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Lotus 20 FJ

Photo: John Fenning Collection

Ron Harris was a wealthy man who had a company distributing 16-mm films, obviously prior to the days of video, who was running his own Formula Junior team. Apart from my initial experience of driving a racing car for the first time, this is the only other thing I distinctly remember from those early days. But what a day! Ron had his office in Surbiton, Surrey; around the corner was a car sales run by John Gee-Turner. He was to be one of my teammates. There was another chap who was offered a drive too, but I can’t recall his name, but I remember our first race together. We all went up to Snetterton for our first race; I think it was September time, quite late in the season anyhow. When I got there I saw these two Lotus 20s on a double-deck trailer. Ron came to the circuit in his red E-Type Jaguar coupe, with its gleaming chrome wheels. I couldn’t believe it; I was in the presence of motor racing royalty. E-Type Jaguars were things that were at the cutting edge of motoring, it was a car still being talked about, and I hadn’t dreamed that anyone had one yet. It’s something I remember as though it were yesterday—it made a great impression on me.

In the race I had qualified reasonably well, I’m not sure of my grid position— possibly halfway, but, I hadn’t disgraced myself. The other chap was a couple of places behind me. John Hogan, a real hero of mine who’d raced at the Isle of Man TT on a BSA he built himself, was a spectator at the first corner. As the flag dropped, we all sped off from the grid to the first righthander— Riches Corner—as I was about to turn, CRASH!! My teammate had Tboned me. I walked back to the pits and told the team what had happened. Ron accepted what I had said. The other chap said I’d hit him, John had seen what had happened and told Ron. I was asked to wait for a phone call, which I got a few weeks later when I learned I had a full-time drive in the Ron Harris Team for the 1962 season.

After I got the call, you can’t believe how I felt. Previously, I was scratching around, with Father, trying to get the money and bits and pieces here and there; now I was just driving for a man who to me, had more money than God. He was paying for my pleasure. One of the first races of the 1962 season was at Oulton Park. John (Gee-Turner) and I were racing. During the race, John was driving down Cascades, he was a tall man, 6’ 2” or 3” and he sat very proud of the cockpit, as he came through the curves the car flipped and landed up-side-down. John was very fortunate to get away with minor injuries, it really frightened him. His wife was petrified, she told him he was not to race again…ever. So, that was the end of my teammate. For the rest of the season, I had the complete luxury of having two great cars prepared for me at each meeting. I had landed on my feet, with two Lotus 20s at my disposal. The only downside was they had Renault Dauphine gearboxes, but we got over that by running 13-inch wheels on short circuits and 15s on the longer circuits. Purely by sheer luck we had two of the fastest engines on the grid; all my life I’d been scratching trying to draft people in a straight line, now I had the power to ease by them. We had gone from a 1000-cc, 80-mm hole, to an 85-mm hole. I’m not sure what this bore did to the two blocks, but it was fantastic, it gave 105-hp—everyone else had 101-hp. For the first time I was able to compete on the same level. The main thing I recall was being able to be there or thereabouts at the end of a race and continually being able to compete on a more even basis than I’d been able to do before. It was terrific.

As told to Mike Jiggle