There were some odd sights in Gatehouse of Fleet! All the residents of the Angel Hotel wore their trousers rolled up to the knee while at the other end of the High Street, in the Murray Arms Hotel, a party was in full swing and included one partial, impromptu strip while another inebriated lad went in search of his wife. He was later spotted zig-zagging down the street to his digs, arm in arm, with a tall, slender, curvaceous – hat-stand!
The locals could have been forgiven for thinking that the strong wind was blowing Irishmen across the Irish Sea, but the attraction was the annual, and traditional, end to the Scottish special stage rallying season, the Galloway Hills Rally.
There was a record 130 cars and crews for the ‘Mini International’ and all looking forward to its unique challenge. There were no hairpins in any of the 6 special stages, and the number of ‘square rights and lefts’ could almost be counted on the fingers of two hands in 38 miles of tests. But don’t run away with the idea that this event is a doddle, far from it, for it is positively littered with blind brows and really fast corners and curves. Much of it is top gear stuff and only for the brave – or the foolhardy!
With this in mind, the safe money was on newly crowned Esso Scottish Rally Champion, Murray Grierson in the ICI Films Opel Kadett 400, but the ‘favourite’ punters all lost their stake, for the rally winner provided a real upset to the form books. First time out in his new MG Metro 6R4, Donald Milne took his first forest stage rally victory by leading from start to finish – and this is only his first full season of special stage competition.
On the 8 mile Drumjohn test, it was Donald Milne/Neil Ewing who set the pace over the fearsome yumps with 9m 13s and already Murray Grierson/Alex Strathdee were 3 seconds adrift but at least they were a full 14 seconds up on the other 6R4 of Kenny Dorans/Allan Burgess in the Sharp/EMI/Ferguson car. Bill Lymburn was 4th fastest in the J L Morley Video Centre Escort RS, but even at this stage there were many crews in trouble.
Richard Wheeler was already concerned by a worrying transmission vibration in the Autoparts Escort, Pat Haley blew the head gasket in the Bully Inn Sunbeam, Bob Baird had the bonnet blow open in the Bickets Self Drive Escort and Scott McKnocher broke a TCA on the Sutherland Contractors Escort. Punctures were also quite common and slowed David Greer in the Carryduff Forklift 4×4 Mazda RX7, Brian Kinghorn’s Escort and David McKeown’s Ascona while Chris Wagner stopped for 4 minutes to replace a broken rotor arm in his Escort.
George Gass contested most of that test with a misfire in the Rosefield of Ayr/Castrol Opel Manta after fouling a plug on the road section, but John Gray had a plug come off the Ross of Lanark/Clydesdale Air Conditioning Nova. Ian Donaldson broke a plug lead in his Avenger, Jim Carrick broke his escort’s water pump and Gordon Main blew the head gasket in his Escort. Philip Young went one better putting the Sunbeam off near the stage finish, but managed to regain the road, although Raymond Mason was perhaps a shade luckier. He managed to reach the rally start on time, even after losing the rally car keys which had been left on the tow car spoiler!
The 5 miles of Glentrool was the twistiest stage of the rally, but it still featured fewer arrows than a retired Robin Hood. Milne stretched his lead by a further 12 seconds on 5m 30s compared with Grierson’s 5m 42s, but Dorans was only 2 seconds behind, ahead of Richard Wheeler/Ian Kimm in the Autoparts Escort. Bill Lymburn had been slowed by a badly vibrating prop shaft and this was promptly changed for the spare, which was even worse, and had to be changed back again for the final tests.
Both Greer and Gray punctured, while Donald Peacock had two in his Escort. Even ‘Thundersaloon’ racer, John Cleland was not immune in his borrowed Firenza and had to stop and change the damaged front wheel losing lots of time and bemoaning the fact that he got his nice gloves dirty through not having a GMDS Pit Crew at his disposal! Raymond Kirk cured his own Escort’s misfire with a washing machine belt – “The appliance of science” he claimed. Beatty slid off recording a Maximum with the Avenger, while Bob Graham went one better when he rolled his Escort although he managed to continue.
Allan McCleary had a rather different problem, for when the transfer gearbox in the City Car Parts 4×4 Quastra developed a leak on to the hot exhaust, the smell and fumes that filled the cockpit got so bad that the smoke was worse than fog. Gordon Currie also punctured in his Sunbeam and introduced his new co-driver and fiancee Susan McColm to the delights of wheel changing in the great outdoors, thanks to regular co-driver James Muir, who had inconsiderately broken his leg just a few days before.
With only one ‘square right’ in the whole of the 3.5 mile Black Loch, it hardly sounds worthwhile, but it is full of curves over blind brows while the last section winds along the side of a loch – it’s only flat for the brave. It was here that Grierson took his only fastest time of the day with a grush-spitting, totally committed 4m 18s, but Milne was a mere second behind. Bill Lymburn hung on to 3rd with 4m 31s, but young Stephen Finlay/Dessie Wilson in the ultra-smart Sydney Meeke Ford Orion were now on song just 3 seconds behind the elderly Escort. Dorans’ run came to an abrupt end in here when he failed to straighten up sufficiently after a top gear downhill sweeping left hander. He slid on to the yumpy little concrete bridge, striking the parapet and breaking a wheel, calliper and rear differential. Bob Baird broke both throttle cables but coasted to the finish, while MacKnocher broke a brake pipe. Both Archie McCallum in the Astra and Alan Candlish in the Sierra broke their exhausts, while Bill Brown did a little more damage in his new Escort – a con-rod made a bolt for freedom through the block.
Across the road, the southwards sweep of Cairn Edward caused many problems with the bright, but very low winter sun blinding the crews and yet the triers couldn’t afford to lift off over this ultra fast 5 miler. Milne continued to surprise the regulars with 5m 25s, but Grierson was only a gritty second behind, while Kevin O’Kane/Noel Alexander had suddenly woken up and the Sunbeam was 3rd fastest on 5m 40s., 6 seconds clear of Lymburn who was just a second up on Finlay. Both Greer and Baird spent time off the road, courtesy of the blinding light, Cleland had punctured again, but didn’t stop to change this time and David Witham also punctured in the JEM Engines/Chincia Fashions Escort.
At the start of the 9 mile Fleet stage, there is a 1.5 mile straight along an old railway embankment which separates the skilled and courageous from the daft and foolhardy. If ever the Metro’s superiority was most apparent, it was here. The car sped along the straight as undramatically as you please, while the top two wheel drive drivers mastered the sidestepping antics of their twitching steeds, absolutely flat out in top gear. Milne was quickest with 9m 17s while Grierson could only manage 9m 23s, but a full 12 seconds quicker than Finlay, with Lymburn’s boneshaker a game 1 second adrift. Ramon Ferreyros’ trip came to a sudden end after setting some top ten times along the way when the Sierra broke its differential, while Wheeler nearly came to grief at the end of the long straight where the road lurches left and down, across a stream and then up and over a crest. After his narrow escape, he eased up to conserve his top ten placing. Gass had a repeat of his earlier misfire, Kirk found his clutch starting to slip under the pressure and Baird’s points melted although the Escort spluttered to the finish. McKeown punctured again as did Martin Laverty in the Laverty TV Sunbeam, he was forced to stop and change the wheel, but Bob Astley suffered a worse fate. On the stage start line, just as the Marshal counted down and shouted “go!”, he went, but the clutch didn’t, and he was out of the rally.
There was only the short 4 mile version of Glengap left but even so, it has more than its fair share of ‘flat over brows’. Milne finished as he started, with fastest of 4m 56s, while Grierson’s 5m 05s was still 11 seconds quicker than Finlay and Lymburn tying on 5m 16s, 2 seconds clear of Greer. MacKnocher spent 30 seconds in a ditch, while Richard Cormack went off for a Maximum in his Escort, but Mark Jackson was just a mite luckier in the Kwikpart of Consett Escort. After tackling most of the stages without a starter motor, he plunged off the road on the final stage and the engine stalled. Luckily he had the presence of mind to try and bump start the car even as he ploughed through the undergrowth and was therefore able to regain the road and carry on. Not so fortunate was Ian Peake in the Saab, for when he went off following a puncture, the heavy car was stuck fast and he retired.
In the Classes, Nigel Worswick was top of Group A in 12th place o/a with the Nicolet Instruments Sierra and Mike Riddick took the 1600cc category in his Toyota Corolla. John Thompson was the close fought 1300 winner in his Astra, ahead of Donald Peacock and the Haining Motor Sport Suzuki Swift of Alistair Stewart while the ‘Open’ 1600 category went to Ken Graham in the Sunbeam ahead of Alastair Cunningham’s Escort. Grierson had already clinched the Serigraphics West of Scotland title and it was only the classes that were settled today.
So, Donald Milne took his first major rally win, first time out in his new car, but what made that achievement even more remarkable was the fact that, on the day before the rally, he miraculously walked away from an accident, which wrote off his helicopter. That says a lot for his determination and powers of concentration – he might just spring a few more surprise next year!
1, D Milne/N Ewing (MG Metro 6R4) 38m 40s
2, M Grierson/A Strathdee (Opel Kadett 400) 39m 10s
3, W Lymburn/A Hutchinson (Ford Escort) 40m 42s
4, S Finlay/D Wilson (Ford orion) 40m 59s
5, K O’Kane/N Alexander (Sunbeam Lotus) 41m 12s
6, R Wheeler/I Kimm (Ford Escort) 41m 33s
7, P McCullagh/G Noble (Ford Escort RS) 41m 46s
8, R Kirk/J Davidson (Ford Escort RS) 41m 47s
9, K Graham/D Donnell (Talbot Sunbeam) 41m 58s
10, D Greer/M Crowe (Mazda RX7) 42m 01s