Mr. Big Healey – John Chatham

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Chatham’s legendary mount – DD300

With the moniker of Mr. Big Healey, John Chatham has earned his status as one of the storied marque’s most legendary men. Across four decades, Chatham piloted DD300 – an Austin-Healey 3000 – on tracks around the world and became famous as one of the fastest drivers of the era.

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Chatham (r) with his son, Jack (l), and NOJ393 from the 1955 Le Mans race.

Chatham’s father purchased a garage in Bristol after the Second World War and the youngster grew up around the business. He purchased his first Healey at the age of 20 and set out to become a racing driver. “Back then, I thought simply owning a Healey made me a racing driver. All I had to do was attach a couple of pieces of sticky tape across the headlights, and I was away,” Chatham says, and “every chance I could get I’d drive her to a race or a hillclimb of some sort, and sign myself up as a competitor.”

76546He soon established a reputation as a fearsome competitor and during the 60s began to compete against the historic names like Stirling Moss and Roger Clark. “I remember one rally in particular back in the 1960s, when I was seeded below Stirling because I was a less well-known name, even though I’d driven faster than him in the previous few days,” he remembered.

“I was so furious, the red mist came down and stayed down across most of Europe. Driven by anger, I left the whole field behind, and would have won the race hands down had I not allowed my concentration to slip while talking to my navigator in the middle of the Alps – I drove straight on at a sharp bend and crashed into the barrier. Not my finest hour.”

The perfect name to his autobiography

The perfect name to his autobiography

He continued to race against Moss and other legends like Timo Makinen across 22 countries and countless tracks. He raced the Targa Florio in an MGC and took part in the International Healey Challenge in the 90s. DD300 was sold off to finance other ventures, Chatham explains that “I bought that car in 1963 for £365, and raced it almost every day for more than 40 years. Then I sold it to a banker in 2005 for £265,000. Not a bad profit, even if I say so myself.”

A stroke has slowed – but not stopped – the irrepressible Englishman and continues to work on Healeys from his farm in Bristol. Just the sort of thing that you would expect from Mr. Big Healey himself. After all, the man wooed his beautiful wife – a glamorous BOAC flight attendant named Vicky – while driving a VW Bus.

By Johnny Oversteer

 



'Mr. Big Healey – John Chatham' have 2 comments

  1. April 21, 2015 @ 8:46 am Marion S. Brantley, Jr.

    I must say that my first meeting with John Chatham in 1992 at Breckenridge,CO was very pleasant and quite rewarding. Having experienced problems with the 3000 BJ-8 and trying the many fixes that both Thom Anderson & I knew, John Chatham solved the pesky problem by replacing the faulty distributor rotor with a new one. Do not be too shy to even ask for help from the Big Healey Guy if he should be around. (But I might add that John Chatham checked all the things that we had before he arrived at the solution of the problem.)
    Many thanks again, John.

    Reply

  2. June 13, 2021 @ 8:14 pm John Speight

    On OE to the UK 1966 I was lucky enough to land a job working on the Concorde at Filton in Bristol not fare from Castle Coombe .
    By the end of the first summer I had purchased my first Healey Mk2A just the ticket for Castle Coombe motor racing events.
    Any one who saw JC race DD 300 for the Sports Car Championships at CC back then would have been left wondering how a 3L AH had beaten all comer’s including GT40 E types & Ferraris. Mind you DD 300 did not look like it does today, it was red and had massive fashionable tires fitted. photos could be forwarded if OK with John .
    Unfortunately the MK2a was hit by a Viva one dark night which bent the front suspension, a right off? John generously offered to buy it and within days it was on display in the Gloucester Rd Showroom/Workshop for 595GBP. John worked as fast as he drove or there was bugger all wrong with it. But how could you get upset with such a great driver and thoughly nice bloke though .
    Took another year to buy number 2 AH 1964 Mk 111 CNX 841B but we did got in free to CC on several occasions as JC crew. Unfortunately silver Mk 3 needed at least a decoke to restore its performance so was traded in for a 66 Mk111 BRG.
    Don’t know weather John had seen an OD switch on the gear lever of this Mk111 I had fitted but thereafter a similar switch went onto DD 300 . I then foolishly sold the Mk111 for a flat floor 61 E Type and departed Bristol. (should have kept both)
    While on holiday some decades latter on the off chance John was accepting visitors I phoned, yes so off to Avonmouth to catch up and view his extensive collection and try talk him into another chapter on his early days.
    eg Blown engine on practice day back to Gloucester Rd Garage work all night hook it up to arrive in time to compete on the Saturday.
    Was so impressed In the oCastle Coombe Club house offered to by a round but only a half for John as he was next up,
    From the back of the grid to tfront rbefore the first corner by passing on the grass was typical take no prisoners tdrive
    . Thats it this PC is playing up .
    Cheers

    John Speight

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    di

    Reply


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