Monday, May 24, 2010


Not many sidecars appear on the pages of The Vintagent, as the plain truth is, photos of them rarely pop up in my mailbox, and that's usually what inspires a post.  The fascination of 'Chairs' is partly their obsolescence; anyone hitching a streamlined sidecar to a modern motorcycle is indulging in sheer cussedness, but stubborn people are usually interesting, and much can be gained by hearing out a polemical rant on the joys of throwing one's body weight into corners while steering the handlebars.  I've owned a few myself, and driven many more, from a late 20's aluminum zeppelin bolted to a hotted up Norton ES2, to an elegant Brough launch, a super clean Steib attached to what else but a BMW...R25/3! They all had their charms (many more could be added to the list), even if the little Beemer nearly pitched me into a canal in Berlin, very late one night.

This TT Hughes racing sidecar currently lives in Ireland, and owner Gerry writes:

"Definitely not for sale, I'm afraid! Too many good memories of courting days for one thing.  A pal and I have traded this chair back and forth for a long time.  He must have got it in the '60s.  I doubt he paid twenty quid. It used to be harnessed to a 1930 [Rudge] Ulster during the '70s and '80s, but I'm thinking about hitching it to my Series C Rapide now.  Yes, I know a Coventry Eagle Flying 8 would be more appropriate, but I didn't buy one when offered many years ago!  I have a picture of this sidecar being raced on the sand in Portmarnock (Dublin) by Norton man Dixie Deane in the '20s. (At least we think it's this one, anyway.)  Incidentally, it was leased by MGM for the movie "The Playboys" - made in Ireland in the early '90s.  The chair had some serious exposure time in the movie and was graced with both Aidan Quinn and Robin Wright (Sean Penn's wife)."

The TT Hughes is the ultimate racing chair from the Vintage era, and an excellent period writeup of its attributes can be found in 'Castor's' road test of an SS100.  Most 1920s sporting sidecars are very light, and have a simple rectangular chassis with a rigid wheel (matching the rigid rear wheels of just about all motorcycles in the day), and a body mounted on four coil springs or scrolled leaf springs.  As such, they're surprisingly comfortable for the passenger, with road shocks absorbed very effectively by the undamped springs, giving a floating sensation like an old-fashioned baby buggy.  Some claim that these early 'chairs' were actually more comfortable than modern examples with swingarm suspension and hydraulic damping.  They're certainly more fun!

The Hughes is slightly different in having a frame which encircles the body front and rear, although the passenger is suspended on leaf springs as per normal.  The full 'cage' of tubing makes the TT model extremely rigid, which helps handling of a fast 'outfit' immeasurably.  While the light weight of the typical underslung-frame sporting sidecar of the 20s makes for delightful performance (my zeppelin weighed around 70lbs), they tend to flex and wobble alarmingly when pushed hard, leading to quirks in bend-taking which are best avoided.  A description from the day really tells the tale; 'Each bend became a fresh will I or won't I challenge'!  The TT Hughes really solves the handling problem, with a penalty of weight - that tubing isn't chromoly or Reynolds 531; while certainly of good quality, it more resembles the stuff which carries water to your tap!

And Gerry, methinks you should flog the Vinnie and track down that Coventry Eagle 'Flying 8' - a combination to merit attention, indeed.


Grandpa Jimbo said...

Paul: I know all about sidecars. What I want to say is thank goodness you've ditched that silly picture of you and that Harley.

Your friend in Tucson, Jim A.

daveinnola said...

thank god after a week of the history of cafe racers i will read any thing

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
I discovered your blog a couple weeks ago, it's freaking awesome !
Thank you for that.
Love your blog, keep up the good work and
Long Live The Vintagent !!!


Anonymous said...

Just wonderfully done man...

Ryan Cochran