In this new series about the motorsport giants that have left an indelible mark on Killarney’s racing heritage we begin with an engineer and car builder extraordinaire best known as the designer and builder of the cars used in our two one-make series, the Makita Supercars and the V8 Masters – but his automotive achievements encompassed a lot more than that.

During his 45 year career, Owen Ashley designed and built some 170 different types of racing and road cars for among others BMW, General Motors and Toyota, and it is estimated that he built or supervised the building of more than 450 vehicles.

And in between he found time to serve on the WPMC Killarney Board of directors.

Owen matriculated from Rondebosch Boys High School, as did a number of prominent WPMC members. Passionate about motorsport even then, he completed his first racing car at the age of only 19.

In 1981 he was approached by Toyota South Africa to head their motorsport division, where one of his first jobs was the development of an all-wheel drive rally car. The resulting Conquest super-hatch was so successful that it beat the works Audis, Nissans and Volkswagens in a number of SA National Championship rallies.

Toyota Team Europe were so impressed that they adopted the gearbox and transmission design and went on to win the World Rally Championship using it in 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1994.

Then followed a short stint at Motorsport SA as head of technical aspects of all motor racing in South Africa, managing the technical rules enforcement for the sport.

In the late 1980s, however, it was time to move back into designing and building racing cars, so he opened Owen Ashley Auto Developments in the building at Killarney now occupied by Steve Humble’s Harp Motorsport, where he specialised in the design and manufacture of one-off and low volume performance vehicles.

He was also approached to consult for various other companies in the local automotive industry, among them Cape Advanced Vehicles (CAV), where he was soon appointed managing director.

During his time CAV exported some 100 road-certified Ford GT40 replicas to the United States, and continues to be regarded as the world’s top manufacturer of GT40 replicas.

Owen also joined Optimal Energy as a consultant in 2006 to assist with the research and development of a South African electric car to be called the Joule. The car was developed from an original design by fellow Capetonian Keith Helfet and at least one drivable prototype was built – but the project would have cost too much to put into production and was closed down in 2012.

Far more successful was Owen’s two-litre Opel powered in-house Supercar Series, still operating successfully and providing some of Killarney’s closest racing nearly a quarter of a century later.

His crowning achievement, however, was the design and construction of the AP347is V8 Masters Cars, a one-make racing series designed around a 5.7-litre Ford ‘crate’ engine rated at 335kW.

The left-hand drive cars, each weighing only 1050kg, are meticulously crafted on a tubular space-frame chassis with a monocoque front section, clad in a Ford Mustang-derived two door fastback GT body. Drive is taken to the rear wheels via a five-speed Tremec gearbox and limited slip differential.

Owen Ashley was honoured in 2009 with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Motorsport South Africa, as well as an award for Outstanding Motorsport Engineering Achievement from the South African Motorsport Industry Association.

Sadly, he passed away on 16 March 2010 at the early age of 63, but his legacy lives on at each Power Series meeting, every time the Makita Supercars or V8 Masters rev up to do battle.