The founder of ATS, Richard Leeke, left BMW at the end of 1980 with not much more than his pension payout – about R40 000 – and along with Ken Howes set about creating a race team which would set new standards for professionalism.
"Because we were well organised and invariably had a ready stock of spares and supplies, everyone nearby came to us for duct tape, brake fluid, race fuel, tools – you name it," remembers Richard. "When these loaned items didn’t come back invoices were sent out, and boy, did they squeal! But eventually they accepted that if they needed something we could usually supply, and so Automotive Technology Specialists (ATS) was born!"
As Richard was rallying and off-roading at the time a lot of stuff that ATS stocked was the same as he was using, and that’s remained our philosophy to this day: we won’t sell a product which we wouldn’t be happy to personally use in a competition environment...safety is our number one priority. Dunlop racing tyres was one of first major agencies that ATS managed to acquire, having taken it over from what was, then Dunlop South Africa, which never really got its head around the competition side of the business and realised a specialist range needed a specialist outlet. ATS proudly represents Dunlop Motorsport today, and is a welcome face at most national championship race and rally events with our tyre fitting team.
Through gradual expansion ATS eventually occupied all of what had once been the Chinese Steam Laundry premises – known popularly as the Wishy-Washy – at 29 Napier Road in Richmond. ATS eventually outgrew the Napier Road premises by the turn of the century and has been busy trying to outgrow the premises they currently occupy – at 30 Schoongezicht Road, Bergbron – since then. The story of ATS would not be complete without documenting a disaster that almost ended ATS. The best way to reflect on this are in the words of Richard himself: “Things were going great guns.....I was navigating for Paddy Driver in an off-road Pajero, and we were dominating. I had established myself as a specialist navigator and was privileged enough to have sat alongside greats such as Tony Pond, Sarel van der Merwe, Geoff Mortimer and Jan Hettema. Then disaster struck: in the middle of the night, just before the 1985 South African Grand Prix, ATS burnt down. Everything was destroyed, including a major consignment of imported ATS wheels and another of trophies which had just arrived, not to mention the Pajero racers and a trick new off-road car for Don Vale. It was an absolute catastrophe. I remember standing there in the wreckage, when the late John Salters of Toyota came up to me and said that if there was anything I needed – the use of a van, fuel, even money – I should just pick up the phone and call."
Richard’s tenacity as a competitor came good and, in spite of advice to the contrary, he set about rebuilding ATS, like the Phoenix from the ashes. Today ATS represents a number of prestigious industry leaders (which you will be able to find by navigating to the brand search tab) and has established a healthy wholesale business that distributes iconic brands like K&N filters, Dick Cepek wheels and tyres and Mickey Thompson wheels and tyres to a growing network of distributors countrywide.