Until I find time to insert some pics and more stories, here’ are a couple of pictorial titbits to whet your appetite.
THE MOTO MAJOR 350 WAS A futuristic monocoque streamliner designed by Turin engineer Salvatore Maiorca and funded by aerodynamic research specialist Fiat Aeritalia. It was part of Fiat’s exploration of the motor cycle market (just before the war Fiat had produced a prototype scooter). The radical streamliner was designed for a 350cc water-cooled vertical twin featuring two radiators in the fairing. The prototype had to make do with a 350 single but an extra dummy exhaust was fitted. To save space the suspension was built into the wheels, harking back to the ‘elastic wheels’ that appeared briefly at the turn of the 20th century. Fiat planned to collaborate with Pirelli in a purpose-built factory; the Major created a stir at the Milan Show but the project fizzled out though the prototype survives at the Hockenheim Museum.
ANOTHER MIGHT-HAVE-BEEN STREAMLINER: this time based on a 1935 BMW R12 750cc sidevalve flat-twin. It was designed by French-born but German-based industrial designer Louis Lucien Lepoix who bought the Beemer at an auction held by the French Military in Baden-Baden. This one remained only a concept vehicle, but Lepoix went on to work for majopr manufacturers including Kreidler, Hercules, Horex, Puch, Maico and Triumph.
Norton’s post-war racers appeared under the Manx banner: the Manx 30 (500) and Manx 40 (350). They featured light-alloy top-ends and plunger (‘garden gate’) rear suspension with Roadholder teles up front.
Soichiro Honda went back to motorcycling’s roots by fitting engines (converted from radio generators) to bicycles in a shed.
In Austria Puch resumed production of its twin-piston twostrokes.
Meanwhile in Ascot, Berks former powerboat and car world record holder Kaye Don launched the Ambassador marque using Villiers engines. (My first bike was a 1959 Amabasador Supreme with a Villiers 2T engine. It was character building – Ed).
Moto Guzzi used the Milan Show as launchpad for a 500cc horizontal single with the wonderful name Gambalunga (Long Leg). Gilera also drew crowds with its potent transverse four racer, revamped to run without a supercharger in line with the FICM blower ban.
The ban also killed off the Velocette Roarer and AJS V4, neither of which could be competitive without supercharging. Velo soldiered on with its naturally aspirated cam my singles, but AJS bounced back with a dohc parallel twin racer designed for a blower but was still fast without one. It featured cooling spikes rather than fins that earned it the sobriquet Porcupine.
The Manufacturers’ Union planned to revive the Earl’s Court Show, but coal shortages and problems with component supply were so severe that they cancelled it. There was little point boosting demand they couldn’t satisfy.
Dr Josef Ehrlich came up with an advanced 350cc twin-piston split-single twostroke, the EMC.
Fuel shortages ruled out running the traditional long-distance trials so the organisers ran truncated events with the London-Land’s End starting at Taunton and the Scottish Six Days Trial was based on Fort William rather than Edinburgh (Hugh Viney scored the first of thee consecutive SSDT victories for AJS).
Enough petrol was found for the ACU to stage the first post-war TT, with the addition of a parallel Clubman’s TT series for standard production models shorn only of their lighting sets and silencers. The Senior, Junior and Lightweight TTs attracted 33, 50 and 22 entries respectively; the equivalent Clubman’s races attracted 33, 23 and eight riders. But TT stars who didn’t survive the war included aircrew Walter Rusk and Wal Handley. The blitz had done for Zenith Gradua rider Freddie Barnes, whose first race on the Isle of Man was the 1905 trial for the International Cup Race.
The only foreign bike entered for the Senior TT was Freddie Frith’s Guzzi twin, which crashed out during practice, but three Guzzi singles entered the Lightweight, all with British riders. There were no foreign bikes in the Junior, though Czech ace Frans Juhan rode a Velo.
The Senior, Junior and Lightweight TTs were run together (four laps for the 500s and 350s; three for the 250s). The Italians took over where they’d left off in 1939 with the wonderfully named Manliff Barrington and Maurice Cann riding their Guzzis to 1st and 2nd spots in the Lightweight TT, followed home by Ben Drinkwater’s Excelsior. It was also business as usual in the Junior with a hat-trick for Velocette, courtesy of Messrs Foster, Whitworth and Weddell. In fact there were six Velos in the top 10, with four Nortons to ram the home the British-is-best message.
And following BMW’s 1939 Senior win, Harold Daniel led the 500s home on his Manx Norton with TT debutant Artie Bell just 22 seconds behind him on another Norton. Also racing on the Island for the first time was Peter Goodman, grandson of Velocette’s founder, who was third on his KTT. Nortons filled the rest of the top 10 places, apart from an Ajay in 9th spot.
Brits also dominated the Clubman’s TT: Senior, Norton, Triumph, Ariel; Junior, Norton, Norton AJS; Lightweight, AJS, Velo, Velo. Clubman’s Senior TT winner Eric Briggs had a good year; he returned to the Island for the Manx where was managed a Senior/Junior double to win three Mountain Course races within three months.
Technically the ISDT should have been hosted by Germany but while technically the Jerries had won in 1939 the Nazi-dominated 1939 event was a fiasco and it was only appropriate that the first post-war ISDT was instead held in Germany’s first vicim, Czechoslovakia. Britain was so skint that, for the first time in the event’s history, the ACU felt unable to send Trophy or Vase teams. The Czechs swept the board, relying on two Jawas 250s, a 350 and a 500 combo for the Trophy and CZ 125s for the Vase.
Ariel fitted telescopic forks to the Red Hunter (not least to attract buyers in the US) and joined the vertical-twin fray with the a 500, the Deluxe KG and the sportier KH Red Hunter. Yes, a Red Hunter twin. Confusing, isn’t it?
Any well-heeled 16-year-old with a provisional licence could slap L-plates on a ton-up big twin so there was clearly a need for some form of rider training. The RAC-ACU Learner Training Scheme was set up with money from the government and the RAC but the training centres that sprang up all over the country were operated by local ACU clubmen. Novices were taught machine control, often on out-of-hours school playgrounds, using their own bikes or lightweights donated by an industry keen to be seen doing its bit for road safety. The enthusiasts who staffed the RAC/ACU scheme also brought newbies up to speed on everything from roadcraft and riding gear to basic maintenance.
And just as the keen trainees were looking forward to their first taste of two-wheeled freedom the paltry petrol ration was withdrawn. Motorcycles being recommissioned by riders home from the war went back into storage unless their owners were lucky enough to qualify for ‘essential use’ petrol coupons. With no petrol it wasn’t easy to sell bikes and competition ground to a halt.
ICE RACING WAS REVIVED in Scandinavia but Russia tool the lead in developing the sport, switching events from frozen lakes to pukka stadiums which were flooded and frozen for events. Initially they used modified road bikes but as the sport evolved specialised ice-racers were adopted powered by JAO and later Czech-made ESO lumps.