1970 “Circuit” Reflections

Robert McBurney and his BMW are all "go" at Gortnagane. Robert was the best placed Irish driver after a tremendous drive.

Article reproduced from Motorweek April 11, 1970.  Report by Richard St. John Young and pictures by Esler Crawford.

Images and OCR Text scans cleaned up by Derek Smyth.

In last week’s issue, we gave a rather brief rundown on what happened on this year’s “Circuit,” so this week,  just to make up, we’ll go into a little more detail.  Lurid tales of derring-do are coming in all the time, and will probably continue to do so for a good while yet, but the hero of the event in our book was Adrian Boyd, whose exploits are described in a fair amount of detail elsewhere in this issue.

Comber man Dennis McKeag was very rapid at Strangford, but head gasket troubles stopped him from getting very far.

As is usual with the “Circuit,” there were surprises galore, and one of the biggest was the way Barry Lee went in his more or less privately entered Ford Escort TC.  Barry was using an 1800cc twin cam unit, and while this was obviously rather lacking in poke beside Roger Clark’s BDA beastie, it proved quite hairy enough to put him in a sound second place for most of the event, and it was only the cruellest misfortune that put him out in the closing stages with a broken crankshaft.  Unlucky, too, were Ulster Rally Champions Cahal Curley and Austin Frazer, who had the misfortune to break a throttle cable on the very first special section (where quite a lot happened incidentally), and struggled to the finish with Cahal working the throttle, while Austin did the driving. It must have been an exciting ride!  From there on they went very well, and had worked their way back up among the leaders by Monday night when a cracked block put them out of the running at Killadeas.

The early stages saw many of the leaders disappear from the scene, poor Ronnie White continued his run of evil luck with a blown head gasket on SS2, while Ronnie McCartney had severe bothers with his car a stage later, thus reducing the Mini contingent quite considerably.

Will Sparrow and Nigel Raeburn didn’t have a very good time in the gaily coloured Uniroyal Mini.

Will Sparrow, too, with the much vaunted Uniroyal Mini was out of the hunt by breakfast time, and it was left to Noel Smith’s Wolseley Hornet, and the rapid Mins of Brian Boyd (who went surprisingly quickly in the ex- Adrian Boyd car) and Mervyn Johnston to keep the British Leyland flag flying.

The Swedish visitors were, of course having a ball, the most impressive of them being the Opel Kadetts of Jan Eriksson, and Anders Kullang, both of whom were well in the hunt in the early stages, as was the hairily driven Saab of Lasse Jonsson.  Unfortunately Jerry Larsson, who was reckoned to be a real threat to Roger Clark with his semi-works Porsche, non-started, as did several other visitors, but there were still quite enough of them to keep everybody happy, and their methods of getting round some corners will keep spectators talking for weeks to come.

Robin Eyre-Maunsell’s sideways Imp bears scars of his roll on Friday night. He retied on Saturday with gearbox failure.

The BMW challenge was a strong one, too, with local cars from Robert McBurney and Reggie McSpadden, ranged against the Autoextra entries for Roy Fidler and John Bloxham. There were also a couple of 2002s from Sweden. Poor Reggie McSpadden suffered slightly from the last minute rush to prepare his car and it was out with what could probably be called “teething troubles” within the first couple of hours.  The other three, however, ran very well and while Roy Fidler had propshaft troubles on the Sunday run and retired when well placed, McBurney and Bloxham both went like the proverbial bombs and Bloxham in particular, was very impressive on the final night in Donegal.

Class 2 winners Norman Thompson and Eddie Magee lift a wheel at Gortnagane on Saturday.


The first stage, from Bangor to Blessington. turned out to be an Adrian Boyd benefit and were it not for his unfortunate excursion at Altnamackin and the resultant loss of time, he would surely have been leading at breakfast time, for he was fastest on the first third, fourth and fifth sections and again on the seventh, eighth and ninth, while Curley, Clark and Lee were also very well placed. Henriksson and Kullang also made a couple of appearances in the top half dozen but were still getting used to tarmac at that

The ill-fated Renault Gordini of Pat Fay clocks in at a control.

From Blessington to Killarney, the Swedes took over, and Kullang, in particular, was very rapid, while Clark and Curley also went extremely well, as, of course, did Boyd.  On the Sunday run, however, Kullang retired with piston trouble, while Fid1er’s BMW made a brief appearance on the leaderboard on one section, only to drop out a couple of miles further on. Chris Sclater, too, was going very rapidly with the JC Withers Escort TC.

Monday morning saw the demise of BMC hopes when Noel Smith’s WolseleyHornet took ill after the first couple of stages to retire with gearbox troubles, while other retirements included Charlie Gunn’s Escort TC.  Smith’s retirement was most unfortunate, for he had inherited fourth place in the ex-racing Hornet, and was motoring very steadily.  The other ex-racing Mini, that of John Bridges, was also in trouble with the gearbox but was pressing on, also well placed.

Brian Mitchell drove a steady rally to finish third in Class 3 with his Escort GT

Clark was the master of Monday, although Sclater, Lee and Bloxham all managed to push pretty hard, while on Monday night, through Donegal Bloxham really went motoring in the BMW and had the fastest time on several stages.

If things were interesting at the top, however, there was a lot of very hard motoring going on among the lower numbers as well, with class battles very much to the fore.  Norman Thompson had Class 2 for 901- 1150 Group One cars well in hand with his Sunbeam Imp Sport right from the start, although Crawford Harkness pushed him hard in places with his Fiat 850. The 1300cc Group One class was originally led by Pat Fay’s Renault Gordini, but a nasty accident with a non-competing car in Donegal put Fay well and truly “out” and Arnie Poole who had been pushing him at the time took over to win from the well-driven Escort GTs of Billy Ferguson and Brian Mitchell.  Jim McCosh had his Lotus Cortina well in front in the big Group One class, but Class 5, for big Group 2s, saw some very close scrapping, the initial leaders being Kullang and Danielson in their Opel Kadetts before Robert McBurney got really going in the BMW.  Robert was in front at Larne, by which time, of course, Kullang had retired.

Crawford Harkness takes his Fiat 850 through Coan. His rally ended with a wrong slot and resultant loss of time.

The initial leader of Class 6, Phil Cooper, had a nasty shunt in his Cooper on Saturday afternoon, and this class then became a tussle between the Coopers of Brian Boyd and Mervyn Johnston.  Boyd was eliminated by one of those annoying electrical things that always seem to happen at the wrong time, and the Class eventually went to Johnston by a fairly safe margin from Harry Cathcart.

Arnie Poole’s Mini took the 1300cc Group One Class.

Eventual second placed driver  Chris Sclater took the honours in Class 7, from Henriksson’s Opel, while Ken Shields did a heroic job with his clutchless MG Midget to take Class 8 from the Rallye Imps of Bill Pryor and Melanie Fitzgerald Smith.  Robert Eakin had the distinction of being the only finisher in Class 9 with his MGB.

The Gallaher Circuit of Ireland is now over for another year, and the 1971 event promises to be even bigger, and of course, better.  There were one or two organizational difficulties this year, and by all accounts, the public relations work in some areas could have been better, but the verdict of most competitors was “tremendous”, and the UAC have cause to be pleased with themselves on that score.


  1. R. Clark/J. Porter (Escort) 566.5
  2. C. Sclater/ P. Valentine (Escort) 733.7
  3. J. Henriksson/L. Carlström (Opel RK) 741.6
  4. R. McBurney/N. Smith (BMW2002) 786.1
  5. L. Jonsson/A. Quist (Saab) 830.9
  6. J. Bloxham/R. Harper (BMW2002) 873.5
  7. A. Boyd/B. Crawford (Escort) 878.5
  8. M. Dolan/J. O’Brien (Escort) 890.0
  9. A. Fowkes/J. O’Gorman (Cortina Lotus) 896.3
  10. B. Danielsson/S. Johansson (Opel RK) 932.5