Ralph Johnson

Ralph Johnson

A spectacular driver, whose 'Bullitt' will never be forgotten.

Looking through many albums of motor sport images to illustrate this book, it was rare to find one with Ralph ‘Bruggadung’ Johnson’s car with more than three wheels on the ground; sometimes, said wheels were even pointing upward . . . and that sums up the all-out, no-nonsense approach of one of the Club’s most popular characters of the day.

Strangely, ‘Brugga’s competition career – at least on four wheels – was comparatively short-lived, but he made a big impact . . . in more ways than one. From the late 1960s acceleration tests at Seawell, he was very competitive in a Lotus Elan (pictured below left); the same car was put to very good use in Hill Sprints, claiming class – and overall - records from its first year of competition, at Stewarts Hill and Turners Hall (and that one lasted for a long time).

‘Brugga’ also rallied in Jamaica; one of the top navigators of the period, Andrew Medford, remembers 1970 in a Hillman Hunter, with John Bain and Johnson, who led the event early on, against works Ford drivers Roger Clark and Timo Makkinen (see page 190): “We were on the Causeway in Kingston harbour, Brugga is driving like hell and the Hunter is doing 110mph; he says ‘does this have a bend in it?’. Next thing I see is a corner coming up, we drift and drift and drift . . . another two feet, and we’d have been in the sea!” There could hardly have been a better choice among the Club committee for entertainment secretary . . .

When Bushy Park opened in 1971, Johnson was there with a Fiat 124S; this car had already proved itself with class records at Turners Hall, while he and John Cole had finished eighth in that year’s June Rally. The setting of records had become a habit, so Brugga just continued . . . he steadily lowered the class record toward the end of 1972 in the Fiat, after which he replaced it with the amazing 4-litre V8 Ford Escort Bullitt, in which he simply set records in a different class.

A regular front-runner, the car eventually starred in one of the most famous photo sequences of Bushy Park’s first era, when Johnson was tapped into a spectacular roll (pictured below right and opposite); in the absence of the Escort, Johnson drove the ex-Simpson Motors ‘Herbie’ in the last Bushy Park meet of 1975, after which it closed, and motor sport’s loss was sailing’s gain, as Brugga joined Bizzy on the water.

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