Thursday, 3 November 2016

The road to the Island: Alec G. Swallow and the Greeves Silverstone.

I would like to share with you the story of one Yorkshireman’s journey to race in the 1975 Manx Grand Prix.

In Alec’s own words:-

It all began at an early age. Being born in July 1950 in Brockholes (Holme Valley) to parents Mum (Eileen Patricia) and Dad (Kenneth William Swallow), twin brothers Alec Geoffrey and William Arthur arrived. Dad started racing in 1946 on both his Scott and a rigid Manx Norton, the Scott being used for his first race in an all Scott race at Cadwell Park.

Cadwell Park 1946 - KW Swallow 2nd from right.

The Norton was also raced at the same meeting. His first Manx GP was also in 1946 where he raced in the Junior event. Dad continued to race in the Manx GP and on short circuits like Esholt, Cadwell Park, Oliver’s Mount, Oulton Park and Irish meetings. Our first introduction to the Island came in 1951 aged 14 moths, where both the Junior & Senior events were contested on a plunger framed Norton (sill with girder forks). The next visit to the Island came in 1954, where following the purchase of a new AJS 7R and Matchless G45, both Junior and Senior events were contested.

From the left: Alec, Ken & Bill

 I spent most of the two weeks in Nobles hospital after over enthusiastic running across Douglas promenade to the sea and beach, resulted in me getting knocked down by a car. It was a Ford Popular, which resulted in me not being very popular for a short time. Racing continued until 1957 when Dad retired. By this time we had moved from Brockholes to Golcar in the Colne Valley. We didn't go to the Island again until 1961/62, these just being for a day or so to watch. Dad through his connections in the trade knew so many competitors and we found ourselves in different garages, one of which was the garage that Bob McIntyre & Alistair King were housed with the works 250 Honda 4 cylinder and the Joe Potts Nortons.
Fantastic memories of it all. After an upbringing like this we were hooked.

So now to 1975 and the Lightweight Greeves Silverstone.
After moving from Brockholes to Golcar and a much bigger setup, a large house in its own grounds, a business was set up dealing in Velocette & DOT motorcycles both new and second-hand with a spares department on 1962. Both Bill, myself and Richard who was born in 1953 were now riding motorcycles off-road for fun when allowed and on the road as soon as the legal age was reached. Both myself and Bill had our first taste of racing in 1968 on a 500 Velo at Cadwell, which led to years of club racing and graduating to National events and back to the Island again. The Greeves was Richard’s first racing machine which he bought and raced from being 16 years old in 1969 in club events and later in National events. He first rode in the Manx in 1972, finishing 40th, again in 1973 and again in 1974 finishing 63rd. 1975 was to be my first Manx, after previously competing that year in the Southern 100 at the IOM on the Velo, resulting in a retirement due to a broken inlet valve.
              After the damage to the Velo, Richard said just ride the Greeves, so along with a friend Steve Sykes we set about the preparation on the Greeves. Richard had bought a Yamaha by this time so the Greeves wasn't used. The bike was stripped down and everything checked and replaced as necessary, wheel bearings, steering head bearings, cables and so on. The engine and gearbox were completely stripped and all bearings and seals checked and replaced as needed. Gears checked, big-end and little-end and crankcase seals replaced. There was quite a lot of attention paid to the porting in the cylinder barrel. Induction and transfer ports slightly increased along with the booster ports on the induction side of the cylinder, exhaust port cleaned and smoothed. Richard had said that the ignition plate holding the points tended to distort and alter the timing, so Steve set to making a thicker and stronger plate to replace it. Time was moving on, departure date was drawing nearer and the machine was now going together. The cycle parts were assembled, as was the engine using new piston rings, seals, gaskets and primary chain. All the wiring was renewed. It was time to fit the engine and test the product. With the engine fitted and the chain on, the selection of all five gears and operation of the clutch was checked. Fit GP carb and set float height, fit the exhaust. The fuel tank was an aluminium arrow point tank that Richard used for the IOM, so the mounting arrangement was different than standard. It fitted into a mounting bracket located under the base of the tank, stopping it moving forward on rubber back and front and then strapped down. The fairing was also fitted, which had covers each side bolted to the fairing, encasing the handlebars like the Peel type fairing. It was now time to test it. The Greeves fired up straight away and ran perfectly or so it seemed. So we duly set off to the test road on the moors above Huddersfield to find it would start ok, but would not run under load. It just misfired and cut out constantly. Upon returning home and a consultation, Dad said it was carburation. I wasn’t convinced but went along with his advice. Jets were altered, different slides and needles tried, all to no avail. I said it’s ignition, so a trip to Holmfirth to Terry Silvester’s to purchase new points, condenser and ignition coil was undertaken. At that time Terry Silvester was in the shop that the late Jack Bailey of Norton fame had used for his premises. The parts required were in stock and purchased thankfully. Back to base to fit the new parts and test again, this still didn’t solve the problem. Time had run out, it was departure day. We had a photo shoot for the local paper, with Bill on the Velo, Richard on his Yamaha, myself on the Greeves, Jim on his Greeves scrambler, Dad and Steve. It was then time to pack up and set off for the boat. Dad said that “you might as well put it back in the shed and forget it”. Wrong thing to say, the van was packed and off we went. Caught the boat and off to the Island and the MGP.

From the left: Richard, Ken, Bill, Steve, Alec & Jim

On arrival to the island and the paddock area, we set up the tents and unloaded everything. Next door were Colin Hammond and Bob Willis, Colin riding a Bultaco 250TSS and Bob assisting. Andy Francis was also camping close with another Greeves. Camaraderie in the paddock was fantastic. Back to the problem, after having time to think on this and looking at all the parts fitted, those that we had replaced and all the parts we had bought there in a box, there was a thick red wire that had run from the low tension side of the ignition. I took the new thin wire off and replaced it with the original. Took the bike to Jurby, it fired and ran under load without cutting out or misfire. Did a few runs to check plug colour and to make sure jettings were okay prior to practice. The approach to this event is unlike any road race in the world and is absolutely unique. Each lap being 37 ¾ miles in length, preparation both mentally and mechanically has to be quite meticulous. Signing on and meeting people, scrutineering machine and riding gear out of the way, it is time to prepare for practice, early mornings were used then. Fuel and oil to organise and mix. I think it was mixed at 16:1, Castrol R40 oil was used for safety. You get the chance to do a few pre-practice laps in the van just to get the idea of where the road goes and what you’re faced with. Practice arrives for real and everyone lines up in turn. A pat on the shoulder and then you are on your own, just you and the road to learn.

May Hill - Practice

Practices came and went without any serious problems, other than constantly checking the ignition timing and resetting and loosing part of the points in the grass. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. The Greeves ran very well indeed and was a pleasure to ride. The most I saw on it was 8,400 rpm down to Hilberry in top. Practice week was over far too quickly and you were into race week. The allocated day arrived. The bikes are all weighed in the day before, the pit has to be organised with everything you think you need, fuel, oil and any tools. That done, machines are collected and riders are ready and on the grid. My riding number was 90. As riders go off in pairs, I was to start alongside number 89, Paul Glendenning on a Yamaha. There were 3 Greeves Silverstones in the event, Andy Francis No. 78, Dan Starkey No. 81 and myself No. 90.

It was now time and the first pair got under way, 10 seconds later the next pair get going. Gradually the grid filters down until it is my turn. Engine back on compression, clutch in, flag down, run and hope it goes. Drop the clutch, hit the seat, it fires and I’m away. Lap 1 went without incident, really got going and trying. The Greeves felt good, came through the pits to start lap 2, thumbs up to Steve in the pit and off into the drop down Bray Hill, still going strong. Things began to alter with the handling on the approach to Barregarrow. It seemed to understeer and ran wide on corners. This got worse and really showed up at Sulby Bridge which resulted in clipping the bales on the left of the bridge and forcing a stop. On examination I found the fuel tank had jumped out of the mounting and moved forward between the forks. After what seemed like a long time I refitted the tank, bumped off and got going again. All seemed okay and pressed on to Ramsey, up the mountain, down to Creg and on to Brandish and Hillberry. From there up Cronk ne Mona and Sign Post, where it happened again which resulted in a footing and dabbing session to get round Governers Bridge and into the pits. Steve took the tank off and we rejigged it and strapped it down tighter. Topped up with fuel and got going for lap 3. This lap went okay, motoring well.

Signpost Corner - Lightweight race

 Started lap 4, still going well until it seized between Quarter Bridge and Bradden. Freewheeled for a while, dropped the clutch and got going again. It did it again round Union Mills but again freed off and started up. Proceeded with caution until Cronkyvoddy where it happened again but fired up after freewheeling for a while. I then toured it back to the finish. 

Kirkmichael - Lightweight race

1st Greeves home in 46th position at 71.89mph.
Back next year.

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