Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Riders I admire - Brian Stonebridge

The second rider I have included in the ‘riders I admire’ series is Brian Stonebridge. Brian was born in Cambridgeshire and went on to become one of the top Scramblers on the 1950’s.
Brian started scrambling in 1948 on a 350cc BSA Goldstar. It didn’t take long for him to be recognised as a talent by one of the factory teams. From 1950-1954 Brian became a Works Matchless rider. In 1950 Brian won a gold medal for Matchless at the International Six Day Trials (ISDT).
In 1955 Stonebridge moved to BSA and was awarded the ACU Scrambles Drivers’ Star. At BSA Brian undertook development work in the competition shop, and it was here that he met two-stroke tuning expert Herman Meier. Brian with Herman realised that the lightweight 150cc BSA Bantam could be developed into a successful Scrambling machine.
With BSA investing less in their competition shop, Brian moved to Greeves in 1957 to be a Works rider, competitions manager and development engineer. It was at Greeves that Stonebridge really started to shine as both a rider and more significantly in the development of off-road machines.
Greeves were a small factory when Brian arrived, but within a few years he had turned them into one of the most important players in the world scene of off-road competition. Brian developed the Greeves trails machine into the highly successful TA – the first of the Scottish trials line. Brian took his second gold ISDT medal on a modified version of this machine – the first ever for a Greeves rider.
Brian had also spent much time tuning the 197cc Villiers 9E engine. He had nearly doubled the power output from it, and when fitted into the Greeves Scramblers it became a highly successful machine. The little Greeves in the capable hands of Stonebridge was able to humble machines of much bigger capacities. It was Brian’s pioneering work on the Greeves that showed that a nimble light machine was the tool to have for off-road competition.
In 1959 Brian and Greeves entered the F.I.M. 250cc European Motocross Championship (effectively the World Championship) and finished a superb 2nd. In fact without injury Brian might have won easily.
When Brian first moved to Greeves in 1957 they were selling 500 machines in a year. Such was the impact of Stonebridge that in 1958 they sold 2,500 and by 1960 sales reached 10,500!
On the 21st of October 1959 Brian Stonebridge died in a road traffic accident. Brian was the passenger in Bert Greeves’s Austin on the way back from a trip to the Hepolite factory when the car was involved in a crash with a lorry. Brian died within two hours of the crash, but thankfully Bert Greeves recovered after spending over a week in hospital.
Such was the high esteem that other competitors and the general public held Stonebridge in, for the Brian Stonebridge memorial Scramble held at Hawkstone Park in 1960 a record 84,000 spectators attended.
Even with Stonebridge gone, his development work and influence was still apparent. For 1960 the European Motocross Championship was won by Dave Bickers on a Greeves and the feat was repeated in 1961. Greeves were a company that competed ‘well above their weight’ and won in the field of off-road motorcycle competitions, and much of their success is owed to the great riding and development skills of the great Brian Stonebridge.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Riders I admire - Jimmy Guthrie

Jimmy Guthrie was born in Hawick, Scotland and prior to WW2 he was (to me) the finest professional motorcycle racer. Early successes for Jimmy included winning the Scottish Speed Championships at St Andrews (on Sand) in 1926 and 1927.

Jimmy Guthrie after winning the 1936 Senior TT
Jimmy’s first TT victory came in the 1930 Lightweight race aboard an AJS. However, he will always be synonymous for riding with Joe Craig’s Norton team, who he joined as a Works Rider in 1931. With the Norton team Guthrie became almost unbeatable. In his career he took 19 Grand Prix victories, 6 TT victories and three wins at the NW 200.  
As well as in his own country, on the European continent that Guthrie was held in very high esteem. His performances on Nortons had taken him to four European Championships and the Works teams from Germany and Italy couldn’t beat the British combination of man and machine. Jimmy would get to the different European races with his bike in the parcel carriage of trains!
His most famous trophy was for his victory at the 1936 German GP, which was presented by Adolf Hitler (who was expecting a German victory). The following year he was invited back to race in Germany, where the German BMW were planning to beat Guthrie and his Norton. In the race he had built up a two minute lead as he headed into the final lap. It was on that final lap that he crashed and sustained fatal injuries. Stanley Woods who was an eye witness to the crash insisted that Guthrie was taken out by Kurt Mansfeld on his DKW. Jimmy was lapping Kurt, and according to Woods, Mansfeld pulled out in front of Guthrie and drove him off the road. Some say it was an accident, as Mansfeld was trying to prove he was as quick as Guthrie, but Woods went even further to suggest Mansfeld did it on purpose as the Nazi regime was unhappy at the British riders being so successful. Stanley Woods' explanation does seem a little far fetched. Other sources clamined the connecting rod on Guthrie's machine was broken and this could have caused the crash (however it is possible that a con-rod can break after a crash due to the engine over-revving). 

NSU team paying their respects at the Guthrie memorial in 1954. From left to right Paul Hermann Muller, Rupert Hollaus, Werner Haas and Hans Baltisberger.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Velocette Viper Trials Bike

I just found this picture of a nice Velo Trials bike, that was built by Dave Lecoq. Dave used the machine for a good few years competing in events such as the Press Trial.
Dave is perhaps more famous for riding Clive Waye’s Drag-Waye dragster. Drag-Waye was a supercharged VW engine machine which completed the 1/4 mile in 9.68 seconds in 1970. In 1971 Dave and Drag-Waye took the world standing kilometre record with a 18.23s and the British 2 litre 1/4 mile record. Dave can still be seen racing Ray Petty’s 500cc racing car.

Going back to the Velo. It uses a very early Viper engine (which had heavier flywheels and an M17/7 cam). Dave chose a Velo engine due to the narrow engine – a theme that he kept to when building it. Dave manufactured a new sub-frame for the bike and also lengthened the Velo forks. The Velo wheels were replaced with much lighter items. Dave also made the oil tank, exhaust system and modified the petrol tank on the bike.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Croft Race Track

Croft Aerodrome near Darlington opened in 1941 as an RAF Bomber Command station. In 1948 the first races took place at Croft (known as Neasham). The Darlington & District Motor Club ran a few Motor Racing meetings at Croft during the 1940/50’s.

However, Croft only became a more major venue when in 1962 Bruce Ropner and fellow enthusiasts bought half the venue at public auction. £40,000 was spent laying a new surface for the new Croft Autodrome race track. Croft Autodrome was 1.75 miles long and roughly triangular in shape and went in a clockwise direction. Famous corners on the track included Tower, Barcroft, Sunny, Spa and the Railway straight. The track was completed in 1964 and was tried for the first time by John Cooper and John Sear in July of that year. The first meeting for cars and bikes was held on August Bank Holiday, Monday 3rd August 1964.

The track became an important venue for motorcycle racing with clubs such as the North East Motor Cycle Racing Club and the Batley Club organising events. The track closed in 1981, as the surface had started to degrade. Straight after the finish of the fianl motorcycle race held at Croft diggers were brought onto the track to start pulling it up – to make it clear there would be no more racing there. However a new Croft circuit re-opened in the mid 1990’s with much superior facilities.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Flow Bench setup for a 250cc Manx Norton cylinder head.

The following pictures show the setup that will be used for checking the air flow characteristics of a cylinder head from a 250cc Manx Norton. The 250cc was originally built and raced by Archie and George Plenderleith . More than 50 years after developing the engine, Archie will be putting the cylinder head onto his flow bench. It will be interesting to see what modern methods make of the work done all those years ago....

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Some Northern race programmes.

I was looking through some of my early 70’s race programmes the other day and what struck me the most was the importance of clubs in promoting racing. These club meetings had a mix of the top stars combined with the many amateur enthusiast on their road-based racing machines (Goldstars, Triumphs, Velos etc). We should not forget the importance of some of these clubs and the meetings they ran.
See below for some scans of covers for a Middlesborough and District Motor Club Croft meeting, a Batley Motor Cycle Club Croft Strongbow Trophy meeting and a Scarborough National meeting.