As told exclusively to
This story is told by John ‘Jynx’ Harrison’s son Paul; he recalls his memories of John, the family, friends and the Dragster Developments Team. John with Robin Evemy and Brian Sparrow joined fellow Heathway Engineering employee Allan Herridge to form Dragster Developments in 1962. John himself built a dragster and his DD Atlantic car raced at early drag races in the UK including the 1964 International Drag Festival. After extensive modifications in 1965 it was renamed Jynx in 1966, and Twin Jynx followed in 1972. John continued to work for Heathway Engineering until the 1980s but sadly passed away in 1993.
John ‘Jynx’ Harrison was born in 1933. His parents came from County Durham and John was the second child born after his parents moved to London. He lived at several addresses including Uxbridge, Chiswick where I was born then Hammersmith then Hayes in 1959. I know he was in the army for quite a bit of his life and did his National Service. He was good at boxing and football. My Aunt Norma told me he ran with the Olympic torch in 1948 as he was in Hayes running club.
John worked for Heathway Engineering on the Uxbridge Road which is where he met Allan Herridge. They were best of mates, and you could not separate them. They were joined at the hip. Allan was round the house every day of every week and the weekends.
Allan inspired John to get involved with drag racing. Allan was building a straight eight Buick powered dragster of which I have no recollection as I was born in January 1958. From what I understood this was in 1960 or ‘61. On one of Nick Pettitt’s Time Travel Videos there’s cine film of John pushing the straight eight Buick out the back of Heathway Engineering in Uxbridge with Robin Evemy. Brian Sparrow took the cine film and John, Allan, Robin and Brian had all got together to form a syndicate known as Dragster Developments in 1962 which provided a much-needed cash injection for the straight eight Buick Dragster which was finished and ready to run by March 1963.
John built his first dragster in his tatty old standard size asbestos garage and started building it during the winter of 1962/63. The chassis was based on a four-banger dragster he’d seen in the Hot Rod Magazine yearbook. Powering the dragster was a 2660cc Austin Atlantic motor with Lucas Magneto and twin SU carburettors. Front axle was a drop tube with torsion bar suspension, rear axle was Allard and John used an Austin 16 clutch and gearbox converted to two-speed. The dragster was called the DD Atlantic and became part of the Dragster Developments Team along with Allan’s DD Buick.
He had it finished and took it along to the British Hot Rod Association’s Rod and Custom Show in March 1964 held in the new underground car park at Hyde Park. Allan was there too with the DD Buick and both cars were awarded the Best Dragster Trophy. Then in May John entered the 1st Big Go at Duxford in May 1964 which was the first drag race meeting to be held in the UK where he ran a best of 19.43.
September 1964 saw the start of the 1st International Drag Festival and John was there with his dragster. I was too young to go. John went with the Dragster Developments team, Brian, Robin and Allan with the DD Buick and they made it to all six rounds of the festival visiting Blackbushe, Chelveston, Woodvale, Church Fenton, Kemble and back to Blackbushe for the finals. The DD Atlantic just about fitted in the back of Allan’s Austin K8 van with the front wheels poking out the back on wooden plank extensions while the DD Buick was towed behind it on an open trailer. John was clocked a best of 15.07 during the festival.
John extended the back of his garage to fit a second-hand lathe he’d got from Heathway Engineering. I remember a skip lorry coming along with the lathe on it and rolling it into the back of the garage. Then he could make flywheels and many other parts. I remember the smell of the white cutting oil.
The DD Atlantic was considerably modified for 1965. An Austin Healey 100S aluminium eight port head was fitted complete with 14:1 high comp pistons and high lift cam. Fitting the head hadn't been easy as the studs didn't match the holes on the block which had to be filled and new holes drilled and tapped. The front half of the chassis was re-built and lightened, the engine was moved back eight inches and lighter wheels fitted all round resulting in a weight loss of 112 lb; one whole hundredweight. John’s first full pass with the new setup equalled his best run so far. Next time out the head gasket blew which was replaced only to blow again but this time two valves broke and had a great time knocking holes in the pistons and head. The engine was a complete write-off.
The team then found a Healey 100M motor which was fitted and while they were at it a supercharger was added along with recap Dunlop slicks. The new setup sounded crisp lifting the front wheels off the line. With the engine running strong the next problem to beset the DD Atlantic was the constant burning out of clutches and in 1966 John renamed the car Jynx.
Allan lived in Portland Road off Kingshill Avenue. He lived in a first floor flat with his wife Rosie. He had two lock-up garages where he kept his dragster and lots of parts. John had a turquoise Studebaker. We all went to a drag meeting; I don’t remember where it was. The clutch was slipping in the Studebaker, and we were coming up to a roundabout. Allan came up behind us with the Austin van and trailer, he pushed us across the roundabout and to the side on the road because there was a policeman waving everyone on. The things the two of them got up to were unbelievable.
I remember we went to Debden in 1966 and Donald Cambell was there with Bluebird. This was just before he got killed in the speed boat. There were jets doing flyovers. John got quite chatty with Donald in a big aircraft hangar and helped him work on Bluebird which I don't think ran too well at the meeting. There was Rosie Herridge, me and my mum watching the flyover. One jet was so low we all went flat onto the floor. It then went bolt upright, and we were looking straight up the jet engine. It was unbelievable. There was also a little go kart with two small rocket engines on the back and it almost took off.
One day John had the engine all ready to go in the dragster and he couldn’t bear it that the back of the garage was leaking. With no words of a lie, he picked up the engine complete with a supercharger and shouted to my mum Ann to open the back door and he took it upstairs putting it by the side of the bed. He’d had the rocker box cover and exhaust chromed and he couldn't get it wet.
When he wanted to get it back down to use for the next meeting, there was John, Allan, a good friend Derek Saunders and I think it was either my Uncle John or Tony McCarthy, a stock car driver who lived next door. It took all four of them to get it down. It was not uncommon to have an engine or supercharger in the bedroom, even a drop tube front axle on top of the wardrobe. He was so dedicated he never took my mum out anywhere. When she worked for EMI and was going to one of their dances, he’d say give the money to Paul and he’ll go with you. He’d always be down the garage doing something on the lathe, building a one-off bit for either his or somebody else's dragster.
Another memory which is funny at first, but sad at the end. Back in 1969 when I was 11 years old, John decided that he wanted to try and fire up Jynx in the small driveway where we lived, before the meeting in September at RAF Hullavington where he crashed it into the control tower. If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, he decided to drill three holes in a five-gallon oil drum to use as a silencer fitting this over the three exhaust pipes. He tied it on and fuelled up the dragster.
Then Allan, Derek Saunders and Tony McCarthy, tried to push start it by hand in the small driveway to fire it up. What happened was it fired up, the oil drum flew off over the roof of the house and the dragster shot across the road into the driveway of the house opposite. John was so lucky there were no oncoming cars which would have resulted in a more serious crash than what he had at Hullavington.
I saw Jynx being built in the old garage and remember when John came home after crashing it, I’ll never forget his face. He crashed into the control tower on the start line, I’ve got a photo of it. According to others what happened was, while being push started the pop-off valve on the supercharger opened and a nut came off. Someone saw something come off the car and they ran towards it. Then John swerved to avoid hitting this person and hit the tower instead. I’m not totally sure this is exactly what happened, but several people have told a similar story.
After the crash he took the engine out and cut up the chassis. Then they built a monstrous workshop in the back garden, 32 foot long by 28 foot wide and John put the cut-up chassis in the foundations of the garage floor. That’s when Twin Jynx started to be built with two supercharged and injected Austin-Healey engines.
Dragster Developments became H & H Race Craft (Herridge and Harrison), and they had small stickers made. Mike Taylor ‘The Banshee’ has one on the back of his car today. John got a horizontal milling machine and skimmed cylinder heads, flywheels and all sorts of bits. He did most of the engineering and the technical stuff like fuel pumps and injection systems while Allan was the welder and everything else.
I remember one time in the early 1970s when John had just built Twin Jynx. There were six of us all sleeping in a Vauxhall Cresta outside of Santa Pod and it snowed. Roy Phelps came in the morning and opened the gate. John just wanted to test the car before taking it to a meeting. They took it off the trailer, fuelled it up, then Derek Saunders pushed started it and bang! John had put a rubber coupling between the two motors and it split; we’d slept in that car all night just for it to go bang then put it back on the trailer and come back home.
Another time with Twin Jynx at Santa Pod it rained all day and Wolfgang Sola came over and asked John to take the car out to a show in Germany. I think it was called The Rocking and Reeling Show.
When John returned from Germany with his 1964 Vauxhall Cresta, he fitted a 3.3 Vauxhall Viscount engine with MGB GT V8 valve springs, a 28/36 Weber and manifold. It used to frighten my mum when he picked her up from work and pulled away, it was like he was on the drag strip every day.
I remember the scrutineering chap at Santa Pod in the white cap and overalls. He used to get his pencil out of his pocket and run it round the spokes of the front wheel. He’d lift it, spin the wheel and play a tune to decide if it was okay.
John did dabble in Stock Car Racing; his friend and neighbour Tony McCarthy raced Austin Cambridges and MG Magnets. John used to build the engines for them while Tony did the welding. This was in the 1970s. John would start work at 8am in the garage, come in at 5pm and cook us our tea. Then back out to the garage until sometimes 2am the following morning. Mum then went to work in the evenings at either EMI or Record Merchandise part time. She did go to the drag meetings occasionally.
This was how life was, dragsters, dragsters more dragsters and all these people coming round every day. They’d eat, sleep and breath Drag Racing. The Stones, the Pages, Dennis Priddle, Harold Bull, Alan Blount and Dave West with their twin engined dragster, they were all like one big family.
Allan and John built Bruce Eggleton’s Pony Express Model T Altered. Then Bruce sprayed the Twin Jynx panels and all the squiggly lines and the devil motif, it took him ages. They also built a chassis for the Page brothers after they crashed their Panic Topolino. And there was Vic Hammond, he was a character, he was a film cameraman. John and Allan built the Competition Altered chassis for him called Mr Big. They also built the Blond Bombshell rocket car for Barry Bowles. I remember John telling Barry not to go over a certain mph with that chassis, I think it was due to the lack of a budget for the build. Barry took it down to Pendine Sands and rolled it.
They built a Competition Altered for Dave Hayden-Smith called Baby Bee. Allan and John fired it up in the carpark and I remember it popped and backfired, and Dave ran off. They had to physically pick him up to put him back in the car and have another go. They always fired up the dragsters in that car park area of Portland Road. I’m not sure if the neighbours complained to the council or not.
I’d say to my sister where’s dad? down the garage of course and there would be 12 to 15 blokes there talking about pistons, conrods, clutches and what they were going to do. John asked my brother Kevin to make the tea one time, but it was so bad I was always asked to make the tea from then onwards. He would say thanks for making the tea Paul and that’s when I knew he wanted tea made for everyone. They were all there asking him and Allan questions, picking their brains as they had been drag racing from the beginning. I remember well how busy the house in Hayes was with all those drag racers there.
We’d be having our tea and they’d all come inside from the garage and sit down while we were trying to watch the television. With them all talking, mum used to go mad. The decorating never got done because John was always down the garage. I remember one time he was modifying the kitchen and he hacked off all the plaster. Mum wrote on the wall that this wall will be replastered once John stops doing his dragster and Tony McCarthys stock car. Everyone who came round found it very funny.
John was more in the background while Allan was in the limelight driving the bigger cars at Santa Pod like Firefly, Gladiator, Asphalt Alleygator and the Stingray wheelie car.
John had a Standard Vanguard estate, and he fitted a modified injection system from a motorbike, it would idle at 3000 rpm. My uncle John said if you took your foot off the brake it would go round the roundabout at 30 mph without touching the throttle.
Sometime in the late 1970s early 1980s John stopped working at Heathway Engineering. As I remember it, he had been cutting some steel wheels for a Rochdale Olympic and was in agony crawling up the pathway with a really painful back for a while before going to an osteopath, one of his discs crumbled after the treatment. Then he had an operation, and they accidently scratched the sciatic nerve, and the consequence was he couldn’t feel anything even if you hit him with a 10lb sledgehammer. Yet he would still go down to the garage in agony and work on the lathe and the mill doing jobs. He went to a physiotherapy place for two weeks for pain management which didn’t help. He was in constant pain on lots of tablets a day. Then he had a major heart attack and sadly died in 1993.
I remember when John sold Twin Jynx to Dave Armstrong. I know he was heartbroken then because he knew he wasn’t going to get better after his back operation. Dave put in a Ford V8 engine and ran it for a while at RWYB meetings then these French lads had it and it appeared at Santa Pod with a Jaguar engine. I have no idea where it is now.
John bought me my first car, a Hillman Imp which was rotten. It needed new door sills and rear wheel arches. He said you want to learn how to build cars son, that’s the way to do it. He bought the bits for me. We did it together and tidied it up. It broke down in the first five minutes with problems with the water pump, this and that kept blowing we got so fed up with it. A friend of mine Keith Hunt had a Model T with a 1500 Mk 1 Cortina GT engine in it and he was swapping it for a Rover 3500 which were very popular then and he offered me the Cortina engine and John said that will do.
John made a 1½ inch box section frame to mount the engine, he modified the clutch and flywheel and bolted it to the Hillman Imp gearbox. He modified a Spitfire exhaust system to fit and we had to put 87lb of weight in the front of the Imp. My mate had a spare pitch roller counterbalance weight, and he got it cut at Brunel University. We fitted it in the front with a Zephyr six radiator and two Kenlow fans to improve the cooling. It still kept overheating, so John made an aluminium header tank. It had Vauxhall Victor 13-inch wheels on the rear and the standard Imp on the front.
John said take it for a run to see what it’s like and I thought it didn’t go very well considering it had a 2-barrel weber carburettor. I took out the weights in the front without John knowing. He said give it here, let me show you how to drive it properly. He said you’ve taken the weights out haven't you, why? I said because I didn’t think it ran very fast. He said you fool it’s skating all over the place. We put the weights back in and he showed me how to drive it properly and it just flew.
John had helped my brother Kevin build a Dodge Charger painted in Candy red. Originally Kevin wanted to put some big lump in John’s Vauxhall Cresta which he’d painted red, orange and yellow like the Woolworths colours. He’d got a Vauxhall estate by this time. Kevin was underneath the Cresta doing some welding and it caught fire and was too badly damaged, that’s when he got the 440 Dodge Dart. Kevin ran it at Santa Pod a few times, but John didn’t see it run, he was too incapacitated with his bad back.
When John died in 1993 Kevin and his wife Sarah bought the family house from mum. Then Kevin went into stock car racing quite heavily and was doing really well. He needed just two points to be European Champion, but the other racers pulverized him into the fence to make sure he didn’t get them.
Then Kevin had a 17-hour operation to get rid of a brain tumour. He then got an infection having another 7-hour operation. Later in early 2000s he had a medical examination that found the tumour had come back and had another big operation, the surgeon got rid of all the tumour. Then the poor bugger ended up with prostate cancer and died in August 2020 leaving behind his wife and two children Haley and John.
Mum died in August 2021. My sister Kerry was too young to remember what was going on with the drag racing but there was hearsay when I went to the wake, she was saying she wanted to race a street car next year.
I originally lived in Hayes then moved to the Forest of Dean 1988/89 with my now ex-wife. Then in 1990 I became a fitness dance instructor. I have lived in Torbay with my new partner Helen since 1997. Originally, we bought a B&B until we went into a shop one day and a market researcher asked us if we would go to fitness classes at the leisure centre. We both laughed and she said what's funny? I said we were both qualified fitness dance instructors and she asked if we would teach a class. Now 21 years later I’m still teaching there. We're both very lucky. We've won 11 awards for charity work, and I won the top lifetime achievement award at a sporting event for dance. I was up against an Olympic rower and footballers, this was 2013.
I have two boys and they're just as car made as John was. My son Mario started off with a little Nissan van in 2009 and went to the 1/8th mile Dakota Drag Stirp in Dorset. Then he had a Skoda which he ran on the street and strip, and then a Saab. My youngest boy Melvin had a little white Honda Civic and then a Toyota Starlet. His daughter Jazmine aged 10 loves anything with engines or cars just like her dad and uncle Mario.
I’ve lost touch with anyone to do with drag racing and only recently saw Mickey Taylor who drives the ‘Banshee’ Ford Pop. I don’t know where Allan Herridge Jnr went. I know that he turned up on the front door of my brothers many years ago saying Rosie Herridge had passed away from a heart attack. He has a son called Joe. I remember when Allan Jnr was little, he had his monkey bike and would run up and down the car park where they used to start the dragsters in the mid 1960s. We all got on well. Allan Jnr was always round our house at the weekends.
Two videos made up of cine film, slides and photos taken by Brian Sparrow 1962 – 1968 including shots of the Dragster Developments Team...
Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.
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