1938

Having previously employed Jock West to ride in the TT BMW sent German stars Karl Gall and Georg Meier to the Island two months before the TT and paid West to teach them the course.

Norton, following its narrow victory the previous year, was well aware of the BMW’s ability. It also faced a serious challenge from the blown Ajay V-4 (which was now watercooled) but Moto Guzzi would not be there. The reason given was that the TT clashed with a summit meeting between Mussolini and Hitler but this clearly wasn’t a problem for the Germans. Possibly the Italians, not for the last time, simply lost their nerve.

Faced by all this multi-cylinder technology the Norton and Velo singles had continued to evolve, gaining telescopic forks and swinging arm rear suspension. In the event Gall was hospitalised by a crash during practice and Meier’s BMW stripped a spark plug at the start. Harold Daniell gave Norton another Senior victory with a final lap at 91.0mph (a lap record that would stand until 1950), 15.2sec ahead of Velo-mounted Stanley Woods,
who was just 1.6sec ahead of Frith’s Norton. Daniell, by the way, was well known for his ‘bottle bottom’ specs. The TT winner was subsequently rejected for military service because of his poor eyesight.

Woods won the Junior, ending Norton’s seven-year run and giving Velocette its first TT win since 1929 with Mellors on another Velo just behind him and Frith taking third spot for Norton. As a sop to Germanic pride the Lightweight went to Ewald Kluge on a DKW by more than 11min, including the first 80mph lap by a 250. But Excelsior Manxmen lived up to their insular nomenclature by finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 13th to take the club team and manufacturer prizes.

The first Isle of Man Grand National scramble was held during TT race week. The top three bikes were a 350cc Beeza, a 350cc Triumph and a 500cc Ariel.

For 3/11d all-weather riders could buy RAF electrically-heated ‘flying waistcoats’; heated gloves cost 2/6d.

New Imperial fell into receivership following the death of company founder Norman Downs. Once again Ariel supremo Jack Sangster leapt into the breach. He bought the name, paid off its creditors in full and planned to move New Imp production to take up unused space at Triumph’s Coventry plant.

AJS’s Olympia line-up included a potent 350cc cammy single racer designated the 7R.

A number of police forces took part in the ‘courtesy cops’ campaign which entailed using advice rather than prosecution to deal with minor traffic offences. And the Metropolitan Police Commissioner called for 2,500 motorcyclists to volunteer for the Special War Reserve Police.

Rudge production moved from Coventry to HMV’s site in Hayes, Middlesex. A utility 98cc autocycle was added to the range, there were plans for a cammy 350 and the War Department ordered a 250. But after the first 200 bikes had been delivered the HMV factory was requisitioned to make electronic equipment for the military. The autocycle design was taken up by Norman, but for Rudge it was the end of the road.

Following the dismal organisation of the 1937 ISDT the ACU was urged to break with tradition by letting someone else – anyone else – host the 1938 event. But it went back to Llandridnod Wells where torrential rain turned the course into a quagmire. Of 209 starters 28 survived the week, including just two of 37 outfits. One of them was the 495cc Velo combo from the British Trophy team so Britain won the Trophy for the third year running almost by default. But Germany won the Vase, the team prize and a new trophy offered to military and ‘organisation’ teams by Nazi NSK Korpsfuhrer General Adolph Huhnlein.

Victory in the Victory Trial (launched in 1919 to celebrate the end of the Great War) went to a team from the Royal Tank Corps.

Matchless received a War Department order for modified 350cc ohv G3 Clubman models which were certainly nimbler than most contemporary military bikes.

Following Allan Jefferies’ British Experts Trial victory on a sidevalve Triumph so many riders decided that a ‘soft’ sidevalve engine was the way to go that Triumph increased sidevalve production to match demand. So a single victory affected the production schedule of a major manufacturer – not something that happens every day.

If the BMW riders had been luckier Norton might have been in TT trouble – in the GP of Europe Meier broke the lap record six times on his way to a comfortable 500cc victory. Harold Daniell managed 2nd place for Norton despite smashing a footrest clean off on a kerb; Freddie Frith followed him home on another Norton. A 350cc Norton, in the hands of Crasher White, squeaked home ahead of two DKWs. NSU was also mounting a 350cc challenge with an ohc vertical twin.

Despite the German challenge Britain remained dominant in the 350cc class, winning every GP that year to leave cammy Velo pilot Ted Mellors as European Champion. Velocette was also working on a 500cc blown, shaft-drive inline dohc vertical twin dubbed the Roarer.

Sunbeam had passed from ICI ownership to join AJS under the Matchless firm’s Associated Motor Cycles banner. An early product of the move was a Sunbeam high-camshaft ohv single designed by Bert Collier.

Britain and France each had more than 500,000 motorised two-wheelers on the road, though many of the French bikes were untaxed tiddlers. Germany had more then 1,300,000 and Italy had plans for a ‘national’ 200cc utility bike to be sold via a government savings scheme.
For years the Nazis had been training motorcyclists who would be at the forefront of the blitzkrieg. Now the British top brass also grasped that motorcycling, particularly off-road motorcycling, was a useful military skill as well as building fitness and confidence. The Army Chamionship Trials (based, inevitably, at Aldershot) attracted 42 three-bikes teams of military personnel from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland; the public was invited to watch the fun.

As usual George Brough came up with a spotlight-stealer for the show. The Brough Superior Dream broke new ground with a 996cc ohv transverse flat-four (with one pair of pots over t’other), shaft drive, a four-speed box, plunger rear springing and, optimistically, a 120mph speedo. The engine was made from a pair of flat-twin speedboat lumps. A glittering coat of gilt enamel earned the four the nickname Golden Dream and George, ever the opportunist, made that its official name. A prototype was ridden, a show model was built with an improved engine. But before George’s final dream could be put into production his Nottingham factory switched to war work and never produced another motorcycle.

DKW lightweights were selling well but the Dutch distributor had Jewish directors and under the Nazis’ anti-Semitic laws German firms were not allowed to do business with Jews. The distributor, Stokvis & Sonnen, turned to Royal Enfield which quickly turned out a copy of the 98cc single that was DKW’s best seller in Holland. For British consumption the DKW lookalike got an improved 125cc engine and was sold as the RE, more commonly known as the Flying Flea. Ironically the Flea, which was developed because of Nazi race laws, would be put to good use by British paratroops.

Obscure footnote dept: a popular Daily Mirror cartoon strip of the time starred a diminutive trio called Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. Older readers will know that ‘pipsqueak’ is a derogatory term for a small person, and for many years 98cc autocycles with their auxiliary pedalling gear and extreme fuel economy were known as ‘Wilfreds’.

The British industry offered more than 320 models; 10 manufacturers included rear suspension. Prop stands were becoming the rule, many with ‘heels’ to stop them digging into soft ground (a useful feature missing on many later bikes; riders are still using flattened beercans to stay upright). One-lungers made up 90.6% of the total (up from 80.6% five years earlier) while 7.2% were twins (down from 17.8%). Exactly 45,239 bikes were registered for the first time, boosting the total British parc to 462,375.

It was time to bid a fond farewell to Calthorpe, which had done so well with the Ivory Calthorpe, after Douglas plans to save the name using Matchless engines fizzled out.

BSA won the Maudes Trophy with a 500cc ohv Empire Star and a 600cc sv M21 combo. The bikes were picked at random by the ACU. Tests included 20 non-stop climbs and descents of the fearsome Bwlch-y-Groes hill; a six-hour non-stop blast round Brooklands followed by braking and acceleration tests; and another 20 trips up and down Bwlch-y-Groes. Both bikes were then ridden across London from north to south and east to west using only top gear. During this gruelling six-hour test the Empire Star averaged 58.59mph; the M21 averaged 46.12mph.

An underground carpark in Birmingham was built to double as an air-raid shelter for 3,500 people… just in case.

The Jerries didn’t have a monopoly on superchargers.Ivan Wicksteed rode a blown Triumph Speed Twin round Brooklands at 118.02mph to set a 500cc lap record that would never be beaten. Freddie Clarke set a 750cc record of 118.60mph on a Speed Twin bored out to 501mph; he also set an all-time 350cc lap record of 105.97mph on a Tiger 80.

The drivers of a car and a lorry were unhurt when they collided. But a woman who happened to see the accident claimed the fright affected her health and sued them. The Manchester Assizes ordered the drivers to pay her £2,500 (at a time when a new ohv 500 could be picked up for £50, her payout equates to more than £300,000). Ixion, distinctly unimpressed, wondered if football clubs might be held liable for the stress caused by narrow misses and the like.

European-style roadracing migrated to the USA with the innauguration of the Laconia meeting in New Hampshire.
Edward Turner’s vertical twin Speed Twin was tweaked into the Tiger 100 and, like George Brough’s SS100, the name reflected the model’s potential speed. It was soon a formidable clubman’s racer helped by the use of a reverse-cone magaphone. The reverse cone and baffles were detachable, leaving the Tiger 100 roaring through a racing mega – and leading to the popularity of reverse-cone megas of later years.

During August alone 688,000 fans paid to watch speedway.

BMW was probably the best known German marque internationally, but in terms of sales it was behind DKW, NSU and Zundapp. From Jan-Nov they produced 42,000, 28,375 and 17,341 motorcycles respectively.
The Southern Trial was restricted to bikes running on standard road tyres and fitted with lights.

The International Motorcycle Tour Club now had a membership of 364.

More than 5,500 motorists and motorcyclists were fined for number plate offences, mostly dirty number plates.

Motorcycle registrations slumped to 30,093.

Determined to maintain the pressure on the Germans and Italians Fernihough made his final trip to Hungary. While running at full chat a gust of wind blew the BruffSup he called Scalded Cat into a drainage ditch. Ferni was thrown off and killed.

Japan passed the National Mobilisation Law, which empowered it to mobilise 100% of the country’s population and resources for the war effort–Japan had been carving its way into China since 1936. Among enterprises set up during Japanese mobilisation was Showa, which was initially tasked with developing aircraft suspension units