Brackley driver recalls memories of Monte Carlo Rally which returns to Banbury next week

John Gilley and Henry Burke in their MG Magnet NNL-180123-163929001
John Gilley and Henry Burke in their MG Magnet NNL-180123-163929001

A former Rallye Monte Carlo driver has been reliving memories of the world-famous classic car event as excitement builds for its return to Banbury for the first time since 1962.

John Gilley, 85, of Brackley, took part in the rally in 1955 when it was an endurance event with no overnight stops.

John Gilley of Brackley with his memorabilia from the 1955 Monte Carlo Rallye NNL-180123-164153001

John Gilley of Brackley with his memorabilia from the 1955 Monte Carlo Rallye NNL-180123-164153001

Now he is now counting down the days until Thursday, February 1 when the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique and Classique passes through Banbury for an official Passage Control.

During its heyday in the 1950s, competitors had to make the 1,500 mile trip with no overnight breaks and having to contend with what one newspaper described as “minor collisions and near misses on ice-rutted roads”.

Mr Gilley’s one moment of respite came when the captain of the ferry he was crossing the channel on took pity on him and gave up his cabin for the night.

Mr Gilley said; “It all went by in a flash. We were treated rather well because we were young but a lot of the older chaps told us to keep out of the way.

“It’s going to be great to get back into the fun of it when the rally returns to Banbury and I’m looking forward to meeting this year’s drivers.”

Mr Gilley will get that chance at Banbury Town Hall, where drivers will stop for lunch before being waved off by the crowds at one-minute intervals from 1.30pm in the Market Place.

Mr Gilley’s co-driver during the rally was Henry Burke, the duo making the trip in an MG Magnet.

The pair competed in numerous car rallies throughout Europe after having met at hotel school in Switzerland, including the Tulip Rally and the Liège-Rome-Liège.

Mr Gilley contacted with the district council about his memorabilia from the 1955 race which includes an official 1955 race brochure, numerous press cuttings and a photo of Henry and himself en route.

Cllr Kieron Mallon said: “Having the Rallye Monte Carlo pass through Banbury is a fantastic occasion for Banbury, and I was delighted to hear from John Gilley when he contacted me about his participation in the event.

“The day is all about promoting motoring heritage, and it is great to see that people such as John are coming forward to share their memories and help promote this important day for our town centre.”

The event will also feature an exhibition of up to 100 classic and vintage cars, including famous models from local firms such as Prodrive, BGM Sport, Tuthill Porsche, Nissan and Cropredy Bridge.

Stallholders at Banbury Market will be serving teas, coffees and street food as they welcome rally supporters to town.

The event takes place between 10am and 3.30pm and during the event Bridge Street and Market Place will remain closed to traffic.