1921

BROOKLANDS STAGED 500-MILE races for the first, and last time. It seems the noise of 60-plus bikes running flat out on open pipes for more than seven hours was more than local residents could bear; all subsequent races at shorter and quieter as competitors were required to fit silencers—cue the  ‘Brooklands can’. That unique long-distance thrash clearly suited US bikes because the first three finishers were an Indian, a Harley and another Indian. A sidevalve Norton Brooklands Special took fourth spot. Since his pre-war exploits Dan ‘Wizard’ O’Donovan, now Norton’s chief tuner, had been busy: the Brooklands Special was now certified to do 75mph.

WE CAN THANK GERMANY for the Megola. It was a short-lived experiment (lasting only four years) but what a glorious experiment it was. Designer Fritz Cockerell built a 640cc five-cylinder radial engine into the the front wheel and he couldn’t be bothered with fripperies like a clutch or gearbox. If the rider couldn’t be bothered to bumpstart the beast the recommended technique was “kicking with the heel into the spokes of the front wheel”. The frame was a welded and rivetted box section; touring versions had two bucket seats. And yes, there was a pared down competition version which was good for more than 90mph. More than 2,000 Megolas were made.

1921 MEGOLA
The Megola roadster was rated at 14hp (at 3,000rpm) and was good for 65mph. The stripped down racer was said to do 90.

…AND WE CAN ALSO THANK Germany for the White Mars, the first post-war new model from Mars of Nurnberg, a company that dated back to 1873 and had been making motor cycles, on and off, since 1903, using Fafnir and Zedel engines. This Mars, however, was powered by a 956cc sv flat twin which was the only motorcycle engine ever made by the Maybach car and aero engine works at Friedrichshafen. Instead of a kickstart the big twin was started by a car-style crank. The Mars was expensive, but stayed in production for nearly a decade–longer than most newcomers in those turbulent economic times.

1921 MARS
Mars die Weisse (White Mars) was a striking example of German engineering. Note the box section extending from the steering head to the rear wheel and trailing-arm forks.

THE STRIKING DESIGN OF THE 500cc ohc Wooler TT model included a bright yellow fuel tank that extended round the steering head, inspiring Green ‘Un editor Graham Walker to dub it the ‘Flying Banana’. Wooler also won publicity by extracting 311mpg from a 350. Another lost secret of the ancients, it seems.

1921 WOOLER
A 2¾hp 350cc Wooler was good for 45mph but, unlike its 500cc TT counterpart, did an astonishing 311mpg.

MORE FLAT TWINS. ITALY produced the Fongro, Maxima and SAR; Czechoslovakia built the Itar as a military mount though civilians rode it too.

BRITISH REGISTRATIONS HIT 373,000, compared with 154,000 in the USA.

BELGIUM STAGED ITS FIRST motorcycle Grand Prix The 500cc class was won by a Norton, but Belgian-built Gillet, founded in 1919, took first and second spots in the 350cc class to huge acclaim. Gillet survived to the 1960s.

TT ENTRIES WERE MORE THAN double those of 1920, with 133 as against 61: 68 Seniors and 65 Juniors including 21 250s in the Lightweight class. The 44 350s comprised 15 marques, all but one of them works entries. They included seven Ajays, six Ivys; five apiece from Blackburne and Douglas; four Coulsons, three Martins and three Massey Arrans. Lightweight makes rose from two in 1920 to eight: six Levises, four Velos, three New Imps and two Diamonds. AJS, having replaced the 1920 two-chain/four-speed transmission with a sturdy three-speed box and were firm favourites in the five-lap Junior. AJS star Howard Davies finished the first lap of the Junior in first place a minute ahead of team-mate HF Harris, lost 12 minutes repairing a puncture  which put him

1921 TT DAVIES
Howard Davies made history by winning the Senior TT on his Junior AJS—and only a puncture kept him from the double. This pic, (and the pics of Messrs Whalley and Williams that follow) appear courtesy of my old chum Bill Snelling who, from his lair on The Island, is custodian of a peerless cornucopia of TT photographs from 1907 to 2020. You’ll find it at ttracepics.com, or track down his excellent book Isle of Man TT: The Photographic History.

back in 11th place and rode like to demon the finish runner up behind another AJS team-mate, Eric Williams. AJS dominated the Junior, also taking 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th places. Jim Whalley on the debutante Massey Arran was 5th man home to be cheered over the line as he finished despite a flat rear tyre—before copping a puncture at Windy Corner, he had taken the lead on lap three, ahead of a pack of five Ajays. Doug Prentice was 10th on his New Imperial 250 and took Lightweight honours at 44.6mph—nearly 4mph faster than Cyril Williams’ Junior winning speed the previous year. Runner-up in his first TT was Geoff Davison on a Levis; Davison went on to edit the annual TT Special. (He also wrote The Story of the TT; an excellent blow-by-blow account of the TT that is well worth tracking down). The 68 Senior contenders included 15 makes, 12 of them represented by factory entries. Norton fielded the biggest contingent, of 15; Sunbeam and Triumph had nine apiece. There were half a dozen Scotts and for the first time BSA took the field, also with as team of six. The race was a disaster for BSA—not one of its carefully prepared bikes finished the course, BSA took no further interest in racing for the next 30 years. But for AJS the Senior was a triumph. Having been robbed of victory in the Junior Howard

1921 TT WHALLEY
Jim Whalley on the Massey-Arran took over the lead in the Junior when Howard Davies stopped to repair a puncture on his AJS. On the last lap a burst tyre caused Whalley to crash but he still finished fifth, riding on a flat, stuck in second gear, bleeding from his nose and holding a broken exhaust pipe. This pic shows the flat rear tyre.

Davies rode his 350 in the Senior. On the first lap he held 2nd place behind Freddie Dixon (Indian). Lap two and Dixon dropped back to 4th; FG Edmond took the lead on his Triumph but Davies held on to second place. George Dance (Sunbeam) led at the end of lap three—and still Davies hung on to second place. Lap four and another Sunbeam took the lead, in the capable hands of Alec Bennett, but with Davies hot on his heels. And when Bennett dropped back Howard Davies rode his Junior AJS to victory in the Senior at 54.49mph, nearly 2¼min ahead of the fastest 500 though Edmond’s Triumph did make the fastest lap at 56.44mph. Freddie Dixon was runner-up with Hubert Le Vack on another Indians 3rd. Alec Bennet was 4th, JA Watson-Bourne (Triumph) was 5th, followed by JL Mitchell (Norton), FG Edmond and George Dance, ahead of two more Sunbeams ridden by Tom Sheard and FC Townshend. Them came a pair of Nortons ridden by DS Alexander and JW Hollowell.

1921 TT WILLIAMS
Eric Williams led the AJS gang over the line in the Junior TT.

TRIUMPH BUILT ON THE SUCCESS of the wartime ‘Trusty’ with the Harry Ricardo-designed 498cc Model R ‘fast roadster’. The ‘Riccy’ with its innovative central plug light alloy head and four-pushrod-operated overhead valves would become as famous as the Trusty. Major Frank Halford used one to set a 500cc world hour record at 76.74mph, along with the 50-mile standing start (at 77.27 mph) and the one-mile British record (at 87.8mph).

1921 TRIUMPH RICARDO
This Triumph Ricardo, with GJ Shemans in the saddle, was holding on to 5th place in the Senior when it ran out of oil at Quarter Bridge on the last lap. He rattled on to finish 16th.

ALEC BENNETT WON THE FRENCH Grand Prix for Sunbeam after a Triumph Ricardo ran out of fuel. Another Sunbeam was runner-up with a Riccy third.

A HARLEY RIDDEN BY Otto Walker became the first motorcycle to win a race at an average speed of over 100mph. The first British ton-up kid was Douglas Davidson, who set the first 100mph lap of Brooklands, also on a Harley Davidson (but no relation).

AMONG THE DEBUTANTES FROM the USA was the Neracar, designed by former Cleveland motorcycle designer CA Nerachter and backed by razor king Gillette (so the Neracar could be seen as US alternative to the British Wilkinson TAC). It was marketed as a two-wheeled car; features included a five-speed transmission, full enclosure and hub-centre steering. engine enclo sure, a 221cc two-stroke engine, and friction drive from the flywheel to a countershaft carrying the rear sprocket. Neracars were also built in Britain under licence by Sheffield-Simplex with 285cc two-stroke or 350cc four-stroke Blackburne engines and the option of a proper three-speed gearbox courtesy of Sturmey-Archer. Other options included rear springing, a screen and a bucket seat. Comfy, slow and safe, the innovative Neracar never caught on. It only stayed in production for five years.

1921 NERACAR
The Neracar put comfort over speed but was easy to handle and sure-footed.
1921 BARR STROUD
Barr & Stroud launched a proprietary engine notable for its use of sleeve valves.

Ferodo introduced a long-life dry-plate clutch using asbestos friction plates.

Italy came up with the 477cc V-twin four-stroke Borgo: a potent racer boasting an ohc four-valve design with unit construction and oil cooling. Less radical but longer lived was the new Benelli, with a humble 98cc two-stroke lump; Bianchi came up with a fast 596cc four-stroke V-twin.

As a change from its successful ohv V-twins Anzani turned to motorising bicycles with a 75cc belt-drive four-stroke that returned better than 200mpg with a top speed approaching 40mph.

Rex Judd squeezed 92.4mph out of a sv Norton 16H, just before it was superseded by the ohv Model 18.

Briain introduced tax discs as part of the licence fee enforcement system.

JL Emerson, having switched from ABC to Douglas, set an hour record at 72.87mph. Horsman and Norton retaliated with a 73.38mph record; Emerson and Douglas raised the stakes again at 74.26mph. Then Major FB Halford took the stage, averaging 76.74mph for an hour on a four-valve ohv Triumph Ricardo.

No false modesty in this advert: “World’s record ride… the onward rush of science has never been so clealry demonstrated as in The Excelsior Motor Cycle… 5 miles in 8m 34s!

Mr Watanabe of Osaka designed and built the first ohv engine made in Japan. Displacing 150cc it worked reasonably well but was gutless so he redesigned it as a 300 coupled with a two-speed transmission and chain drive. He called his machine the Sanda, or Thunder.

The Tohatsu engineering company was set up in Japan; its of twostroke engines would power so many Japanese marques that it might be seen as the oriental Villiers.

Wells Bennett squeezed 1,562 miles into 24 hours at the Tacoma Speedway near Washington DC to average 65mph on a four-pot ohv Henderson K de luxe.