Tuesday 10 December 2013

Rally - Donald Harper

Donald Harper, 1945 - 2013

Sad news this morning, Donald Harper passed away after a short illness last week in Oban. Although out of rallying for some years, he made an indelible mark on the sport – and in a few forests over the years, not to mention a few licensed premises along the way.

He claimed to be an engineer, but when he first came across motor sport, Scrutineers had a slightly different view of his profession. It was once said of him (the author shall remain nameless) that a spot weld was no stronger than a six inch nail punched through the metal and folded over!

Donald was Scotland’s answer to 'Hagar the Horrible', beardedly hairy and with a huge penchant for life. In fact he lived life at twice the speed of the rest of us mere mortals. Everything was tackled with fervour and gusto. His first ‘rally car’ was a Hillman Imp, but in the search for more power, he installed a Rover V8. In his first seasons with this device in 1986/87 the glorious roar of the beast (the car, not Donald, although that could apply too I suppose) was accompanied by the sound of snapping driveshafts and sundry other metal bits.

Reliability was therefore sought and he acquired a Ford Sierra 4x4 and it was in this car and his subsequent Ford Sierra Turbo that he achieved most success. Probably his best result was 14th overall on the 1989 Johnstons & Paton Rally in Argyll, although his name was never far from the top 20 and 30 on those events which he finished.

His rallying career came to a violent end 20 years ago in Dalby Forest in Yorkshire when his Lancia Delta Integrale was returned to Oban – on a pallet.

He still retained a strong interest in the sport but an accident at work ten years ago ensured he never again competed, although he could sometimes be spotted amongst the spectators, especially at the Snowman Rally. Indeed, that was the last time I saw him earlier this year – and he still had that devilish twinkle in his eyes.

If he lived life in the fast lane when working and playing, the social side was not overlooked. He was seriously hard work in hotels and pubs on the rallying scene. His hospitality was as wide as his smile and a night in his company ensured fellow convivialists were unable to face a full breakfast the following morning.  It was probably in MacTavish’s Kitchen in Oban (or maybe it was Lochgilphead, or Arrochar, but it was somewhere now lost in time)  after an Argyll event that I remember talking for a long time, to the big white telephone, lying on the floor, in the smallest room – Helllooooooo ...

Aye, he was serious hard work, but what a character. I can’t imagine how his family are feeling now but I’m sure all our thoughts are with his wife Dorothy, son Robert and daughters Fiona and Louise and all the grand children.

Funeral service tomorrow (Wednesday 11th) at Oban Parish Church, Glencruitten Road, Oban, PA34 4DN, at 1.30 pm.


  1. Well put John... Donald (being married to my cousin Dorothy) was a huge influence on my life & no doubt the reason I got into Cars & Construction. Of Donald, I like to say... 'Meet him once and you'll never forget him'.. He will be sorely missed by us all.. He touched the lives of so many! RIP D.H.

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  3. RIP big man,sorry i missed the funeral,thoughts are with Donalds family.