Brooklands Motorcycle Reunion - July 7th 2016
(As always - click on any photo for an enlarged version)
It’s now well into 2017 as I get round to writing up this article , but last year I got an invite to one of my favourite venues - Brooklands racetrack in Weybridge Surrey.
To my knowledge, there haven’t been many old bike events at Brooklands in the last couple of years – not sure why, but this was a good opportunity to visit the UK’s oldest and most historic purpose built racetrack – a venue that is a wonderful throwback to a different era and steeped in history.
The event was in early July, and due to workload turned out to be my only event out last year. I took the pre-war Racing International, with open megga fitted – with the opportunity to revisit the Test Hill and make a bit of noise.
It was also an opportunity to take along my latest project bike – a Douglas 2 3/4hp sidevalve twin, which I am building as a sort of ‘loose’ replica of the bikes that ran in competition events pre WWI. 1912 was probably the most successful year for Douglas, with a 2 3/4hp model winning the 1912 Junior Isle of Man TT in the hands of Works rider Harry Bashall and the 1912 Brooklands Junior TT in the hands of Les Bailey (who was very closely linked with Douglas and raced often at Brooklands).
My own bike was purchased as a ‘kit bike’ earlier in the year from Bonhams at Stafford. Although the frame and engine are both stamped with a 1920 number, it came with an earlier set of forks – as used on these earlier racing models. I had spent the intervening months since purchasing really getting to grips with the bike and was already smitten with it and the terrific sense of history of working on a bike almost a hundred years old. As the project kit when purchased was one of a number of similar Douglas Lots, it seemed likely to have come from the collection of real Douglas collector. I suspect the previous owner had died and his family were disposing of the collection – and I could tell that some of the parts in my kit bike (as well as the forks) looked to have come from a a bike from an earlier vintage. Particularly the seat, carb, inlet tract, toolbox looked to have traces of having been a WW1 army bike – this model was one of the most popular motorcycles used by ethe British Army in the First World War, I believe approximately 25,000 being eventually supplied to the armed forces – and many of these bought back from France at the end of hostilities and later sold on to the public.
The 2 3/4hp 350cc sidevalve model was actually listed for a very long period of time, approximately 1910 all the way through to the early 1920’s. However, my bike’s specification is pretty much the same specification as that of those used for competition circa 1911 - 1914 – i.e. sidevalve engine, 2 speed countershaft with direct chain drive from engine to gearbox – but no clutch and then belt drive from gearbox to back wheel. I gather it is normal to put it into low gear then push start, but clutchless change into High gear once on the move. Brakes are very early style ‘cycle’ brakes on the front – acting against the front rim, and a block on the back acting against the belt rim.
Douglas 2 3/4HP - Brooklands Lookalike
Since purchasing the kit – having been interested in a flat tank project for a few years now, I have learnt a lot more about the model. It was offered in all kinds of variants – and is often seen in full touring spec with deep mudguards, acetylene lighting, footboards etc, but was also available in a more sporting variant, with slimmer mudguards, no lights etc etc.
In those early days of motorsport there was little to distinguish these sporting road models from race bikes, so I had decided to build mine in something similar to the specification that would have been used for those early pre-World War One road/race bikes. Particularly – what I had only just finished about a week before the Brooklands event, was the manufacture of a set of handlebars which I had had made to a profile very similar to the 1912 race bikes. These were actually far more difficult to make than is first obvious. I had used photographs of the 1912 TT bike (and I have not been able to find many photos available!) and other race bikes of that era to work out an appropriate profile, which I had bent into a spare length of handlebar tube. The most difficult job was then to machine from a 2” x 2” square steel block an appropriate lug that would attach the handlebars to the vertical fork lug – which look to be how the Works bike of 1912 were made, rather than the more normal ‘pushbike’ handlebars of that era. By allowing them to be mounted like this it makes them very low and sporting looking. Not sure how comfortable they will be on the road – but they certainly looked the part on the bike and really helped give a ‘Brooklands’ look to the bike.
A bit of the historic Brooklands track is always worth a short walk - just to soalk up the
atmosphere and imagine the ghosts of the historic vehichles that had thundered round it
Loading up on the day before - in foreground my 1938 Racing Inter - with open Megga fitted (previously having achieved 128.5 db on the sound meter!) and my semi assembled Douglas 2 3/4hp (in sports/racing trim) in background.
Looking down on wonderful original paintwork of Douggie flat tank, you cas see the hand pump on right between oil/petrol caps. Dripfeed indicator for total loss oil feed it on the top right. Lever on left allows change from Low to High gear, - very advanced for its era
Douglas and Norton Prep
I will cover the build in other articles . . . but save to say, even just loosely cobbled together as it was, with its original paintwork fuel/oil tank and original (unrebuilt at this stage) wheels – still sporting an original and very old Dunlop Cord front tyre, it certainly looked the part! It had that lovely look of a very old race bike which might just have been wheeled out of an old barn and had the cobwebs dusted off it!
Although a long way from being complete - I had made good progress on construction of the Douggie in April of 2016 (see Stafford article),
Hopefully you would agree these two photographs give a a good evocatvie flavour of an old Edwardian racing bike that might have just been pulled out of an old barn
Les Bailey was a well known Douglas rider in the early 1900's and later went on to be their development rider. Here he is pictured in September 1912 on the 'Works' 350cc Douglas 2 3/4hp at Brooklands.
Although not identical (as my bike is fitted with a slightly later frame), it is very close, with same overall specification - 350 opposed SV twin with external flywheel,, belt drive 2 speed transmission (without clutch), and the same early forks
as fitted to the early racing bikes
I know that the belt rim is a bit 'sku-rif' from the wheel in this photo, but that is only temporary. I was very pleased that the 'kit' when purchased also included this original Douglas belt rim - because I think the chances of finding one at an autojumble would be next to zero! You can just see on the far right of the photograph the rear brake block assembly - which did not come with the bike, but was purchased from the excellent catalog of parts offered by Douglas 2 3/4hp expert - Bert Poll in Holland - see :
And here is Les again, being congratulated after winning the 1912 Brooklands Junior TT.- proving that my model of Douglas does has some good provenance at this famous track!
Click on this picture to see a bigger version - showing the original Douglas advertising page that they used to advertise this win
Brooklands on the day
I guessed that a lot of people at the event may not have seen many genuine race bikes of this era, so I had also prepared a wooden board with a selection of laminated period photographs, so passer’s by would have something to look at and read to give context. We got there early and as both the Norton and Douglas were of an appropriate (pre WWII) age, we were asked if we would like to park directly in front of the Brooklands clubhouse, which was nice. I am pleased to say that as the day went on and spectators started to arrive – I was amazed at the amount of attention the Douglas got! I am quite used to spectators looking at the Norton’s – but frankly most people seemed to walk straight past it to look at the Douggie. Through the day, it seemed to provoke a lot of interest and conversation – which made me really pleased I had bought it, it is always nice if you can bring a smile to people’s faces.
As for the rest of the day – well as is almost always the case with a day out at Brooklands – it is the Right Crowd without Crowding! Not strictly the case – as the place seemed quite packed in the afternoon! But the weather was good and it was great to see some old friends – particularly John and Ian Baine who were parked up a few bikes down from myself with their gorgeous and rare early racing Brough Superior, Sheila O’Neill and old racing friend Richard Cornish.
Unfortunately my first run up the Test till was a no-show as I had fitted new clutch plates before the meeting and not had the chance to bed them in. Because of this, although the bike was running crisply I was struggling to find neutral with a slight drag – not ideal when riding around a crowded Brooklands courtyard. Luckily – I was able to get it sorted (thanks partly to a helping hand from old friend Barry Stickland – thx Barry) and got a run up the hill in the afternoon, along with a wide selection of other bikes – both old and new. There are a few of these runs included as a short Youtube video accompanying this article, taken by my friend and companion on the day – Andy Kirk.
The weather throughout the day was good, decent crowds, great atmosphere and (other than long runs back to my van to fetch spare clutch plates. . . which had to be parked a long way from the Clubhouse) a lovely back day. I would recommend to anyone that has not visited Brooklands before, if you get a chance, please visit and soak up the atmosphere – well worth the visit!
And further along a couple of period JAP racing bikes. The white tanked bike had a very potent speedway engine. The bike in the foreground is modelled on a Brooklands bike of the early '20's - looking very period, although not sure I like the yellow paint scheme
The Norton and Douggie lined up in front of clubhouse, at this point - still early morning before many specaters had come in. Notice the board with information about early racing Douglas bike placed in front of the bike - and already getting a bit of attentiion from curious visitors
I spotted this BSA in the main clubhouse square. I am not exactly sure which model it is, but thought it looked period for the sort of bike a Clubman might bring to Brooklands to race, then ride home. I expect maybe an Empire Star (or Blue Star?).
I noticed it has a cast iron head, so definitely pre-Goldstar
And here, just to prove the heritage the BSA Gold Star had at Brooklands - a picture of Wal Handley on the Empire Star model that he took to over 100mph at a Brooklands race, which led BSA themselves to produce a sports version that became the legendary BSA Gold Star - Not sure if this bike had a bronze or alloy head?
Nice period 1920's racing AJS - I believe it is a Big Port. I am sure at least one of this model would have originally competed at Brooklands
Another racing AJS here - although not one that could have originally raced at Brooklands, - this being a postwar AJS 7R. Its older predecessor did compete here though - the earlier R7 OHC AJS. This bike very original and road registered belonged to an old mate
Looking down on the Brough and that ffantastic fuel tank. I was talking to Ian about it and gather it was a bike they have had in the family since father John acquired iit (I think in bits?) shortly after WWII. You will see the petrol tank differs from normal road going Brough's in that it has straps holding it in place
For me - the best bike of the meeting by far was this fantastic early raciing Brough Superior SS100 bought along by well known cammy Norton exponents, John and Ian Bain. Here Ian does a bit of early morning fettling
And here is a close up of the engine fitted to the Brough. Ian told me that it is a very ealry pre-production JAP KTOR engine of 1924 - and when they recently restored the bike found that the engine number stampings indicated it could be one of the first batch of racing engines given out to special riders to test. Note the chain drive to magneto
What a big Brough looked like in its hey day thundering round Brooklands!!
In this case - Eric Fernihough - one of the top riders on the Outer Cricuit
One of the true gents of the historic bike movement - John Bain, Ian's father.
It is thanks fo far sighted people like John, who collected old Norton's and broken race bikes in the '40's and '50's that mean we get a chance to see bike like this today.
And as a comparison - here is another racing Brough Superior, again not disimilar to John and Ian's bike, but probably a little bit later. I think this bike is actually resident in the Brooklands musuem - but like most of their bikes are kept running by a small band of musuem employees and helpers
There were also some more modern bikes on display. dont know much about this bike but it looked good - I think it was an early Suzuki GSXR
Again - another of the more modern bikes on display - this being an MV Augusta lightweight of (I would guess) the mid/late 1950's. I am always a sucker for a red Italian sports/racing bike! Love the rev clock and jelly mould tank
Basking in the sun at lunchtime; my own Norton on the left and a lovely early 1930's Intter on the right, sorry if I have got this wrong - but I think this was Chrs Streathers machine (from Norton Owners Club, correct me if I am wrong Chris!) - love the big early competition tank
No apologies for another photo of this little 1950's MV - I know it is not a Brooklands bike, but I always fall for an MV Augusta, even a more the more humble sports engine derivatives - of which I think this is, rather than the gear driven OHC Works lightweights. I particlarly like saddle and external magneto
The banked circuit as it is today with the neghbouring trees now overhanging the uppermost part of the banked track. I have ridden round it a few times in the past and can tell you that it is now extremely bumpy and you need to watch carefully to avoid the worst of the potholes!
A wonderful period photograph of a Brooklands as it was in its earliest days. I believe this was approximately 1912 and that looks to be a Norton (16H?) on the left and maybe Triumphs/Rovers on the right?. The original concrete can be seen in the background
It was also nice to see some old friends - particularly so was seeing old sprinting friend - Sheelagh Neil, pictured here in a lovely shot with my Douglas - that she took a real fancy too!
If you are reading this - hi Sheelagh, and when I get it running I promise you a ride on it!
. . . and here are Sheelagh's sprint bikes - a Triumph single and Triumph twin sidecar outfiit. When I first started sprinting and also passengered for Titch Allen, Sheelagh was also passengering for her well known father - Ossie Neal. After Ossie passed away - Sheelagh took over riding the sidecar outfit herself and is very fast!
My own Norton getting ready for loading back in the van at the end of the day. Red fuel can sits nearby as I have just drained the methanol out of it. My mate Andy is looking at me thinking - 'why are you farting about taking photos, when we are trying to load the bikes up?!'
A great period photo of a racing SOHC Norton at Brooklands - in this case Noel Pope in 1936. The bike looks like a rigid framed racing Norton (i.e. with early magnesium Manx specification engine). It also has Brooklands Can fitted and a long distance fuel tank. If I remember correctly Stu Rogers built a lookalike of this machine and I have an idea it was used by Norton's for some record attempts
Another old racing friend who it was nice to see on the day was Richard Cornish - another well known Norton racer from VMCC racing in the 1970's - '80's. Last time I had seen Richard was at a Mallory Thousand Bike Festival a few years ago, so it was nice to have a chat and catchup!
Final photograph - sun shining at end of day and a nice picture with Sheelagh and Richard taken by Andy. All in all a really nice day and a good reason why Brooklands still remains one my favourite historical places to visit
Click on the photo to watch a video I posted on YouTube showing a bit about the history of the Brooklands track and a few of the runs we did up the Test Hill on the day,- including one run of my Norton and my fat arse!