Monday, September 01, 2008


Bonham's auction house held the sale of selected motorcycles from the Estate of the late Brian Verrall on Sep. 1st, and the most interesting machine by far was a 1927 Zenith 'Championship' model with a racing JAP '8/45' engine, and Graisley 'TT' model sidecar.

Brian purchased this machine from Australia in 2001, and I was allowed a few glimpses as it passed through the hands of Steve Hazelton in Sydney, who had a popular website selling motorcycles at the time (I bought perhaps 6 machines from him that year, as the A$ was trading at US$.52!). I seem to recall Brian paying in the region of A$100,000 for the combination, which was 'market value' for the machine, full retail in 2001, which meant that Brian thought it was something special. I, too had a Zenith-JAP ohv monster at the time, so was keenly interested in the whole affair. It was rumored that Brian's bike had Brooklands history, but it wasn't until the (very beautiful) Bonham's catalog plopped through my mail slot that I found how extensive and well-documented was that history.

Blay's of Twickenham supplied the machine in April 5, 1927 to Roland Martin (see original invoices), who was given £45 in trade for his 1925 Zenith 680cc combination. Shortly afterwards, Martin purchased the Graisley 'TT' model 259 racing sidecar (built by AJS - the 'Graisley' name being the location of the AJS factory). From the catalog:

"Roland Martin was one of the few private owners who had their own workshop at Brooklands [note the shed in the second photo], and earned his living by preparing and tuning other people's machines for racing. He started racing solos, but his real love was motorcycle combinations, and the KTOR-engined Zenith represented just about the best you could buy for £140 in 1927"

The tiny Zenith marque was well-known as willing to build customised racing machines for use at Brooklands, and the Director of the company, Freddie Barnes, can be seen in virtually every period shot of a victorious rider and his single-cylinder or v-twin Zenith racer [see 'The Vintage Years at Brooklands' - which you should own anyway as it's simply one of the best motorcycle books, ever]. Brough Superior had a better spokesman in George Brough to tout their successes at Brooklands, but the Zenith marque holds the record for the most Gold Stars (over-100mph laps during a race) awarded to its riders.

Roland Martin made a few modifications to his racer, most significant being a pair of custom intake manifolds, which held a pair of Amac TT carbs with twin floats, to slake the prodigious thirst of the big twin engine during a sidecar race (these were changed in 1937 to Amal type 10TT36 carbs with single floats - perhaps the 'era' of the bike at Brooklands was finished, and these became the 'sports' carbs for road riding; Amac TT-type carbs have no throttle needle, and are essentially made for flat-out racing use, whereas Amal TT carbs have a needle and proper pilot jet and air screw to regulate low-speed running and idling).

The engine is a J.A.P. KTOR 980cc - the model engine being quickly identified by the exposed pushrods and rocker arms, as opposed to the later 8/50 engine with enclosed rockers and pushrod tubes (and 'JAP' or 'Brough Superior' cast into the alloy inspection cover). The motorcycle chassis is a full-cradle type, using hearth-brazed lugs at all the 'corners'; a single, curved front downtube meets a perpendicular cross member at the bottom, with twin rails running straight back to the rear axle. The 'catalog' Champion model Zenith used side-spring Druid forks, but this racer uses strutted Druid 'ES' (enclosed spring) racing forks, which have an extra brace bolted to the fork blades, for more lateral strength when pushing the sidecar around corners. Sparks were provided by a 'square' ML magneto, the best racing mag one could buy in the 20's.

The Graisley chair closely resembles the infamous Hughes 'TT' sidecar, but is a bit lighter and uses only 4 connection points to the motorcycle chassis, rather than the 6 of the built-like-a-bridge Hughes

The VMCC Register of Historic Machines lists only three KTOR-engined Zeniths; Verrall's bike, one in Austria, and (Bonham's claims) one in America, although that may have been mine (I haven't updated their registry - the bike is now in Liechtenstein). Thus, the auction represented an extremely rare opportunity to own a truly historic machine, steeped in Brooklands history. Perhaps that's why it just fetched around £180,000!

This represented a world record price at auction of a British motorcycle, but this record was shortly broken by another machine; a 1939 Vincent-HRD Series A twin which sold for £214,800....which is now stands at the highest price paid at auction for a Britbike (the record for any motorcycle at auction stands at $520,000 for the Cyclone sold in Monterey at the MidAmerica auction). In the 'also ran' (!) category was a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 which sold for a mere £163,200. The current economic climate hasn't dampened the auction market apparently, although it must be said that this was a very special auction, as Brian Verrall was such a well-known and respected dealer and collector, interest in his machinery and ephemera was high. The sale rate was a remarkable 100%.
For all the results, check the Bonham's website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went to yesterday's sale because of the Zenith, which remains something of a mystery. Thanks for the additional detail that wasn't in the catalogue, I hadn't realised that Zenith used hearth brazing but I am a little confused by the carbs. My interpretation was that the carbs were bought in 1937 and were the ones shown in the picture taken at the track which have twin floats. That would mean that they were unlikely to be the needleless Amacs but the newer Amals (the name changed in 1929). I believe that the picture in front of the shed was taken in 1937 because of the date of purchase. I met Tony Donnithorne at the sale and we had a long discussion about the machine and Roland Martin and we agreed that this was the most likely date as the twin carb manifolds were a work of art and certainly non standard. I can find no trace of Roland Martin in the records at the museum nor of a KTOR Zenith being raced after 1930 so the picture is a mystery. It clearly shows the Zenith in Outer track guise with no front brake, the huge twin cans and a sidecar that has the same shape as the Hughes on my Norton that Ken built (Tony hadn't noticed the chair until I showed him). Because of the unusual shape I wonder whether it was Pat Driscoll's old chair as it is an unusual shape.
If Martin didn't race at the track but used it solely for testing this raises the question of what he was doing with a shed at the side of the track and where was the shed? The picture looks as though it is on the down slope of the Byfleet Banking but I can't find any sheds in that area on the aerial pictures of that period. To add to the confusion, John Porter, one of the Brooklands volunteers, tells me that his father bought a road going McEvoy outfit from Rowley Martin in 1952 and that Rowley gave him the shed picture with the comment "that's me in front of my shed at the track". John was adamant that the picture was of the McEvoy until I pointed out the difference in the engine, frame and forks! Needless to say that McEvoy is now a genuine Patchett solo racer in the National Motorcycle Museum.
Having said that I thought that the auction price was amazing and suggested to Peter Lancaster that his Dixon/LeVack/Mavro Brough was under insured.
Roger Bird