I will never know why my grandfather took my brother and I to see motor racing at London's Crystal Palace circuit in 1956.I had never expressed any interest in motor racing and we lived some distance from the circuit. My grandfather also had absolutely no interest in motor sport as far as I know. Indeed he could not drive and he definitely could not afford a car. In fact I would not be surprised to learn that at that time he had never even been in a car.
So whilst mystery surrounds why we were peering through a fence at a field of 500cc Formula 1 cars that morning in 1956 what I do know is that the outing triggered a sequence of events which defined my life. Let me explain.
I came away from Crystal Palace that day totally hooked. Three hours turned me into a motor sport junkie -at ten years of age.
The next week I visited the local newsagent on the way home from school. We walked to and from school in those days. No helicopter mum at the school gate in a black SUV and school buses had not been invented. It was long walk so we were fit. In the newsagent I fingered a magazine with a green cover-Motor Sport- price one shilling and sixpence. I saved my pocket money. I went without my favourite sherbet lemons and sherbet flying saucers and bought the magazine. It was a revelation to me-like opening a door to a magic kingdom. I still have a copy of that issue-not the original copy though. Today it looks dull with its few small black and white photos and pages of dense small type. In 1956 it was wonderful. I read it from cover to cover-many times. I have been reading Motor Sport ever since and have been a subscriber for over 40 years.
One section of the magazine totally entranced me-the very long column from the Continental Correspondent,Denis Jenkinson,who was known as Jenks and who signed his writing DSJ.
Now by 1956 Jenks was a legend. He was navigator for Stirling Moss in his victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia. They covered the 1000 miles at an average speed of 100mph in their Mercedes on closed public roads. Not only was the drive heroic but Jenks' story of the drive has become known as one of the classics of motor sport journalism. Jenks was very brave man- he had been sidecar passenger for Eric Oliver when Oliver won the 1949 world motorcycle sidecar world championship. Motorcycle racing sidecar passngers are brave verging on barking mad.
Jenks was totally eccentric. He was very short with a flowing beard. He looked like a robust garden gnome. His personal life was very odd. He lived in a tiny cottage in a dark wood in Hampshire in the UK. The cottage did not have mains electricity,mains water or mains sewage. The rooms were filled with pieces of disassembled cars and motorcycles. Not surprisingly he did not have a wife and although he apparently he did have a number of girlfriends the relationships never lasted. No surprises there.
But in 1956 I did not know of or care about DSJ's domestic foibles because each European summer he crisscrossed continental Europe following the motor racing and sending back detailed accounts of the races as well as a very entertaining account of his travels. And what travels they were. The era of the autoroutes/autobahns and autostradas was very much in its infancy so his travels in his company car-a Porsche 356 -were on the then main and minor roads with stops in facinating but often basic hotels in towns and villages which were still unspoilt. It was a magical time.
In 1956 Porsche was barely known in the UK but Jenks' travels and his enthusiasm for his 356 did much to raise the brand's profile in the UK. I became an instant Porsche enthusiast although at that point I had never even seen a Porsche. I soon went out and bought myself two 356s. Both the same colour of beige and sadly both only Dinky Toys.
Jenks' passion for Porsches resulted in a very readable book titled "A Passion for Porsches" first published in 1983 and republished more recently.
Jenks took his own photos using a Rolleiflex camera. His first basic test for any car he was asked to road test was whether the glovebox could take his faithful Rollei. The 356 passed the test.
Jenks was good friends with Jesse Alexander-a wealthy American who had moved across to Europe with his wife and child -his domestic arrangemants were more normal than Jenks'- to see if he could make a living from motor sport photography. On Jenks' recommendation he bought a 356 for his travels and so he also developed a passion for Porsches. Jesse Alexander went on to more than make a living out of his photography he became probably the best motor sport photographer ever. He has published many books of his photos-some are still available -and his photos are classics from an era of motor sport which was very special.
I saw and talked to Jenks at a few races over the years-that was before the Bernie era when mere mortals like me who were not FOB - friends of Bernie-could get access to the pits and paddock. I last saw him at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 1996 just a few months before he died. He was sitting alone in some shade and was very frail but as we chatted he still enthused about motor racing. It is perhaps just as well that he passed away when he did because I am sure that he would be appalled at the charade which calls itself formula one today.
As I gently chatted with him that day nearly 20 years ago I explained to him how his writing had resulted in me being a lifelong motor sport enthusiast and had also resulted in my working in the motor industry for nearly 50 years and had fired my enthusiasm for Porsches. He seemed genuinely pleased to hear my story. Thanks Jenks without you I would not be writing this story today.
Story by The Rolling Road-JohnS. Originally published in Porsche Power issue 4 2015