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