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.
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.”
He 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.”
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