Tuesday, February 17, 2009


D.G. Manktelow needed a few college credits, and had an interest in photography, so for his photo class he documented the world of his friends, who were Rockers in East Sussex, England, from 1960-65. Be careful what you study as an afterthought in college, as it's likely to become your career after graduation, as happened with D.G. His son Adrian has kindly consented to show some of these photos on The Vintagent, as a tribute to his father's skill, and the unique period he documented. Many of the riders are still friends of the family, although a few didn't pass the trial by fire of the Rocker years...(top; a pair of Norton Atlas 750s, with 'ace' bars and a dustbin fairing, in front of a 'typical Rocker car covered in Bondo - an Austin Atlantic)'

And all the classic Rocker gear is represented; the Goldies, Bonnies, Dommis, dustbin fairings, even a Norvin, and at the end, a couple of Japanese lightweights.... (Above - Bonnie, Goldie, Bonnie)

There was always a bit of real racing to inspire the 'go faster' look of the Rocker boys; these shots (above and below) of a racing Dominator 88 were taken at Mallory Park. A very tasty machine indeed, and worthy of imitation.

Nothing will make your Norton Dominator 99 go faster than a leopard seat cover and Goldie muffler! The two-in-one exhaust was an optional extra from Norton, and the flat 'bars are standard. It was sporty to begin with... you can tell it's an early '60/'61 model by the two-tone paint job (standard) and the Norton 'button' on the timing cover - of course it's a Slimline Featherbed frame as well.

Another Norton, which is being used to its limits, complete with a Peel fairing, which could use a little tucking in, as the fiberglass will shortly be ground away on the tarmac, or, if you're really unlucky...

...it will find a bump in the road and lift the rear wheel off the deck, pitching itself and the rider off the road completely. This machine is an early Wideline Norton, can't tell if it's a single or twin-cylinder, but it has the '58/'59 type chrome panel on the petrol tank; the 'ace' bars have Doherty alloy levers, very racy, and the rear valanced mudguard has had the removeable rear section... removed! Much of it would have needed repair after this getoff, but it seems the rider never had to bother, as the notation says "he survived this spill but wasnt' so luckly later when he died on his way back from London on this bike...".

Not all Nortons were Dominators, Atlases, or Internationals; this is the only photo I've ever seen of a Café Norton Navigator! The 350cc little twin (below) was never a great performer, and certainly didn't live up to the hotrod reputation of it's bigger brothers. I've owned four of them (don't ask), and the timing chest sounded like a cast iron stove being run over cobblestones... not Norton's best effort. But, they are compact and tidy looking, and share forks and wheels with the big twins...

Not all Rocker-worthy machines were British, either; this NSU Supermax 250cc single is a rare before-and-after study -

of an attempt to lighten and sportify what was already a very good machine. The inspiration must have be the pukka racing NSU Sportmax, one of most beautiful motorcycles of all, but the impecunious young owner could only manage to lose the front mudguard and add 'ace' handlebars... improvement or desecration?

Regarding clip-ons; for the seriously racy crouch, the rule was, 'the lower the better' - just above the lower fork clamp seems to have been the goal. Inspired by racing practice, it became Fashion, and the utility distorted out of the equation... no racer had 'bars that low! The fellow on the second machine has inverted some fairly high handlebars to really get down to it.

This Triumph Tiger 90 with 'bikini' rear enclosure, ca.'62-'64, has met its cornering limit fairly quickly - the centerstand and footrests are being shaved away by tarmac. This bike is very standard though - rearsets would be useful for such scratching! Undoubtedly, the rider needed the bike to take him to work or school the next day, so practicality ruled the hour...

Here's another rarity; a Royal Enfield Super 5, their sportiest 250 in 1962/3, with short leading-link forks, 5 speeds, and a 20hp engine, giving about 84mph top whack. This is a '62 model with deeply valanced front mudguard - amazingly the bike is completely standard, with 'ace' bars as per catalogue spec. R.E. had a clue; in 1964 they introduced a rare factory-built Café Racer from a British maker; the Continental GT. The other ones? You tell me - prizes for correct answers.

Another fantastic period machine, and an early example at that; a Norvin, the immortal combination of a Vincent 1000cc v-twin in a Norton Featherbed chassis, which according to the notes 'had only three speeds', but still went like stink! This machine falls into the Barely Legal category, with no head or taillamp in the first photo.

But later on, it was completed, and our lad can be seen 'hanging off' at the notorious bend which ate the Norton above. Note the number of spectators lurking on the outside of the bend - the Rockers must have been the best thing going on a sunny weekend day, and clearly this was a corner worth watching.

Another corner worth watching; here a Goldie tears around the bend, while the fellow in the plaid jacket records the proceedings on his portable tape player! I can hear it now - the classic Gold Star muffler has been replaced with a short megaphone (actually a factory racing item), and it was LOUD. The rider is very well tucked away and leaning a lá Phil Read into the bend. Nice technique.

Another shot of our B.S.A. Gold Star hotrod, with clip-ons a bit lower than the Factory set them...the tank is patterned on the 'Lyta' large-capacity racing item, although his might be a fiberglass copy - much cheaper, and money was certainly tight in the 60's. Phis Read had only recently introduced the 'knee hang' on GP circuits; it would be a few years yet before racers would hang completely off the seat. The lad had good style, this is one of the best 'action' shots of the group.

"Into every ride a little Trouble must fall"... and if you've ditched your center stand for more ground clearance, a kerb is a handy thing.
Even a Learner could ride a hot Royal Enfield Clipper 250cc, as this fellow has, while waiting for his pal on the Norton with Peel fairing to sort out his issue. Note the four-wheeled competition driving away; truly, motorcycles ruled the road in the 1960s in England. That little Hillman (?) saloon would be hard pressed to make 70mph, and certainly wouldn't get there quickly.

And if you've got a bike, and your mate's is down, give the lad a ride...no holding onto the rider though! A very nice Norton Domi 88 or 99, with optional tachometer, but driven from where? Perhaps it's just for show - I only see one cable - or maybe it's an 8-day clock!

And now, the Trojan horses appear... so unassuming in these early days, and so small. And while the 125cc SOHC Honda CB92 Benly had tremendous performance for it's capacity, it was still only a 125... and if the rider was a big bloke, it would take a while to achieve the 70mph max - no passing Hillmans then. Note the fellow's '59' Club patch; Father 'Bill' Shergold's club for motorcyclists, and you had to visit his church in Hackney Wick, London, to get a patch. It was the largest motorcycle club in the world during the 1960s.

By the time this Yamaha YDS1 250cc two-stroke twin appeared, all bets were off, and Honda had already won a string of TT victories. Yamaha and Suzuki were pressing hard on the Island as well as on the GP circuits, scoring victories over their exotic DOHC counterparts from Italy and Germany... Britain had long ago given up a credible threat in this class, although 'special' builders continued to shrink Velocette KTTs and BSA Gold Stars for something competitive.

Cue 'The End' by the Doors please, as this was the smoky perspective soon to be seen by all the leaky, unreliable, cobbled-up, badge-engineered, head-in-the-sand British Café Racers in the very near future. More's the pity, and they are missed.

All photos courtesy Adrian Manktelow, and copyright D.G.Manktelow. Images used by permission.


Coyote Man said...

Very nice pics, the navigator racer superb, ans also Norton 88 and 99, my actual racing bike!
Many thanks for this fabulous post!

david said...

Great post, Paul. I'd like to see even more of the "lifestyle" and people shots that Manktelow did.
It's always as interesting as the machinery!

btw, my first bike was one of those Yam YDS's. Mine was a '65 YDS-3, 305cc , a Calif.-only model.
In '68-'69 people were surprised how quick the little things were.

When I saw the last pic on this post, I could almost
smell the smoke and hear that particular "Ring-a-Ding"sound !

William said...

beyond excellent!!

R.Dress said...

Hi Paul,

Wow as always great photos! I think it's worth mentioning that in 1961, Honda shall we say "broke on through to the other side" with Englishman Mike Hailwood at the helm taking first in the 125, 250, 350, and 500 cc Isle of Man. It must have been a chilling and sobering message to the British motorcycle empire. Below is a link to hear the venomous sound of a Honda 250/6. God Speed.



vintagent said...

Lifestyle, location, and more bike shots will arrive in Part 2. Adrian is looking through his dad's archive; there is a rumor of an 8mm film! Keep your fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

that came over pretty good , almost a web page by itself, although you failed to point out the Austin Atlantic ? a typical rockers car bondo patches and all lol , but well done and we might even forgive you if the standard drops on the next article (the fooking ell we will) lol dave

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,

Still can't make the comment function on the blog work, so I'll hazard this
reply to your post with the wonderful photographs by D. G. Mankletow on '60s
cafe racers. To wit, no one else seems to have picked up on your challenge to
name the two other factory-produced variants, after the RE Continental, and take
you up on your prize (?). This is tricky, as presumably you've excluded, by
including in the story, the DBD34 Gold Star, the Clubman's edition which would
technically qualify. So what's left? Of course, my beloved Velo Thruxton. But
after that, if we're sticking with English product? Hard to say, depending on
how you define "factory." Some might claim the Rocket Gold Star hits the mark,
others the late series AMC CSRs (especially with the Atlas engine). If you don't
confine things to "Made in England," how about Honda's delicious GB 500 TT,
though it's really intended as a 7R homage more than anything else. Or, sticking
with things British, how about the G50CSR, aka the Matchless Golden Eagle, even
if only a handful were produced and all, apparently, were sent to the States?

Am I missing something you're thinking of on the Triumph end (Meriden, not
Hinckley)? Lots of friends turned their Daytonas and Bonnies over to cafe-racer
specs, but those, I suspect, don't qualify. So, please, come clean, after the
Conti and the Thruxton, what are you thinking of?

Anonymous said...

Jim, I didn't exclude the Gold Star just because it was in the post - so that and the Velo Thruxton are in my humble opinion the only other proper Cafe Racers produced for general sale, with the Connie GT - clip-ons, rearsets, alloy rims, big GP carb, fast, mildly anti-social, totally desireable then and now. You win!
Other bikes came close, but didn't have all the right bits, even if you could add/order them.

Anonymous said...

i was thinking about defining the average cafe racer , and why so many late comers and overseas people misunderstand the genre, here's my first guess, it was about education. at the time mid fifties to late sixties, if you failed or passed the eleven plus exams more or less decided your career , class ,steam for life , taken at eleven years of age. put you in one of two streams - fail secondary modern , pass grammar school , second mod meant you were factory fodder , pass you went to grammar school a direct lead into university , but here's the catch - secondary modern means you could get a apprenticeship , five years and at the time part of that was one week a month you went to a technical college on full pay , thank you labor party , so when you came out of the apprenticeship tunnel , you had four years of work and one of technical collage , the grammar school grads were driving bmw,s but could not fix them

Anonymous said...

What a unique set of high quality photographs. Wouldn't it be great if they were issued in book form. Is Mr. Manktelow still with us? Could you tell us some more about his life?

vintagent said...

Watch this space! I'm working on some biographical/historical information about D.G. and the riders in the pix, plus some local context...

Anonymous said...

Outstanding photos! (Just wondering if that Norton 'Naviracer' was the one I towed home, back in '65?)
That Goldie with the alloy tank, looks very similar to the one owned by 'Mad Johnny' (John Davine).
I was a member of the Johnson's Motorcycle Club- out by Brands Hatch, from '65-'67, and had many friends among the guys who hung out there!
Thanks again, for taking me back!

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