Monday, January 18, 2021

KNOWLDALE
CAR CLUB

Deryck Pickup Remembers John Clegg

I first met John when I went to my first Knowldale meeting in January 1970, so I can only contribute memories from the last 45 years. There will be people who have known John far longer than that, since he first joined Knowldale in the late 1950's, and was on the committee continuously from May 1962, and was involved with E.C.F. for a similar length of time, so you may be thinking there are people better qualified than I to give their memories. I would answer this by saying that during those last 45 years the only times that I did not see John every week was when holidays or trouble at'mill  intervened.


I remember going into the Chapel House on that first Tuesday night with no idea what to expect and knowing nothing about rallying and being welcomed by John and Mike Sutcliffe. In my book, first impressions count for everything, and I soon realised I was in the company of a Grade A Character. I never had cause to revise that first opinion.


I learned that John's principal successes had come as a co-driver, mainly with Rev. Rupert Jones in the works Sunbeam Tiger, but that he harboured a desire to have a proper crack at driving the forest stages himself. To this end he had arranged the purchase of a damaged Volvo 122s with the assistance of fellow club member Harold Pedley, who worked at Wallworks, the Manchester Volvo agents. This car needed repairing and preparing for stage rallying and a Monday night fettling session in a workshop at John's mill soon became a regular feature. These sessions inevitably terminated in the pub and became a highlight of the week, sometimes also attended by a certain Barrie Williams, who was staying in the area at that time.


Once the car was finished one of the first events John entered was the 1971 Scottish, with Mike Sutcliffe ( Sutty) co-driving. The Monday night fettlers were the service crew. I remember that Sutty always maintained that his job was to ensure that John was navigated from stage to stage on the correct route and on time, and that driving the stages was John's job and was the only time that the co-driver could relax. Sutty was never without a tin of Jackie's home made parkin under his seat. At the end of one stage we heard the car coming before we saw it, rattling and clanking, to quote John “making a noise like a load of old tin cans falling off the town hall roof”. They pulled up and we asked John what had happened. He said they started the stage and Sutty, as was his wont, promptly went to sleep. After a few miles John misjudged a high speed corner and fell into the ditch, rattled along it for a couple of hundred yards, and finally managed to regain the road. Whilst John was re-adjusting his underwear and asking himself the question “are you the right man for the job?”, Mike had woken up and reached under his seat and asked John “would you like a piece of parkin?”


It was on this Scottish Rally that we met the late Colin Grewer, who rallied the same model of Volvo as John, although his car was much more heavily modified and achieved some outstanding results. Anyway, this meeting eventually resulted in another memorable outing with John, Colin and Chris Knowles-Fitton forming a team of three Volvos and caravans on the Caravan Rally. This lunatic enterprise was probably the only use for caravans of which Jeremy Clarkson might have approved, as by the time the vans had been dragged through forest stages at high speed there was very little left of them.


After this the old Volvo was showing signs of its age, and John decided to look out for a newer 142 model. After making some enquiries he discovered one was available at a local garage. It was a left-hooker that had been imported from France, where it had been the transport of an agricultural produce company. It immediately became known as the French lettuce saleman's car, and was to form the basis of John's rallying for the next few years.


Around this time the Avon Tour of Britain was in its heyday, and John was asked to co-drive for the late John Handley in an Alfa 2000 GTV. I think they used the Alfa in 72 & 73, finishing 3rd overall in 73, and 4th overall in 74 in a Dolomite Sprint.

Towards the end of 1978 John and Kath decided to tie the knot, and John asked me if I would like to be in the service crew on his honeymoon. Being somewhat uncertain as to what my duties might be I asked for some clarification and it turned out that John's idea of a honeymoon was to enter the East African Safari Rally. By this time it was just before Christmas, and although the rally did not take place until the following Easter, the Volvo had to be installed in a container full of wadding from Sutty's mill for shipment to Mombasa by the end of the first week of January. Bearing in mind there would be Christmas and New Year holidays it did not leave much room for car preparation. Fortunately over the years John had accumulated plenty of spare parts for the Volvo and these were added to the container on the basis of “if its cluttering up the garage floor, stick it in the box”. Whilst the rally car was enjoying a life on the ocean wave John and Kath could then get on with the wedding preparations.


As Easter approached John and Kath duly got married and we all got on the plane to Nairobi. The original plan had been for Sutty to be John's co-driver, but a few days before departure his daughter Nina had a nasty accident and Mike had to withdraw, so Colin Grewer stepped into the breach at short notice. Myself and David Marshall were to be one service crew, and the second service was to be carried out by Francis Tuthill, who had responded to an advert John placed in Motoring News.


After installing ourselves in a Nairobi hotel John and Colin left for Mombasa to retrieve the Volvo from the docks, which wasn't as simple as it may sound, bringing a whole new level to the word “bureaucracy”. After finally jumping through all the legal hoops they were allowed to set off back to Nairobi and had a narrow escape whilst driving through the night when a giraffe decided to cross the road in front of them. Apparently at night you only see the legs in your headlights as the body is too high up.


Finally the car was back at Nairobi, and the local Volvo dealer let us use his premises to get the car ready for the rally. I think we had about three days left to not only screw the car together, but to try and ensure it remained so. We had a very steep learning curve as we soon discovered that African rallying requirements were very different from English ones. High lift farm jacks were purchased and jacking points fitted, and platforms fabricated and fitted to the rear bumper to enable outside pushing crews to apply extra weight in deep mud. We also did our best to beef up the tank guard as the fuel tank was positioned under the boot floor but this unfortunately proved to be the car's Achilles heel.


Hire cars were procured to service from, but these were not widely available as in Europe, and proved to be very difficult to obtain. Francis managed to get hold of a VW Beetle, and we got a twin cylinder Alfasud. (A twin cylinder Alfasud looks just like a four cylinder one, having the same cylinder block, they just don't all contain pistons and valves ). After the hectic preparations the event itself almost seemed an anti-climax from the servicing point of view, as by the time John and Colin arrived at service points they were so far behind time that there wasn't any time left to do anything to the car, which was rapidly reducing itself to component form. Filling the car with petrol and its occupants with Sprite was about the limit of it. I think we lasted to sometime in the second day at Nakuru or Naivasha or somewhere beginning with “N”, where John and Colin finally appeared well over time. The fuel tank had long since parted company and when they pulled into the control Colin had applied some bushcraft and was sitting with a jerrycan of petrol between his knees with a petrol pipe going to a fuel pump on the floor in front of him, pumping fuel onwards in a carburrettorwardly direction. The written risk assessment for that one seems to have been mislaid!


The great adventure was over, and we spent the rest of the event as spectators watching Hannu and others showing how it should be done. With several coats of hindsight, you would say that the whole project was ill-advised, but this was the measure of John, he would never take “can't be done” as an answer. During his life he would always have a go at whatever the next project happened to be, and a more generous and entertaining friend you could not wish to have. Any time spent with John left you feeling happier than before, and his passing will leave a large hole in everone's lives.


Whist writing this, it has occurred to me how many people's names are now prefixed by the words “the late”, and now John's is also. Knowldale's AGM's will not be the same without John's “noodles and what-nots”, and ECF gatherings will miss his ready wit and humour.

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26 Jan 2021;
09:00PM -
Committee Meeting

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