29 Mar: 1980 Snowman Rally report

… The Ladbroke Mercury Motor Inn Snowman Rally, 16th Feb, 1980 …

The No-Snow Snowman …

It was cold outside, the clouds were gathering and the sun had a touch of redness about it as it set. He fell asleep with one eye open aimed at the window and the butterflies in his stomach were wearing snowshoes. In the morning he woke to ice frosted windows and a white sky, he scrambled out of bed to the window and looked out, his stomach still on the bed such was his rush, his fears were founded. The ground was white, the trees were white, the grass was white and the waiting cars shrouded like a funeral parlour waiting room.

But wait a minute, the white wasn’t deep, it was only frost and there was life in the car park. First the red and blue Escort barked into life, then the blue and yellow Chevette followed by the deep rumble of 8 cylinders coughing much needed heat into the still deep-freeze air. “Ya beezer”, he cried, for ‘he’ was the driver and navigator, the organiser and marshal, the service crew and spectator – this year’s Snowman Rally would go ahead as planned without the spirit dampening white stuff of two years past, and everyone heaved a steamy sigh of relief into the cold dead air.

Prior to the rally, Wee Donald was the unknown quantity, but now no longer unknown. He is still in sparkling form and proved it with a string of 19 fastest times out of 22 stages sharing one with Big Drew and letting him have one more. But on the last stage, ‘Surprise, Surprise’ it was Ian Wilson who took the last FTD. As Big Drew said at the end without any prompting: “Wee Donald’s the man to beat this year”.

The route followed the traditional format of a double run up and down the Great Glen, with the newly introduced Spectator Stage at Dochfour Estate kindly arranged by factor, one Piers Clerk, just outside Inverness and attracted vast numbers of the local populace, especially second time through. The early stages started off icy and slippery with banks of snow lining them in parts on high ground but as the cars worked their way towards Fort Willie, the rain came down and softened things up, so that on the way back, some of the stages cut up really rough.

Donald sailed off into the wild white yonder and had no problems throughout the day, the car sounding crisp and going very well but all was not laughter and light in the opposition camp. During the day Drew gradually improved the Chevette by changing the roll bar and adjusting the brakes but then seven stages from the end he bent the steering rack. However the lad wasn’t too downhearted and undoubtedly the car will get quicker during the year, but Ian Wilson had no problems apart from unfamiliarity with the new 2 litre Sunbeam as he managed to knock off the battery master switch and spent 20 seconds wondering what the hell he had done, and then on the last stage he knocked off the light switch – and he still set fastest time. There’s a moral there somewhere! He also punctured on Stage 21, a problem that beset many crews throughout the day.

In 4th place was Mike Hibbert making a welcome return to the sport, starting off steadily and getting quicker as the adrenalin started flowing through the cobwebs. On SS13 the head gasket started to blow and by the finish the engine was “farting and banging”. Dom Buckley had his newly rebuilt Escort out but complained more about the price of sandwiches at Fort Willie than the fact that he lost his brakes in Inchnacardoch when a brake pipe came loose and wee George spent the last six stages taking the co-driver’s seat for a walkabout when it came adrift in the in the car.

Vince Finlayson has improved his Sunbeam over the winter months and only reported a light off on Port Clair, but wasn’t Walter McDonald going well in the ex-Malcolm Wilson car, his rather lowly 7th overall a legacy of road penalties.

First Division 2 driver home was Wilson Girvan despite spinning on his home  stage when a rear brake disc came off and he did the last 6 miles with three wheel braking but he’s quite enjoying the power of his new ex-Porter Chevette compared with the old nail Escort he had last year. Bill Hynd was ninth and David MacDonald brought the Toyota home into tenth place after a fairly trouble free run.

Ken Wood failed to finish when the oil pressure on the TR7 V8 sagged on the last stage before half way, but on opening the engine no real damage has been found, but by golly he was going well, as he would have been 3rd overall at this point if his times had been counted. David Gillanders rolled his car gently on SS3 although a willing band of spectators put the car back on its feet within seconds, but the damage was done as he retired in the afternoon when the engine started smoking badly. Jim Ingleby’s new Jeep is still with HM’s Customs so the Escort was quickly refettled the night before the enabling him to spin on the first corner of the first stage but he did better on SS12 when he almost rolled it into the mountain at the same place he destroyed his car 3 years ago – some folk never learn!

Robin Christie had a wonderful time with water in his petrol, and the petrol pump jammed, but this was cured using swear words etc. And then on SS12 he met a minibus full of mountaineers coming down the stage towards him but narrowly avoided them by taking to the ditch with bootfulls of power and kept going. Roy McQueen had the oil filter blow out of its seal but managed to buy a gallon of GTX from a Forestry worker to keep going (where would we be without the Forestry Commission?) and then later on the gearbox started to break up but still managed to enjoy himself. David Fulton had a fairly trouble free run in his new Sunbeam but Alastair McSkimming was lulled into a false sense of security as all his problems came in the second half, a rear suspension link broke and by the end of the rally his axle tube had parted company from the diff housing.

Dougie “the car is pure m-m-magic – once I learned to drive it” Riach has swapped his Sunbeam for an Escort, and seemed to spin all his way to the Fort, but in the afternoon went well until they stopped at the chip shop in Inverness and the starter motor fell on the road. Hugh Munro had a spin on the first stage and then an off on SS12 which robbed him of his lights – and then it got dark! Bill Birnie has a new paint job (at least the car has) and was scared to damage it but that didn’t prevent the clutch cylinder falling out at the start and then went on to break a rear suspension link. Douglas Hardie had 4 punctures and reckons Kielder is smoother but Mike Mitchell had other problems when on the second last stage he heard a loud bang and thought the lights had come off and were trailing under the car, but no such luck, it was a con-rod making a bid for freedom!

John Parker set the day off well with a spin on the first stage and then spent the day spinning at almost every other hairpin, but he’s got the idea now, and Hamish Grant was OK until he went off on SS7 and then two stages later the sump plug came out immediately followed by its contents. Dave Findlay’s Chevette blew its head gasket in the first half and poor Ian Mac Donald was going well until the first corner of the first stage when the clutch exploded and Jim Aitken’s Irish bred Avenger destroyed its steering rack on SS13. Jerry Pursley took the ‘Man of the Rally’ award after making it to the end despite 6 punctures. Maybe he should try some hand cut steel rims.

Top Ten:

1, Donald Heggie/Ian Mungall (Ford Escort) 80m 54s

2, Drew Gallacher/John Eyres (Vauxhall Chevette) 82m 41s

3, Ian Wilson/Paul Mason (Talbot Sunbeam) 85m 09s

4, Mike Hibbert/Kenneth Richardson (Ford escort) 85m 46s

5, Dominic Buckley/George Blackie (Ford Escort) 86m 06s

6, Vince Finlayson/Nicholas Jack (Talbot Sunbeam) 86m 30s

7, Walter MacDonald/?? (Ford Escort) 86m 41s

8, Wilson Girvan/Robert Wilson (Vauxhall Chevette) 86m 58s

9, Bill Hynd/Bill McDonald (Ford Escort) 87m 18s

10, David MacDonald/?? (Toyota Corolla)


With regard to the final results above, I think Gordon Hood may well have been with Walter McDonald and Ian MacIvor with Dave MacDonald – unless anyone out there knows different and for sure? Any other historic info always welcome!

Email: johnfife@blueyonder.co.uk