Many of you will have known John Wadsworth who sadly passed away recently (he was one of the longest standing members of the Lancashire Automobile Club).
Mike Wood was both a friend and fellow competitor with John and he has kindly put a few words together to give us some more deails on John’s exceptional life.
1937 – 2021
I had known John since I left school and most of us from Burnley lived in the same area, but to be accurate I was more aware of his father Edgar. I had been at school in the Isle of Man from the mid 1940’s and by the time I left in 1950 the seeds of Motor Sport had been sown because of the Manx TT. I badly wanted to race around the TT course like Geoff Duke on a Norton, obviously this was never to be.
Every January the Monte Carlo Rally took place and whilst the event was happening, the great Raymond Baxter reported its progress on the radio every night, no television in those days. Several times he would mention the name Edgar Wadsworth and I was thrilled to hear his name mentioned, John and I had yet to meet. Without doubt Edgar became my mentor.
As we lived in the same part of Burnley, John and I soon met along with others who had been away at boarding schools, including John Waddington. I am sure that I got to meet my hero Edgar at some point, later I got to know him very well.
Luckily for me I started navigating for John Waddington and we had quite a lot of success together, but around 1957 he packed it all in to look after the family textile business. I am sure that John Wadsworth would have started doing small club rallies around that period also; after all he did have the right DNA. In 1962 John asked me if I would navigate for him on the RAC Rally in his Mini Cooper, this was the year that RAC Rally started to use forest stages. We knew that we did not stand much chance of success, but it would give us a chance to see what those forest stages looked like. We did finish, not too badly I think, but definitely no awards. John continued rallying, but now his regular navigator and another Burnley resident was Alan Cooke. John did the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally with another local man, racing driver Geoff Breakell, they qualified as finishers, but were not highly placed.
Now we come to the year 1964, this has to be John’s best Motor Sport year ever. He and Alan entered the French Alpine Rally as private owners in John’s Mini Cooper 1275 S. For those who do not remember this was one of rallying’s hardest events and it was always every crews dream to win a Alpine Cup for a clean sheet, John and Alan did exactly that, an achievement seldom gained by a non works crew. Next, he entered and competed on the Tour de France Automobile, again a private entry and won his class. Now came the big one, the Spa-Sofia-Liege Rally (Marathon de la Route). A lot has been written about John and I on this event, so I will try and condense it a little.
BMC were entering five works cars for this rally, they were three Big Healey’s and two MGB’s. About three weeks before the rally I got a telephone call from Team Manager Stuart Turner saying that he was going to enter a works Mini and wanted John and I to crew it, in the same breath he said, a Mini has never finished this event and I do not expect this entry to be the exception Subsequently their main focus would be on the Healey’s and the MGB’s and therefore the service crews would not carry any Mini spares, they would have tyres for us and fuel, but that would be all.
The Liege, as it was fondly known, was 3,500 miles in length, incurring four nights and days motoring with only a one hour stop in Sofia. The roads in Yugoslavia as it was then known and Bulgaria were mostly unsurfaced and in parts extremely rough and this combined with the high average speeds imposed in both those countries made it almost impossibly challenging, particularly for a small car like a Mini. As I said previously much has now been documented about this 1964 event, but at the end of it all John and I got the Mini to the finish, the only Mini ever to accomplish this. Just for the record, only two Works BMC cars finished, Rauno Aaltonen and Tony Ambrose won the event in their Healey and we were the only other BMC finisher in next to last place, 20th out of 21. This was the last time the Liege would be run as a road event and our achievement was soon forgotten. However, over the years and what John and I achieved has risen to the top of the pond and it has now become a part of motor sport history. I must say at this point that about 75% of what we did was down to John, he did almost all of the driving because of the high speeds required, so in my opinion, but for him I would be not writing this now.
Time then moved on, John joined another friend and the two of them created a new and very successful local Financial Advisor business, Hartley Spencer. At some point in later on in years we were contacted by another ex-BMC Team Manager, Peter Browning and asked if we would help him run a Classic Touring event called the Prix des Alpes. We were both very happy to be involved in this and enjoyed many years running controls etc for Peter.
John however had not given up, he wanted more. Now into his 70’s and along with lifelong friend John Waddingtton, also in his 70’s they shared a Ford KA in various BTRDA and British Car Trials. At the same time he was competing with his two MX5’s in sprints, hill-climbs and autosolos, often doing two events in a weekend from his home base in Harrogate which he shared with his partner Nina. In 2017 aged 80, John competed on 51 events; he was Class1 MSA British CarTrials Champion and was 3rd overall in the prestigious BTRDA Allrouders Championship.
What a Motor Sport career. He was an excellent and safe driver, but most of all he was a good friend. I will sadly miss him.
John (on the left) with Mike, on the Liege