A Lifetime in Motorsport
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.
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
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
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
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.