JOHN WAT­SON

…ON THE SEEDS OF HIS EN­GI­NEER­ING PAS­SION, LEARN­ING HIS TRADE FROM A MASTER, AND THE CHAL­LENGE OF GO­ING IT ALONE

VANTAGE - - The Specialist | Chicane -

En­gi­neer­ing is in John Wat­son’s blood. When he was grow­ing up, not far from Chi­cane’s north Hamp­shire base, he was ex­posed to clas­sic ma­chin­ery from an early age, thanks to his fa­ther, who was heav­ily into vet­eran cars. ‘When you saw those cars idling, it was like ev­ery­thing’s alive – the head­lights wob­bling, pushrods mov­ing up and down,’ John re­calls. ‘And I al­ways en­joyed play­ing around with cars and bikes – at the age of 12 or 13, me and my brother were rid­ing Honda C90s around my par­ents’ gar­den, and if they broke down we’d pull them apart on the drive­way. That – and watch­ing my dad with his cars – was where my love of ve­hi­cles and en­gi­neer­ing started.’

His main in­ter­est as a teenager, though, was sport. ‘When I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, be­sides play sport,’ he laughs. ‘So my dad marched me down to Cedar Clas­sics in Hart­ley Wint­ney, where they re­stored vin­tage cars. I man­aged to get an ap­pren­tice­ship and by the age of 21 I was build­ing en­gines on my own. I worked there for eight or nine years and got a re­ally good ground­ing.’

And then he got the As­ton Martin call­ing. ‘We used to store cars for Vic­tor Gauntlett and through Nick Mee [then As­ton’s sales di­rec­tor] I found out about RS Wil­liams and heard they were look­ing for an en­gine builder. So I started work­ing for Richard in the mid-90s. There were only five or six of us there at that time – Richard him­self was still hands-on when I first joined – and I learned all the idio­syn­cra­sies of build­ing the straight-six and V8 en­gines. Af­ter three or four, I was left to build th­ese great en­gines. And not just build them – I’d dyno them and then road-test them when they’d been put in the car. So I got to know the cars as well as the en­gines.

‘I was there for 17 years and learned so much. But then I was ready to have a go on my own. Ap­proach­ing 40 was prob­a­bly the cat­a­lyst!

‘I had a cou­ple of clas­sic Porsches, be­cause I’m a Porsche fan as well, so I sold those cars and set up my first work­shop in 2009 [in a case of his­tory re­peat­ing, he would later sell his DBS to help fund the move to the cur­rent premises].

‘Brian Stevens, a Jaguar spe­cial­ist, gave me a unit and was very sup­port­ive – he knew I was tak­ing a big risk leav­ing a com­fort­able life with a com­fort­able wage. My old boss, Richard Wil­liams, still does not be­lieve that I didn’t have any work lined up. But I re­ally didn’t. I didn’t want to burn any bridges, didn’t want to do any­thing dodgy, I just wanted to start afresh.

‘It was just me and my work­shop. I had a few grand in the bank, a lot of pas­sion, a lot of mo­ti­va­tion and en­ergy, and I just net­worked, went to the club meet­ings, got talk­ing to own­ers, put a lot of cards into hands. My first job was a 1973 Porsche 911. The owner had a mate with a DB5, who had a mate with a DB5 Con­vert­ible… and be­fore you knew it I had a busi­ness.

‘I was a one-man band for a year and a half. It was pretty full-on – my girl­friend at the time helped with the admin, though the busi­ness later caused us to part. Luck­ily my cur­rent girl­friend un­der­stands how de­mand­ing it can be.’

Chi­cane moved to its cur­rent base about two and a half years ago. ‘We still look af­ter the odd Porsche, but we’re more or less 100 per cent As­ton Martin now,’ says John. ‘We’ve got a new web­site, a new man­age­ment team, a re­ally good team of guys out there with the knowl­edge, and we’re now ready to re­ally grow. We’re ready to take on the big boys.’

V

Above John and the full Chi­cane team. ‘I’m a to­tal petrol­head,’ he says. ‘I’ve al­ways played around with cars and bikes. If I see a Hill­man Imp and it’s set up cor­rectly, I’ll get ex­cited!’

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