Thursday, December 21, 2006


While virtually forgotten today, Fay Taylour was among the most famous motorcyclists of the 1920's, and a champion speedway competitor. Born 1904 in Ireland, by the age of 21 she was traveling the world, racing on the incredibly popular speedway tracks in England, Australia, and New Zealand. The popularity of this sport in the late 20's is difficult to imagine, as it caught the public imagination like wildfire, after the sport arrived from Australia. Races which were expected to attract 1,000 spectators were suddenly swamped with 20,000 people, causing great difficulties with crowd and traffic control, but making promoters (and ultimately riders) a lot of money in the day.

Fay was quoted in an Australian newspaper in 1930, 
“All my life I have enjoyed sports of all kinds, and when I chanced to come upon motor cycling I took to it at once, and loved going at speed. And I’ve always loved mechanical things – anything
with wheels. When I was quite a tiny tot I would prefer playing with toy engines rather than dolls.

“Whilst I think that dirt-track racing is essentially for men, because they are stronger and better fitted to meet the strain, I do not think it should be taboo for women who can prove themselves capable.

“If a woman is strong enough and enjoys the thrills, if she can take the sport as the men do, she is in for a good time. But she has to exercise greater care, for it is easier for her to overdo things. Nevertheless, she need not lose her femininity over the job. I know there are people who think that there is something abominable about a woman on the dirt-track. But it merely shows her adaptability. She can be just as normal in the leather gear of a speed merchant as she is in a billowy evening frock.

“When, three years ago, I got my first motorbike, I was told I should break my neck. But I didn’t! In fact, I entered for the Southern Scots Scramble at Camberley in that same year. It was a gruelling test for both
machine and rider, but more especially for the rider.

“Think of it! Forty-eight miles of rough going over hills, up and down. Much against his will, and after a great deal of persuasion, an uncle had financed me for this event. I had sworn to win it! He didn’t believe it possible. But, I felt it was, because I wanted it to be the means of making a new career. So I kept on saying to myself: ‘Girl, you must win!’ And win I did! From that date my career as a racing motorcyclist began.

But it costs money to become a recognised racing motorcyclist, and, what is more, a woman has to face a great deal of opposition before anyone will take her seriously. I approached the manufacturers. But at that time they felt that my riding was too wild. Apparently they could get no advertisement out of my exhibitions because my stuff would not appeal to women riders.

“And then I had a road accident, injuring my knee. A specialist advised an operation, which was successful. I then got work with a firm of motorcycle manufacturers in their showrooms at Birmingham.

“But I wanted speed. I had won a score or so of cups, but you can’t live on cups! When, in the early part of last year, I saw the dirt track speeding, I made up my mind to go in for these new thrills. I was refused admission to three speedway tracks, one after the other.

“Then, whilst the officials were in the Isle of Man last year for the T.T. races, I took advantage of their absence to test myself on the dirt track at Crystal Palace. The result was that, by the time they returned, I was able to show them efficiency in the new sport.

“I was established, and, as is generally known, I made the most of my opportunities there during the summer of last year. Even a woman can get what she wants, when her want is strong

“Then came my Australian tour. I was repeatedly told that the Australians would not allow a woman to ride on their tracks. But I was given my chance, and put up the fastest time of the
meetings at several States when I defeated well-known champions.

Our tracks are much smaller than the Australian dirt tracks, which, I think, makes racing here more of a nerve test. The smaller the track, the more bends in a given distance, and the more thrills.”

In the top photos, she's sitting on a racing Douglas DT5, a 500cc ohv flat-twin, with an extremely low center of gravity, which suited the leg-trailing riding style on the cinder tracks at that time. It was THE unbeatable machine of the 1927/'28/'29 seasons, later challenged by Rudge, and JAP specialist machines.

Women were banned from ALL speedway tracks in England in 1930, so Fay switched to racing cars, and became, naturally, very successful at that sport as well. She always carried a pair of satin pajamas in a suitcase to her racing venues, in case she had an accident - early in her career she had been hospitalized briefly, and hated the rough hospital gown she was forced to wear!

The fourth pic shows her ready to compete in the 1929 International Six Day's Trial, on a 500cc ohv Panther! Nor was she the only woman at the Trial in '29; there was a British Ladie's Vase Team, made up of Marjorie Cottle (348cc Raleigh), Edyth Foley (346cc Triumph), and Louie McLean (Douglas).
The ISDT that year went through 5 Countries (! - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France!) and was considered an organizational disaster - strange for any Germanic competition (it started in Munich), but the organizer's great ambition exceeded their grasp. The mountain passes were incredibly rough on the machines and riders, but Fay Taylor stuck the course to win a Silver Medal (as did Marjorie Cottle, Betty Lermite (Royal Enfield), and Louie MacLean).

During WW2, she was interned on the Isle of Man from 1940-43, for her pro-fascist views (! - she was friends with Sir Oswald Mosley, notorious founder of the British Union of Fascists in 1932), then released on condition she live in Ireland (which was neutral) for the duration of the war. Lesson #1; be careful having heroes, you never know what they're really thinking!

Amazingly, after WW2, she came to the US and took up midget car racing, then returned in '53 to England, where she raced a 500cc Formula Cooper car (see last pic), until finally retiring from racing around 1959. She died in 1983.

Below is a video from around 1929 of Fay riding a Douglas DT5 - talk about rare footage! This is a sample from the British Pathe catalog; if you need the real film, you can pay them a fee for downloading a higher quality wmv or qt5 file.


Kenzo Tada in 1930, posing after racing in the TT, and winning 15th place. Tada wears a traditional "Japanese haori (half coat), hakama (traditional loose trousers), white tabi (socks, and felt zori (sandals)", as noted in his comments below.
Kenzo Tada was a motorcycle racer in Japan who began his career, as so many early-century racers did, competing on bicycles at the dawn of the 20th Century.  In the midst of a successful motorcycle racing career, he became the first Asian to compete in the Isle of Man TT, in 1930, making a daunting 40-day trip by sea and rail to reach an island half a world away, in the Irish Sea.  His journey was remarkable; the next Japanese rider competed at the Isle of Man was in 1959!  He was the Velocette agent for Japan (Tomeye Trading Co. in Tokyo), and the Japanese national racing champion in the 1920s and 30s, which must have endeared him to the Veloce factory, who sponsored his ride on the Island.  In the photo above, he is pictured with a 1929 Mk1 KTT, after the TT prize-giving ceremony, in which he wore traditional clothing.
Kenzo Tada aboard the Mk1 KTT which took 3rd place in the 1929 Junior TT, loaned to him by the Veloce factory, whose chief designer, Percy Goodman, stands immediately next to Tada.
Invited to compete at the 1930 Junior TT by Veloce management as thanks for his efforts in Japan, Tada was loaned Alec Bennett's 1929 IoM third-place winning machine. This was quite a leap of faith for the company, for although he was an expert racer in Japan (which used mainly dirt tracks until the 1960's), Tada had never set eyes on the complex and demanding 37.5-mile Island circuit. He acquitted himself well, gaining 15th place, and the nickname 'the India Rubber Man', as he took numerous minor spills during the course of the race, yet always remounted, and completed the Junior TT in fine time. The above photo shows Tada astride the ex-Works 350cc ohc Velo, with Percy Goodman, Managing Director of Veloce Ltd, directly behind him.  Note Tada's Japanese flag on his lapel.
The 1930 Veloce-supported Isle of Man Junior TT team, with 12 countries represented!
For the 1930 Isle of Man TT, Veloce management seems to have invited Velocette dealers from around the globe to race, as a celebration of the superiority of the KTT in worldwide racing, including at the Isle of Man, which which Velocettes won handily in the 350cc class in 1928 and '29. Bringing riders from far afield seems to have been unlucky though, as the best places for Velos in the 1930 Junior TT was 4th, ridden by David Hall of South Africa (2nd from the left in the photo above), and the 7th place of Englishman George Mitchell, behind the petrol tank, above. From its introduction (1929) the KTT was sold all over the world, in Japan (3) to New Zealand (5) and Australia (5), South Africa (9), India (1), the US (1) and Canada (1), and all over Europe - 180 sold in total from January to December of 1929.
Tada in a characteristic 'Kieg Collection' photo of Isle of Man competitors (now managed by FoTTofinders); this may be shot after practice, as the bike bears a road registration (OG 1962) not seen in the actual race.  Pic courtesy Bill Snelling!
In the 1930 silent film 'Faster Than Ever: An All-British Victory!', which is a British Pathe property, has a nice (albeit silent) sequence showing the various racers on the grid for the '30 Isle of Man Senior and Junior TT... one of which is obviously Kenzo Tada himself smiling for the camera. Photographs of Tada are quite rare; I was thrilled to see this one.  Below is a short preview of the film - the Tada sequence is just past the halfway point, right after Graham Walker smooches Tyrrel Smith!


The information we have on Kenzo Tada is slim, but we know he was the Velocette agent for Tokyo (Tomeye Trading Co.) and ordered three of the earliest KTT models; KTTs #20, 22 and 28, all in February of 1929.  We also have an interview conducted in 1972, recounted in the excellent book, 'Japan's Motorcycle Wars' (reviewed here in The Vintagent):

"I began as a bicycle racer, and started that at the end of the Russo-Japanese War, in 1905. That first race was once around Shinobazu pond in Ueno Park, Tokyo, which was a 3 mile course, as the pond was bigger at that time. I was 18 years old and the prize was half a dozen beer glasses... Afterwards I trained for the Komiyama race as an apprentice, like a young sumo wrestler. I rode bicycles imported from America by the Ishikawa company in Yokohama. I joined their racing team in 1907. The pace car at that race was a Triumph motorcycle. Most bicycles were imported then and the Ishikawa company brought in American Pierce and British Triumph bicycles... I rode in a 250 mile bicycle race on 30 June 1907 and I won... In those days various stages of the race were reported by telegram to the finish line. I won several races after that and was reported on widely in the press. I was paid 3 yen per month by the Ishikawa company and I raced 3, 5 and 10 mile races. 10 miles races were the main event and if I won I was paid 10 yen and 5 yen for shorter races. 
Tada negotiating the unpaved Ramsey hairpin on the Isle of Man TT course

I moved up to racing motorcycles in about 1921. In the Taisho era I went to see the races at the Nakayama racecourse [now used for horse racing]. I bought a Triumph motorcycle which cost about a 1000 to 1200 yen whereas a bicycle was only 120 to 170 yen.  I managed a bicycle shop then which made its own brand, Mates (as in "friends"), and sold it there on the premises. Later this brand became Shinbashi Bicycles. I raced again in 1924 but I got no prize money in that amateur race, only a trophy. At that time there were only about 20 motorcycle racers in the whole country.
Screen capture from the film; An amazing variety of motorcycles raced in '30 TT - in the top photo alone you can see Rudge (#9), Sunbeam (#13), and Excelsior (#11) racers.
I read three British motorcycle magazines all the time, Motorcycle, Cycling and Motorcycling and therein learned about the Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) race. That was the age of ships, not of airplanes so I went to Korea, Harbin and then travelled to Europe by rail in the spring of 1930. From Paris I went to Dover and it took about 40 days in all to reach Man in May. I practiced for a month for the race which was scheduled for June. I rode a British 350 Velocette motorcycle on the 420 km asphalt course. A racer on a Norton came in first place that year [actually it was Rudge 1st in both Junior and Senior TTs] while I finished 15th and received a trophy... I had some western clothes but at the prize reception photo shoot I wore a Japanese  haori (half coat), hakama (traditional loose fitting trousers), white tabi (socks) and felt zori (sandals). I went home via the Mediterranean sea, through the Suez canal to Singapore and then to Hong Kong before arriving home in Japan after a 41 day trip. Mine was the first overseas racing expedition to be completed and it it linked the racing community of Japan with the rest of the racing world."

Please contact The Vintagent with any further information on Kenzo Tada!


Excelsior! Fastest arse in the world! This is the 'Silver Comet', prepared by Claude Temple to take the world speed record in 1931, with a supercharged 1000cc ohv JAP engine. Fast as it looked, it wouldn't break 170mph, so was retired... but what a looker.

For the tech-minded, the engine put out 100hp at 15psi blower pressure, at which point the blower was absorbing 15hp. It drove thru a 2 speed Burman gearbox built to withstand 120hp. Fuel consumption estimated at 5mpg, oil at 50mpg, using four oil pumps to liberally coat the machine for greater speed (oh all right). Paxon flexible saddle! All that power was controlled by a single lever on the handlebar, not a twistgrip throttle. One little finger controlling 100hp.

You'll note the gentleman on the Paxon flexible saddle has simply taken off his suit coat, and is still wearing the vest from his 3-piece and shiny street shoes. Avoirdupois over shiny aluminum.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


This is the grandaddy Sartorialist sportsman of all motorcycling, George Brough, on his own creation, the famous Brough-Superior 'Spit and Polish', so called because of the always-immaculate finish he kept. This used a highly modified JAP engine (see post below), 980cc sidevalve, with the internals lightened to nearly nothing. He was famous not only as a manufacturer of fine motorcycles, but as a competition rider second to none in his day. He only retired from racing competition when his sprinter 'Old Bill' crossed the finish line ahead of its rider, and George spent 8 months in the hospital receiving skin grafts! Pre-penicillin.
What is George wearing? The classic collegiate racer getup of the day, in what I think is an Oxford sweater, with shirt and tie (with tiebar) of course, wool jodhpurs, and proper calf-high boots, which were rare at the time for racers. Gloves too were rare apparently, but George sports some lightweight leather items with what looks like the fingertips cut off. As all the controls on the motorcycle were levers (no twistgrip throttles until the 30's), fingertip control might have been important to George. He certainly wouldn't have been caught dead with worn-out gloves. He's also wearing a fur-lined aviator's 'helmet', which would have done nothing but keep his head warm. Useful helmets, made of layered fabric held together with varnish ('dope'), and lined with cork and leather, had begun to appear by this date, so George has made a choice of headgear.
I'll post more pix of George in the future, as his outfits are always inspiring.


John 'Vivian' Prestwich, the son of John Alfred Prestwich (founder of JAP motors), is here astride a 250cc Diamond powered by his family product, a side-valve JAP engine. The photograph was taken at Brooklands on Nov 23, 1920, and his little machine made 62.39mph, an impressive figure for a baby sidevalve engine, and a new 250cc record.
From the books, 'The JAP Story; 1895-1951', published in-house a year before the founder's death in 1952.  I'm still looking for details of Vivian's later life (and death - WW2?) - if you have any leads, they're welcome...
In the top photo, click to enlarge and note the lovely cursive 'Diamond' script on the tank, and how all parts are drilled to Swiss cheese standards - it much have weighed very little, perhaps only 140lbs, with I would estimate 8 or 9hp - good enough for a record on that day.  I see no linkage for a gearbox, so lurking behind that lovely drilled out countershaft sprocket is simply a shaft and bearings, much like a speedway racer - it's a single-speed, clutchless, direct-drive, all-chain racer, with a CAV magneto and Binks carb.  There are two handlebar levers - one for the magneto advance/retard, the other connected to the engine oiler, to give it a squirt now and then, direct to the big end, from whence the oil would splash around and (hopefully) oil the top end too!  It almost certainly used a cast-iron piston, which is nearly self-lubricating.
The JAP design/testing/racing department, c.1922: Vivian Prestwich, EB Ware, JA Prestwich, Stanley Greening, and Arthur Prestwich
Notes on the dashing young man, son of the scion of racing engines, who looks every bit the part. His fantastic JAP sweater is hand-knit with the family firm's logo and decorative bands, a la collegiate sweaters of the Roaring '20s.  Beneath the sweater lurks a button-down white shirt with a broad, striped silk tie, beneath which he wears horse riding breeches and WHITE buck shoes! His right shoe is soiled (oiled!), and he's wearing a wristwatch, which was rare for racers at the time.  While his moustache would become very unpopular twenty years later, Vivian's bright blue eyes shine across nearly a century, a brave, dashing young man of privilege; a real dream-boat.

Safety gear for racing had yet to become standardized or even universally worn; it took a few well-publicized, horrific racing accidents to emphasize the need for leather, and helmets, and boots, and gloves(!), all of which would become mandatory for racing in just a few years.  For the top photo, though, there's a lovely purity of a man 'at the edge', a highly romantic moment in history.


This photograph deserves some scrutiny, not only for the dashing Kaye Don, but the details in the background as well. Note a 'barrel-back' Morgan 3-wheeler behind Kaye's back, several open touring cars, the white horizontal strip at the far distance which is the Byfleet Banking, ie the banked part of the Brooklands racing circuit (almost vertical at the top, very difficult to climb!). Also, a fantastic sporting combination with an alloy-body sidecar, clearly used for racing with those giant dropped handlebars and a painted number roundel on the nose of the 'chair'. Can't discern the make of the bike, but it looks like a big v-twin, possibly a Zenith.
The date of the photo is April 16, 1921. Kaye Don, later to become famous as a GP star for Bugatti and Sunbeam cars, sits on his pretty little Diamond 250cc ohv machine - a very early example of valves 'up top'. I would assume Mr. Don was a wealthy man, as money was a prerequisite for top-flight auto racing in the 20's and 30's, basically a gentleman's sport, as there were few sponsors and prize money would never finance travel and racing expenses, and certainly not the price of a racing Bugatti! On this day Kaye set a flying kilometer speed record of 69.62mph, which was amazingly fast for such a small machine at this early date.
Notes on his outfit; detachable-collar shirt, necktie with tiebar at the collar, wool sweater, jodhpurs, high wool socks, and street shoes. With exposed everything on his Diamond (chains, valves, etc), no mudguards, and evidence of considerable oil on the engine, its a wonder how his sweater remains clean! Such a dashing portrait, eh?