Unless you were around Canadian road race tracks a few—well make that more than a few—years ago, you may not remember the name Al Pease. However, those of us more mature, ahem, race fans will remember him racing just about anything he could get his hands on from Minis to a supercharged MGB to Dan Gurney’s first F1 Eagle, the Coventry Climax-powered Grand Prix car. Al has the distinct honor of participating in the very first Canadian Formula One GP held at Mosport during Canada’s Centennial year, 1967. Al was listed as a finisher in 12th place. He competed in circumstances that would be unthinkable today, as the time of the rent-a-racer and the private competitor and sportsman have gone the way of the Dodo in Bernie Ecclestone’s universe of Formula One.
A number of years ago Al retired to Tennessee where he lives today. A member of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, having turned 80 he no longer races, but still restores and recreates old racecars, and that’s how VR’s John Wright managed to meet him at Mosport’s VARAC Vintage Weekend.
Al, you were not born in Canada but in England were you not?
Pease: I was born in Darlington, Yorkshire in 1921 and left home when I was 17 to go to India with the British army. After several years in the army, I transferred to the RAF and was shipped to what was then Rhodesia for flight training in first Tiger Moths and then Harvards. From there I went to Egypt for operational training in Hurricanes.
However, you didn’t stay there long, did you?
Pease: As the war was pretty well over in those parts by the time I finished my ops training, I again shipped out to England and by this time, it was almost D-Day. I joined a Typhoon squadron and we strafed trains and anything else that moved.
How then, did you come to Canada? From what you initially told me, you were headed for the USA.
Pease: After the war ended, I decided I just couldn’t stay in England any more because I hadn’t lived there for so many years. I obtained a job as an illustrator for the SKF bearing company in the USA because my educational background had been in art, but as the U.S. at that time had quotas for immigrants, I decided to try my luck in Toronto, where I got a job working as an illustrator on the catalogues for the large department store, Simpsons. From there, I migrated to various art studios until I formed my own company which I ran for 25 years. Among my clients were Carling Breweries, General Motors, Player’s, Nortel, Toronto Life, Macleans magazine, etc.
Can you describe how you got into racing?
Pease: The lure of the automobile and the racing of it drew me in, and I began racing in the 1950s. My dad was in motorcycle racing as a sponsor and when I was young, he would take me to grass track-racing meets, but I really preferred cars. In Canada, I started racing in 1952 or 1953 in a Riley 1.5 and joined the British Empire Motor Club or BEMC because they seemed to be the only club in racing in Canada. I soon got rid of the Riley and bought a 1953 TD.
You were a bit of a rolling stone in those days, weren’t you?
Pease: In 1955 I got restless and moved to San Francisco, driving there in a Karmann Ghia, but there was not enough business and I returned to Canada. It was then I decided to get serious and began to race a twin-cam MGA. I did very well with the Twin-Cam and was the only British car that could stay with the Porsches, but never higher than 3rd, even though guys like Ben Pon were behind me. By the way, Tony Simms, another long time racer and current vintage racer, has my Twin-Cam.
For the whole story, see the April issue of Vintage Racecar.