Nigel Johnsfolly has long been associated with The M.G. Car Company, Abingdon, Oxon. But his many roles have been obscured by shoddy Works record keeping and unfortunate timing. Long thought to have been Cecil Kimber's reclusive houseboy in the late 1940's, Nigel maintains that he was actually a secret test driver for the Competitions Department during BMC and later British Leyland management and was required to work under various pseudonyms in order to protect the celebrity of his more renowned colleagues. A last minute addition to the Works Sebring team in 1966, Nigel's career was jeopardized by his untimely presentation at the wrong London airport searching for the BL-chartered flight to Florida. Despondent, he withdrew from all competition and was not mentioned again until an internal memorandum in 1968 implicated him in the disappearance of Works endurance racer.
Little was heard of Nigel or the lost factory racecar until the mid-1990's when a red MG Midget in Works livery began campaigning the vintage race circuits of the midwestern United States. With Nigel as team owner, mentor, and guiding muse, various drivers have sought to demonstrate the durability of a Stage II Works-prepared M.G. among the horde of cheatin' dog competitors with their fiberglass front clips, intractable 14:1 compression ratio motors, and double bearing rear hubs. A lone voice in the woods, Nigel has been heard screaming, "Where are their headlamps? Where are their bloody side screens?!"
Who is John Deikis?
We asked. This is what he said:
I've been told my first spoken word was "auto" but I don't remember that. I do remember being able to identify various makes of car by the shape of their tail lights at night, later by the sound of their exhaust note, and-- like many boys growing up in the 1950's-- by the smallest details of Detroit's annual styling updates. And like many boys, I learned to drive on my father's lap and later sitting on a pillow at night wearing his fedora so I didn't attract attention. Guess the old man was encouraging me. We also went to the Danbury Fair in Connecticut every year to watch the dirt-track racers slide around the oval track and to see the occasional thrill drivers' show. There's probably a mall gracing that site now.
High school was a challenge: I had the wheel of a 1959 Rambler American while my buddies drove souped up '57 Chevys and turn-on-dime bug-eye Sprites. I went to the drag strip at East Haddam and to the road races at Lime Rock and Thompson. I bought a motorcycle in the summer of 1965 to take me between the three summer jobs I was juggling... in order to have the money for a motorcycle... to take me to the three summer jobs...you probably get the idea. Later, there was a VW Beetle, a Karmann-Ghia, a '65 Dodge Dart with a 273, and finally my birth into sports cars, a 1966 MGB purchased with the last $700 I had after working and vagabonding in Europe and the middle east for the better part of a year.
It was the MGB that carried me back and forth from Connecticut to Bloomington, Indiana where I started graduate school in 1971. It also forced me to learn quite a bit of auto maintenance as I struggled to replace head gaskets in snowy parking lots, do weekend ring jobs, and slop bondo in an effort to forestall the inevitable rust worm.
Since then, some kind of old car or motorcycle always seemed to latch onto my wallet-- various MGs, Austin Healeys, a TR-3, a flock of VWs, an old BMW, a fly-yellow Porsche 911 RS clone with the loudest six-pack of Webers in captivity. And there were the 2-wheeled Hondas, a Triumph, several airhead BMWs, not to mention the flotsam my two sons would drag home. I miss them all (well, almost all) but fortunately they couldn't all stick around. They moved on to blindly enthusiastic buyers who have certainly experienced the joys of committed ownership and, I am sure, have learned a great deal.
In 1981, finding myself again in school yet again, this time in Philadelphia, my wife and I bought a partially restored 1953 MG TD with right-hand drive-- the only way to really drive British. It looked pretty good but needed a lot of work which pretty much demanded every square inch of our 1-car garage. Tiring of the "polish-and-wait" of the "old car" hobby, we started making good use of the car in the manner in which MG founder Cecil Kimber intended. We drove it. A lot.
The 1990's found us living outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan where inevitable car-headed wanderings led us to become acquainted with a number of automotive journalists associated with Automobile and Car & Driver, both edited in that town known more widely perhaps for Wolverines than Jaguars. As these professionals have an insatiable appetite for interesting cars yet lack substantial economic resources, their impulsive acquisitions frequently must change hands to fund their next chromed mistress. In this way, I came into possession of one 1968 MG Midget, prepared and briefly raced by Kevin Clemens, at that time the technical editor at Automobile magazine.
Beginning at Automobile and later for European Car, Kevin wrote a series of articles on how to go vintage racing without breaking the bank or ending up in divorce court. The little Midget became my cheap date, and like so many other casual relationships, teased me and seduced me and even tried to hurt me a couple of times.
Although I had participated in quite a few "track day" events with BMW and Porsche clubs, and even attended Skip Barber's performance driving school at Lime Rock for my 40th birthday, I knew nothing of wheel-to-wheel racing. It just seemed like another fun thing to do with an old MG. In May of 1997, I attended race drivers' school at Ginger Man Raceway in South Haven, Michigan under the auspices of the Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association. VSCDA is the sanctioning club for most of the vintage racing occurring around the lower Great Lakes area. I subsequently raced at every track they scheduled: Ginger Man, Grattan, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Black Hawk Farms, Indianapolis Raceway Park, and Autobahn. I availed myself of the annual Meadowbrook Historic Races at Waterford Hills, a course almost as old as I am. Occasional excursions took me to places like Mosport in Canada, Watkins Glen, Pennsylvania's Beaver Run, and Virginia International. My wife, Carol, began to refer to these excesses in testosterone, adrenaline and frustration as "John's folly." Hence, Johnsfolly Vintage Racing.
Half of my life is arguably over. The second half is now lining up on the starting grid.