1939

The Army ran local selection trials to select entrants for the Army Motor Cycle Championship which was, in turn, used to select the Army team for the ISDT. And a growing number of military personnel rode in civilian trials, in unform, with unit names replacing club names.. A number of major trials offered extra awards to the uniformed riders, most of whom were relative novices.

The ACU declined to run the 21st ISDT but the FICM accepted Germany’s offer to host the event which was held in Austria (which, like the Sudetenland, was now in German hands). The Army sent three teams to compete for the Huhnlein Trophy. The British Trophy, Vase and Army teams were all doing well when it became clear that Germany was about to invade Poland. Togs were strapped onto mud-caked bikes and chucked into the support cars and vans and the Brits scarpered for the Swiss border, making their way home via Dieppe. The Germans, without opposition, rode on to claim the Trophy and Vase but the FICM promptly declared the result null and void.

Trademen’s sidecar outfits were losing ground to vans but in the USA Harley Davidson and Indian were doing a steady trade in 750cc sv commercial trikes, respectively the Servicar and the Disapatch Tow.

The British Motor Cycle Association yearbook was packed with info on current models and future events. More intriguing was the advert it carried for Challoner’s Famous Formula HTN Tablets. In a testimonial ‘AJ of Wilts’ wrote: “Since I started your treatment I have gained three inches in height.” And the company promised: “If one box is insufficient we guarantee to supply another FREE!”

The first regular television transmissions put pressure on manufacturers to stop sparky passing vehicles interfering with reception. That’s why plug caps are more properly known as suppressor caps.

Norton withdrew from racing to concentrate on expanded production of 16Hs for the military. To fight alongside the Nortons the War Department ordered the BSA equivalent, the 500cc sidevalve M20. An order for 10,000 ohv 350cc BSA B29s was withdrawn because it made sense to standardise. B29s would play a major role in the war, once the US noticed it had started, but they were made by Boeing rather than BSA. Beezas were good, but they couldn’t carry atomic bombs to Japan.

Norton, having withdrawn from racing, allowed its former works riders Freddie Frith and Harold Daniell to enter as privateers on their 1938 machines. ‘Crasher’ White was hired by NSU for the Junior but joined his Norton team-mates in the Senior. The British Senior contingent also included Bob Foster and Walter Rusk on the AJS blown V-fours, with Stanley Woods riding the Velo cammy single (he tried the Roarer in practice but it simply wasn’t developed enough for racing; this was to be its sole Island appearance).

Germany, clearly determined to win everything it could sent works teams from BMW, DKW and NSU. Blown Beemers would compete in the Senior; dohc blown parallel-twin NSUs would compete in the Senior and Junior; DKWs were available for all three races. From Italy came 250 and 500cc Guzzis and a brace of Benellis.

Unsurprisingly it was, finally, BMW’s year: Georg Meier won the Senior with his team-mate and former mentor Jock West as runner-up. Following a furious scrap for 3rd spot Frith’s Velo beat Woods’ Norton by 6sec.

In the Junior Woods claimed his 10th TT victory for Velo ahead of Daniell’s Norton and Fleischmann’s DKW. Surprise winner of the lightweight crown was a dohc Benelli piloted by Ted Mellors. So the 1939 TT score was one each to Germany, Britain and Italy.
Velocette’s celebrations were dampened when Harold Willis, whose foot gearchange had contributed to its Junior victory, died suddenly of meningitis during race week.

No less than 36 Velos were entered for the TT, with 24 Nortons, eight Excelsiors, five Ajays, four BMWs, four Rudges, three apiece from Guzzi, NSU and CTS (Tatersall Specials), two Benellis and one each from OK Supreme, New Imperial, Terrot, CBT (Taylor Special)… and BSA.

The Ulster GP showed the shape of races to come. No doubt encouraged by Benelli’s Lightweight TT win, Garelli entered its watercooled, supercharged tranverse four – AJS was ready for it with the equally watercooled, equally supercharged V-4. Walter Rusk on the Ajay and Mussolini’s former chauffeur Dorino Serafini on the Garelli gave the crowd the spectacle they’d hoped for with Rusk breaking the lap record at dead on 100mph. Then a broken fork link put him out of the race, Serafini lapped at 100.3mph and another classic British race was won by a Continental interloper.

Following his TT win Georg Meier won the Belgian GP on his BMW at 100.63mph; it was the first time a major road race had been won at more than 100mph. BMW built its 100,000th motorcycle.

At the Swedish GP Georg Meier did another ton-up lap but it wasn’t enough because two Benelli fours forced BMW into third place. And at the German GP Serafini and his Benelli finished ahead of Meier and his BMW. To complete a bad day for Nazi race fans (pun intended) Alberto Pagani’s Guzzi beat the DKWs to snatch 250cc victory.

So BMW had outpaced Norton and Benelli had outpaced BMW – now Bianchi threatened to outpace Benelli in 1940 with a blown four-pot racer developing 80hp at 7,500rpm.

The Italians were on a roll: Taruffi and his 90hp 500 Gilera four raised the hour record to 127.53mph.

The British motorcycle industry produced more than 320 models, far more than any other country. Ten marques offered rear suspension and there was a greater emphasis on lightweights, many of which still had only three gears. And more sv and twostrokes were available, at the expense of ohv buses.

Competition knobbly tyres, condemned in some quarters as ‘pot-hunters’ tyres’, were banned. The idea was to encourage the devlopment of riding skills and machines more relevant to road riding – shades of the TT.

Levis came up with a clever variation on the plunger suspension theme. Hydraulic friction dampers were actuated by the suspension movement, automatically compensating for the weight of passengers and luggage.

Highlights of The Motor Cycle Clubman’s Day at Brooklands included a 112.98mph flying kilometre by George Brown on a 998cc Vincent-HRD and a 101.64mph lap by Theresa Wallach on a 348cc Norton which earned her a Gold Star. Noel Pope took his BroughSup tound at over 125mph to set the last ever outer-citcuit record; Brooklands was about to be built over by Vickers.

Motor Cycling, now edited by race ace Graham Walker, launched a rival event at Donington Park with stars including Stanley Woods, Ginger Wood, Harold Daniell, Tyrell-Smith and Les Archer. It also featured races for amateurs on road bikes and a race for pre-1931 bikes, won by Bill Boddice on a New Hudson.

Registrations rose 32%, though much of the increase was down to lightweights used on government business.

With warclouds gathering driving tests were suspended and petrol rationing was introduced, allowing about 200 miles of motoring per month. Thrifty lightweight motorcycles and autocycles were coming into their own. A 98cc Villiers engine powered the Coventry-Eagle Auto-Ette, Dayton Autocycle, Excelsior Autobyk, Francis-Barnett Powerbike, James Autocycle, Norman Motobyke and Raynal Auto. Cyc-Auto used a 98cc Scott engine; HEC powered its Power Cycle with its own 80cc clip-on twostroke. These Wilfreds could do 25-30mph and up to 120mpg.

More than 300 riders took part in the Bexleyheath MCC’s 12th Langmaid trial, representing 33 clubs – 160 of them were soldiers.

There were three attempts on the Maudes Trophy. Triumph sent a Speed Twin and a Tiger 100 from Coventry up to John o’Groats, doen to Land’s End, back up to Brooklands for speed tests and back to Coventry. BSA circumnavigated England and made 25 tough overnight hillclimbs. A Panther Model 100 did 10,000 miles in 10 days running up and down the Great North Road.

The manufacturers’ trade association that some 25,000 of Britain’s estimated 700,000 motorcyclists were female

Fewer riders laid their bikes up for the winter; the proportion taxing their machines throughout the year had risen from 70.6% in 1929 to 80.2%.

In a survey BMCA members were universally in favour of giving traffic on major roads priority over traffic on secondary roads at junctions.

Plans were afoot for a ‘roadster’ class in the TT. Getting back to the event’s ‘tourist’ roots this would be an out and out production race.

The Guthrie Memorial cairn was unveiled during TT week. The surplus funds raised in Jimmie Guthrie’s memory by The Motor Cycle’s Shilling Fund were used to endow a bed at the Island’s Noble’s Hospital, another at Guthrie’s home town, Hawick, and the British Prestige trophy.

More than 67,000 bikes were registered in Belgium and 27,000 in Switzerland.

Liverpool Police took delivery of a batch of 1,140cc Royal Enfiel outfits, taking its fleet past the 50 mark.

Volunteer dispatch riders, even those with ‘elderly machines’ were recruited by the Auxiliary Fire Service.

E Lyons rode his Triumph Speed Twin to victory in the North-West 200 at 74.5mph.

The Motor Cycle lap-by-lap TT results telegrams were displayed at more than 130 sites through Britain and the Channel Isles. Most were dealers but riders also gathered for their TT news at AMC, Dunlop, Vincent the ACU and thye Blue ‘Un’s HQ in Stamford St, Lomndon SE1.

The Southern Trial was run on standard road-legal tyres. Vic Brittain won the solo class on a 490cc Norton; D Mansell rode another 490 Norton to victory in the sidecar class.

Reported exchange from a London police court… Clerk: “Do you know this Belisha Crossing?” Woman: “Not to speak to.”

Peugeot’s P53 was a 100cc motorcycle complete with three-speed (hand-change) transmission. But some were produced with fixed footrests that looked like pedals. So these P53s could pass for 50cc pedal-assisted velomoteurs that were exempt from registration, roadtax, insurance and the need for a driving licence. How cheeky – how French – is that?

Club life was flourishing with the best part of 200 items on the ‘Club Events’ page in a typical issue of the Blue ‘Un. There was a BMCA ‘mock trial’, a Bradford Vagabonds tour of the Dukeries, an IMTC wekend rally (with filmshow and test rides on a Tiger 100), a London Co-operative MCC dinner dance (at a Masonic hall) and a Scunthorpe MCC ‘bachelor supper’. The Leicester Aces enjoyued a tour of theior local power station. Also on offer to clubmen were technical talks, darts matches, ‘games tournaments’, table tennis, dances, runs to sporting events, a ‘ladies popular vote run’, a ‘social secretary’s birthday run’, a supper dance, a ‘junk hunt’, a ‘follow-the-leader’ run, a ‘sawdust chase’, and an ‘intelligence run’.

Sporting clubmen were catered for by news from the ACU centres with event previews and results; there was even a club report on an ‘English-style’ trial from the Southern Cross MCC of Adelaide. The correspondent added that in case the Brits thought of their Aussie cousins were ‘Promenade Percies’ a more typical Southern Cross event was a 24hr, 500-mile non-stop blast through the bush.

Predicting that spring frames would grace “nearly every stands at Earls Court” and reporting that at least seven (vertical) twins were in the pipeline, a rather smug Blue ‘Un scribe remarked: “At last our age-old plea that the industry should develop multi-cylinder engines and spring frames seems to be bearing fruit… already the term ‘ twin-cylinder reliability’ is coming into use.”

The vertical twins expected at the show included the BSA A7, designed by Val Page who knew a thing or two about vertical twins, while Edward Turner was preparing a Triumph 350cc vertical twin. Even Panther aimed to pitch in with a vertical twin, albeit inline rather than transverse (as well as 500 and 600cc vertical singles with conventional frames.

But of course there was no show that year. The war killed off the Panther vertical twin, just as WW1 had killed off the Panther V-twin. The chaps at Cleckheaton must have begun to take German warmongering personally.

The Manx Grand Prix was cancelled too, the day before racing started, when Britain declared war on Germany. Motorcycles and their riders donned khaki, Navy blue and RAF blue. It would be six bitter years of blood, sweat and tears before motorcycle evolution could resume.

Cheek! Miyata opened a dealer in occuppied Shanghai.