Cork rally driver Martin Grandon always ‘flew the flag for the Italians’

Cork rally driver Martin Grandon always ‘flew the flag for the Italians’
Glanmore's Martin Grandon pictured on the BIF Circuit of Ireland in his Lancia Delta. Picture courtesy of rallyretro.com.

IN the rallying era dominated by the Ford Escort and the Vauxhall Chevette, Glanmire’s Martin Grandon brought Italian flair to proceedings.

But his choice of a Fiat 3P, followed by Fiat Abarths and then a Lancia Delta, was related to his business in the motor trade.

However, before the unique shape of the 3P, the speed of the Abarth, and the evocative sound of the Lancia, Martin Grandon’s first taste of motorsport was at the hot rod track in Rearour, in Ballinhassig.

“It was in the late 1970s. I was driving a Volkswagen with a Ford engine, which was fantastic, because the suspension was superb and there was very little to go wrong,” he says.

By 1982, Martin had opened his Fiat dealership on the main road in Glanmire and, with Fiat’s help, he started rallying.

“My first rally car was a Fiat 3P, then I got a Group 2 Fiat Ritmo Abarth, which was a pure rocket (incidentally, Abarth is the racing side of Fiat) and then I acquired a two-litre Group N Ritmo Abarth 130TC. In its day, that was also very quick and a rarity on the rally scene,” he says.

Martin recalls the Lancia Delta.

“That arrived two days before the 1988 Circuit of Ireland, in which I was entered. It arrived into Rosslare, had all the racing gear, full Group N specification.

“The lads went down with a trailer and then, from there, they went straight to Belfast. That was the first I saw of the car.”

Martin and co-driver, Jim Murphy, failed to finish that event. The Circuit lasted several days and travelled through all four provinces of Ireland.

“Yes, over the years, I did six of them. But they were very tiring, as we weren’t used to that stuff; we were amateurs.”

“There were only a few of us (rally drivers) that were different to the normal. For instance, Frank Hogan, in Limerick, he had a VW Scirocco, that was also dealership-related. You flew the flag for your dealership, really.”

Choosing a navigator or co-driver was also business-related.

“Ger Egan was the first, and then Jim Murphy, who was our foreman, also sat with me, and then Ger took over the spanners on the service team.

“Alan Farrelly, who was from Dublin, was a Fiat employee.

“Outside of that, Belfast’s Michael Gibson did a good few rallies with me: he was very professional. Then, one time when he was unable to do the West Cork Rally with me, Glengormley’s Chris Patterson stepped in.”

Aside from competing in Ireland, Martin Grandon also participated in the Manx International Rally on the Isle of Man. He even took off to Cyprus in 1987.

“At the time, there was a special deal and there were about four of five people asked to do it. The money wasn’t huge, but we arranged one container that took four cars and that was more realistic. Our stay was sponsored by the Elliott Beach Hotel and we stayed there for about two weeks. It was a great adventure,” Martin says.

Rallying itself was an adventure.

“I lived for it. At the time, we were saying to ourselves that it wasn’t expensive, but it was, really; but we got sponsorship from Fiat Ireland and Lancia Ireland.

“The Lancia was a very safe car, fabulous grip, and a great car for the Irish weather.”

When reminded about a particular rally, Martin laughed and said, “Oh, that was the finishing tree.”

He was competing in the Lissard House Rallysprint, in Skibbereen, and although he won the event, he crashed heavily (into a tree) right at the finishing line, but his time was still recorded.

As for medical help?

“No, we were fine, but the car needed some hospital treatment, alright.”

Picture: rallyretro.com.
Picture: rallyretro.com.

The Grandon family were immersed in motorsport. Martin’s and Maria’s sons, John and Ken, also had great success, but on the circuits, not in rallying.

John, the youngest, was a hugely talented karter and won several Irish karting titles.

He also went to England and won there, as well. Ken went circuit racing and, from the Irish Formula Opel scene, also raced in Formula 3 throughout Europe, where he was sponsored by Alfa Romeo.

In karting and apart from being involved with John, Martin also ran Ballygurteen’s Michael Keohane and another Cork karter, Seamus O’Halloran, winning titles with them, as well.

While Martin ran the karting team without any fuss, he acknowledged the outfit.

“We had a lovely team, really. Patrick O’Leary, Rathcooney, also worked on the team. He was very good with the karts.”

As for his current motorsport interest, he says, “Oh, yeah, Formula One, before adding, “I’m retired to the golf now.”

There is no hesitation in his choice of his favourite rally driver. “Billy Coleman. He’s local and his brother, John, is in the same business as myself and I am still very good friends with both of them to this day.

“Jimmy McRae was another great driver, too, and I met him recently at the Déjà Vu event in Donegal.”

Martin Grandon - "You flew the flag for your dealership really.” Picture courtesy of rallyretro.com.
Martin Grandon - "You flew the flag for your dealership really.” Picture courtesy of rallyretro.com.

While Martin’s rallying days are over, the Grandon family is still proudly flying the flag for the motoring dealership in Glanmire.

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