The inland city of Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the Natal province in South Africa and was a ‘Mecca’ for motor racing enthusiasts. This small city that became famous for its street racing at Alexandra Park and later when the Roy Hesketh race circuit was built, spawned a number of world class motor sporting champions and some small but highly successful independently run racing teams during its heyday from the late 1940s to early 1980s. John ‘Tiger’ Thompson was an ardent Pietermaritzburg racer and sponsor and built the JTS in late 1951. It was one of the relatively few early motorcycle engine racers built in South Africa. “It was based on the Fiat 500, like most 500s of the time. Fiat back and front, Fiat wheels etc. I fitted the 1939 model Triumph GP twin engine from my bike and we made the body in our backyard.”
John had raced home built specials in the immediate
pre-war years and travelled huge distances in order to take part in the
major motor sporting events as racing developed in the Union. In fact, John
participated in the first South African post-war motor race. It was the 2nd
Fairfield Handicap staged on Durban’s Snell Parade in January 1948 and he
drove a 975 cc Singer Special that his younger brother Ian had constructed.
The field included the famous Bentley driven by the internationally renowned
Yorkshireman Eddie Hall and Basil Beall’s ERA. John
retired at just over the half-way mark in the 112 mile race when ‘the engine
blew-up’. Two months later, for the next big racing event, the Coronation
100 Handicap at Pietermaritzburg, John was equipped with an Austin 7 Special
that he had constructed himself. He started 47 minutes ahead of the winner,
Eddie Hall, but his race was over after only 8 laps – before Hall had left
the line to chase the field.
“I remember standing next to it as the grey paint dried
and shared John's excitement at the prospect of the final completion”
recalls Clive Thompson. But ill fate was to dog the JTS. John gave the car
its racing debut in the 1952 Coronation Junior handicap at Alexandra Park.
The contemporary newspaper report noted “J. Thompson in a 500 O.H.V. J.T.S.
was going well, but he later dropped out.” “I had fitted high compression
pistons and a barrel blew off!” Recalls John. Thereafter Thompson dragged
the JTS some 400 miles to East London for the July Winter handicap but
retired after only 2 laps. “That car had a mind of its own. I never got the
steering right.” Reflects John. Ray Emond, who has an impressive record in
the South African Springbok Series International endurance races driving a
Lola Mk. 1 and was later a most successful pilot in the V8 Chevy CanAms,
drove GSM Dart-Fords for the Thompson stable. Ray recalls “In the early
1950s we did not have a proper race circuit at Pietermaritzburg to test on
so John took the JTS to a paddock near where Roy Hesketh Circuit was
eventually built. The JTS hit an anthill and crashed heavily. John was
thrown out and taken to hospital after suffering a very nasty crack on the
head.” “I spent 3 weeks in hospital after that and then we scrapped the JTS.
I gave up the driving. Then with my brothers Ian and Brian we started our
racing team. ” Says John.
Our thanks to Rob Young and Clive Thompson.