By Cliff Watts


I bought the Pony Express car from Bruce Eggleton and Ron Billbury, a US Serviceman, in 1973 or late ‘72. Planning to share the driving with Jon Annear I soon found he was a much better driver than me and that I couldn’t handle the stress of transportation, wrenching, club committee duties plus driving as well. Jon was a budding lawyer or an accountant at the time (he has been both and I forget), I was a builder so neither had the necessary expertise. We had to rely on volunteer help and what we could learn from magazines. We also lacked money!

Neighbors and friends in Somerset thought we must be rich to participate in such an “exotic” sport but it was actually justified to my wife as equaling the cost of a 3 pack/day smoking habit. At the time, Santa Pod paid all competitors an equal share of half the money collected at the pit gate. Appearance money could be £6 on a good day, we also averaged about another £4 in prize money. So, this plus 365 X 3 X the cost of 20 Players was our annual budget. It was also one of the reasons Jon sold the car in late ’76. The class was changing and the ultra light “mini” altereds were becoming uncompetitive because people were figuring out how to take advantage of the fairly new capacity/ weight ratio formulae. Heavy, Jag powered cars were able to add a little weight and drop into the Junior class to exploit their vastly superior torque. Our main competitor was such a car and in 1975, at a cost well in excess of our total annual budget, that team imported a Lenco transmission from the States. From then on there wasn’t much chance for the little guys in the JCA class. I would be interested to know how things evolved from 1976 on. Simply put, for my first seven years the classes were Top, Middle and Junior in each of Street, Modified, Altered and Dragster. Of course there were also the various Super Classes for the high rollers. Speaking very generally, in all divisions, Top meant aV8, Middle meant a 6 and Junior meant a 4 cylinder engine. In ’75 this changed so that there was no affordable way to have a low budget competitive Junior Altered with a 4 cylinder engine; even though it could be done in the other divisions.


I guess it’s human nature but at the tender age of mid twenties, it’s not comfortable to admit one’s mistakes. At the riper age of mid 50s it can be most satisfying to yarn with old friends and tell all the embarrassing secrets of times gone by. The car had a bored out 105E engine with twin DCOE Webers and we stumbled through the first season with one main jet completely blocked. It was that year when we spent a whole day in the Santa Pod play pen figuring out that I had installed the magneto 180deg. out. Winter of 73/74 I finally could afford the carb rebuild. That same year I bought a used cylinder block and a solid 1200 crank to replace the hollow 997 one that came with the car. The new block was too thin after it’s rebore but I hit on the idea of filling the waterways with epoxy which was one of the things that actually worked despite some worrying waits at the start line. For some reason, we needed a new billet flywheel so I had a piece of mild steel flame cut from the biggest piece of bar stock locally available. Then I signed up at Nailsea Comprehensive School evening metalwork class. Teacher had everyone announce what they were there for and I was last to speak. After a list of fire irons, garden gates and copper ash trays he was a bit floored to hear “flywheel for a dragster”. Quickly recovering, he said, “I hope you know what you are doing, the biggest lathe we have is that one”. Over the next 12 weeks +/- he only spoke to me a few times but our flywheel worked fine. For the 1974 season our car ran well and we consistently came second in class. I don’t think anyone in particular was beating us regularly but we always seemed to be second. The rules changed for Altereds in ’75, the engine set-back was increased from 25 to 30%. I had Alan Ing (who had retired from racing to concentrate on his wrought iron business) to shorten the transmission tail shaft and housing. Friend Stuart Thomas welded up my frame modifications and we were ready for the Snetterton meet 3rd & 4th of May. Jumpin’ Jon Annear really exited the novice crowd, popping wheelies with every shift and the car was quick too. We really thought we had things sorted at last. The next meet was at the Pod, May 24/25 where they had something not in evidence at Snetterton - "traction", a small detail we had overlooked. Bouyed by our success, the car was left untouched after Snetterton and made a run straight off the trailer. Jon dumped the clutch as usual and pulled a wheelie, the height of which we previously thought impossible. When the front landed it bent the chassis and the front axle but he still managed a 15 second run with serious negative camber up front!

This presented a problem! Late ’74, Sharon and I had applied to emigrate to California and had expected it to take 3 or 4 years to process. After about six months we were approved and this caused major changes of plans for every aspect of our life. The car had to be fixed quick, so Jon could continue racing. Stuart found some 1” seamed tube at work and I rented the most awful gas welder. We all met in my back yard one sunny morning and set about the project. Stuart took off with the axle and somehow got it straightened. Jon and I cut the chassis at the engine mountings and reinstalled the old transmission tail section.

We then did our arithmetic and created a new tapered front section in the latest style with alloy side panels (also as if by magic from Stuart). The axle was now cantilevered out front and we were pleased with ourselves! “Gee it looks like a little fueler,” and then; “wait a minute, hand me the tape”. We had made the chassis exactly a foot too long! “Sh*t, gimme the hacksaw!”. Anyway, Jon was racing at Wroughton June 14 and 15 with Sharon and I, one last time before leaving for our new home.

It was amateur dramatics in the start area that finally brought me brief notoriety at Santa Pod. Despite much effort with development of the car, we never had much recognition from the commentary box, in fact we usually ran while they were trying to excite the crowd about the AA Fuel or Pro Stock races later on.

I had a position on the club committee and on occasion had to meet with potential and (the even rarer) existing sponsors. Sharon was giving me grief for wearing decent clothes and getting them greasy. Thus I decided to get a shop coat to wear while wrenching. After much comparison shopping I had the choice of a grey one for £5 or a white one for £3. Earning about £3,200 annually, there wasn’t much alternative. Sharon had some purple fabric die that we used to write “Uncle Scrumble - Himself” on the back. Our runs were immediately greeted with “And in the left lane, here’s Cliff Watts, the Flying Doctor making last minute adjustments to Uncle Scrumble driven by Jon Annear”. In the early part of ’75 we were stars of the Junior classes, providing entertainment in lieu of stellar performance. And all because of a 3 quid coat!

Cliff (& I still have the coat), El Sobrante, Calif.