A Very British Motorcycle Enthusiast

Simon Elliott at Ideal Motorcycles

This week I am in the company of lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and mechanic, Simon Elliott. He greets me at the entrance to the Ideal Motorcycle showrooms, a venue well known to enthusiasts and collectors.

As we enter the contemporary barn showroom I am greeted by an extraordinary range of vintage, classic and historic motorcycles, most of which are for sale. Each has been painstakingly researched and sourced by Simon. He says “I have a passion for the history of these bikes and their owners. It’s fascinating when you have the original bill of sale or some photographs of a bike from its past.”

Simon’s father, John, racing an Ariel at the Isle of Man TT in 1954

His father, John, raced in the Senior Race at the Isle of Man TT in 1954 which perhaps, in part, explains Simon’s love of motorcycles. His interest dates from an early age. In 1967, at the age of seven, Simon was competing with the Horsham Schoolboy Scramble Club on a bike built by his father.

Simon Elliott has turned a passion for motorcycles into a business.

Two of Simon’s favourite bikes currently in the showrooms are trials machines from the era when his father was racing.

A 1950 Triumph T5 Trophy motorcycle

He is keen to show me the Triumph TR5 Trophy which was first registered on 2nd January 1950 and is delighted that he has the original bill of sale and records for much of the motorcycle’s history. Simon enthuses “The bike’s Trophy name came after Triumph won the Italian International Six Day Trial (ISDT) and the manufacturer’s team trophy in 1949. Triumph would also win the ISDT in 1950 and 1951. It was a motorcycle designed to be used every day and for competition at the weekend with its 500cc twin overhead valve engine and wide ratio gearbox.”

A 1951 Norton 500T motorcycle

Simon draws my attention to a beautifully restored Norton 500T dating from 1951. Simon explains “It was the only trials bike Norton made in any quantity. It was really intended for competition and unlike the Triumph even the lights were an extra.”

Simon is often to be found at motorcycle shows and events and really values the camaraderie amongst his fellow enthusiasts. He says “People who are passionate about motorcycles often visit or telephone the showrooms just for an informed chat. I’m really pleased that Ideal Motorcycles is becoming a hub for fellow collectors in West Sussex. It’s always good to see them.” Simon has recently welcomed Sussex members of the Vintage Motorcycle Club and British Motorcycle Club at the Ideal Motorcycle showroom.

Simon Elliott’s eclectic motorcycling interests are reflected in his stock. You will find bikes from many eras and nations each carefully chosen by this knowledgeable and passionate connoisseur.

British motorcycles of the Post-War period reflect our nation’s engineering flair and inventiveness. Each has a unique character and individuality which continues to delight enthusiasts more than half a century after they were manufactured.

Simon Elliott has turned his passion for collecting motorcycles into a business. To find out more about Ideal Motorcycles, Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS, go to www.idealmotorcycles.co.uk or telephone 01903 892492.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the World’s First True Supercar

The iconic gull-wing doors which give their name to the car

As the September dew begins to settle around the Goodwood motor racing circuit, the evocative sound of racing engines and smell of Castrol oil from the 2015 Goodwood Revival are fading to memories. I am visiting my great friend John Young, the renowned racing driver, who has invited me to come and see his rare 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, one of the most iconic cars of the post-war era.

As we walk down the drive together in conversation, the Gullwing comes into view and its lines still have the power to excite. The silver beauty before us is particularly special, an example of the world’s first true supercar and in wonderful, original condition. John Young explains, “I bought the car in 1973 from Dennis de Ferranti, who’d had it from new. His father was a brilliant engineer who set up the electronics company Ferranti.” John, the former managing director of the Mercedes-Benz agents Rose and Young, has a particular affinity for the marque. His father, George, founded the firm with his friend Jack Rose. George Young bought out his partner in 1937. “Mercedes were amongst the best cars and selling well,” says John, “so a dealer franchise was hard to get, but we were one of the first in the country.”

The beautiful lines of the Gullwing
The Gullwing’s interior

Contemporary motoring correspondents in the 1950s were fulsome in their praise of these extraordinary cars, though most acknowledged their unforgiving nature if driven hard. John Young smiles as he exclaims, “When you drive a 300SL quickly, it’s important to keep the power on in the corners or they spin – you’ve really got to drive it! Moss was the master.” He pauses and then continues, “Moss was the best driver of these; he was very good.”

After the Second World War, Mercedes were only allowed to return to racing in 1950. 1951 saw a series of victories for the marque including a 1-2 at Le Mans. The Gullwing’s body attracted sensational interest amongst the press and motoring enthusiasts. Stirling Moss’s win in a 300SLR at the 1955 Italian Mille Miglia road race helped to seal Mercedes’ dominance in motor racing and his reputation as one of the greatest drivers of all time. Moss was accompanied by the writer and navigator Denis Jenkinson, known as “Jenks”. Jenks gave an account of Moss’s remarkable drive, writing for Motor Sport in June 1955. It emphasised the driver’s concentration and commitment and his particular gift for setting up and balancing a car at extreme speed through towns and countryside. Moss would later remark that the roadside crowds gave the event a “fiesta feeling”.

Unlike Jenks, John Young remarks that he is a “bad passenger” – unsurprising coming from a man who was used to being in control behind the wheel of a racing car. Amongst many racing drives in 1955, John was a works driver to the Connaught team and raced in the Goodwood Nine Hours Endurance Race in a Lotus-Connaught with John Coombes. “I’ll never forget my mate Roy Salvadori offering to show me a circuit,” he says. “I got in the car but, my goodness, you’d hold on when he was flat out. He went so fast that I slid under the dashboard!” Roy Salvadori famously won Le Mans for Aston Martin in 1959.

John Young, co-driver to his friend John Coombs in a 2.6 Alfa Romeo in the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival

I ask John if he ever competed in the Mille Miglia. He answers modestly, “I drove the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival in an Alfa Romeo 2.6 with John Coombs.”

Gentleman racer and collector John Young in his 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

Our conversation returns to John’s beautiful 300SL Gullwing. “These cars were really advanced for their time, with their tubular space frames and in-line, six-cylinder engines, which have a racing note,” he comments. I remark on the large side vents which, like the doors, are such a distinctive feature of the Gullwing. John responds, “They are important for discharging the heat from under the bonnet. Although the lines and details are beautiful, this is above all a properly engineered car.” You sit low in the car and the evocative smell of the original blue leather captures the senses. John explains that most of these cars had fabric seats and that this was a rare option. In the driving seat, your view beyond the ivory coloured steering wheel, instrument binnacle and painted dash is of the long, gently curving bonnet with its two characteristic bulges. Underway, the engine revs rise rapidly and there is a hard note to this engine, reminding you that its heritage is in motor racing. The excitement of the engineered, mechanical qualities of this remarkable vehicle delight the senses. John acknowledges the tremendous acceleration these cars are capable of. Although they were raced, they are truly grand tourers.

Returning to John’s terrace, we sit drinking champagne as the sun begins to set on what will be one of the last warm evenings of the year. With the South Downs before us, my friend John Young regales with stories of a glamorous motor racing age of gentlemen racers and enthusiasts now overtaken. Like its generous owner, this Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing stands as a wonderful testament to this remarkable post-war period.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 1st October 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

John Young: Gentleman Racer, Collector & Enthusiast

John Young racing his MG TC at Goodwood 1949
John Young in his MG TC at Goodwood 1951

The Sussex Downs have only just finished reverberating to the exuberant sound of racing cars and motorcycles at Goodwood Festival of Speed. Racing cars delight the senses with a cacophony of sound, the smell of racing oil and tyres and the spectacle of speed and colour. This week I am with my great friend John Young, a man whose life has been closely bound up with the fortunes of motor racing and automobiles. A works driver for the Connaught team in the 1950s, with drives at many of the great motor racing circuits and races, John Young is part of that glamorous and courageous cohort of racing drivers in the years after the Second World War.

When he left Dulwich College, John joined the R.A.F. “I wanted to fly a Spitfire,” he says, “but there were too many pilots just after the war for me to get a look in, so I left and joined the family firm, Rose and Young. We were agents for Mercedes-Benz.” He continues, “My father always wanted to race but my mother would never have let him. I was mad keen on cars when I was young and so he encouraged me.” John has always had a passion for glamour and speed and he is still mad keen about cars, having collected and owned some of the world’s most iconic automobiles. John’s enthusiasm has not diminished over the years. “I’ve still got my 1955 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing,” he says excitedly. The silver Gullwing is particularly special, the world’s first true supercar and in beautiful, original condition.

John Young racing his Healy Silverstone Chassis D20
John Young racing his Healy Silverstone Chassis D20 at Goodwood 1952

His first experience of speed came when he was taken to an airfield where Roy Salvadori was testing a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. John explains, “Roy came tearing to a halt beside where we were standing, asking for a passenger to balance the car and I volunteered!” This marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Roy Salvadori was an exceptional driver, winning at Le Mans in 1959 for Aston Martin and driving in more than fifty Formula One races. I ask John if he ever raced at Le Mans; he replies, “My mate Maurice Charles asked me to drive with him in his Jaguar D-type at Le Mans but he turned it over before I’d had a turn.”

John Young racing
John Young racing in the 1955 Goodwood Nine Hour Endurance Race in his Lotus-Connaught
John Young in his Ford Anglia on the XXVIme Monte Carlo Rally 1956

John Young raced at Goodwood, Silverstone and many of the famous circuits of his era. “We raced everything in those days,” he remarks. “I entered the Monte Carlo Rally with John Coombs and Roy Salvadori in a Ford Anglia and did the rally again with Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5. Even in my day, motor racing was becoming much more commercialized, but I started in an MG TC that my father bought me, which I raced at Goodwood. I then drove a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, which Coombs prepared for me.” Always the gentleman racer, in 1955 John was taken on as the works driver to the Connaught team. In 1956 he raced for them at Aintree alongside Mike Hawthorn, Roy Salvadori, Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss, who won the B.A.R.C. Grand Prix event in a privately entered 250F Maserati. “I owned a 250F Maserati Grand Prix car,” John says nonchalantly, a grin crossing his face. “I used it in the Brighton Speed Trials in the 1960s before I sold it to Fangio for his South American museum. Fangio was an extraordinary driver.”

John Young and Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5
John Young and Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5 on the XXVIIme Monte Carlo Rally 1958

In 1955 John raced in the Goodwood Nine Hours Endurance Race in a Lotus-Connaught, seen here. His co-driver was John Coombs, who, like John Young, also had a successful garage business and was instrumental in developing and persuading Jaguar to build a lightweight E-type to compete with the 250GTO Ferrari. “We were going well in the Connaught and racing into the evening,” John explains, “until Coombs came in saying his hands were cold and borrowed my gloves. Shortly after that he turned it over but, thank God, he was alright!”

John Young 250F Maserati 1960s
John Young in his 250F Maserati at the Brighton Speed Trials in the 1960s

John Young was offered a drive in a Connaught at the 1955 Dundrod TT in Ireland with a talented young driver Bill Smith. John recounts the story of the race. “We tossed-up to decide who would drive first. He won the toss but was killed at Deer’s Leap during that first stint.” John is still clearly affected by the memory of this loss. Two other drivers lost their lives at Dundrod in 1955. With such high safety standards in modern motor racing, it is hard to reflect on how dangerous the sport was in those post-war years. Philosophically John remarks, “You have no fear when you’re young and we had a good time in those days. It was exciting – the racing, the camaraderie, the travelling and the pretty girls!”

I ask John if he has raced since and he answers, “I gave up motor racing in the 1950s and took up boats – did a few things like the Fastnet Race – but I have done some classic car events like the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival in an Alfa Romeo 2.6, which I drove with John Coombs.”

John Young, co-driver to his friend John Coombs in a 2.6 Alfa Romeo in the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival

As I leave, I ask him why he doesn’t live in Monaco with his peers and he gestures towards the South Downs and replies, “Oh, I’ve had yachts down there but I love England. Look at that view – why would you want to be anywhere else!” His delight in sharing a story and his enthusiasm are balanced by his self-effacing modesty. A generous man, John Young epitomises the best of his era: a gentleman racer, a collector and an enthusiast with a deep love of life, cars and the Sussex countryside.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 17th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.