Saturday, April 16, 2011

1911: INDIANS SWEEP ISLE OF MAN TT

Lee Evans making 2nd place at 1909 TT on his 750cc Indian
The Hendee Moto-Cycle corporation is over half a century gone, but 100 years ago, they were the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world (lo, how the mighty do fall...), and originators of many 'firsts' in the business.  The first to create a 'works' professional racing team, with the first professional team rider (Jake deRosier), and certainly the first factory racing team sent abroad.  In 1910 Oscar Hedstrom (designer of the Indian) sailed to England to supervise the factory effort.  An Indian had placed 2nd in the twin-cylinder class in 1909 (Lee Evans aboard), and Hedstrom, mindful of potential export sales, subsidized Billy Wells' London dealership, and racing exploits at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT.
Jake deRosier in 1911, on his personal 'Big Twin', which he raced at Brooklands
The mouse didn't roar in 1910, as the Indian team was plagued with a batch of rotten innertubes, which spat riders off like watermelon seeds.  Two riders were injured in spills, and the rest were exhausted from constantly re-inflating their tires. The best Indian could manage was Jake Alexander's lowly 14th place.

Charles B Franklin, Indian team member, who later went on to design the beloved 'Scout'
1911 was a different matter.  Hedstrom brought his own mechanics (3!) and Jake deRosier on a steamer from New York, determined to have a better result.  The ACU had changed the route of the TT to the 'Mountain' course (over Snaefell, a 1400' climb), in an effort to force English manufacturers to adopt gears and clutches.  The whole 'point' of the TT was to 'improve the breed', and in this, the ACU showed much foresight...if you want to win races, you had better develop your product line.
Oliver Godfrey aboard his 1911 TT winning Indian
Indian was immediately at an advantage, as their machines already had two-speed gears, clutches, and all-chain drive as standard.  English makers scrambled to attach epicyclic rear hubs and bolt-on clutches to their belt-drive machines.  Only the Scott two-stroke twin had a two-speed chain drive as standard, and this revolutionary little machine was certainly a threat, being very quick and with excellent handling. The capacity limit of the twin-cylinder class had been reduced to 580cc, so Indian sleeved-down a few examples of their 'little twin' for the races.
Godfrey escorted by Billy Wells, Indian importer for England, and Julia Hedstrom, with a grand hat!
The result of their efforts could not have been better; Oliver Godfrey rode the first non-English motorcycle to win the TT, and after Charlie Collier (who had been 2nd) was disqualified for an illegal re-fueling, Indians took the top 3 spots - a clean sweep!  The delicate Scott twin had taken the fastest lap, but couldn't keep the pace.  Jake deRosier's velodrome tactical skills proved little use on the Island's goat-path circuit, and he fell many times. Still, he did very well at paved venues, and in a battle of Titans, beat Matchless' Charlie Collier, England's top racer, in a 2 out of 3 race at Brooklands, just after the TT.
The original over-the-fence papparazzi shot; Godfrey inside the Indian team paddock, celebrating.
Indian sent factory racers to England until 1923, when Freddie Dixon placed 3rd on a single-cylinder model, and after that, silence.  No American-sponsored, American-made racers appeared in Europe for nearly 50 YEARS, until the Trans-Atlantic Match Races began in the early 1970s, which saw the likes of Dick Mann, Cal Rayborn, Dave Aldana, Gene Romero, Don Emde, etc, battling it out on H-Ds against Norton Commandos and Triumph Tridents.  A worthy subject for another article!


It took 60 years after Indian's TT win for an American company to send racers back to England...Cal Rayborn in 1972, aboard his H-D XRTT750...what a machine!

6 comments:

Buzz Kanter said...

Indian's efforts were very impressive a hundred years ago. And I love your write up and photos - except why a photo of Cal on a much later Harley?

The Vintagent said...

The photo of Cal illustrates the next time an American bike maker sent a team to England...50 years after Indian's TT win!

It's also a tease for a future article...

Anonymous said...

1911 -> 1971 = 60 years.
Not 50.

The Vintagent said...

1923 (the last year Indian sent racers) -> 1971 = only 48 years, so still not 50...

Lindsay Brooke said...

Excellent piece on the Gagan/Roper/Indian TT11 effort! A bit of a fine point on the 1971 Match Races: that year it was BSA-Triumph triples only, for both the US and British teams. Cal Rayborn went over in 1972, but his XRTT was not sent by Harley, as your caption infers. It was strictly a private effort.

tim said...

Hi Paul

The lady in the grand hat is Julia Hedstrom. Her husband Oscar is behind the camera, taking the photo.

Cheers

Tim Pickering