1923

George Pettyt, owner of the Exeter branch of Maudes Motor Mart, donated a silver trophy to the ACU to promote motorcycle reliability. First winner of the Maudes Trophy was Norton after its Model 18 took 18 world records at Brooklands.

The first Sidecar TT (with a 600cc limit) was won by Freddie Dixon on a Douglas with his own design of banking sidecar, ahead of two Nortons. The combined Lightweight/Junior race was extended to six laps and AJS’s winning streak came to an end when Jimmy Simpson, who was in the lead, broke down. Stanley Woods took Junior honours for Cotton, ahead of AJS and Douglas. Jock Porter won the Lightweight on the New Gerrard he’d launched the previous year. Tom Sheard won the Senior aboard an ohv Douglas with experimental disc brake, ahead of the new ohv Norton and an Indian ridden by Freddie Dixon.

The Island hosted the first Amateur TT, later renamed the Manx Grand Prix.

Following the TT the Brits crossed the Channel for the various Grands Prix. In the 500cc class of the French a Douglas was followed home by a pair of Nortons. AJS took 350cc honours; the top two 250s were Levis and Cotton. But the Brits didn’t have it all their own way. At the Belgian GP Indian took 500cc honours ahead of two Belgian-made Saroleas (Sarolea dated back as far as 1898, but during the early 1920s its 350 and 500cc singles had a distinctly British look to them). FN, also on its home ground, took 350cc honours but Wal Hanley’s Rex-Acme was the fastest 250 on the day. The Italian Grand Prix gave AJS another 350cc win but a 4-valve sohc version of the Peugeot vertical twin led the 500s by better than 12 minutes. The best placed Italian contender was a Guzzi, which came 4th. AJS collected another 350 trophy; the feared Garelli team was relegated to 4th, 5th and 6th spots.

Following problems with proprietary engines BMW began to make its own. The Max Friz-designed 493cc transverse sv flat-twin with shaft drive established a layout that would became the company’s hallmark. The R32 also sported leaf-sprung forks

Having pioneered shaft drive on its trend-setting in-line fours FN switched to chain drive, explaining it was much cheaper and was now perfectly reliable. Belt final drive was waning in popularity as chain drive finally became the industry standard.

Rudge also rang the changes, dropping the pionering Multi in favour of a fast four-valve 350 with all chain drive and four-speed countershaft box.

From France and Germany came a swarm on clip-on-engined tiddlers whose ultra-basic design harked back to pioneer days. They weren’t fast or comfortable, they had no lights, no gears and pathetic brakes. On the other hand Peugeot and Clement both claimed 400mpg. Yes, 400mpg.

Charles ‘Red’ Wolverton rode a four-pot Ace along Roosevelt Boulevard near Philadelphia at 129mph to claim a world record. The he bolted on a sidecar and did 107mph. Ace offered a $10,000 bounty to anyone who could go faster.

Brooklands staged a 200-miler; Bert Le Vack won the 350 and 1000c classes for New Imperial and Brough Superior. The track also hosted two record attempts. Freddie Dixon did 106.8mph on a 989cc Harley, then CF Temple brought the record back to Europe, squeezing 108.5mph from his 996cc British Anzani.

Motobecane was founded in France; its first model was a belt-driven 175.

Mikuni Shoten was set up to import vehicles into Japan, and to make components. Its carburettors would play a significant role in the development of the Japanese industry. Sankyo imported Harley-Davidsons into Japan and began to make replicas (Meguro was already making Harley clones).

Musashino Kogyo manufactured a single cylinder two stroke powered machine for which it made an incredible claim; every part was made in Japan. If it were true it would have been an astonishing first; in fact magnetos, carburettors and gearboxes were imported.

The Germans weren’t above a spot of cloning. Mabeco built a replica Indian Scout, with sv V-twin lumps by Siemens & Halske in 596 and 749cc (an ohv followed, also available as a racer). They even had an Indian red livery. Indian sued, Mabeco was shut down, changed its name and survived until 1927 making 996c ohv and 346cc two strokes under licence from Garelli.

Legshields were becoming common, as were screens, and pillion seats were also appearing in greater numbers, particularly as all passengers could now sit astride without outraging public decency (before the Great War side-saddle flapper brackets were made to accommodate passengers of the feminine persuasion). Even inner tube valves were changing, with the modern Schrader press-in type becoming standard.

Villiers engines of 150, 250 and 350cc were helping power a boom in lightweights from the likes of Excelsior, Sun, Rex Acme, McKenzie (with an open-frame ladies’ model) and Francis-Barnett (with a triangulated frame that could be asembled from straight tubing in 20 minutes flat).

The shattered German economy produced more than 250 short-lived marques in the early twenties, so spare a thought for the broken dreams behind marques like Atlas, Bodo, Kurier, Hoco (with another wooden frame), Fix, Apex, Ge-Ma-Hi, Hess and Hexe. They weren’t short of innovation: one model was claimed to run on any liquid fuel, including crude oil.

Alfred Scott died of pneumonia, aged just 48. As well as his revolutionary two-stroke twin-cylinder water-cooled motorcycle, he is generally credited with the invention of the kickstart. His patents covered everything from a triangulated frame to rotary induction valves and unit construction.

Some of the first ‘saddle’ petrol tanks were fitted by firms including Coventry-Eagle, Brough Superior, Cedos and Mars, replacing what we now call ‘flat’ tanks.

Among the 1923 season’s must-have goodies were straight-through copper exhaust pipes. One example, made just for Duggies, was marketed as the Zoom-Zoom, promising “no back pressure, pleasing note, improved appearance”. Bet they took some polishing.

The ISDT, in Sweden, was won by the home team on Husqvarnas; once again the Brits (New Imperial, Sunbeam and AJS) were second, with the Swiss third.

Triumph’s 350cc three-speed Model LS had unit-construction and an engine-driven oil pump, so no more pumping oil by hand.

An outfit that had cost £243 in 1921 could now be picked up for just £125.

Almost 100,000 motorcycles were registered by December.

White lines were painted on the roads of Sutton Coldfield, Barnstaple and Kirton, Lincs.

The British hour record was taken by A Denly on an ohv Norton who broke the 80mph barrier at 82.66mph and took the record up to 85.58mph soon after. Victgor Horsman retrieved the record for Triumph at 86.52mph.

The first motorcycle football match was played on Good Friday at the well established Richmond Meet, hosted by the Middlesbrough Club. Legend has it that the idea came from a committee member called Freddie Dixon. Yes, that Freddie Dixon. As the sport caught on the club drew up rules that were adopted throughout the empire. (Historical footnote: the first game was enlivened by the presence of one George Butt Craig who turned up in “riding breeches, stockings, a jersey with a black and red vee-shaped stripe on the upper portion, and a bowler hat from which the crown had been removed and on which the rim was worn upside down”.)