 Circuit of Ireland Rally – General Classification

  1. C.Curley/A.Frazer (Porsche Carrera RS) 51m 51s;
  2. R.McCartney/P.Scott (Porsche Carrera RS) 57m 03s;
  3. B.Coleman/P.Whyte (Ford Escort 1998 BDA) 57m 545s;
  4. A.Boyd/B.Crawford (Ford Escort 2000 BDA) 62m 38s;
  5. J.Tordoff/P.Short (Porsche Carrera RS) 67m 27s;
  6. G.Forde/P.Phelan (Porsche Carrera RS) 70m 48s;
  7. B.Nelson/D.Gillespie (BMW 2002) 73m 02s;
  8. J.Tansey/R.Ingles (Porsche Carrera RS) 74m 14s;
  9. O.Hadden/C.McCall (Porsche Carrera RS)75m 32s;
  10. E.Aaby/B.Lie (Opel Ascona 1900 SR)75m 48s;
  11. W.Sparrow/R.Spokes (Vauxhall Magnum) 77m 58s;
  12. B.Fisher/T.Anderson (Escort RS2000) 85m 03s;
  13. R.Brookes/S.Gray (Escort Mexico) 85m 31s;
  14. C.Holker/J.Coulthard (Escort T/C) 85m 43s;
  15. J.P.O’Kane/T.Tennant (Porsche Carrera ) 86m 29s;
  16. P.Barrett/S.McCanny (Escort RS) 90m 11s;
  17. E.Cotter/M.Healy (Escort RS) 90m 20s;
  18. J.Haughland/A.Antonsen (Skoda S120S) 91m 22s;
  19. H.O’Brien/E.O’Hagan (Escort T/C) 92m 31s;
  20. R.Eyre-Maunsell/N.Wilson (Avenger GT) 96m 04s.

Group 1 (Production Touring Cars): up to 1150cc:
1, R. Craigle/R. McAllister (Fiat 128 Coupe), 137m 00s;
2, T. Noble/J. Robinson (Fiat 128 Coupe), 143m 26s;
3, T. Lawther/H. Brown (Fiat 127), 146m 02s.

1, R. Eyre-Ma-unsell/N. Wilson (Avenger GT), 96m 04s;
2, J. Gemmell/I. Knox (Avenger GT) 105m 22s;
3, R. Neely/R. Kernaghan (Avenger GT), 114m 12s.

1, B. Fisher/T. Anderson (Ford RS2000), 85m 03s;
2, R. Brookes/S. Gray (Ford Mexico), 85m 31s;
3, E. Cotter/M. Healy (Ford RS2000), 90m 20s.

Over 2000cc:
1, W. Sparrow/R. Spokes (Vauxhall Magnum Coupe), 77m 58s;
2, T. Forsyth/M. Pedlow (Triumph 2.5 Pl), 155m 40s;
3, Miss I. Neely/ Miss R. Farrell (Mazda RX2), 179m 57s.

Group 2 (Special Touring Cars): up to 1300cc:
1, J. Haughland/A. Antonsen (Skoda S1208) 91m 22s;
2, D. Nutt/J. White (Mini-Cooper S) 120m 36s;
3, I. Tannahill/F. Gallagher (Mini-Cooper S), 124m 19s.

1, C. Holker/J. Coulthard (Ford Escort T/C), 85m 43s;
2, H. O’Brien/E. O’Hagan (Ford Escort T/C), 92m 31s;
3, D. Fitzgerald/S. Hawkins (Ford Escort T/C), 107m 45s.

1501-2000cc: 1, W. Coleman/L. Whyte (Ford Escort RS), 57m 55s;
2, A. Boyd/B. Crawford (Ford Escort RS), 62m 38s;
3, B. Nelson/D. Gillespie (BMW 2002), 73m 02s.

Over 2000cc:
1, K. Shields/P. Lyster (Vauxhall Viva), 101m 51s;
2, G. Britton/K. O’Donoghue (Vauxhall Magnum), 115m 07s;
3, D. Bradley/P. Gleeson (Vauxhall Viva), 139m 45s.

Groups 3 and 4 (Grand Touring Cars): up to 1500cc:
1, Miss A. M. Pedelahore/Miss D. Minier (Alpine 1600), 172m 06s.

Over 1500cc:
1, C. Curley/A. Frazer (Porsche Carrera), 51m 51s;
2, R. McCartney/P. Scott (Porsche Carrera), 57m 03s;
3, J. Tordoff/P. Short (Porsche Carrera), 67m 27s.

Special Awards:
Group One Category: 1, W. Sparrow; 2, B. Fisher; 3, R. Brookes.
Ford of Cork Bonus Awards: 1, W. Coleman; 2, E. Cotter; 3, D. Fitzgerald.
Castlereagh Trophy: W. Coleman.
H. A. Bryson Trophy: R. McCartney.
Oonagh Reid Trophy: J. Tordoff.
Autosport Trophy: C. Curley.
Killarney Trophy: C. Curley.
Novices Trophy: J. Tansey/R. Inglis (Porsche Carrera).
O’Connor-Rourke Trophy (Ladies Award): Miss S. Sinclair/Miss P. Thompson (Opel Ascona).
Paddy Hopkirk Trophy: Miss A. M. Pedeiahore.
Knockmanny Trophy: C. Holker.

Team Awards:
Manufacturers’ Teams:
1, Porsche (Curley, Tordoff, McCartney);
2, Porsche (Forde, Tansey, O’Kane).

Ecurie Team:
1, Porsche (McCartney, Forde, O’Kane).

Club Team:
1, Dungannon Motor Club (R.Burrows, F.Ward. S.Corkey).