Correspondent’s Cars: From Arkley to Australia to Arkley

by pete on June 24, 2014

We don’t know if this will be a regular feature, but when our Australian correspondent (and author of our Montier Ford VTS Folio) told us about his latest purchase, we could’t resist running the story, even though Chris did not buy a French or Italian car. But his is a unique ‘full circle’ story and one you will definitely enjoy. [Ed.]

Story by Chris Martin
Color photos by Karen Martin

I was born and raised in Arkley near Barnet just north of London, and while still a teenager at school I had a Saturday job at the garage in the village that was owned by John Britten, a well known sports car racer in the Sixties. Britten dominated his class in the ModSports category in initially a yellow Lenham bodied Austin-Healey Sprite, and later a much modified orange MG Midget.

John Britten pushing hard in his racing Arkley.

The team also ran a second orange Midget for Gabriel Konig and even had a pair of custom built MG Midget pickups as tow cars for the racers – painted orange, of course. He sold sports cars at the garage; MGs, Morgans, TVRs and others, and I got to clean cars all day except when I was chosen for other dirty jobs. In late ’69 he designed a special conversion based on Austin-Healey Sprites and MG Midgets and called it the Arkley SS.

A line of Arkleys - not Bugeyes - for sale facing John Britten’s racing version with a group of MGs and Morgans behind.

I had a hand in mixing fibreglass and resin to mold the first few made, and then after a couple were made it was decided they would probably sell well, so the molds were sent out to Lenham a sub-contractor already known for various glass fibre mouldings and racing MGs and Healeys.

The Arkley brochure.

Britten sold complete cars, or kits of parts for customers to make their own. It is thought they sold about 1,000 before he sold the business in the mid 1980s. John went on to build up the Tecno chain of camera shops and then even owned the Brands Hatch circuit in partnership with Jonathan Palmer before he died five years ago. The original mouds are now owned by Peter May who used to work for Britten and I believe the parts are still available from him.

From those messy beginnings did my stellar race car building career begin!!!

Over the years I later worked on all types of race cars including IndyCars and twelve years in Formula One until I relocated to Australia in semi-retirement.

I always promised myself one day I should try to find an Arkley, but when I put the word about here all I could find from the Australian Sprite Car Club was that there were only two known in the country. I contacted one owner in Sydney and his is in parts, has been for years, and he does not plan to sell. Then suddenly a few weeks ago, a friend in the club informed me the other known one was for sale. Based on a 1971 MG Midget with a 1275cc engine and everything rebuilt it seemed ok. It was 600 miles north of here at Tweed Heads on the Queensland border but after asking questions during a couple of phone calls it appeared as if we could do a deal so I booked a flight from Sydney to Gold Coast, bought it, and drove it home.

Still crazy after all these (44) years. Chris enjoys the Arkley again.

Not as easy as it sounds, I got caught in a heavy downpour just north of Grafton with the top down! Then there were the racing bucket seats the previous owner had fitted; they look good and suit the car, but not too comfortable for driving such a distance. Result; bruised bum!
Then there was the evening rush hour through Sydney which slowed me down for a couple of hours and I discovered a faulty earth in the headlight wiring which caused a few problems, but I eventually made it down to Shellharbour…Job done!

Chris apologizes to his fellow Englanders for the blue skies. After all, he says, it's winter in OZ.

Since then, I have tidied up a few minor details and fixed the intermittent earthing that was causing the headlights and direction indicators to do their own thing. I have no intention of preparing it to show standards, so I am happy with the appearance just as it is. I may treat it to a new set of carpets and a cover for the soft-top, but there would be no point in fitting a stereo! Mechanically it seems to have been well restored and maintained and it has been on a couple of club runs so far with no problems but generating many questions from the curious.

Over 10,000 miles from home, and forty-four years since I helped launch the car, this little red rarity is still having fun.

BUT! For me, there is another link to Arkley:

Barnet Road, not as this photographer named it; Arkley High Road, in the 1930s, the entrance to the village garage would be to the right of where the car is parked. This writer spent the first few months of his life there, and John Britten took it over in the 1960s.

The address on my birth certificate is ‘The Caravan, Village Garage, Barnet Road, Arkley Herts. The garage back then was just the normal two petrol pumps and one mechanic general service place until John Britten bought it in the mid-sixties. Yep, the same place that this car was built. I tell people I am officially a Gypsy under British law (which is probably true anyway) but the real reason for living in a caravan is that my parents were having a new house built nearby. There was still a shortage of housing in Britain after WW2 and as they knew the Morris family who owned the garage and the paddock behind they bought a caravan and paid a weekly rent. They even had running water connected. Luckily it was summer and the weather not too cold.

How is that for coincidence?

An original John Britten decal has now been added to the Martin Arkley.

VeloceToday Select Number Three: Montier’s French Racing Fords
by Chris Martin

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryan Cole June 24, 2014 at 10:03 pm

really loved this story, being an ex MG Abingdon employee (1968-1973) now living in Adelaide, south Aust.
Isn`t it great when an enthusiast finds a car that has some meaning to him from his youth, mine was owning an Austin A90 Atlantic, the difference is that I did not get this car.

Terry June 25, 2014 at 5:19 am

Nice article,I have just purchased a 1967 Arkley that has been parked in a dry garage for the last 20 years,always thought they looked great,needs a lot of TLC but I have the time,just got a factory hardtop for it(for when the sky isnt quite as blue as it is at the moment)outer sills are being attacked by me and my mig……brakes suspension and bushings are next,oh and a fuel pump,havent even tried to get the motor running yet,that can wait for a while……onwards and upwards as they say…..rgdz….Terry

Peter Hopkins June 26, 2014 at 2:23 am

I remember the English car magazines at the time referring to Arkley’s as Noddy Cars as they looked like the ones in the Enid Blyton’s Noddy and Big Ears books – especially when in bright yellow.

Chris Martin June 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Peter, you are quite right, I have already had that suggestion, and if I paint it yellow with red ‘guards, I already have the white beard like Big Ears, all I need now is a red pointy hat!
I might add though, as this is primarily a site about Italian (and French) cars, the Fiat Gamine by Vignale is a closer match – search Google images for Noddy Car and see what comes up.
If I can find a volunteer Noddy maybe we could rent it out for children’s parties?

Peter Hopkins July 3, 2014 at 3:03 am

Hmm, not too sure about two old geezers attending children’s party dressed like that in such a car. Willing to give it a try though. I see you are in NSW. Sydney perhaps?

Steve Martin February 24, 2015 at 1:21 am

Hello Chris

This must be a “Martin” thing, as believe it or not I also have an Arkley SS in Adelaide South Australia. I am from Essex England and have lived in South Australia since 1992 but have owned my Arkley since 1984. In 2004 I went back to England and had my Arkley shipped over to South Australia. It arrived a few months later and then it had been garaged for some time before I decided to rebuild the mechanics of it. If you are interested I could send you some photographs and more information on the rebuild. So that must make it 3 Arkley SS’s in Australia ?

Kind regards

Chris Martin February 25, 2015 at 4:48 am

Not so fast there Steve! I have since had a hint there is one based on a late seventies 1500 Midget in Melbourne, although so far enquiries to relevant clubs have produced no further evidence. There was also someone in the Melbourne area who advertised a set of panels AND moulds on ebay a few years back; so what were the moulds doing here, or why? So it could be as many as four, possibly even five now !!! I mean what are we to do, if they are that common I may as well sell it on and keep searching for that Bucciali or else throw my lot in with the herd and start an Arkleys Of Australia Club. Hah, that would work really well would it not; next AGM and rally somewhere east of Wagga in ten years time? But seriously, I am pleased to hear from another, I don’t know Adelaide, and certainly do not plan driving that far in an Arkley (I am not totally mad) but if you use Facebook you can connect with me and many others around the world by searching for; Arkley SS Enthusiasts at; we have found a few in the UK and US, as well as Denmark, France and Spain. Either way, glad to hear from you.

Chris Martin July 5, 2015 at 1:31 am

Is there any way I can contact Steve Martin who left the comment above? He presumably did not see my reply, but I would like to get in touch; maybe Peter, you have an email address you can forward this to? Or at least forward my email address. Is this possible? It seems there is yet another Arkley in Australia (Canberra), so three confirmed now.

Alan Knight August 12, 2015 at 2:30 am

I grew up in a village called Well End and it would be in the early 60’s that I first met John Britten. He lived in the village and began selling sports cars that were parked in his garden. I can remember seeing Frog eyed Sprites, MG Midgets etc. Because he was operating from within his garden, it was difficult to locate him and we were often asked for directions from lost potential customers. It was from here that he moved to the Arkley site.

Colin Lowe November 1, 2015 at 2:32 am

Found this side and the memory’s came flooding back like Alan I’m form Well End but moved to Borehamwood in 1948, but my Grandmother still lived in Well End so I would visit . From what I can remember JBs home and car yard was in Well End Rd near Potters Lane. I guess WE must have change so much over the year, the last time I visited was over 40 years ago and the local drinking hole The Lord Nelson called by the locals the Mops n Brooms had be renamed the Mops and Brooms, not sure the Anderson ( owners in the early 50s) family would have liked that ..

Bruce Abrey June 7, 2016 at 5:39 am

Memories eh? Now living in Perth WA I grew up in Potters Bar not far from Arkley. Before John Britten opened in Arkley he used to sell cars like Moggie 3 wheelers from his parents front garden in Well End, I used to cycle there to check out the cars. Later we used to visit the Arkley premises and always enjoyed his interesting adverts in Motor Sport. The brand new Morgan plus 4 plus was slowly discounted more and more, I remember thinking it would be a good asset one day, try to afford one today! These days I have a café racer bike, a hot Sprite, a Midget being restored and a ’64 TVR Griffith race car half restored.

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