Wednesday, 10 August 2022

A Hopper Dashboard


I thought I would share a blog on the re-building of the dashboard from Ian Hopper’s third and final Special.

Remarkably all the parts of the car had remained together since it was last used on the road in 1972.

From the dashboard the original and lovely Jaeger instruments, original Lucas switches and dashboard plaques recording major sporting successes were all present.


As found Hopper H3

However the leather-covered alloy dashboard had been painted numerous times and in an array of colours over the years. Although quite badly deteriorated, it was possible to carefully remove the layers of paint and to reveal the original colour of the tanned hide in certain areas.


Original leather dashboard covering

The search was now on to find a hide to match the original in colour, texture and thickness.


Full hide underside

Eventually one was found that was big enough to upholster both the dashboard and the bucket seats. Fate played a hand in that the hide found was tanned in Scotland and was supplied by Andrew Muihead of Dunn Street, Glasgow. 


Andrew Muirhead Glasgow

 As the sheet alloy below had corroded quite badly, the leather was removed and the dashboard etch-primed. A section of the hide was selected for suitable grain and not to compromise the availability of the best hide for use in covering the seats. The slightly larger section was bonded to the alloy using PVA adhesive, which was chosen as it would allow the leather to flatten before the glue had set. As this is water-based, it was hoped that it would also tighten the leather as it dried. This proved correct and after a week had passed, the edges were turned and stuck in place with impact adhesive.


Leather bonded to etch-primed alloy


The openings for all the instruments were carefully cut using a knife, punches of the correct diameter being used to make the holes for the switchgear. The dashboard plaques were remounted in their original positions as was the grab-handle and map reading light. The instruments had been restored over 40 years ago and kept under dry conditions since then. They were re-fitted to the dashboard along with all the switchgear and ancillary items.


Completed dashboard


Friday, 13 May 2022

Owen Greenwood - one of Charnwood’s racing characters

 I thought I would write a short blog post about an interesting character who had an significant impact on the motorcycle racing scene in the UK who happened to reside fairly locally to me.

The man is question is Owen Greenwood. The name popped up in conversation regarding the market town of Loughborough in that Owen had his motorcycle shop here and I did not know where it was situated.

Owen Greenwood's shop in Loughborough (photo courtesy of John Churchill)

Through some conversations and searching old documents the address of 6 Ward’s End came up as the location of his shop. Going into Loughborough now there is no longer a motorcycle shop but a Weatherspoon’s pub; the Moon and Bell. Inspecting the building compared to a period photo of Owen’s shop confirms it is indeed the same place. 

Owen's old shop; now the Moon and Bell pub!

Whilst we have covered where his old shop was situated I thought I should also provide a bit of background information on Owen and his racing activities. 

Owen started racing solo motorcycles and got some very good results in the early 1950s. His first ride at the Isle of Man was in the 1951 Manx GP. Good results followed such as a 2nd place in the 1953 Junior Clubman’s TT, a 10th in the Senior Manx GP the following year (on a 350cc AJS!) and a 12th in the Junior Manx GP of 1956 on the same AJS.

Owen however switched to sidecars and it is in this arena that he really made his name. At Cadwell Park, Easter 1956, he was second in the sidecar scratch race and winner of the handicap event; he followed that by winning the sidecar handicap at Brand’s Hatch, and collecting two third places at Snetterton. 1957 was his first finish in the sidecar TT but he was also racing a solo in the Junior TT. In 1958 Owen finished a very creditable 12th on a Norton in the Sidecar TT. Results continued to improve in the sidecar races including a 6th, 9th and 7th place finish in 1959, 1961 and 1963 respectively. The machines used in these races were based on Triumphs and a Matchless. In the chair with Owen at all these events was Terry Fairbrother.

It was however not on these machines that Owen is best remembered for. It is a far more controversial machine that became one of the most iconic of the 1960’s that bears his name; the Owen Greenwood Mini ‘sidecar’. 

Owen Greenwood Mini

Owen built the Mini during 1963 and 1964. At this time he was working at Arbour motors in Leicester and living north of the city at Colby drive in Thurmaston. Around this time Owen was using a 500cc G50 Matchless laid down outfit of International events (where capacity was limited to 500cc), but for National and Unlimited class events he used a base 650cc Triumph engine which he enlarged with a different crank and pistons. One of Owen’s phrases was “There is no replacement for CC’s”. It is no surprise that the larger capacity Mini Cooper engine was one of the attractive aspects of his most famous special.  

Three or four wheels?

As the name suggests, the engine for Owen’s famous machine came from a Mini car; it being a 1071cc Austin Mini Cooper S unit. This was installed on the original Mini sub-frame an bolted into a tubular chassis. A 5 speed Italian gearbox was utilised. The layout of the machine was not like any normal sidecar. Firstly, it actually had 4 wheels! The rear two wheels were however placed close enough together to class as a single wheel in the ACU racing regulations (had to be spaced less than 8cm apart). The rear suspension consisted of Mini rear suspension arms simply mounted the "wrong way around" bringing the rear wheel centres within the ACU regulation. The ‘riding’ position was also very different; the driver sat on a seat with a steering wheel! It is also apparent that the requirement of a passenger on the Greenwood Mini is clearly not as important as in a conventional sidecar.

Much of the development work of the Greenwood Mini was completed on the lanes around Thurmaston on borrowed trade plates and with a BSA bantam silencer fitted! Owen raced the Greenwood mini with Terry Fairbrother still beside him.

One famous aspect of the Greenwood Mini when racing is that it was not possible to start it like other sidecars. This resulted in it always having to start from the back of the grid and then storm through the field. And storm through it did for it became a hugely successful racing machine. In 1966 over 37 races, the sidecar won 29 times, finished second 7 times and third once! 

Greenwood Mini with its winnings from 1966

On the machine Owen Greenwood and Terry Fairbrother won the British Championship in both 1966 and 1967. Given the appearance and layout of the machine it was always controversial. Owen retired from racing when he sold the Mini in 1968. 

There we have it; an overview of Charnwood’s most famous, successful and controversial racing characters. Next time you go into the Moon and Bell in Loughborough I’d encourage you to raise a glass to Owen Greenwood. 

Saturday, 2 April 2022

A Cambrian Star

This is a short blog on the Welsh motorcycle racer, tuner and entrant Ray Cowles.

Racing Champion 1957 - Ray Cowles

Ray was from Pontypool, Monmouthshire South Wales and was a true motorcycle enthusiast throughout his life. He started racing motorcycles in the 50s and enjoyed success in many disciplines, with rides in the 1961/62 Senior and 1963 Junior Manx Grand Prix.
Ray and BSA Gold Star

He opened and ran a motorcycle business in his home town of Pontypool that has remained virtually unchanged to this day.

Ray Cowles Motorcycles Pontypool

He serviced and repaired all makes of motorcycle over the years and it was from here that he prepared and ran his famous race machines. From BSA and Matchless to Yamaha and Suzuki, the bikes were all prepared in his workshop on Rockhill Road. In the early years of sponsorship he provided machines for fellow Welshmen Griff Jenkins and Selwyn Giffiths, who also worked with Ray in his shop. In 1967 John Hartle finished 3rd in the 500cc World Championships on a Cowles Matchless and it is with these machines that Ray is probably best remembered.

John Cooper with John Hartle on the centre port exhaust Cowles Matchless

Ray’s reputation as a builder and tuner of these dated 500cc single cylinder machines grew and over the years he provided a number of very capable riders with the chance to race one of his special machines.  The results they achieved are truly impressive.

Gordon Daniels – 1st 1969 Senior MGP
Roger Sutcliffe – 1st 1970 Senior MGP
Dave Williams – first 100mph lap on a single in MGP

Ray Cowles IOM

When eventually the 4-stroke single cylinder machines were no longer competitive, Ray turned his hand to preparing and tuning 2-stroke machines. He provided TZ Yamaha’s for the likes of Robert Dunlop, Steve Hislop and Ian Lougher to race and a RG 500 Suzuki for Clive Watts. His primary interest lay in the IOM races and he helped many riders in both TT and MGP until his death in 2007.