Sunday, April 20, 2008


April 20, 2008 was 100 years to the day of the first official Brooklands motorcycle race. There had been a match race the previous February, between Oscar Bickford and Gordon McMinnies (both Oxford undergrads at the time), on a Vindec special and a Triumph. McMinnies won the race on his TT Model Triumph, and later was founding editor of Motor Cycling magazine. Racing hoodlum goes legit!
This is the fourth Brooklands event I've attended, and dwarfed all previous with the number of entries and bikes on display, and the crowd milling around. The old motto, 'the Right Crowd and No Crowding' certainly didn't apply on the day, but I didn't mind a bit. It was all crackling noise and excitement from the moment Dai pulled the car into the lot, very early in the morning. Someone was firing up an alcohol-burning veteran in the parking area, with all attendant smoking and noise. We got distracted at the entry by the autojumble stalls, especially a scrapbook of original racing photos from ca 1934-36... lovely to look at, but at £3000, it was waaay out of my league. I'd rather have another motorcycle!

The giant grassy outfield was host to several one-make clubs (Scott, Douglas, Vincent), but the Velocette club dwarfed them all with a huge entry of machines from 1913 - 1971, including the Roarer, and the oldest known Velo of Dave Masters, recently featured in Classic Motorcycle. See photo of Dai sitting on the 1913 Model A Velocette, which was fired up by Tim Simkins, who looks after the two-stroke side of the Velocette Owner's Club. Velo made their early reputation on excellent little 'strokers, before they leapt directly to ohc bikes (the 1926+ K series), and went 'one step back' in '33 with the introduction of the ohv MOV 250cc. Their last tw0-stroke was the GTP of 1948 - I used to own one, and it was a lovely little bike, but too slow for my tastes! See movie of the Model A being fired up... with a kiss to the petrol tank!

Graham Rhodes was tending the Roarer, which everyone was hoping would be fired up, but this wasn't to be as Ivan was busy, and Graham is unable to ride since his 2005 Manx TT win (he has developed MS). His father Ivan raced around the grounds on the '26 Alec Bennett TT-winning ohc 350cc K model (pre KTT, this was a hotted up standard roadster). The bike is in original paint and plating, and has a rustic patina for sure, but is all the more compelling for it. See the video of Ivan not slacking up the Test Hill. He has been racing old Velocettes since they were barely old at all!

I'll have to make another post with more individual bike photos, as there were so many unique or very rare machines being ridden around. Several collectors brought out their best hidden gems, including a New Imperial 250cc with a LeVack-created dohc JAP engine - one of 6 built. This same fellow has two of the six Sunbeam Crocodiles built in 1926, and was kind enough to let me sit astride what is, for me, a personal dream machine; no I didn't make brrrb brrrb noises. I had actually arranged to meet this fellow beforehand, as we have a mutual friend, and he graciously invited me to visit his collection in Austria (subject of another post!). The Crocodile is called thus as, like the Croc in Peter Pan, it goes 'tick tock', unlike the traditional silence of the ohv and sv Sunbeams. A close look at the bike reveals the cylinder barrel which is cast for an ohv machine, and still has the indents for the two pushrods. Clearly, not ready for production - all these ohc 'Beams were factory experiments, which they dropped when performance proved disappointing (they didn't use a strobe light to see how the valves were bouncing around with different cam shapes - that took Harold Willis of Velocette to sort out).

There were racing Douglas' from the 20's which ranged from scruffy and original to ultra-resplendent in nickel plating and silver/blue paint schemes. The sounded phenomenal, and looked so fast just sitting there. Each of them seemed to be different as well, with changes to carbs, airboxes, wheels, tanks, etc, even though they were from the same small factory, and within perhaps only 4 years of production range, 1925-29.

Chris Illman, whose Norton-JAP sprinter was featured in an earlier post, brought along some of his 'gear' (knowing how much I like Really Cool Gear) - here's a photo of a watch which was presented to Freddy Dixon, after winning 4 classes at a race meeting in 1921, on his Harley-Davisdon. He got the watch on ebay, and was I kicking myself while vowing to find a search engine for ebay Brooklands stuff? He also has a copy of my favorite book in the world, Joe Bayley's 'The Vintage Years at Brooklands", which was the personal copy of Dr Bayley, and was signed by all the surviving racers who he mentions in the book. Now, I believe there is only one left, featured in my previous post on Dennis Loveday.

George Cohen showed up with his vintage Norton equipe, a camper truck with a host of really good racing bikes, ranging from early 20's sidevalvers, to late prewar ohc Model 30M. He's pictured astride his latest creation, a flat-tank special Model 18, which is a mix of old and new parts, including new alloy tanks and a freshly made frame. He's almost finished the detail work, and thinks it should do 100mph on the road. "After all, if Rex Judd can do 100mph for an hour on his in 1924, I should be able to as well..." Go George Go!

I heard a rumor that the fellow in the vintage tweed suit pictured near the Roarer, is the grandson of Locke, who built Brooklands in 1907; can anyone confirm this? We spoke of course about vintage clothing and period-correct clothing, as the and the ladies pictured are part of an 'art deco' society which has gatherings totally in time-specific dress. Check out this video of one of their gatherings at an estate in England. It's almost totally perfect, bar one or two things, like modern spectactles and the odd digital camera or cell phone!

Enjoy the rest of these atmospheric photos; if you've never been to Brooklands, and are interested in older racing motorcycles, I can't recommend it strongly enough.


Anonymous said...

Hi, last visited Brooklands in 2005couldn't beleive the change. Last there in 1976 as an apprentice for B.A.C. most of the banked track was still intact back then and the fifty foot line was still visable in places. Worked in the R&D building next to the old clock tower, the R&D building was the workshop/garage used by Malcolm Cambell. There was also a picture of Hugh Locke-King in the entrance to the clock house. The finishing staight was still all there and the works canteen was about half way along the straight complete with white washed pit stop workshops. In our lunch break we would ride our motorcycles up the steep hill section at the end of the finishing straight, I think it was used as a hill climb back in it's day. Anyway nice to see the pictures of Brooklands although it has changed so much since I was a lad.
Regards Mike R ex pat

Don said...

Sorry to hear that Graham Rhodes has MS. Neat guy, neat family!

Anonymous said...

Great feature - really enjoyed it. Nice blend of info and atmosphere. Good pics too. Sorry for the gush, but it's a stand-out piece. Nice work.