Chris was excited by cars and driving right from an early age, so was well prepared to be let loose in the battered Land Rover Series I in which he and other friends in his Motor Enthusiasts Club charged round the school boundaries (the vehicle was actually designated for those doing mechanics in the CCF). One such friend, who knew equally little about driving (and mechanics), showed him that being a passenger was the least safe option when he drove through a hedge and they landed 20 feet below in the next field.
Chris graduated to his father’s 1964 Ford Consul convertible in which he passed his driving test shortly after his 17th birthday. With a 3 speed column shift, plastic bench seats, cross-ply tyres, wipers that slowed when the engine laboured, a floor mounted dip switch, no seat belts, no heated rear screen, no wing mirrors and a lethal imbalance between the front and rear, this was an excellent car in which to learn to drive one that subscribed to the Jeremy Clarkson school of “having a large spike pointed at the driver’s chest gives a sense of responsibility and awareness”. And having left home at 18 he moved on to a Willys Jeep which had even fewer safety features than the Ford, so this may be why he now takes so much care not to fall off the track …
Leaving school with good results but a parental veto on his desire to take an English literature degree course saw him join an insurance company in London as a trainee actuary. This lasted approximately six weeks when a friend pointed out that the boredom was worth it because the pension prospects were so good. At 18 this was more than he could cope with, so he left the same day and started selling encyclopedias door to door in the evenings. He was surprisingly, and rather embarrassingly, successful at this and shortly had a team (consisting of an opera singer, a mercenary, a painter and self-confessed thief) working under him on which he made substantial commissions. Sadly the next guy up the ladder (or more accurately pyramid) thought that he shouldn’t pass the working hours in the pub so he was once again searching for profitable employment.
During these weeks he had been spending his spare money at Brands Hatch Racing Stables where he went through all the stages from a TVR Vixen to Formula Ford races under the auspices of Tony Lanfranchi and others. His racing career ended in ignominy when he hit the barrier hard at Druids avoiding a spinner (no gravel traps then).
Formula Fords at Brands Hatch 1967 (Ref 15)
A short layoff to recoup sufficient funds to start again lasted nearly 30 years ….
Needing an income he called on all his contacts and scraped an interview with the Evening Standard where, instead of the journalist’s position he would have liked, he ended up a space salesman. Covering end of year company reports he shared the job with two ex-Royal Navy Lt Commanders whose company was both congenial and elevated. He soon learned that it was all too easy to lose count of the rounds in Balls Brothers in Leadenhall Street, but that the office was a very good place to catch up on lost sleep in the afternoon. The advent of a new hard-nosed Sales Director meant that the easy life soon disappeared and he was searching around for new pastures when he was offered jobs with an oil company and, across the road, in the marketing department of the Express Group, which he accepted. From there he moved onwards and upwards every six months to be Assistant to the General Manager of the Evening Standard, Assistant Circulation Manager, Colour Production Manager and, finally, Production Manager. That was in the pre-Murdoch era though and the absurdity of the labour situation in the newspaper industry convinced him that this wasn’t what he wanted to do.
During this temporary period of financial stability he married Virginia, who he had met initially in Spain and then followed to Paris where she was teaching. When she moved back to Spain he took advantage of the many ‘property inspection flights’ to Spain, where large holes in the ground were being marketed to gullible English punters as desirable holiday apartments in the sun. The many weekends together convinced them that the language barrier was not an obstacle and they married in Caxton Hall in Westminster.
Once again, he changed course and moved to the coast to become an antique dealer. The novelty palled after a few years and his bank manager among others suggested that a return to a proper job was necessary. So he joined Saga Holidays to assess the customer database and within a year was Marketing Manager and then a few years later Executive Assistant to the Chairman.
Getting the first personal computer in the company coincided with the inevitable desire to move on and he set up as a database consultant using one of the new-fangled machines and an increasing knowledge of programming dBase. He soon was also advising on print production and has been constructing and printing catalogues and brochures ever since.
Marriage brings with it certain financial constraints and the first of these required the sale of his MGB to raise the deposit on their first flat beside the Albert Hall. It took 20 years for him to get another sports car which was a Morgan +4 four seater in 1992. He had put his name down for a Plus 8 but children came along and he felt that, while he might get away with a 4 seater sports car, there was no way he could justify a 2 seater when there were four in the family. But three children were an impossibility even in a 4 seater, so after a track day in 1995 organised by Rick Bourne, he bought a 1986 +8 which Brands Hatch Morgan then gradually equipped for racing.
His first Morgan race at Thruxton was a grim affair. A Bank Holiday, it poured with rain and his only recollection is keeping up with the fog light on the noisy blue Plus 4 Super Sports in front (because otherwise he thought he might lose his way round the unknown circuit). With more and more being done to the car, it was finally modified to Class B spec.
He won Class B in 2000 and 2001 and was a member of the winning 6 hour and 12 hour Birkett teams in 2000. He was awarded the MSCC Challenge Cup in 2000 and has been awarded the Pickersleigh Cup (for best performance in a Plus 8) twice. In 2002 he is racing a new Class B car, having retired his old one to road use. Chris will also be co-driving with John Clarke the Morgan 4-4 Le Mans recreation at the Le Mans Classic in September 2002.
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© 2002 John Clarke