Maurice Takoor's story and history

As told exclusively to

Maurice Takoor met John Bennett in 1963 and became a member of the BHRA. He also became photographic editor on Drag Racing & Hot Rod magazine and later worked with John at Spa Engineering.

From 1968 to 1978 Maurice along with John Hill worked as the tech crew at Santa Pod alongside the RAC Scrutineering Bay.

In the early ‘90s Maurice organised a 30th anniversary BHRA Meet which was well attended and led to the forming of the BHRA Pioneers Club open to anyone who was involved in drag racing in the 1960s.

Maurice is still very much involved in drag racing and recently ran the ex-Dave Miller BMC powered Spirit slingshot from the 70s with help from Dave Gibbons and Dick Hogben.

Maurice's story was produced by John Hunt and Nick Pettitt, and published by editor Simon Groves.

I was born in 1947, went to various schools in the Croydon area and had always lived in the Croydon area. I’d already been reading Hot Rod magazine while I was at secondary school. One of my school friends had brought a copy in 1958. I started reading it from then on, we used to go to the newsagents to buy it every month when it came out, which was usually a few months after it had been published of course. When I was 16 & living in Woodside Green near to South Norwood, I saw this customised American pick-up driving past with a huge British Hot Rod Association triangular decal on the door (I’ve now got one in my garage).

When I saw the pickup, I followed it on my scooter all the way into South Norwood where it parked down an alleyway. I eventually dragged up the courage to walk down the alleyway to a workshop called Spa Engineering and introduced myself. I said I’d like to join the BHRA and that was the first time I met John Bennett and that was in 1963. The pickup which had started life as a 1954 Oldsmobile 4-door became sort of famous, for want of a better word, that and the Fibre Glass Repairs Plymouth pickup, both could be seen push starting dragsters in the early days. Of course, the people around Fibre Glass Repairs, Bob and Roy Phelps were relations of John anyway so they all knew each other having been involved in all sorts of things before they got into drag racing.

John Bennett's Old's pickup and Bob and Roy Phelps' Plymouth pickup, both with huge BHRA triangle on the doors. Kool Kams pic.

Outside Spa Engineering workshops advertising the 1963 BHRA Hot Rod and Custom Car Show show. Rick Goodale pic.

John was quite a good Go Kart driver; he’d won a couple of championships. There were Go Kart chassis hanging up in the workshop when I first went there. So, I joined the BHRA in 1963 and have remained friends with John ever since. John passed at the age of 92 in January 2023. John at the time was the Chairman of the BHRA, he’d taken over from Brian Coole. The BHRA held the first proper Hot Rod Show at John’s Spa Engineering workshops in 1963 but I didn’t go and the following year the BHRA held a second show in Hyde Park underground carpark which again I didn’t go to.

I went to the First International Drag Festival at Blackbushe in 1964 on my scooter with my then girlfriend Janice (later my wife) on the back. The following year when I was an apprentice in a local BMC dealer garage, I persuaded the lads there to take me to the Second Dragfest at Blackbushe as one of them had an old Austin.

In 1965 John Bennett, Ted Peddle and Bob & Roy Phelps found this site at Podington airfield, Bedfordshire which would become Santa Pod Raceway in 1966. They started building it and asked me if I wanted to come along and help, so I did in the winter of 1965. One of my jobs was filling the wooden crash barriers that lined the strip with rubble.

Maurice on his scooter with BHRA decal on windscreen.

The wooden crash barriers full of rubble at Santa Pod. Brian Sutton pic.

This cool Standard Vanguard was Maurice's first car with BHRA decals in the back window.

Maurice and Janice check out Houndog 2 at the 1965 BHRA Woburn Abbey Show.

John Bennett and Ted Peddle were partners at Spa Engineering. They’d both got together with Bob Phelps, forming a company called National Dragways to develop Santa Pod. Ted was married to Audrey who was John’s sister. He was only interested in the garage rather than the drag racing. Then John bought out Ted's interest in the business around the same time as his divorce with Audrey.

Brian Holmes was the very first chief starter at Santa Pod from 1966 to 1968. He then went to America to work for Bob George who promoted drag racing. Bob was involved in bringing over the American Drag Racing Teams to Santa Pod in 1966 and 1967, including Al Eckstrand, E J Potter, Larry Arnold and Bud Barnes. He owned two or three drag strips in America and Brian and Bob toured America promoting car shows and drag racing events.

I got back in touch with Brian in 1990 when I set up the BHRA Pioneers club asking if he’d join which he did but still living in America. He now has a company in California printing team sports wear mostly for Soccer teams and his company van is a restored Ford 105E van. Stu Bradbury took over as chief starter after Brian left.

The American Commandos at Santa Pod 1966. Brian Sutton pic.

The Runt Modified Roadster 1966. Brian Sutton pic.

A pair of Mustangs for 1967. Brian Sutton pic.

And a pair of 'Cudas. Brian Sutton pic.

Ron Jelinek hits the loud pedal in his twin Buick slingshot.

Kool Kams was the club magazine for the BHRA and I used to read it when I first joined. It then dissolved into Drag Racing & Hot Rod which became the club magazine. In 1970 DR&HR was absorbed into Custom Car magazine and Ian Penberthy carried on as editor. Kool Kams was resurrected again in 1970 by Peter Bartlett as the club magazine for the BDR&HRA. This was renamed Drag Racing News in 1972 and carried on until 1990.

Drag Racing & Hot Rod office 52 Whitehorse Lane SE25

I ended up working on Drag Racing & Hot Rod. John Bennett had bought Drag Racing magazine in January 1966 from Alan Burgess who was from Chislehurst. John knew him through Go Karting. Alan used to publish Karting magazine then in March 1965 began Drag Racing magazine, the first magazine on the sport in Europe and it also covered sprinting. He did the deal with John who then renamed it Drag Racing & Hot Rod.

I started working on the magazine part time in 1966. I’d left school in 1963 and started an apprenticeship in a local BMC dealer garage then in the evenings helped with the magazine, ending up doing most of the stuff with the photographs so I became photographic editor. I actually got credit in the staff listings properly towards the end of the life of the magazine.

In 1969 I persuaded John to take me on full time. He agreed to do it ostensibly to work on the magazine. Then six months after I’d joined, the magazine folded. John felt a bit bad; he said do you want to come and work in the workshop instead. Yes, okay I said and became a general dog's body in the workshop sweeping up, making tea and that sort of thing.

I was involved with the Drag Racing ‘69 show at Fairfield Halls, Croydon in January 1969. I got the T-shirts and sweatshirts printed for the show by a local company called The Slopp Shirt Company, I still have my sweatshirt today but sadly it appears to have shrunk! Then there were the Custom Car Shows at Crystal Palace. Dave Watts was producing Drag Racing News and he produced the show guides. Dave, myself and our wives would stand outside selling the show guides.

My first car club was called the ConRodders, a group of hot rod enthusiasts from the Southeast London area based in Eltham. I first I knew about them was when I was out one day & came home to my house in Woodside Green and there was a Cortina Estate parked outside. This guy sitting in it said are you Maurice? Yes, I said. His name was John Elms and he said we’d like you to join our car club the ConRodders, I said yes immediately and joined.

Virtually half the Race Control crew at the start of Santa Pod were all members of this club. I had dragged them along to a meeting with John Bennett, Bernie Davey and a few others at Spa Engineering one evening and said look we need some help with race control, who fancies coming along? Most of them said yes they did, so there was me and John Hill, Dave Watts who became track manager at Santa Pod (and was best man at my wedding), Trevor Jones the motorcycle scrutineer and his assistant George Georgiou & Dave Davis who was also one of the crew and you’d see him in lots of photos with some of the big dragsters as he used to help on the teams. So, a lot of guys in Race Control were members of the same car club as me.

I had started helping out on Drag Control at Santa Pod. Then they decided to set up a separate division to do technical inspections on the cars, doing engine size to weight ratios, so me and John Hill became the Tech Crew. We had our own space up next to the RAC Scrutineering Bay at the top end of the track from 1968 to 1978, using our little caravan as a base. John was the tech wizard & formulated the first charts working out the weight breaks for the various classes & engine sizes. He also did some work with Peter Billinton on fuel formulas & did experiments for him at his place of work at the UCL in London. After our first son was born in 1978 and, as we were there camping out every other weekend, having a young baby in a small caravan was getting too much so I decided to give it all up, coming out of drag racing altogether. John carried on with it for a few years after that, as did most of the others.

Tech Crew Caravan next to RAC Scrutineering Bay.

Maurice in red jacket would often be found leaning on the crash barrier at the startline.

Drag Racing News.

When I left Santa Pod in 1978, I carried on working for John Bennett up to 1981. I became a director in the company towards the end with him. I had become workshop manager after the previous manager Bernie Davey left to start his own business as an insurance assessor. Bernie was John’s best friend in the drag racing scene, he originally worked at Fibre Glass Repairs.

Large BHRA triangle in Maurice's memorabilia collection.

The SPA engineering clock which still keeps good time in Maurice's garage.

John wasn’t taking any interest in drag racing at this time and I was the only one who used to speak to him about the odd things here and there but he wasn’t really interested in it. Following on, Spa Engineering closed down in 1982 and I got a job as an insurance assessor with one of the major insurance companies.

In the meantime Bernie Davey had started his business, he asked me to help him out occasionally doing various inspections because he had so many. I ended up going to work with Bernie. He had an office immediately opposite Spa Engineering's office on the corner of Clifton Road. We worked together from the early 1980’s until roughly 1984. Then work dried up a bit so I said I’ll leave and get another job. At the time I got a job with the American garage equipment company Blackhawk.

Then after a couple of years the sales manager said to me he was setting up his own company with another American garage equipment manufacturer based in Ashford. Would I be interested in joining him in setting up this company called Bear. Similar to Blackhawk but it was all diagnostics equipment for wheel alignment and engine diagnostics. I would drive around with a converted horse box as a trailer filled up with these machines doing demonstrations at various garages.

I was the manager for the Southeast. Then in 1986 or thereabouts Bernie Davey became seriously ill and was in hospital. I received a call from his secretary to say they had lots of inspections that they can't get done, could I come & give them a hand, so I did. I was now working for Bear and for Bernie. Then my manager from Bear said I know what you're doing for Bernie but you’re not doing a lot for me now so who do you want to work for, I said okay, I’ll have to leave.

Bernie passed away 6 months later & I took over the business completely and relocated it to one of our bedrooms in Salcott Road, Croydon and ran it from there for a few years up until the 1990s. In fact, John Bennett’s first wife Ann, who I knew very well, became our accountant. I’ve recently found a certificate issued to John’s sister Audrey when she worked at Spa Engineering, a management thing. I contacted her son Clive who I knew well and sent it to him.

It’s a bit difficult to remember the dates in order of how the events happened. After 1978 when I stopped working at Santa Pod it wasn’t until the late 1980’s I got back into cars. Although I was still into classic cars with the inspections when I was working for Bernie. When I took over his business, I concentrated more on the classic car inspections rather than plain insurance damage repairs.

I became an expert witness, and I was doing mostly court cases for people with problems with classic cars and restorations. Then that dried up when they changed the law. I was down to six or so a year although each case could take two to three weeks to prepare before attending court. I did that up until the 1990’s.

About 1989/90 John Bennett and I decided we would organise a 30th anniversary meeting to commemorate the very first meeting of the BHRA at a cafe on the A5 which was attended by most of the people involved in it at the time. We tried to hold it in the same place but it wasn't possible, however we did hold it in the same area. We had about 15/16 people turn up, all those involved in Hot Rodding and Drag Racing. People like Geoff Jago, John and Ann Bennett, and Dick Lawrence. The people who came from the different divisions we had then like North, South, East and West of the country and some of the people involved in the club itself. Clive Lingard of the Owen, Hicks and Lingard team came along, also Brian Sparrow, John Greenwood, Vic Outen and Rick Goodale.

From left to right John Greenwood, Geoff Jago, Sylvia Greenwood, Brian Sparrow, Vic Outen, unknown friend of Clive Lingard, Clive Lingard, John Bennett, Rick Goodale, seated Ann Bennett and Dick Lawrence. Photo by Maurice Takoor.

It was a good event and I carried it on from there, eventually calling it the BHRA Pioneers Club. I had a list of 50 to 60 people and it was open to anyone who was involved in drag racing in the 1960s, that was the criteria. I contacted lots of people and asked if they would be interested, they all came back to me and said yes (& still do even though I haven’t done anything with it since 2002!).

This was how I became friends with Bob Keith with the Dos Palmos gas dragster which came over to the 1964 Drag Festival and was bought by a British team in 1965. It later became Asmodeus run by US Serviceman Wild Bill Weichelt who then took it back to the US in 1971.

Bob became a good friend sending me information and chatting over the phone and also emails by then. He sent me photos and had been trying to find his dragster ever since it went back to the US. Bill Weichelt wouldn’t tell Bob where the car was or what had happened to it and he fell out with the guy having got really upset with him. Then the car disappeared until five or six years ago.

1964 Drag Festival at Blackbushe. Bob Keith's Dos Palmos AA/Gas dragster. Bruce Eggleton pic.

Wild Bill Weichelt ran it as Asmodeus in 1970/71. Alice Fairhead pic.

It suddenly reappeared and was bought by Ray Evenham who made a TV program about it, a motor trend type series. He had researched it and found the history of the car and restored it back to how it was originally. Sadly, Bob died a few weeks before the car was finished and ready for testing. Bob had sent me photos of the dragster in Ray’s workshop. He said he was so pleased it’s finally been found but didn’t think he’d be able to buy it from Ray. Previously Bob had already found and restored another car he built in 1966 and took it out to Australia, it is now in a museum out there. I used to meet up with Bob and his wife at Dragstalgia each year. He was such a nice guy.

In the late 1980’s I got more into Hot Rodding more than anything else. I’d only been back to Santa Pod two or three times in that period, up until the beginning of 2010, I think. In the late 1980s I joined a local car club called the Mid Surrey Roadsters & have been ever since & am now chairman of it.

During this a group of us attended a rod show in Holland attended by similar car enthusiasts from several European countries. This became the European Street Rod Association (ESRA) of which I’m proud to say I have attended all of the subsequent events, held throughout Europe & Scandinavia, to date 24 events. During this time I was a passenger in various MSR members cars, then I got my own Model T roadster & now have a 1926 Ford Model T Doctors Coupe.

Maurice’s Rover powered T Bucket and Chevy powered 1926 Model T Doctors Coupe...

Dave Gibbon's Rough Diamond Chevy T Altered.

In the meantime, I’d met my friend Dave Gibbons. He said do you want to give me a hand to run the Rough Diamond Chevy T Altered in 2008/2009. Dave lived just around the corner from me. So, I got involved with Dave, crewing for him. I had previously gone out to Austria with Dave to collect his old car that he’d previously owned, during which I got to know Dick Hogben who was his Crew Chief previously & is now my best friend.

Dave then said he’d been offered a 4-cylinder slingshot dragster that another racer wanted to sell; it was originally Dave Miller's Spirit slingshot from the 70s. We were originally going to form a syndicate and run it ourselves but for various reasons the other two decided to drop out. I quite liked it so I said I’d buy it with the understanding I could get in it as it was quite small. I just about fitted in it so bought it in 2013 and have had it ever since.

Having recently put on some weight (!) I will have to change the roll cage to fit in it again since I last ran it in 2018. I can only do RWYB events as it’s not chassis tagged being so old. It’s good fun and I’ve now seen drag racing from a completely different perspective as I’d always been involved in the organization side of it, being part of the track crew. I’d been crewing for Dave for five years before that and got used to being on that side of things which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I raced the dragster in 2017/18. I’d had trouble getting it off the line and we always had hassle with the gearbox. It’s a Borg Warner 35 which was modified in the 1970s, there were a variety of modifications you could do. A multi plate slider clutch was built for it. The gear sequence was, 1st in the middle, 2nd all the way forward and 3rd all the way back. A really strange way of doing it but that was the way it worked.

We ran it for a couple of meetings and it didn’t feel right so we took it all apart. We completely stripped the engine down and had that rebuilt. In the gearbox we found a pipe had snapped off the valve body and it looked like it had happened a few times having been brazed up. We made a new one and thought this would sort it out, but it made no difference. My best time was 12.5 at 112mph.

Maurice, Dave Gibbons and Dick Hogben.

On display with some memorabilia

Dave Miller with his Spirit slingshot in the 70s

The car has run 10.8 at 124mph back in the day, running on 30% nitro but I’ve only run it on methanol so far. It would always bog on the line. Dave said one day the answer is give it a real boot full of throttle and just launch of the line and see what difference that makes. I got it up to 5000rpm then dropped the clutch, that's when it went BANG!

It’s a BMC A Series 1275 bored and stroked to 1293cc with a Wade cabin supercharger and homemade injector. Because that’s mounted on the side and the way the chassis was constructed the engine is canted over to one side. When you take the rocker box off the oil runs down the side of the engine. I have another block which is a 1380cc. I fancy using that normally aspirated but having the engine vertical. I also have a Powerglide box to go in it.

The axle is BMC casing with a Ford differential and half shafts with BMC hub ends. It came with some modern multi-spoked wheels which I didn’t like. Not being able to find a set of wheels in period with BMC bolt pattern, I found an adapter plate taking it to the Ford bolt pattern and then found and fitted a pair of Wolfrace wheels.

It’s old school stuff, originally built in 1973 and has been raced pretty much all its life. It missed seven years while Dave Raper one of the previous owners had it. I’ve spoken to most of the owners about the gearbox. At some stage I’ll have to stop using it or sell it on. I want to continue but I’d like to get it running with the powerglide in it with a torque converter as an auto not a manual.

Since this was written I’ve now sold the dragster to a true enthusiast who I hope will continue its racing history.

Links to Maurice Takoor’s archives (Google Photos):

1962 – 1964
1966 – 1969
1970 – 1979
Slot Car Drags 1963 – 1965
Vic Outen 1962 – 1965
First Big Go 1964
Drag Racing ‘69 Shows
BHRA Pioneers 1991 – 2004

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