1977 Cork 20

Once again, victory went to Corkmen Ger Buckley and John Caplice in their "Electrical and Pump Services" RS1800.

This report is reproduced from Motor Month Magazine, kindly provided by Malcolm Totten


Victory on your “home” rally is always sweet, but when that rally is an international success is that much sweeter. Corkmen Ger Buckley and John Caplice achieved both when they won the B&I International “Cork 20” International Rally in their Electrical and Pump Services Escort RS1800. This was the first year that the Cork 20 enjoyed its elevated status and after this year’s event, one wondered whether the decision to update it to International status was the correct one. At times the resources of the club seemed to be stretched beyond its limits, and unfortunately, two stages had to be cancelled due to the fact that there was an insufficient number of marshals available to seal off the stages.

There was intense speculation before the event regarding Billy Coleman. Rumour suggested that he would be driving a works Escort on loan for the event – which was on Henry Fords own doorstep. But after the passage of the first dozen cars on SS1, spectators realised that he was a non-starter. Porsche drivers Sean Campbell and Noel Smith did not start also due to domestic and mechanical bothers respectively. The marathon” crew of Mick and Anne O’Connell also failed to start in the RS1800.

Ger Buckley and John Caplice were pre-event favourites, but they were expected to be pressed hard by the Porsche “brigade”, led by Brian Nelson/Malcolm Neill and Derek Boyd/Terry Weir. Other leading Porsche drivers were Ken Shields/Peter Lyster, Geoff Crabtree/Tony McMahon, Steven Cox and Ian Corkill/Michael Byron. Apart from Buckley, the Ford challenge included Bertie Fisher/Austin Frazer in the Roy Cathcart RS1800 and Ronnie McCartney/Willie Moffett appeared in the ex Reg Mullenger RS1800 much to the relief of the Group one crews.

Clerk of the Course Leo White presented a very compact route, consisting of 26 stages 13 on each day. Most of the stages selected were very fast with long straights and spectators were entertained with plenty of high speed action. The first stage, Shippool, consisted of seven miles. Fastest here was Mal Stuart from Cardiff, with a time of just over six minutes. Unfortunately his rally ended on SS4, when he rolled heavily. Ian Corkill/Michael Byron had the dubious honour of being the first crew to retire. Their retirement was due to engine maladies on their Carrera.

James and Miriam Doherty, who were debuting their new Group One Avenger 2 litre, retired at the end of the first stage with a broken gearbox. James was using the close ratio gearbox from his 1600 Avenger. and it was unable to cope with the extra power of the 2 litre engine. Derek Boyd whose reputation has grown considerably since his excellent win on the Ulster Rally and who now is not just referred to as Adrian’s brother, had an uncustomary off at the first corner of SS2. and he too joined the growing list of retirements.

Bertie Fisher made a spectacular debut in an RS1800 with a well judged second place.

Bertie Fisher was very apprehensive at the start as to how he would perform in the Group four Escort. But, after a cautious start. he began to work his way up the leaderboard. and at the end of the first day was driving with the confidence of a veteran. Although he broke the throttle pedal twice during the day on his Escort these irritating delays only increased his resolve and he set fastest time on the last three stages of the day

Ronnie McCartney demonstrated his infinite ability by taking an early lead. After five stages he led Ger Buckley by ten seconds with Brian Nelson a further twelve seconds in arrears. He enthralled the crowds with his flamboyant sideways style. Luck. however was not on his side, for during the latter stages on the first day, the rear brakes on his
Escort failed completely and he was forced to ease off as a result.

Donie Keating along with some other drivers would rather forget the “Cork 20” for this year. He decided to use the ex Peter Thomson RS1800 in preference to his own Mk1 example. His tale of woe started on SS5 when the seat on his Escort broke away from its mountings and caused an uncomfortable few minutes. Then he retired shortly afterwards when the engine began to sound unhealthy, rather than risk something more expensive. Peter Thomson from Preston had a fraught moment on SS5 when the gear lever came out in his hand, and the resultant delay dropped him back two places. Denis Fitzgerald, who was making one of his rare stage outings in his RS1800, certainly demonstrated by his stage times that he was still a force to be reckoned with, and by Saturday evening was lying a comfortable fifth overall.

The longest stage of the rally was SS11, Ballinadee, which was 13.5 miles. Brian Nelson who was having a steady run in his Tuca Tiles Carrera, had a brake caliper seize on the approach to a fast right hander, and rolled several times before coming to rest on its side. Malcolm Neill suffered concussion for a short time, and Nelson himself lost the tip of his finger when it caught in the door, but was lucky to have it sewn back on in hospital.

Trying hard as usual was Malahide Ford dealer Richey Heeley in his Group One RS2000.

When the rally returned to Kinsale for the night halt, the leader was Ger Buckley on 5467, with Ronnie McCartney on 5496, Bertie Fisher 5559, Ken Shields (Porsche) 5632, Denis Fitzgerald 5660 and John Coyne (Avenger) 5730. John Coyne was the clear leader in Group one with three minutes to spare over Mick Dolan’s RS2000.

Ronnie McCartney did not restart on Sunday, for the head gasket had blown on his Escort and he had to retire. The struggle between Ger Buckley and Bertie Fisher grew in intensity and the bodywork on their cars suffered as a result. They both had “offs” but these did not seem to slow them at all. John Coyne, whose Avenger was not suitable for the fast stages due to its lack of power, relinquished a certain Group one victory and high overall placing, when he rolled out of the rally on SS20. The Group One lead was inherited by Mick Dolan and he in turn finished just nine seconds ahead of Vincent Bonner in the ex-James Hunt tour of Britain Magnum.

Ger Buckley and John Caplice returned to Kinsale to celebrate a victory which was the most satisfactory of all. Bertie Fisher drove with skill and maturity to bring the Lindsay Cars Escort home second overall. Denis Fitzgerald surprised everyone when he finished a fine third, while Ken Shields, whose service on his Porsche consisted of polishing it during the rally, was fourth. The amount of time and work which Leo White and his team contributed to organising the “Cork 20” was undoubtedly enormous, and so next year we hope that the rough edges will be smoothed out, and that their efforts will be rewarded with an improved event.


  1. G. Buckley/J. Caplice (Escort RS1800) 9970
  2. B. Fisher/A. Frazer (Escort RS1800) 10026
  3. D. Fitzgerald/P. Kavanagh (Escort RS1800) 10192
  4. K. Shields/P. Lyster (Porsche Carrera) 10196
  5. G. Crabtree/T. McMahon (Porsche Carrera) 10316
  6. P. Thomson/N. Condon (Escort RS1800) 10343
  7. S. Carr/M. Whale (Porsche Carrera) 10454
  8. B. Fagan/J. Kehoe (Escort RS1800) 10594
  9. M. Dolan/J. Stewart (Escort RS2000) 10675
  10. V. Bonner/M. Bonner (Vauxhall Magnum) 10684