JOHN ALEY

A Lifetime in Motorsport

 

 

CHAPTERS


Introduction

My Way

Abarth

Infrastructure

The French

Nurburgring

Racing Small Saloons

Re-start

The Serious Side

The Changing Years

The Chimp

Makes You Think

Memories That Stick

Rollover Bars

Mini Racing

 

Gallery

 

Updates

Downloads

Contact


ABARTH

Towards the end of 1966 I made a big miscalculation which was to cost my racing and my business dearly.  I decided that the Mini on which most of our business depended had had its day and we should start to look elsewhere if we were to remain competitive and with a full workshop. 

At the time this was a well thought out conclusion for already it had enjoyed 6 years of success from faltering beginnings and was now the car to beat where ever it raced.  Furthermore the big Cooper S was developing more power than its little wheels and transmission could really cope with losing that delicate finely balanced feel which had been so pleasing in the better 1000cc Coopers of 62 and 63.   Surely this was the writing on the wall and time for a change. 

Little did I know that five years later a friend and I would take his “S” to the ring 6 Hours and despite the fact he did not know the course at all come third in well supported 1300cc class and that even at the time of writing (2012) there is still plenty of support as long as you pick your races.. But that was then and this now. At that time small car classes were often won by the all conquering Fiat Abarth and such was their wish to win the European Championship outright that in 1967 they had made it worth while for many successful drivers in the series to appear at the wheel of one of these Fiat 600 derived cars. I had already bought myself a cheap 850TC. 

Before the war Carlo Abarth, an Austrian, had been a motorcycle racer and found himself recovering from racing injuries in Jugoslavia at the outbreak, There he stayed and being an astute engineer set up a workshop where he made money and dodged hostilities servicing vehicles for both the German occupiers and the partisans. 1945 brought the end of the war and Mr A moved to Italy where he again set up a racing workshop at first being part of the ill fated Cisitalia project, part of which involved being a go between in the lease of Dr Porsche from a Paris prison, and then making go faster exhaust systems and other speed equipment for the small cars of the day. Unlike many in this field his silencers were beautifully finished with a matt black crackle finish and of course the scorpion –his birth sign – badge everywhere.  I am not certain about their last qualities though as when we ran a Fiat Arart 595 for seven days and nights at Snetterton for publicity we got through thee in the first two days and thereafter ran a standard Fiat product without trouble for the rest of the week! 

As the Italian motor industry was then 90% Fiat much of his equipment was for this marque and soon he was selling complete cars mainly based on the Fiat 500 and 600 models which he himself raced as a well organised team with the backing of Mr Angelli the then owner and chief of the whole Fiat empire. Fiat paid him bonuses on wins no matter what, International races or local club hill climbs it did no matter as long as the car was a Fiat. This led to an amusing situation during the early sixties when Simca based Abarth Coupes started winning. 

It was to keep this support coming that he really had to win the championship outright. Since its inception in 1963 his cars had usually been victorious in the 850cc and 1000cc classes of division one but had been beaten by other manufacturers who had amassed more points winning Divisions Two or Three. This year there would be no mistake and he started by attracting every one in the Division One who might at any stage take points from Abarth. 

I was one such driver having won the 1 litre class in 1963 although we got off on a difficult footing, Just before the first meeting of the championship at Monza, I had written a preview of the race in Powerslide a magazine published in German in Zurich by a friend for who I regularly contributed, Now my German is far from, perfect so I wrote in English which he translated, sometimes as on this occasion being a bit more outright than I had wished to convey in my carefully chosen English phraseology. As a result the big man was upset and I was summoned to meet Mr A at the Turin factory as soon as I could on Monday morning following the race. Such was his standing that I would not have considered missing the meeting and anyway it would be an interesting experience, so on Monday morning in stead of heading home to Cambridge Jean and I found ourselves sitting in the corridor outside his office admiring hundreds of photos of innumerable Abarths winning races all over the world. I know not whether it was due to his car winning at Monza or my diplomacy but the meeting ended in smiles all round and me clutching a profitable contract to drive an 850cc Abarth in the rest of the Championship. 

Although I knew from the start that I was only there to add to the numbers, indeed my contract stated that I must start in certain races and if I failed to start in any one the whole deal would be off, it was the first time in my racing career that I had spent a whole season with one works team and a Continental one at that.  So it promised to be an interesting year. 

At a time when most racing was rather chaotic Abarth did it in style, Which races he would attend were decided well in advance and when the time came the team cars – lots of them – travelled on several double-decker transporters with full complement of spares including an engine for each car which was changed for the race after practice, while the other contracted drivers made their own ways, but always via Turin to collect our works prepared engines. Actually at that time preparation was carried out by Mr Osella, who later left and built his own sports racers, and was noted at that time for never having the work completed on time or very well. 

As a result we spent a lot of the time on the road that year and had lots unreliability.  Mindful of my contact wording about the necessity to start, I pushed the car across the line at Zolder, completed a lap at Vienna with a broken crankshaft and a similar distance at Zandvoort with a run big end bearing. In fact the only race where I had a good run and finished well up was at Nurburgring where we had prepared the at home!  But I had played my part in Abarth winning the European Championship outright in 1967 and in true Italian way  there was no quibble about paying at the end – what’s more the lire had devalued that year so my money was worth a lot more than I had bargained for. 

As things turned out that was the end of my serious racing as I took on the secretaryship of the European Touring Car Championship for the next three years but I had no regrets for I had sampled most of the great circuits with wins or good placings at many and driven with a leading Italian team – far more than I ever expected  twenty years earlier.