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


MAKES YOU THINK

   

I have been lucky in my many years of competition and not had too many painful accidents but three incidents which could have had more serious consequences, stand out in my memory,

First there was a quite nasty accident at Snetterton in testing.  A friend of a friend had lent me one of the Ford Ten based specials he was selling but this was completely unbalanced by being an experiment having a Coventry Climax engine fitted,  As a result it had about the same performance as a Lotus Eleven but with a a chassis designed to cope with half that.  It was quite lethal and spun on every run in the CUAC speed Trial and then a few days later when allegedly the designer had made some mods and I was testing again at Snetterton the brakes failed completely after a lap or two spinning the car into the infield at Sear corner hitting a newly erected earth bank the sloping contours of which catapulted us  high into air. There being no seat belts or rollover bars then, the car and I parted company somewhere “Up there” falling to earth together but fortunately after the first landing it and I continued rolling in different directions.  I regained consciousness with a faceful of sugar beet, was removed to Norwich hospital where I spend a most uncomfortable night with broken ribs and damage to my hips and in fact most of my body but discharged myself the next day in disgust. We stopped on the way home to buy a couple of sticks so I could at least hobble around and  a week later I won my first race with the DKW . I think I feared the consequences of breaking my German contract more than the pains of my body!

The second incident that  stands in my memory could have had even more serious results.  One Saturday evening I was taking part in a small club rally navigating for a friend’s girlfriend in a then new TR2.  It was just getting dark in the early evening somewhere in deepest Essex when we came to a place where the road was flooded. We nosed our way slowly in but in few car’s lengths it became apparent that it was too deep for us but by then the front of car floated and the whole vehicle was swept into very deep water where it sank. We had tried to cross a flooded ford but had been swept from the its usually shallow but now swollen by the flood water into the very deep mill pond, the guarding fence having been swept away  As the car filled with cold water it became possible to open the doors and bale out fortunately coming spluttering to the surface near enough to the bank to scramble out which was lucky as neither of us could swim.  The magnitude of our escape and the awful possibilities of what might have happened only came home to us when we saw the car’s headlights still burning way down there with the car comletely submerged with water several feet over its roof

The third event which still haunts me making me feel uneasy was one day at the Hungarian border when we were bound for a race at Budapest. This was in the good old days of the cold war when crossing any frontier was an occasion and the whole of eastern Europe was lierally shut off by an iron curtain – several layers of high barbed wire fencing  with watch towers evey half mile or so and dozens of archetypal Russian soldiers with blank expressions, round caps, AK47s on their shoulders and snow on their boots, Today, many years later it all sounds like something from a musical comedy but believe me, it really was serious and just to prove it, now and again they would shoot someone trying to escape or detain some innocent.  At  the time about which I am writing, an Englishman named Greville Winne had been nabbed and used by the Russians as a bargaining tool in the best “Tinker, tailor” tradition and we were all feeling a bit sore.  That he was not quite so innocent only emerged later, but that’s a different story. On this occasion there were six in our party, my wife and I, my Dutch assistant, Dik van Yperen, and three friends travelling in three cars. After going through three on four gaps in the barbed wire and the gates slamming ominously behind us, we were asked to leave our vehicles, our passports taken from us and we were left in an unattended room. After waiting what seemed like several hours interspersed by visits and questions from a variety of officials, Dik and I decided that something was seriously wrong and with visions of salt mines I played the part of an outraged Englishman from ages past, demanding the return of our passports and release so we could return to Austria and the West. I will never know whether my suspicions and the following tirade was justified or not but within minutes we were speeding back with our possessions and liberties intact.  I have always liked Vienna but never had it seemed more like home than  that evening and I have often wondered since whether we were right in our suspicions.  I those days we seemed to be crossing frontiers for a past time but never had such suspicious treatment.

Apart from these three incidents there have been many other occasions when I have come unstuck. I rolled a DKW nine times in succession at Oulton Park in a minor race, flattening the roof completely, rolled the Mini at Nurburgring when going wide to let a team mate through,  the Mini again one Boxing Day at Brands but repaired it in time for the Exeter Trial a week later and took to a ploughed field in the Renault 750 putting my back out of joint, an injury from which I still suffer. But when I consider how many of my friends were killed or really seriously hurt in those years I still think I was lucky