Originators of UK closed road motorsport

A Brief History of Rallying on Mull

100 mph Killing and Maiming of Animals” was the headline in The Oban Times when the 2300 Club was planning the first Tour of Mull in the summer of 1969. Luckily this prediction by Viscount Massereene, owner of the Knock Estate, proved to be inaccurate.

The first Rally on Mull was 50 years ago. The originator and driving force was my father Brian. He was a master of diplomacy, friendship and determination. During his life he constantly passed credit for the success of the Tour of Mull onto the 2300 Club Committee. He died in 1996 and since then, being no longer able to deflect praise, the enormity of his skill and achievements has emerged.

The 1969 winning crew of George Hill and Keith Wood at the start of the 1970 event. Keith appears to be wearing a tie! The Cooper S of Will Sparrow and Nigel Raeburn is behind. Car 0 is the Molyneux Cortina GT, a newly acquired Mk2.

In July 1968 Dad took his young family on holiday to Mull. The M6 went no further North than Carnforth, there were no dual carriageways, cars were loaded onto the ferry at Oban on a lift and it was raining. As Dad’s Cortina GT bounced through the puddles in the unmade track to our accommodation at Glengorm there was a distinct atmosphere of ‘where the hell have you brought us’ from Mum and tears from us children. The gloom soon lifted. We enjoyed two glorious weeks with days on Calgary beach, a boat trip to Staffa and Iona, walks and adventures around Glengorm. Gifts of fish and produce were left anonymously at the house. Everyone that we met was friendly. Mull was a delight.

One evening the owner of Glengorm, Mr Carr, invited Mum & Dad for drinks. Hung on the walls of his office were pictures of him racing Bentleys at Brooklands and Donnington between the wars. This prompted a conversation about motorsport during which Dad suggested that Mull would be a good venue for a Motor Rally and Mr. Carr agreed. This was the sperm/egg moment.

The 2300 Club was formed in 1955 in the Mullard factory in Blackburn. The factory employed 6000 people making thermionic valves and it hosted a very active Sports & Social Club of which the 2300 Club formed a part. The Club ran treasure hunts and arranged discounted car parts for members. It then moved up a gear into running Road Rallies. The Mullard Trophy Rally was a highly regarded round of the prestigious Motoring News Rally Championship.

The 1968 event was fraught with PR and Police problems. It left the organisers downcast and wondering what to do next. Our holiday to Mull provided a possible answer for Dad. He started writing letters and making telephone calls. Reactions ranged from cautious to enthusiastic. Hardly any were negative. His 2300 colleagues would still need some convincing. Dad plus three of them visited Mull in early 1969 and this did the trick.

On October 11th 1969 Bobby MacLeod flagged off the cars on the first Tour of Mull. Bobby was Provost (Mayor) of Tobermory, an accordionist of high repute, a dance band leader and he owned the Mishnish Hotel. He was a great friend to the Rally and to our family. We received 72 entries and the 57 starters were given their £3 10s 0d (£3.50) entry fee back in cash on the start line.

The winners were George Hill and Keith Wood in a Mini Cooper S. This crew won again in 1970 and 1971 in an Escort Twin Cam and then in 1973 in a Vauxhall Viva 2300. A notable feature of the 1968 event was a selective which began at Dervaig, went over the hairpins then turned left at Loch Frisa into the Glengorm Estate. The route passed Glengorm Castle and finished at the crossroads above Tobermory. This mixed surface tester has never been repeated.

The 1970 organising Committee. After the death of Arthur ‘Fred’ Blundell in September 2019 Ian Willock is the sole survivor of this remarkable team.

The brave gamble paid off. The Rally was a tremendous success. The tone of the headlines changed. “Mull Swept by Rally Fever” was the new attitude of The Oban Times.

Following the second successful event in 1970 Alexander MacLean of Tobermory was even more effusive and eloquent: “Leaving out any material gain we of Mull derive from the coming of the 2300 Club and their friends, the more lasting benefits are the friendships which now exist between the people of the Rally and the people of Scotland’s fairest Isle. The better understanding, and the respect of one for the other. We feel proud when the visitors go into raptures over the beauty of our Island. Although we make no claim to have fashioned this, we do like to have our opinions upheld by people outwith. We take pride in the way our farmers and others go to such trouble to ensure the rallyists are as safe as possible while they hurtle round our unique roads. We take pride when ‘our’ Rally is voted the best Rally of the year. And we are certainly proud that our Island and the organisers of the 2300 Club attract well behaved and considerate competitors.”

We hit the headlines again in 1971, unfortunately for the wrong reason. Stuart Turner send Roger Clark and Jim Porter to Mull. They completed their recce. Their Escort was being trailered to Mull from Boreham and was involved in an accident near Oban. Roger and Jim were demoted to spectators.

During the early 70s we were invited to join the Scottish Rally Championship. This introduced two immediate problems. We were already part of the MN Championship which was sponsored by Castrol and was a Tarmac series. The Scottish rounds were ‘loose’ events and sponsored by Shell. Dad’s diplomatic skills were brought to bear on this matter and it was resolved amicably. Two notable benefits were the introduction of an International element (a case of Champagne went to the top 6 Scottish or ‘rest of UK’ crews). Secondly we introduced special stages to Mull. These mainly used the limited number of forest tracks that were not dead ends. We also used the newly Council adopted and tarmacked Glengorm Road, possibly the only time an open public road has been used as a special stage. The RAC missed or ignored this and the organisers stayed out of jail.

The event continued to gain momentum through the 1980s. We were regularly over-subscribed and increased the maximum entries to 90 and then 100.

The Tour of Mull hit the buffers in 1989. The RAC (latterly the MSA) decided that Road Rallying needed to be cleaned up. It was ironic that the problems the sport was experiencing did not apply on Mull. We were most fortunate to have an enthusiastic local population who relished the arrival of the Rally. In common with most Road Rallies the ToM used Targa Timing. This was devised by John Brown for use on the Targa Rusticana, a Welsh MN round run by Oxford University Motor Club. The simple purpose of the system was to hide how fast the cars were going. Outlawing this system felt like an outrage at the time. Age and hindsight make it seem entirely reasonable now.

This change in the rules meant that we could no longer run the Tour of Mull. There were not enough forest miles to make an attractive alternative event. The Tour of Mull had such a momentum and following that giving up was unthinkable. The answer was to close the roads so that the Road Traffic Act and speed limits were suspended. The only precedent for this was the Birmingham GP, a very different event.

It took many hundreds of hours, large piles of correspondence, trips to London, Glasgow & Tobermory and a large financial investment. Dad’s tenacity was remarkable. He tackled the enormous task and its numerous setbacks with energy and enthusiasm. The legislation came too late for the 1989 event which was not run and Mull Car Club stepped in with a small Forest event. On March 28th 1990 the Deputy Speaker announced that the Act had received Royal assent. This was an historic moment for British Rallying.

The 2300 Club now had to work out how to do something that had never been done before. This was an exciting time and a wonderful thing to be involved in. Everyone was pushing in the same direction. At 2201 on 12/10/1990 Ceiriog Hughes and Mike Kidd left Main Street on the first closed road Rally in Britain.

Closed Road status increased the profile and popularity of the event further still. We gained dispensation to take the maximum entry to 120 and then 150. We were still over-subscribed. Our Rally Secretaries Taff and latterly Pete had the unenviable job of telling enthusiastic competitors that they weren’t competing. Successive Clerks-of-the-Course tweaked the route to squeeze the maximum competition from the Island.

Dad died not long after the 1996 event. What he achieved was tremendous. He is remembered with fondness and gratitude by everyone who knew him. His memory lives on in the Mull Rally. Mull Car Club erected a cairn to Dad’s memory above Dervaig and our family have sited a bench on Tobermory Golf Course where Dad’s ashes are scattered. Please visit these sites and thank him if you feel so inclined.

Joan & Brian Molyneux (Mum & Dad) on Main Street

In 1999 we took another leap and ran a Stage through Tobermory. Again we had co-operation and enthusiasm from everyone. The run was a spectacular success and the Tobermory Stage is now an occasional and popular feature of Rallying on Mull.

The 2009 event was our 40th and as October approached we were anticipating a bumper weekend. We ran the Tobermory Stage again as part of the celebration and we put on new social activities to mark the occasion. We encountered some organising problems and obstacles in the run-up to the Rally and there was some disruption and forced mileage reduction during it. In early 2010 some bad omens for the next Rally had already emerged.

Maybe we had just run out of steam. There had always been a tiny anti-Rally minority on Mull and through diplomacy, compromise and engagement of the pro-Rally majority we had managed it. Things were getting more difficult though. There seemed to be an assumption that the Rally would always happen and that it was fair game to have a pop at the organisers, as if they were part of ‘the Establishment’ like a local Council or a ferry company. My feeling was that this was my hobby which I devoted a large amount of time and money towards. The problem element was eclipsing the pleasure so it was time for a rethink. The other 2300 Club members agreed. At our March 2010 meeting we decided to withdraw from running the Tour of Mull.

There was no shortage of reaction ranging from understanding to anger. We were severely bruised by these events. Luckily for Mull and for Rallying a group of enthusiasts based around Mull Car Club took up the challenge and put on an event in October 2010.

With another stroke of luck and a lot of hard work the Mull Rally is back in 2019 after a 2 year break. This is a tremendous achievement and another major chapter in the history of Rallying on Mull. In a very thoughtful nod to the past the organisers have asked my Mother, who is President of the 2300 Club and has just turned 91, to present the prizes on Rally Sunday. We wish the organisers, officials and competitors a safe and fun weekend. Our family will be cheering you on.

Neil Molyneux,
Chairman, 2300 Club