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


RE-START

Although I had had an early retirement forced upon me during 1956 and spent some time hydroplane racing I had maintained my motor sport contacts driving in the occasional trial and club event so in 1959 I found myself regularly attending meetings to act as pit manager, advisor and general dogsbody for both the Cambridge Racing A35 team which was contesting the British Championship with some success and my old friend Tom Threlfall who had a competitive Lotus Eleven. As that was the year the Lotus team were trying to make the new 17 work – usually without too much success – the eleven was more competitive than it should have been.  We had some good continental trips together including Rouen and Montlhery and by the autumn were sharing a grubby flat at Weybridge; grubby yes but an improvement on the back of Tom’s Austin truck which had often been our home during the summer.  The flat had one saving grace in the form of a long corridor where we organised drag races with clockwork cars; it is amazing how quickly a clockwork toy will accelerate with the governor removed from the motor even though it may be directionally unstable. 

Not surprisingly there was a strong urge to get back into racing myself and with my love of small saloons this was the obvious way to go.  We had known early about the impending arrival of the Mini and in my heart I knew this was the car I wanted.  It was small, light and most of all drove at the front, something I had come to understand and love through my experience with a Light 15 Citroen which had replaced the little Renault as something more suitable for towing my boat.   Mind you the little French car had gone surprisingly well with a trailer and racing hydroplane behind it nearly getting me into serious trouble one night when on the way home from a race meeting when I was stopped by the police for exceeding the speed limit and they admitted it had taken their Austin A90 about ten miles to catch and overtake me on the winding road from Haverhill to Cambridge. 

I had really bought the Citroen by chance.  A dealer in town had a Lancia Aprilia on offer and as I had long fancied one of these I went along and took it out.  How disappointing it was.   Perhaps this was a bad example but I took an instant dislike to the way it performed and haven’t even sat in one since although this model has always been hailed as one of the truly greats of all time.   Beside the Lancia was this old Citroen.  Black with yellow wheels it looked just like a Citroen should and it drove so well and effortlessly I did a deal on the spot; a deal I never regretted. 

By now I had a large hydroplane powered by a speedway JAP motorcycle engine on an Evinrude Storm underwater unit and this and its heavyweight trailer plus many gallons of alcohol fuel and a box of spares and tools must have tipped the scales at about a ton.  Nevertheless  on the clear Breckland roads leading to Oulton Broad the whole rig would cruise at over 70 mph – the towing speed was then 30 mph – and on the long open bends the front wheels would hold a tight line while the other four – two on the back of the car and two on the trailer – would perform a wonderfully invigorating four wheel drift. 

So I liked FWD and reckoned my Citroen experience might give me an initial advantage with the Mini as this was an unfamiliar feature to most drivers and one they viewed with some suspicion.   But fate played its part and so although I bought a new Mini as a road car I was not destined to race it immediately. 

Jean Curtis who was later to become Mrs Aley had borrowed one of the Cambridge Racing A35s, which was up for sale, to drive at the end of season CUAC speed trial at Snetterton and suggested that I too should drive it..  I did, and enjoyed it but on the last run tipped it on its side – not difficult with an A35 – so felt duty bound to buy it rather than face some unpleasantness with the owner who did not know I was going to drive it and knowing the – quite unjust - reputation I had at that time probably would not have given it if he had been asked. 

So I re-started my racing career in 1960 with a black and white A35, a season  which proved as successful as 1956 had been disastrous. 

And the reason?  Money and the experience to know how to spend it. 

I had had a few fortunate career changes so I was now a comparatively well paid motor claims assessor in the London area, a job in which I could work flexible hours, although the Prudential who employed me would have been horrified if they had know quite how flexible, and the opportunity for lots of wheeling and dealing with my motor trade friends.   So I no longer needed to pretend I was a good mechanic but could leave the maintenance and development to Don Moore in Cambridge while one of his chaps would drive it to meetings and look after it there leaving me to arrive in comparative luxury in the Mini. This meant the car was fast and reliable leaving me to do the bit at which, by comparison with mechanicing, I was pretty good. 

Apart from the remarkable Doctor Shepherd who was old enough to be everyone’s grandfather I was the old man in the class being about ten years older than anyone else and this was ten years which had been packed with motor sport experience.  I also had Jean in the background now to add her experience to the pot and be a sobering influence keeping me away from the more extreme temptations of the flesh which had sometimes been my downfall in the past. 

So began the best ten years of my life.