1975 Bushwhacker

Ronnie McCartney and Mike Hart were winners of the first Bushwhacker Rally.

The following report appeared in Autosport on August 28 1975.


The yellow Porsche Carrera stood motionless at the side of the narrow road, its rear end propped up on axle stands. Beside it stood a gaily painted Mazda pickup and a handful of worried looking people. A pair of overalled legs protruding from under the back of the car signified that all was not well…as in the way in which the helmeted co-driver looked at his watch every few seconds. Simultaneously, and with an odd combination of sounds, a purple Porsche Carrera bearing the number 10 and a herd of cows appeared in opposite directions. In the ensuing confusion the the driver of the yellow car called over “hey Joe have you got a…” the rest of the question was lost in a frenzy of mooing but the bespectacled driver of car number 10 seemed to know what was required. Reaching into the glove compartment he produced a small piece of bakelite, handed it over and roared off. Minutes later the yellow Porsche followed him, now with a clutch that worked.

Joe Pat 0’Kane had just assured Ronnie McCartney of a win on the Bushwhacker.

The Bushwhacker is a newcomer in the ever increasing list of Irish tarmac rallies. Run as a National event by Omagh MC and sponsored by Duckhams it effectively replaces the Texaco as the “other” tarmac rally run from Ulster in l975. While the circumstances surrounding Omagh’s acquisition of a much coveted road closing order have been the subject of much discussion they have no place in this report. Suffice to say that the Bushwhacker was a well run and enjoyable event, with no more warts than can reasonably be expected on a brand new rally.

The 120 strong entry was of high quality with all the names who matter in Ulster plus a few from South of the border and across the Irish sea. Heading the list was the Autofarm Porsche Carrera of Jan Churchill which according to the programme was to have been shared with Cahal Curley. The day before the start however both drivers decided that the pairing was not a good idea and a swop was arranged with Phil Coulter whose Carrera was running at number 26. Coulter’s co-driver Drexel Gillespie would move in with Churchill while CB would go along with Phil to give him the benefit of his Carrera driving experience.

Wearing number two was the Boyd Alpine looking rather less immaculate than usual after Adrian had attempted to drive it into his kitchen when the throttle stuck open as he arrived outside his house. The house was rather more substantial than the Alpine which started the rally with front suspension an inch and a half out of line and handling which co-driver Main described as extremely “turdeaceous.”

The McCartney brothers featured next. Dessie and his ex-Gierowski Carrera (now converted to RHD) at three with Terry Harryman beside him. Ronnie, at four, had the car driven by Dessie on previous events with Mike Hart co-driving. David Agnew and Robert Harkness were at five with the foremost LHD Camera while number six should have been the property of John Tansey and Ray Inglis with their similar car. For the umpteenth time this year however they non-started.

Ronnie McCartney and Mike Hart in one of the family Porsches.

Brian Nelson made his return to the fray at seven with an immaculately rebuilt BMW 2002. Peter Scott was telling him which way to go while at eight was the ex-Derek Boyd Ford France Escort RS in the hands of its new owner, Omagh veterinary surgeon Hugh O’Brien assisted by Eamonn O’Hagan. Two more Carreras completed the top ten – Jimmy Stewart’s ex-Fred Patterson example and Joe Pat O’Kane’s consistently successful ex-Curley car.

The start at Omagh Showgrounds was at lunchtime on Friday and was a pretty low key affair, spectators being conspicuous by their absence. But there were surprisingly few non-starters and a marked lack of last minute dramas. The first stage was Clanabogan, a fast two mile run along a section of bypassed main road just outside the town. Spectators flocked there in their hundreds, some even being seen viewing from inside a telephone box right at the edge of the stage.

Ron Neely had the doubtful distinction of being the first retirement when his Tuborg Mini digested itself all over the road while Ronnie McCartney started out as he meant to go on by taking two seconds off his closest pursuer who was, predictably, Brother Dessie. Local man O’Brien was a further two seconds adrift just pipping Pat Barrett, another local but now living on the Isle of Man, with an Escort RS.

The second stage, Brookhill, saw the McCartneys again well clear of all-comers although there was some confusion initially when Dessie Nutt was credited with a faster time than either of them with his Vauxhall Magnum. It later transpired that he had missed a junction and cut off the whole loop of the stage but a rather sheepish looking Nutt kept quiet about it until a blown head-gasket forced him out of the rally the following day.

Ashley Armstrong retired his Auto-Extra BMW here with yet another blown engine (shades of Donegal) while Boyd moved into the top half dozen for the first time, the car now handling, according to Frank Main, like a “berserk banana.” O’Brian managed to split the McCartney duo on Syonfin but Ronnie continued to pull away and would have increased his lead still further on SS 4, the Brickyard, but for an errant finish watch which caused the cancellation of the stage. MGB V8 crew Ian McKean and Donald Grieve fell foul of clutch bothers here while most of the faster people were complaining of brake troubles on this very stop-go stage. Churchill was already in trouble the Autofarm Carrera shedding its accelerator pedal with monotonous regularity. He dropped four minutes in the opening stages because of this.

Other people in trouble included the Group 1 Vauxhall driver James McDaid who had managed the first of several accidents he was to have during the event, and John McAlorum whose ex-Agnew lightweight BMW had broken its gear lever mounting. John himself was suffering from a ‘bug’ which made rapid progress through the stages imperative on occasions; while co-driver Paul Phelan was seen trying to borrow a pair of bicycle clips!

By contrast the car’s previous owner was having a very smooth run with his Carrera and had moved quietly into a secure looking third place behind the ‘you know whos’. Over the next three stages, Dessie McCartney, having briefly tried narrow racers on his “F1” winged Carrera, took the initiative and made fastest time from Ronnie. His efforts were aided somewhat by Ronnie having to drive two stages without a clutch after the cable broke. Were it not for the help of Joe Pat O’Kane, the rally would have been Dessie’s there and then.

Evishbrack, the seventh stage, saw one bend catch most of the later runners out. A total of 30 cars visiting the same field during the afternoon. At one time there were eight of them all trying to find a way out. Hugh O’Brian had worked the Boyd Escort up to fourth place behind the three leading Porsches but the clutch was refusing to clear on occasions which was causing a few anxious moments. Brian Nelson was in fifth place with the BMW in spite of persistent braking problems, but a seizing front strut did the handling no good at all and towards the end of the day the car became very difficult to drive. Stages nine and 10, Barnes Gap and the Butterlope, saw Ronnie McCartney back in form with an operational clutch once more, while on the final stage of the day, the very fast Gortin Glen, he demoralized all the opposition to give himself an almost unassailable lead. Gortin also saw O’Brien drop two minutes sorting out an excursion, so that at the end of the day the order was Ronnie McCartney, Dessie McCartney, David Agnew, Adrian Boyd, Joe Pat O’Kane and Brian Nelson.

Back among the Group 1 heroes, Bertie Fisher was not having things all his own way for once. The cylinder block of his ex-Brookes RS2000 was replaced after Donegal and it does not now appear to have quite the same steam as before. Bertie was fighting off a strong challenge from Jimmy Logan’s similar car while Scotsman Ron Smith had worked his Dolomite Sprint up to third. Friday had been a day of somewhat reluctant sunshine, but Saturday provided very enthusiastic rain. Spirits already dull after the excesses of the night
before. were rendered ever more dull by the sight of what appeared to be a cloud base of around 1O feet.

Ronnie McCartney was fastest on the first stage, the quaintly named “Mary Grey”, but Dessie was not so happy, with a broken rear subframe on his white Carrera which was demanding extra care and attention on the bumpy bits. Fred Patterson went out during the morning after a heavy landing in his ex-Curley Carrera, while Brian Nelson, having replaced his seized strut immediately after the restart, found his tyres entirely wrong for the conditions and slithered around very unhappily all morning. Mervyn Johnston, making a welcome return to rallying with yet another Mini, suffered a broken valve after reaching the dizzy heights of seventh place during the morning.

Nothing daunted. he and Austin Frazer set to changing the offending valve before and after the lunch break. The lunch control was at Castlederg where Dessie McCartney’s service crew tried welding a rear subframe but this provided only a temporary respite, for one stage later it was misbehaving again. After SS 17, Whitehouse, the order was still McCartneys R and D, Agnew, but behind them Boyd was having to work hard to hold off a whole bunch of hard triers, each of whom was determined to be fourth. Joe Pat O’Kane just had the advantage over Churchill who in turn was fighting off a very hairy O‘Brien, while Jimmy Stewart’s Porsche was also within striking distance.

But a stage later it all changed. Agnew was caught out by a right over crest and the Porsche became stuck nose down in the ditch with the tail out in the road. O’Brien came along and got through safely but the next one along was Stewart who found himself faced with the choice of hitting Agnew’s car or David himself. Stewart chose the Porsche and suddenly there were two Carreras in the ditch. All this moved Boyd up to third while the same stage saw Churchill finally overtake O’Kane to claim fourth.

Agnew’s bend claimed several other people during the afternoon, most notable being Dicky Whittley and Lenny Weir, whose Avenger threw away a comfortable class win and plunged into the hole left by the two Porsches just moments after they had been extracted. A stage later Nelson went missing, a piston having given up the ghost, and with only three stages remaining things looked very settled. The only man who really had to work hard was Boyd, for Churchill now had the bit between his teeth and a series of fastest times proved he was really trying.

Ronnie McCartney was a most popular winner of the inaugural Bushwhacker Rally

Those last three stages passed more or less without incident. Ronnie McCartney was fastest on the first, O’Brien on the second, and Churchill on the third. The last stage also saw the last retirement when McDaid’s Magnum had the accident it had been working up to all weekend after a brake pipe burst. Four rolls later McDaid did not have a Magnum anymore, although he emerged from the wreckage unhurt. The only other changes in order were when O’Brien finally got past O’Kane to make fifth place, while Ron Smith’s Dolomite passed Barrett’s ailing Escort to take tenth. Ronnie McCartney emerged a very popular winner having proved that he is still a driver to be reckoned with. Omagh MC have proved to the satisfaction of most people that they are very capable of running a tarmac rally, the only criticism that emerged during the event concerning the arrowing of the stages.

For those who are wondering what became of Phil Coulter and Cahal Curley, Phil showed that he is taking his rallying seriously with a smooth and sensible drive to 19th overall, his expert co-driver keeping up a steady flow of advice on the stages. 19th place in only your fourth rally is good, but then where else would a successful songwriter expect to go but into the top twenty!

Richard St. John Young


  1. Ronnie McCartney / Mike Hart (Porsche Carrera) 154.50
  2. Dessie McCartney / Terry Harryman (Porsche Carrera) 157.54
  3. Adrian Boyd / Frank Main (Renault Alpine) 160.57
  4. Jan Churchill / Drexel Gillespie (Porsche Carrera) 161.14
  5. Hugh O’Brien / Eamonn O’Hagan (Escort RS) 161.20
  6. Joe Pat O’Kane / Roy Sloan (Porsche Carrera) 163.13
  7. Bertie Fisher / Derek Smyth (Escort RS2000 G1) 165.33
  8. Robin Lyons / John Lyons (Escort RS1600) 167.01
  9. John McAlorum / Paul Phelan (BMW 2002) 167.25
  10. Ron Smith / D. Smith (Dolomite Sprint) 168.07