As told exclusively to
This episode comprises memories from those who knew John ‘Jynx’ Harrison: John Syvertsen who was his brother-in-law, Brian Sparrow, Chris Pattison and Ken Cooper who also remembers Allan Herridge in the early days, also Dave Armstrong who bought and ran Twin Jynx.
Memories from John Syvertsen who was John ‘Jynx’ Harrison’s brother-in-law...
I used to go round to John’s when I was a young fellow and watch him. Me and John really didn’t get on very well. John was quite strict, and I was a bit of a naughty boy when I was a young lad and John didn’t look kindly on that but towards the end when he became ill with having his terrible back problem, we got closer, and we were alright.
I used to go round and watch him machining and making other things when I was a kid at the family house. He’d be in his tiny little garage with the dragster and had a lathe in the corner. He did lots of work for other fellows who would all come to John, asking can you shorten this axle, I need this and that and this bit made for etc. He made a fuel injection system for John Hobbs’ bike. John and Allan Herridge made a huge amount of stuff for other racers. They were like two peas in a pod and worked together at Heathway Engineering behind Blue Dragon Laundry.
Allan was the welder there and John did all the machining. The only times I would see Allan was when he was round at John’s they'd both be in the garage tinkering about. John would sort out something for somebody or make bits for their own cars. That dragster he built, virtually everything he made himself. They made the chassis, front axle, machined the front wheel rims and hubs, made up the spoked wheels and the fuel injection. John was a good engineer. Allan was the welder and he mucked in; they both built the dragsters together. I remember one time they had this big removal van that they used to transport the cars in. John said the dragster's not finished so they worked on it while driving up the M1.
They both went to Santa Pod a lot and I would go some of the time. John would have a lot of trouble with his car, first off all it was clutches, he must have blown up a lot of them. He eventually could afford to buy one from America. Then engines and other parts started to break because he was pushing them old Austin Healey engines a bit too far, the supercharger had 33 pounds of boost. Once I ran alongside the dragster when it was firing up squirting fuel down it while Frank Mariner was pushing it with the 100E. It was great when it fired and cackled but this was the only time when he’d let me do anything. He liked to do everything himself but was brilliant at what he did and made terrific model airplanes indoors when he wasn’t making dragster parts.
The first dragster John built we called the flying bedstead; the chassis was oblong like a bedstead. I did go to Blackbushe with them occasionally, but I also went with some mates to watch. We always called John, Jack, my dad’s name was John, so we called him Jack because there were too many Johns in the family.
Everyone would come round picking his brains and trying to get him to do things. This was all in the little garage, then when he built the bigger garage and got a milling machine, he’d have an even bigger fan base of people going round there.
Allan was called Bootsie because he was a little fellow, but he had enormous, big feet. That’s what they named him when he first turned up at Heathway Engineering and he would flop around in these big work boots. Yeh, the good old days, all gone. I went round there all the time and then when John hurt his back I’d go just on a Friday, he couldn’t do as much then.
He was in terrible pain and yet still forced himself to go down to the garage and do what he could. He was shaving one morning, and my sister called him, he turned and put two vertebrae out in the top of his neck. He went to the osteopath who poked it back in, but he was still in pain. Then he had dye injected into his spine so they could x-ray it to see what was going on. They didn’t know at this time that the dye had oil in it, the other fluid went away but the oil didn’t and caused strangulation of the spine and that’s why he was in so much pain.
John didn’t suffer fools gladly. He wouldn’t let me anywhere near the car or do any work on it and he did carry the engine upstairs by himself. When the engine went bang, he got covered in oil and he had a small fire in Twin Jynx just as he crossed the finish line. Paul was really upset by this. When we got back into the pits you could see a hole in one block big enough to shake hands in. John said that’s not too bad, it’s one of my original engines.
I think at one time there were not many cars or bikes at Santa Pod that John and Allan hadn’t either built or built parts for. John used to tune the four SU carburettors on Allan’s straight 8 Buick dragster. Kevin had tuned the carburettors on his stockcar. When he sold it the new owner put it onto a dyno, they were all spot on and asked if Kevin had done them himself. Yes, said his friend Peter he learnt that from his dad.
Brian Sparrow recalls his memories of John and Allan...
We used to visit John Harrison and go to his garage. His wife didn’t like him doing it but he would turn out the most wonderful stuff in his garage when he had his own lathe in it. Before that he used the lathe at Heathway Engineering in his lunch time. He would turn out superb stuff once he had his own lathe and worked in his own time. He was very shy and always stayed in the background. I went to Bovingdon where there was stock car and midget racing, and John Harrison’s son Kevin was racing. I talked to John through the window of his car as by then he was unfortunately too ill to get out.
I have considerable memories of Allan Herridge. My father, who was a good engineer, liked Allan. He admired his work although he was used to working with people who had done apprenticeships whereas Allan hadn't but that didn’t matter. My father appreciated the engineering in motorsport and got me into motor racing then motorboat racing. The last time I spoke to Allan we had a long chat which I've told other people about. Allan knew I was a Christian and he was talking about heaven and a number of things related to this subject. It was almost as though he knew he was going to get killed. Only a month afterwards he died in the jet car accident.
I was part of the Dragster Developments team and went to all sorts of places and then of course he got employed by Santa Pod. I didn’t see much of him then. Dragster Developments had been in business for about five years, but we still did odd things helping people out after this putting the initials DD on the items. I got on very well with Allan, a good sort of man, there we go, he got away with a lot of things. The thing with Allan, he was so kind in helping people. Then he’d get in a dragster or funny car and his reaction was not as good as one of the lady drivers who would only drive the car, where Allan would be doing things to the car, helping others, and then get in the car. Although he was pretty good off the line he would often get beaten and I believe this was due to him being too active between each race and this showed in his concentration off the start line.
Chris Pattison recalls his memories of John and Allan...
The first time I drove the Allard Dragon, I think that was at Graveley, dear old Bootsie was my mentor. I remember him saying ‘Chris, if you don’t like it just back off’. We’d met some time previously because I had hand painted the team T-shirts for Dragster Developments. I charged £5 for five of them.
The first time Allan came round to our house in Booker, which is just outside High Wycombe, near the airfield, he rolled up because he was looking for me to take him to the nearest scrapyard to look for Cadillac engines. RAF Daws Hill in High Wycombe was a US Air Force base so there were American cars in the scrapyard but we never did find a Cadillac in there.
Just prior to Christmas 1964 I had a request from John Bennett, prime mover behind Santa Pod, to borrow the Allard Dragon for a BHRA bash at the Phillips Factory in Croydon where the BHRA held slot car drags. The gig was that the car was a sleigh for ‘Mother Christmas’ who was in fact John’s attractive wife Ann. It was arranged that Allan Herridge and John Harrison would transport the car in their Dragster Developments 1950 something Austin K8 van. We manhandled the Dragon into the back of the van where it rested on the back wheels and the oil pan. Allan in his strong Laaahndun accent asked me ‘Ere Chris, ‘as it gotta still sump?’ I thought still? Well, it’s not going anywhere, then realised he was saying 'steel sump’ on which it was safe to rest. It was a bit cramped in the Austin van and I ended up sitting on John’s lap for the journey...! The event was a great success and Mother Christmas was well received.
Ken Cooper recalls his memories of John and Allan...
Early 1963 I went down to John Bennett’s Spa Engineering where the BHRA were holding their first Custom Car Show as I’d entered my ‘37 Ford coupe. Allan Herridge was there with his just completed Dragster and that's how I got to know Allan, along with Brian Sparrow, John Harrison and Robin Evemy, a little group of guys down in London who called themselves Dragster Developments.
John was very quietly spoken and never said much; he was a lovely man. I won’t hear a word against him. If he’d got a failing which wasn’t really a failing, he wanted to do and make everything himself and was averse to having to buy a part. He was like me, but he carried it a bit too far. He wouldn't buy a decent bullet proof clutch; he was adamant he could build just as good a clutch as the Americans could sell him one. He had nothing else but trouble with it. It was forever packing up and coming apart.
Allan used to get onto him, why don’t you buy a clutch but John always thought he could make one better but he couldn’t. So, he had a lot of trouble with his car because he insisted on making a lot of the crucial parts. We all tried to explain to him it was dangerous. If the clutch came apart it could cut the car in half, then it could cut your legs off. It was very much a safety thing as well as reliability. It was a failing of his although he was very good at what he did and his car was nicely made.
I went to the lockup garage that Allan had several times which was behind a block of flats where he lived and he gave a few quid to the lady he rented it from. He ran a cable through her kitchen window for power. Allan had started building his Cadillac powered car, I’d go down there for parts and also visit John just around the corner where he was working on his Atlantic dragster. Allan’s wife was very good and would cook me a Sunday dinner.
Memories from Dave Armstrong who bought and ran Twin Jynx...
I first met John Harrison when I went to see and buy his Twin Jynx dragster. I can’t remember too much now; it's been many years. He told me that he and Bootsie built their first dragster for the Hayes carnival where he lived in the early 60s. I didn't know John before I bought the car but I spent many hours with him after I bought it. I remember at John's funeral talking to Ronnie Picardo's 1st wife. She told me that John bought a race magneto from the States. He told her to "hold this wire" as he spun the mag which shot her like a bullet across the workshop. Twin Jynx followed Jynx which had a single Austin Healey engine. It was fuel injected and blown. John based the Twin Jynx chassis on the Freight Train chassis in the States. He made almost every part himself. The rear axle was a Jag centre section with fully floating hubs. He made the front axle, stub axles and wheel hubs. To make the fuel injectors, he bought one second hand injector from a Coventry climax engine, he took it apart and copied it.
Twin Jynx debuted in 1972 but wasn't competitive, so he took it on the show circuit after racing it for just one season. When I bought Twin Jynx it was without any engines. I fitted a Ford 429 V8 with a C6 auto trans and owned it for about 15 years. It was a great car and always drove straight and true with a well-built chassis. The rear wheels came off a light aeroplane and are magnesium. It was John's intention to fit twin small-block Chevys, but it never happened, indeed the car has never had twin V8 engines only the two Austin Healey 4-cylinder motors. I don't know for definite, but I think the body was made by someone else, I remember John telling me he built a race car in exchange for the paint job. I don’t have any pictures from then (my ex threw them away), but somewhere I still have the two oil pressure gauges.
I sold Twin Jynx to a mate less engine about 2003/4. He was going to fit another 460 Ford engine in again. Then it was seen at the 2013 Mopar Euro Nats when a group of guys came over to Santa Pod from France to run it. They’d got the car for nothing, saving it from a scrap yard. It was now fitted with a straight 6 Jag motor.
John Harrison was a true pioneer of UK drag racing and an amazing engineer, one of the most unrecognized people in the history of our sport. He was also a great guy and should have a place in the Hall of Fame for all his work.
Dave Armstrong in Twin Jynx at North Weald Test and Tune 1997 Video: Click here
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