Friday, September 11, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Roy Jackson-Moore

Exclusive Interview with Roy Jackson-Moore

Q. My memory tells me Roy, that you were living in the USA during the 1950’s, how did you end up going there, and who did you work for?

A. After leaving Marlborough school, I joined the Royal Air Force at seventeen and spent the majority of my service in Training Command flying Harvard’s, but the highlight was flying a Mosquito which was a fabulous aircraft. When I left the R.A.F., living in post war Britain was pretty austere, so I contacted my Father who had a successful doctor’s practice in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, and I ended up moving to the USA.

My father spoke to his friend, and client, Henry J. Kaiser mentioning that his son had just arrived from England and would like to get a job with an American auto. manufacturer. His response was that it might be possible to fit me in to a sales promotion team who were promoting Kaiser Frazer cars at State fairs across the USA. During the 1951 economic downturn the company stopped making cars and I moved from Detroit to San Francisco getting a job selling Rootes group cars, before getting a job with Austin as a field representative.

Q. What brought you to Bonneville?

A. In 1953 I was summoned to Austin’s head office where I was introduced to Donald Healey … “I am Donald Healey, and you must be Roy – you are going to drive me half way around America in my car”. Later that day we collected the first Austin Healey 100 in America and for the next few weeks we toured the US including the Miami international motor show. The 100 was very well received and created lots of publicity. We had been late arriving at the show and all the trophies had been awarded for ‘best car’ etc. I borrowed a magnificent trophy from the Packard stand … the “Grand Premier Award” and put it on the Healey for the media. It looked very impressive, and Austin used the photos in their publicity – but nobody knew the truth!

I talked with Donald about the future plans for promoting the new Austin Healey by setting international records and sports car racing to boost sales, and in 1953 we went to Bonneville where I drove for the first time on the salt. I later returned in 1954 and 1956 driving the Endurance car and the Streamliners.

Q. Looking back to 1954, is there anything in particular about the event that comes to mind?

A. Driving on the salt was interesting as it is quite a slippery surface which becomes damp in the evenings. There are strong winds that can blow a car sideways, so it was a question of doing everything gently with small inputs to avoid disaster … in summary it was a case of relaxed concentration!

We stayed at the only motel in Wendover run by a very friendly Mr. Mcloud with an excellent restaurant. We made visits one mile to the west into Nevada where we could get a drink (Utah being a dry state) at the Stateline Hotel which had a massive sign outside of a cowboy waving, reputed to be the largest sign in America at the time. I remember whilst waiting for the conditions to be at their best, swimming in the salt lake, which apart from the Dead Sea is the only place where you can sit in the water and read a book. I also remember passing the time flying model aircraft with Carroll Shelby … although, I recall not very well!

Q. For record breaking in the endurance car, especially the 24 hour record, what was the routine devised for the length of each stint of driving?

A. The fuel lasted for 3 hours, so this determined the time between pit stops. The mechanics worked very quickly to service and re-fuel the cars … in fact this took the same time as it did to change drivers, so very little time was lost.

Q. What were your memories of Donald at the time?

A. Donald was always calm and never showed any great emotion at the time. He was very happy to have achieved (and surpassed) his goals as the records were set. The only exception was in 1956 when he achieved 200 mph … he was jubilant. He was very proud of being a member of the 200 mph club which was one of his main goals in going to Bonneville. On the other hand, his son Geoff showed no emotion and remained focused on the ‘job’.

Q. Who did the work on the cars at the time?

A. There were two Austin mechanics from the USA, one from the Austin depot, and the other from Gough Industries in Los Angeles. From England there was Roger Menadue and Geoff Healey from The Donald Healey Motor Company, Jim Harris from SU carburettors, and a chap from Dunlop.

Q. At the end of the event in 1954 what was the feeling in the camp?

A. We were all very happy with the results, as we had achieved our goals. We wanted to improve on what we had achieved in 1953, which we did giving a boost to sales. We packed up the cars and went back to work!

Q. What were your thoughts when you heard that someone was reconstructing the cars for a return to the salt?

A. My son Jamie had already looked into reviving the record runs for the 50th anniversary of the 100, but finances were not available at the time. In 2006 at the Healey Drivers Club international meeting Wiet Huidekoper and Steve Pike told me that they were going to re-create the cars and I was delighted. From the photographs I have seen they have done a splendid job, and I am looking forward to returning to Bonneville to see them run on the salt … even though I won’t be driving them this time!

Thanks for your time and recollections from Bonneville, it has been wonderful to talk to you and re-live part of 1954.

Charles Matthews – Team Manager

August 2009

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