My father, John McLellan, who died at the age of 86 from Parkinson’s disease, was a journalist, car restorer, racing driver, playwright, theater manager and artist. He even managed to live off some of them. In the world of classic cars and the arts, he achieved a great deal, publishing 10 books, including MG: The Art of Abingdon.
Born in Putney, west London, to John McLellan, a policeman, and Violet (née Lander), a cleaner in Belgravia, John went to Sloane High School, Chelsea, leaving at 15 to take an apprenticeship in engineering. His love for car restoration started with a Salmson which he bought for £17.
In 1959, he met Marjorie Butterworth at a Richmond town hall ball. They got married the following year and had two children, Julia and me. Throughout my childhood, our house was littered with half-rusted car parts as John worked on a succession of rebuilding projects.
A Rolls-Royce was followed by an Alfa Romeo Giulietta (after which he named Julia) until he finally settled on models built by the AC company. John was involved with the AC Owners’ Club from the 1960s, editing the club’s magazine and organizing race meetings.
After a succession of jobs, including that of a tire salesman and mini-taxi driver, John found his place as a journalist specializing in the automobile. While at British Leyland in Cowley, Oxford, he had the delicate task of promoting the merits of the Austin Allegro, for which the world did not thank him.
In 2001, John and his immediate family embarked on a “Journey of Hope”, driving a restored 1935 Talbot sports car from Boston to Los Angeles. The trip raised funds for research into mitochondrial disease, of which her grandson Angus had died. Although the car has broken down at every previous event, we crossed the United States without incident. As it was barely three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, we stole the stars and stripes and the union jack as we went, receiving thumbs up from most truck drivers who passed us.
John also had a love of the arts. During his military service, he persuaded his reluctant commanding officer to let him attend art school on a day’s freedom. At the same time, he plays and catches the theater bug. In the late 1970s he became a founding member of the Old Gaol Theater Company in Abingdon. John wrote and directed Cowley Fortnight, a play about working conditions in the 1930s at the Morris car factory in Oxford – it was performed but never published.
Directing became an important part of his life and he presented two plays on the outskirts of Edinburgh, performing as the Austrian Tart and Theater Company – the name was a pun; when spoken it sounds like “an Austrian tartan theater company”. Marjorie has received some interesting correspondence addressed to “Marjorie McLellan, Austrian Tart”.
John is survived by Marjorie, their children and grandchildren, Holly, Max, Sirsha and Malachi.