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


THE CHIMP

John Aley with his two King Charles spaniels, Wolfgang and Herman, posing on the prototype Chimp Go Bike.  Although it never hit production the sidecar was good for publicity.

 

Although most of my life has been occupied by some motor racing activity there have been periods devoted to other past times as well. 

In the early sixties I was still employed by the Prudential as a motor claims assessor and  motor sporting for pleasure in my spare time. Inside the decade however I had blossomed in so many different activities that my mind boggles and I wonder how I kept it all going. Soon I left the Pru and set up my own assessing practice and opened my  tuning and race preparation business. From this stemmed managing others’ racing, motor sport journalism, a race driving school at Mallory Park, managing Snetterton circuit, starting the East Anglian Centre of the BRSCC and organising all the car meetings  at Snetterton, helping to start and subsequently running The European Touring Car Championship and later importing Fiat Abath tuning equipmen. Just to make the days busier I introduced the John Aley range of rollover bars which became an entirely separate concern and which together with the manufacture of self adhesive racing numbers supplied the daily bread long after I had ceased racing myself and was turning in other directions. 

The Chimp Go Bike as its name implies was a child of the Sixties. 

Mike Wood and I were both in our thirties and both coming to the end of our active racing careers. In the true Sixties’ spirit we had both acquired light  aircraft and both had come up with the problems of local transport at the destination when we flew anywhere.  So when we had a long trip across France in a far from reliable Renault 16 we had plenty of discussion time and this subject took pride of place. Perhaps we could fill the gap, Mike had a small agricultural engineering business in Dorset and already acted as my subcontractor producing the range of John Aley Rollover Bars which  I had recently introduced with success to the market so we were well equipped to fill the gap. 

There was a real need we decided for a light weight means of transport, cheap for people who  were still recovering from post war austerity and bought everything on price so there was no room for fancy design.  It must very simple but reliable as we intended selling to folk who would regard it in same way as their lawnmower rather than a motorcycle to be loved and cherished.

With memories of the wartime folding Corgi designed to be dropped with paratroops but one of which my heavyweight  father in law had used for local transport around Silvertone going about his PA duties, we thought at first of something which would fold but rapidly abandoned that in favour of collapsibility so  the various sections would be lighter to lift and easier to stow in odd compartments. 

Unlike Honda who at that time produced a beautiful little wonder called The Monkey Bike we chose simplicity and reliability in the form of a 98cc Clinton industrial power unit designed for chugging away all day on a building site driving a cement mixer. 

Of course it must comply with RTA requirements as it would be used on public roads and these required two separate brakes. This taxed us until I came up with the idea of a drum brake on the rear wheel operated by a conventional handlebar lever while a foot pedal brought a block on to the outside of the rear tyre.  In pactice this meant we could lock the rear wheel in two different ways but anyway the RTA said nothing about braking both wheels. 

We discussed this while cruising on open French roads and whenever we stopped for refreshment the French paper table cloths provided me with a sketch pad which I filled with ideas that Mike in a more practical way could turn into metal. On arrival at Dover Mike climbed into his Porsche and headed for Dorset complete with the aforementioned table cloths while I hit the Cambridge road.  Imagine my surprise when he rang me a few days later saying the prototype Chimp Go Bike (name with echoes of Honda) was not only built but worked and with typical Sixties’ optimism, was ready for us to sell by the thousand making our fortune. 

Although we didn’t do that, sales were steady and we produced several hundred some of which still exist today. Many friendly journalists gave us valuable publicity and in fact one evening I was reading a magazine write up over supper in a French hotel and showed it to Le Patron who promptly went mad introducing me to all his staff and guests as the notable English motor cycle manufacturer who was gracing their humble establishment – I cannot recall whether this flattery was echoed in my bill next morning but there was lots of handshaking and free drinks during the evening. 

Soon after its launch we had a stand at the Cranfield Aero Show lending half a dozen Chimps to the organisers and the members of a Naval aerobatic team which  gained us good publicity and lots of maintenance work for our newly arrived from New Zealand mechanic who had never seen anything like it in his native country. 

Throughout the  Chimp’s 3 or 4 year existence we stuck to the original conception of a simple cord started stationary engine driving through a centrifugal clutch of our own design to the rear wheel which carried both brakes as mentioned above.  Not seeking the ultimate in steering we accepted very small wheels for light weight and portability while to avoid the extra burden of Purchase Tax we followed the Lotus example selling as a kit. At £67.10.00, with all the ensuing problems! 

It was fun.  Perhaps in retrospect we should have been more serious and realised that a new era was coming in when the public would pay extra for something less crudely engineered and we should have made more effort to sell into the boat and caravan worlds where the need for local transport also existed but on a greater scale and where despite not trying very hard we made several sales. 

Even the end was amusing.  We were losing our initial enthusiasm when someone came along and bought the lot but obviously thinking he had good ideas for the bike’s future as he wasted no time in telling us how he would not only change the complete design and marketing but the name as well. Without any qualms he paid the asking price, the cheque didn’t bounce but in 6 months he was back asking for our help in selling the project on his behalf! 

BOATING: Then of course boating in one form or another has never been far from the surface.  Elsewhere I mention that for a few seasons in the late fifties when motor racing was getting too expensive and not very successful I indulged in hydroplane racing, never really getting far up the ladder but enjoying something different.  That led to dinghy sailing which in turn led us to buy an erstwhile holiday cottage in Salcombe  where I had already spent some time sailing a variety of dinghies.  I now owned a Wayfarer bought new from Cornish Crabbers in Rock opposite Padstow in north Cornwall and this seemed a good base for sailing with a cottage that could earn its keep when not being used.  That idea proved a disaster as although I was only letting to known friends or friends of friends, the first couple managed to pull a door off its hinges and with the second something even more drastic happened. I cannot remember what! The disaster was not complete though as at about that time I was being asked to sell the rollover bar business, of which more anon, and we were able to move lock, stock and two dogs to Salcombe where we spent the whole summer doing what you do when you are young and living in South Devon near the sea in a sailing centre. During that season and during a subsequent few years living in Salcombe we acquired a taste for bigger motor cruisers that were more suited to cruising, fishing and the general riotorious behaviour that was the norm in the seventies. Years later when living back in Suffolk I designed a small motor cruiser based on a workboat hull made in Teignmouth which served me well for six years based at Woolverston on the Orwell.  During this period I made several small craft and discovered the disappointment suffered by many DIYers who struggle every night of the winter in their garage in far from pleasant conditions, only to find in the spring that from all their labours they had only a small dinghy to show. But producing something larger was limited by space so I set about producing  a small cabin craft around twenty foot that could be produced in several sections to be wheeled outside in the spring when the sun  shone and bolted together.  I actually built a prototype but this was a sad stage in my life as my wife, Ann,  was dying of cancer and although when she was finally no longer with us I moved to Cornwall taking the prototype with me my heart was no longer in it and I abandoned the whole project.

Looking back though and still seeing nothing similar on the market I believe that with more determination and the right marketing I could have another winner.  Ah well!

 

FLYING: My flying was much the same.  Although I have had a life long interest in aeroplanes it was not until the late sixties that I actually took out a licence and soon found that I was too late in the game and had too little money to do anything about it. The great pioneering days of casual wind in the hair flying were no more and I found that most others of my age had been flying all their lives, perhaps in the services and had thousands of hours more experience than I had. This was often an embarrassment for being an enthusiast all my life and this coupled with wartime experience as an ATC cadet, I probably knew much more about aviation in general than many of my fellows, Too, even with my old fashioned Piper Tripacer there was little I could do to lessen costs as I had done in racing so after some years did not both to renew my licence. I did have some money making aviation projects. As well as selling flying equipment at Cambridge, I had a contract with an army parachuting club at nearby Waterbeach, a wartime airfield and now an army camp, to fly them to about 2000’ where they left me. I must say it was all a bit strange to be chatting one moment with an aircraft full of people and then alone the next beside an open hole in the side. Although I had gone through the motions at their ground school. I never felt any compulsion to join them. 

DONKEYS: Ann, my late wife bred and showed donkeys, so on the basis that if you can’t beat them, join them, I added my efforts to hers by transporting them and her to shows, mucking out stables every week and generally helping, I still have a wooden shield in my office which I won at a Norfolk county show,  Ann was unwell so rather then miss this major event I took three animals and the girl who helped us at the time and came home with the Show Championship as well as a win in the class. Although Ann was pleased she showed her thanks through gritted teeth!    With Ann as secretary I became chairman of the East Anglian Donkey Show. Enjoyable but quite a contrast from organising motor sport. Proving what a cosmopolitan business donkeys are, I eventually handed over this job to the chap whose day job was organising the prime minister’s bodyguard. 

CARAVANS: When I first married in 1952 houses were in short supply following the war and many youg married couples lived with their families.  Having seen the troubles this brought I went out on a limb and bought a caravan and embarked upon what was regarded as most as a bohemian existance. Aren’t you cold? Are you comfortable? I was asked frequently but I stuck it for 5 years until my work took me to London and I can honestly say I was at all times warm and comfortable. In fact as the site developed it became a most civilised form of life and if the occasion arose I would do the same again. During this time we had a most amusing experience when over August Bank Hoiday weekend in 1954 a party of our racing friends took the caravan towed behind an old 1932 Ford V8 coupe which had more power than brakes from Cambridge to cornwal where we all competed at Davidstowe race meeing on Saturday and Trengwainton hillclimb on the Monday. It was great weekend long remembered if only for returning three HRGs to their native Trengwainton where a few years earlier they had all enjoyed some success althogh I must admit one of my most lasting memories is seeing my worldly wealth and home disappearing out control down a long hill near Oxford in the middle of the night.

A few years later we inheritted my father in law’s small caravan which had lived much of its life at Silverstone and other circuits where his Antone company operated the PA. Although we really had no suitable tow car we thought nothing of towing it to Spa and Nurburgring behind one of our little 850cc Minis something which today’s caravanners would consider both illegal if not impossible. It probably was but the worst damage it sustained was when we left it in Germany for the Morgan Team to use at the next meeting and they set the kitchen alight.  Eventually it came back to England behind the Mini again and there after lived in our drive for use of visitors. One couple will long be remembered by their amourous exertions which moved the van several yards down the drive during the night.

More recently I have had a series of small caravans which I have used mainly in the West country in connection with my MCC activities often keeping them on Caravan Club sites at Exeter, Plymouth and  St Agnes for several months at a time.  For the last ten years however I have become very interested in small motor caravans which can be used for daily transport.  Currently I have a old Citroen Berlingo based Romahome the interior of which has beeen modified for my speacial purpose.