THE Australian drag racing world lost one of its true pioneers when John English passed away this month.
John was a member of the Southern Hot Rod Club in the late 50s and became one of the founding members of the Thunderbirds Hot Rod Club. His interest in modifying cars – he raced his ’47 Mercury at the old Pakenham drag strip in 1958 and ’59 – developed into a reputation as one of the smartest of the early drag racers, especially after the sport began to boom in Melbourne in the early 1960s when the Riverside strip opened.
He drove Eddie Thomas’s dragster, first using his own sidevalve engine and later Thomas’s blown Chrysler wedge engine, briefly becoming the fastest drag racer in the nation in 1964 before going his own way with the iconic ’32 roadster that was to make his name.
Using sidevalve V8 power, John raced his ’32 in the inaugural meetings at Castlereagh, Surfers Paradise and the Brooksfield strip in South Australia. He later repowered it with a 390 Ford to meet the increasing level of competition from the likes of Ian Splatt’s Bounty Hunter.
John was a fitter and turner by trade, working for the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the RAN during World War 2. After the war he joined Frigidaire and stayed until the early 1960s, when he was picked to become the workshop foreman for Repco Research. In 1966 started his own business manufacturing speed equipment, and in 1969 opened a mechanical repair operation that was to grow into the Speed Pro speed shop.
He was a keen motorcycle fan throughout his life and for a number of years was a national show judge for the Australian Hot Rod Federation. According to his son, Richard: “Basically he loved anything that had wheels.”
John English was born on 22 February 1924 and died on 25 May 2013, aged 89. He married in 1948 Phyllis and the couple had two children, Richard and Christine, and two grandchildren, Rebecca and Bronwyn.
There is an in-depth interview with John inSM Hot Rod 10, on June 6.