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


NURBURGRING

Even as a boy who was more interested in aviation than motor racing I knew all about the Nurburgring.  I knew it was 14 miles round with 150 corners, I knew it was the pinnacle of racing circuits where the state aided silver cars from Mercedes and Auto Unions regularly beat all comers, I saw pictures of the place with Nazi banners everywhere and a Zeppelin floating overhead but most of all I thought how wonderful it would be to win a race there. 

It was many years before I achieved that goal. 

Strangely enough although I had been racing on the continent since the mid fifties it was not until 1961 that I actually went to the “Ring” to take part in the International 6 Stunden Rennen for touring cars; it was all I had dreamed about – and much more.  Coming from England where touring car racing was still slightly looked down upon and regarded as something of a gimmick here was an International race for saloons of all sizes with an enormous entry – over 100 starters – and one which lasted for 6 hours.  The magnitude of the whole thing took my breath away and that was before I had even driven one magnificent lap. 

We had arrived a few days early and on recommendation had booked into the Wilden Schwein in Adenau, looked upon as THE place to stay at the time as although no more than a basic German country hotel it was where the great and famous stayed.  In subsequent years as the great and famous thought themselves greater and more famous they started to stay at more ostentatious hotels further afield commuting by helicopter.  Thank goodness we could not afford that life style for we would have missed some wonderful German country fare accompanied by fine but inexpensive local wine and the ubiquitous  Bitberger Pils on draught. 

This visit set the pattern of my life for the next ten years during which we never missed a race for which we had an eligible car and even at national German events often appeared to support our customers – and enjoy the place.

This is my favourite motor racing picture from my extensive collection.

It was taken at the start of the 1962 6 Hour International Touring Car Race at Nurburgring and shows the remarkable assortment of different cars that we had racing in the class in those days. I also shows the scale of these races for with a 14 mile circuit well over 100 vehicles – 130 in this race – were permitted.

This particular race held great significance to us personally as we had just terminated our contract with Auto Union/DKW by friendly agreement and had nothing to enter except our faithful Mini JRA 850 – far right third row –which was now an 850cc road car again now after two busy seasons of racing. We  solved the problem by getting complete new 997cc Cooper unit which we were still running in during practice. It was also the race in which Jean achieved a long held ambition to drive the Ring when she took over the middle spell.

To make matters even more memorable I was still walking on crutches after an early season accident.

At these races there was tremendous atmosphere in the hotel with each of the teams having its own table with lots of good natured banter between us.  We usually found ourselves in the middle with Cesare Fiorio`s HF Squadra Corse Lancia team next door and the Alfa lot the other side.  Nobody ever discovered what caused the Lancia table to collapse in the middle of supper one night although one of our supporters was seen crawling away from the melee. 

Race nights were special occasions when hair was really let down.  A few quick Bitbergers to celebrate or drown our sorrows then a dash down the hill to Adenau to battle for the hotel’s few bathrooms.  After a quick change it was back to the circuit to the Sport Hotel, that huge Wagnerian edifice behind the main grandstand for the prize giving party which continued until the early hours with occasional forays to the odd local pub or an unofficial and highly illegal trip round the circuit.  On one of these we found a small inn in Nurburg village bulging at the seams with closer inspection revealing a crowd of locals being entertained by my co-driver Tim Lalonde, complete with bowler hat and the irrepressible Tony Lanfranchi neither of whom could speak German but whose gestures left no doubt about the subject and gist of their unlikely stories. 

Often the cool evening  air meeting the hot and supercharged air from the day would lead to the most impressive thunderstorms all adding to the atmosphere but I think one of the most memorable incidents was at the end of the evening of that very first prize giving.  Remember the war was still fresh in everyone’s mind and xenophobia widespread.  So I was surprised when the club secretary drew me on one side and asked if I would lead the singing of Lilli Marlene as he felt that a suitable way for us to end the evening when international friendship had triumphed.  Aided by the Bitberger our rendition that night put Miss Dietricht, Ann Shelton, the Eighth Army and the whole of the Afrika Corps into the shade. 

There was some good racing too at these events.