The life of GT40 legend John R Etheridge is remembered by his close friend, Maitland Cook.
John, who died recently after a long battle with cancer, was born and educated in Twickenham, joining Aston Martin in 1956 aged 15. Such was his engineering acumen and enthusiasm that he served much of his apprenticeship in the Experimental Division at Feltham, where young “Johnny” learnt how to build racing engines with Jack Sopp, one of the finest craftsmen of that era.
He was a member of the racing team at Aston Martin, first visiting Le Mans in 1962 with the Project cars, and was an integral part of the crew that achieved the famous victory in 1963 in the Inter-Europa Cup at Monza, when Roy Salvadori and Lucien Bianchi sandwiched the works Ferrari, finishing first and third. John’s eyes sparkled when he recalled his contribution to the victory achieved under the team management of a youthful John Horsman (Aston Martin, FAV, JWAE Engineering Director) who would remain an ally and friend to the end.
Later that year he joined Ford Advanced Vehicles at the personal invitation of John Wyer, to build and race the GT40. Wyer always opined that John was one of his finest racing mechanics, a sentiment echoed by John Horsman who recalled: “it soon became obvious that John had above normal intelligence, as well as great skills with his hands – a good combination.”
The vast majority of his clients would echo this sentiment, which contributed to his election to BRDC membership, under the presidency of Innes Ireland, with whom he had worked at Aston and FAV.
In 1968 he set up his own company specialising in Aston Martins, Ferrari’s and the Ford GT40. His workshops always looked more akin to hospital operating theatres than any garage – such were his standards.
It is for his work with the GT40 that he will be best remembered, he being one of the world experts on this iconic car. Nearly all the cars currently competing in the various Classic series have passed through John’s hands.
Possibly his proudest moments have been the rebuilding of prototype chassis number 105, that he had engineered at Le Mans in 1964, and the supervision of his nephew David Cuff’s car that finished fifth in the 2013 Whitsun Trophy at the Goodwood Revival meeting.
However, for all those who knew him it was the man himself who was most admired; John Etheridge was liked by all. His loyalty, kindness, self-effacing charm, and tireless enthusiasm were unique. These qualities, allied to his great sense of humour, made him the most delightful of men. He was small in stature but huge in standing.
In offering our sympathy to his widow Marilyn, and daughter Kate, I finish with David Piper’s words at his recent funeral: “John was a prince among men, a real gentle man.”
There can be no finer epitaph.