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

 

 


MY WAY

Personal Background (1)

Like most boys growing up in the thirties I was very air minded.  These were great days in aviation with almost monthly long distance record flights, England had recently won the Schneider Trophy outright while in the military field an exciting  new brand of fast monoplanes was replacing the lumbering old biplanes of yore. 

I had an extra reason to be interested.  My father had flown in WW1 first with the Royal Flying Corps and after 1st April 1918 with the newly formed RAF.  I was born only ten years after he rejoined civvy street and became a headmaster of a typical village school but I can still recall the tales he and his contemporaries told of the war in the trenches and the air above, sitting around chatting in those pre-TV evenings. From him I learnt to recognise aircraft by type and understand what made one fly. 

I built model aeroplanes, some of which actually flew, not for long but far enough to encourage me into thinking of a career in flying.  Then inevitably Europe erupted into war again and although too young to take part, I found myself a sergeant in my father`s ATC squadron with no thoughts of anything except that day when I could falsify my age and bluff my way into the RAF.   Luckily for me an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and I was saved.   In recent years it has become fashionable to question the morality of this act but I do not think it was questioned by those of us who would have been faced with long and bloody battles storming “Fortress Japan”. 

But on balance I had a good war often learning my Latin verbs in the air raid shelter, fire watching, and enjoying free flying courtesey of the USAAF whose members were not much older than we schoolboys and did not know who we were in our ATC uniforms.  But, it had its darker moments, like in the early days learning first aid including instruction on laying out the dead bodies with which authority thought we should be surrounded within minutes of the declaration and later being machine gunned in the garden by a low flying JU88. Apart from an occasional outing to nearby Cadwell Park as a spectator I really had little interest in motor racing until the war ended, at which time there seemed little point in making the RAF my career and father gave me £5 for passing School Certificate.  At the same time my Uncle, a much less staid character than my parents, and a former motorcyclist found me a 1926 BSA that I could buy for that sum My life changed, I bought the bike, restored it learning the rudiments of how it all worked, learnt to ride in the school playground and nearby fields that were near Rattlesden school and on 23 January 1946 the day I was 16. took to the roads. 

Suddenly though without a war the idea of a career in the air force became less attractive leaving me to replan my life.   At the same time a motor cycling uncle found a very second hand bike for me which I bought with the fiver my father gave me for passing School Certificate.   I guess father was little taken aback by this as he had never had much to do with bikes and supposed that my scholastic prize would go towards a history book to further my studies.  Now I’d always enjoyed history – and still do – but when it was a toss up between Piers Plowman or a 20 year old BSA “Round tank” 250 there was no contest. 

Like most young men I loved that first motorcycle.  I rebuilt it – several times – learnt to ride in the field next door and took to the roads the day I was 16 and for the next four years enjoyed the freedom that only comes from two wheels.  Lessons were there to be learnt, sometimes painfully.  The art of motor dealing came easily when the BSA became a Sunbeam, the Sunbeam became an ex-WD Triumph which in turn became my first of a series of Velocettes.  My dabbling in competitions taught me that at last with the help of an engine I could do what I had never been able to do at any sport – win! 

I also learnt that no matter how much I may have enjoyed my bikes my lack of ability as a mechanic would always be a drawback but worse than that my poor sense of balance would prevent me being really successful. So an extra wheel to keep me upright seemed logical step.  First there was a sidecar attached to my Norton but that was an art I never mastered and then a Morgan Threewheeler that reverted to two wheels whenever a corner appeared. 

The future pointed towards four wheels. 

The thought of racing or indeed any other kind of motor sport on FOUR wheels had never entered my head as a boy.  I’d been to motor cycle racing at nearby Cadwell Park  and I believe I was taken to Donington when the Mercs and Auto Unions competed but sadly don’t remember much about it.  We were certainly a motoring family and I cannot remember when I could not drive a car having spent many happy hours manoeuvring father’s Austin 10 around the schoolyard as soon as I was big enough to reach the controls – and then with the aid of lots of cushions.  But racing! 

Remember, these were the days of the “Right crowd and no crowding” when everyone driving in a motor race or even just in the paddock had a title or lots of money or usually both.  What was the son of  a poorly paid schoolmaster doing in this company? 

Fortunately for me the war had brought a big change into the racing scene. 

For a start more people could drive, having been trained in the services, so when they returned to normal life they still craved some adventure.  The same political spirit which had elected a Labour government and chucked out the chap who had led us to victory ruled the end of pre war conceptions about who should do what. 

There was also the means to go racing which had not been there before …. hosts of disused airfields.  For four years England had been one large aircraft carrier with an aerodrome every few miles and all of these had concrete runways and perimeter tracks designed to accommodate the four engined aircraft of Bomber Command and the USAAF.   Laid in a hurry it was unlikely they would last long without expensive maintenance but  who worried about the future in the late forties.  What mattered then was that we had survived the war, there was no blackout or blitz at nights for those of us who had fought on the home front while for someone who had spent his formative years in the Burmese jungle or the dangerous night skies over Germany the thought of racing an old MG or home built Ford special was bliss. 

New motor clubs were appearing everywhere often with the object or organising races or speed trials on the nearest disused airfield and anything with four wheels and some competition potential suddenly became most desirable. 

This was the world into which I was suddenly thrown when a friend suggested to me that we should go along to a public meeting that was to be held in Cambridge with the object of founding a local motor club for townspeople who were not eligible to be members of the old established University Motor Club.   With amazing originality we called the new club the Cambridge 50 Car Club – it being 1950 – and although I kept a low profile at first it wasn’t long before I became competition secretary and editor of the monthly news letter as well as being a keen competitor. 

We organised an event of some sort every month and so did the nearby Bedford Enthusiasts, the Falcon (Hertfordshire) and the Eastern Counties to name but a few so without travelling far we had a wide choice of events every week end.  We did them all, rapidly gaining experience in forms of motor sport but not daring to move up to anything greater like the Daily Express Races at Silverstone, the RAC rally or even the Lands End trial which we continued to dream about. Some of us ever dreamed of racing abroad on great tracks we had only read about. 

Little did I know that in the next 20 years I should do all this – and a lot more.