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Palmer goes full circle with run in Davies family Mini at Brands Hatch

Thursday, September 19 2019

MotorSport Vision Chief Executive Jonathan Palmer took a trip back in time at Brands Hatch this week as he took to the circuit in an original Austin Mini Cooper S, raced by Jack Davies in period, and now owned by his sons John, Tony and Mike. Jonathan has a long history with the Davies family, and they were indeed responsible for first drawing him into the world of motor racing in the 1970s.

Jonathan's introduction to the Davies family came in his youth, when his mother ran a nursing home at which Jack's wife was a long term patient. During this period, Jonathan formed a friendship with the Davies family when both Jack and the boys would visit the nursing home with their racing Minis on trailers, en-route to Brands Hatch. As 14-year-old Jonathan developed his interest in motor racing, the Davies boys would take him to racing circuits for the first time, including Brands Hatch

In a sign of things to come, Jonathan used to thrash an old Morris Minor van, a BSA Bantam motorbike and his homebuilt go-kart around the paddock behind the nursing home - often to the fury of his mother!

As Jonathan moved into motor racing properly for the first time, racing both an Austin-Healey Sprite and a Marcos in club-level events, he would frequent the Davies brothers Transpeed motor accessory shop to get parts for his cars and later Jonathan worked at Transpeed as a summer job when a medical student.   

The Mini Jonathan sampled at Brands Hatch has been in the hands of the Davies family since it was purchased as new from John Cooper Cars Ltd in 1964 by Jack. The car was actually the family's regular run-around initially, and racked up more than 100,000 miles on the road before Jack decided he'd quite like to race it competitively, initially in autocross and in sprints.

The Mini, known affectionately as 'CPJ' due to its registration number, underwent numerous tuning modifications after Jack began to race it, including the installation of a Downton Engineering powerplant, and the fitting of aluminium doors - it was the only original Cooper S to have them, aside from the factory cars. 

Jack continued to drive the car competitively until 1990, when he hung up his helmet for good after 485 events behind the wheel. Thereafter, the car sat unused in a garage for 25 years until the brothers set about having the car restored.

Sussex-based outfit Westbourne Motorsport restored the car to immaculate condition following its two-and-a-half decade stay in storage, with only minimal rust repairs and repainting required. The vast majority of parts on the car as Jonathan drove it are originals. 

The Downton engine still sits beneath the bonnet to this day too, rebuilt amidst the recent restoration work. The engine was last refurbished by former Downton Engineering man Steve Harris in 1979, so it was only fitting that he was invited back to renew it once more.  

The Davies family remain as enthusiastic about motor racing as ever and continue to visit circuits across the country. Tony still races a Transpeed-liveried Vauxhall Firenza, the sister car to Gerry Marshall's famous 'Old Nail', whilst John's love for Minis remains undiminished and he attended the Brands Hatch Mini Festival just a few months back. All three brothers took a turn behind the wheel of the Mini, each emerging from the driver's seat with a broad grin, before Jonathan himself went for a handful of flying laps on the Indy circuit. 

Jonathan Palmer said: "I've never driven a racing Mini before so that was tremendous fun. The car looks terrific and drives really nicely too. I have a lot of great memories of my time at racing circuits with Tony, Mike, and John as well as their father Jack who I remember very clearly.

"In many ways, my motor racing story really began with them as they took me to the circuits for the first time and very soon trying to go racing myself was the focus of my life. After competing in club racing into the mid-late '70s, I began to take things a bit more seriously and moved into Formula Ford and ultimately towards F1. I didn't see the Davies family as much after that, so it's been a real thrill to get together and enjoy driving their car at Brands Hatch."