I wasn’t sure what to expect as I travelled with my friend to Donegal Town on Sunday morning. I guess the need for coffee was the overwhelming emotion after another early start.
Déjà Vu Donagh Day had been marked on the calendar for a while and I was looking forward to finally seeing what Plum Tyndall and Beatty Crawford’s brainchild was all about. Everyone knew it would be a cracking day; the anticipation of Lough Eske and Donagh Day’s line-up of cars was why we were all converging on the same waterfront car park yesterday morning.
Coffee in hand, my first walk around Déjà Vu’s latest gathering did not disappoint. It is one thing reading through a list of iconic rally cars but it is something else to witness the colourful array of liveries that are nothing short of time pieces stamped in rally history.
“Oh, there’s a Rothmans Subaru Legacy. Is that an RS Cosworth beside?!” We walked 20 yards further to travel through another decade. 1982 Irish Tarmac Rally Champion John Coyne, no doubt absorbed in early morning rally chat, stood behind his Ridgid Talbot Sunbeam. To it’s right, well, words don’t describe. Vincent Bonner’s Opel Manta 400 sat in all its beauty catching Donegal’s Autumnal sunrise.
Growing up, the Manta was the car that ticked all my boxes. Born 26 years ago, I missed the heyday of the eighties by a long shot. To see this car in the flesh, it took my breath away.
I walked some more to stand and stare at an MG Metro 6R4, catch a glimpse of Austin McHale’s Toyota Celica, and dial my hearing in to the rumble of Garry Jennings’ Subaru Impreza WRC warm-up.
Of course, I’ve missed an abundance of cars that were there, did I mention Paddy Hopkirk was back in Donegal to drive a Mini Cooper? Hopkirk was back to revisit for the first time the site of his infamous crash which introduced roll cages in rallying over 50 years.
But listing cars is not my point to make today, my point is slightly deeper.
A couple of hours later, standing at the foot of the formidable Bluestack Mountains, I traced the incoming melody of Group 4, Group B, and Group A machinery. It was perfect.
As Bonner thundered through our junction it was, for a split second, like I was back in the eighties experiencing the sights and sounds I’ve often imagined.
Sunday was déjà vu for some, but for me it was an awful lot more. It was the opportunity to witness golden era cars, driven by golden era drivers, in a remote part of Ireland that defines the adventure of rallying.
A trip to The Stables museum rounded off a perfect day in Donegal. Speaking to Eamonn Kelly at his family’s complex, he told me how their incredible collection of rally cars was done to preserve important pieces of motorsport history.
Donagh, Eamonn and everyone involved in their impressive project have put together a display that ensures everyone who visits will understand the deep-rooted heritage Irish rallying has.
They want people to never forget Ari Vatanen’s “Black Beauty” escapades on the Donegal Rally or Bonner’s home heroics. That mission statement rang true for me.
Déjà Vu Tours allows enthusiasts to relive fond memories of bygone days in cars that define rallying for so many. I wasn’t reliving anything but I came away with real life memories that I’ve long craved as a childhood fan of rallying in Ireland.
Photos by Roger Dawson