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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

{ 5 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?

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