The first Transatlantic trophy: Charlie vs Jake

Charlie Collier and Jake de Rosier were both disqualified from the Senior TT but they went on to take the headlines with a head-to-head encounter at a BMRC Brooklands meeting. Charlie and Jake were the best known racing motor cyclists in the UK and the USA, riding arguably the best bikes in the world on the best track. Did the three-race match live up to expextations? Damned right it did, according to a contemporary report…

“…THE PROGRAMME opened shortly after three o’clock with the first de Rosier-Collier match. This tussle between the national champions was spread over three separate events, namely, 5½ mile, 13½ miles, and 27 miles, any two out of the three matches deciding the winner. The men were given a rolling start and mounted their machines below the fork at the point where the big banking flattens out towards the finishing straight. They toured along towards the fork abreast of the official car, in which stood Mr Ebblewhite armed with a red flag. This was dropped a few yards on the hinder side of the starting line, and away the machines went, crossing the line very close together. This principle of starting was employed in all the international matches, and proved very successful, as it entirely prevented the more athletic capabilities of the rider from affecting the issue of the race.

1911 jakevchas close
Neck and neck…Charlie, in his usual white sweater, crouched low on his Matchless with Jake in his new leathers on his Indian

“CR Collier was riding his red Matchless twin with 90mm bore by 77.5mm stroke (985cc capacity), whilst de Rosier bestrode his Indian ‘No 21’ (994cc).
In the first match Collier was first over the starting line, with Jake hard upon his wheels. Up the hill the Englishman at once commenced to establish a promising lead, probably due to the use of a rather lower gear. Sweeping on towards the Byfleet banking with the wind almost directly behind them, there was scarcely any perceptible space between the two machines. Turning into the fork, it was seen that Collier was a little in front, and about a length and a half separated the men at the completion of the first lap. From the way in which de Rosier rode, he adopted a far more erect position than CR, who crouched right down on his tank.
“It became clear that, whatever the Matchless might be doing, the Indian still had something in hand, and de Rosier was evidently so confident in the ability of his mount that he could let his opponent do a little pacemaking for him. Again coming from the bridge the Englishman was several lengths in front, but halfway along the railway straight the American had drawn level. After passing the aeroplane sheds the two machines seemed to merge into one, but the hope of England was dashed to the ground as they rounded the curve, for it could be seen that the white-jerseyed Collier was acting as a background to the crouching leather-covered Jake. With a roar and a whizz they flashed over the finishing line, de Rosier winning by about a length after probably the most exciting race on record.
“Jake de Rosier’s total time was 4min 2.8sec; speed, 80.59mph; Collier was 0.4sec slower.”

1911 jakevchas collier

The second de Rosier-Collier match was over five laps, equal to about thirteen and a half miles.
“As before, the lead which Collier managed to get against the wind and up the hill was neutralised before halt a lap was gone. The completion of the first lap found de Rosier hanging a wheel’s diameter behind the leader. The second lap found the position entirely unchanged, but the see-saw struggle behind the hill was repeated once more. In the middle of the third lap a tremendous shout was raised when it was seen that de Rosier was stopping, and that Collier had flashed out of sight behind the sheds ere his rival had leached the Byfleet banking. Collier completed his third lap amidst ringing and enthusiastic cheers, and hardly slackening his speed held on two more laps, and crossed the line an easy winner, thus making the match ‘all square’.
“Shortly after he had finished the American came ambling nonchalantly in on the rim, with the front cover hanging on the fork stay and the shreds of what had once been an inner tube flapping in the breeze. When the crowd realised what had happened it awarded de Rosier the mighty cheer his pluck and cleverness deserved. Flying along the railway straight at what must have been only a fraction under ninety miles an hour a small stone had pierced his front tyre, with the result that it was flat in a second or two. That the rider managed in such circumstances to keep on his machine speaks volumes for his nerve and resource, but how he managed it will remain a mystery.
“On his arrival willing knives hacked the cover off, but, unfortunately, no spare was to hand, and accordingly it was arranged that de Rosier should use Godfrey’s front wheel after the conclusion of the next race [the Collier/de Rosier matches were part of a full day’s racing; Godfrey (7hp Indian) won the All-Comers Open Handicap ahead of two 4hp Bats ridden by JT and WH Bashall]. Collier’s time was 10min 12sec; speed, 79.9mph.

1911 jakevchas derosier

“Now came the great deciding match of the international contest, this time over a distance of ten laps (about twenty-seven miles). Excitement ran high, as it was thought that, although Jake had the faster machine, Collier’s possibly better staying powers might wear him down, and odds of 5 to 4 on Collier were freely offered and taken. Godfrey’s 2in. Continental tyred wheel was soon in the place of de Rosier’s battered rim. The first start was a false one owing to Jake experiencing some ignition trouble. The magneto carbon brush was eventually found to be at fault, and on the insertion of a new one everything went all right.
“The starting line was crossed with CR three lengths ahead of the Indian, but Jake finished the first lap a wheel ahead of his opponent, only to drop back again behind the aeroplane sheds. The second lap found Collier just in front with de Rosier so close at his side that the riders might have shaken hands. A lap later de Rosier was ahead by over two lengths, but on the straight Collier picked up this distance and as much again by the railway, and covered the half-mile in 21.4sec. He was still leading at the end of the fourth lap, and seemed to be going so well that hope that England would annex the honours ran high. The worst of bad luck, however, was to come along, for shortly after completing the half distance his handle-bar switch jumped into the ‘off’ position, and to the accompaniment of a gasp of dismay CR slowed down with a puzzled look on his face. A few seconds sufficed to locate the trouble, but they were fatally long ones, for already Jake was half a mile ahead of him and going as strong as ever.
“Collier got his machine going magnificently, and on completing the sixth lap was given a roar of encouragement from the crowd, but his position was now seen to be hopeless. Jake, leaving nothing to chance, hammered along at a tremendous speed, and Collier was never able to make up so much lost ground.
“De Rosier crossed the line amid great enthusiasm, willingly accorded by an admittedly partisan crowd for his fine performance and equally so for the thoroughly sporting conditions of the match. Jake accordingly wins the purse of £130, with added money, and there is none who can say that he does not deserve his triumph.
The winner’s time was subsequently announced as 20min 44sec. Speed, 78.64 miles per hour. Collier was 20sec slower.”

1911 jakevchas start
Collier and de Rosier at the start of the second of the three races

IXION, AS USUAL, summed it up perfectly: “It often happens that great athletic tests, to which the world of sport is eagerly looking forward, an marred by some trifling mishap, and the great Collier-de Rosier match was no exception. De Rosier won the shortest sprint with less ease than we had imagined probable. In the intermediate distance his front tyre collapsed, and Collier’s victory was, therefore, of no significance. In the long-distance race Collier’s switch lever caused him to lose a good deal of ground, and, barring this trouble, Collier might have won, and, again, he might have lost, for de Rosier knew he had only to keep going to scoop £130, and had, therefore, every inducement to spare his engine. It is to be hoped that another meeting can be arranged, and that in the event of either rider encountering trouble the event may be re-run.”

IXION WAS NOT alone in wishing to see a re-run of the first Transatlantic Trophy race. Two enthusiasts offered prize money, inspiring de Rosier to reply: “I have not the pleasure of knowing either Mr Macneill or Mr E Barnfather who are good enough sportsmen to offer to put up a sum of £55 between them for another match with Mr CR Collier. I agree with Mr Macneill that it was unfortunate that both of us had bad luck in the International match; it would have been much better and probably more satisfactory all round if Collier and I had arranged beforehand that, if either one had tyre or other troubles, the race should be re-run, but in view of the fact that Collier did not offer to run the second match race over, I could hardly be blamed for taking the third match and claiming the championship after Collier had his trouble ill the third race.
“Much as I would like to give the English public an opportunity of seeing another match race, I regret that this will be quite impossible, as I have already booked my passage back and am sailing this week but I would like to take this opportunity of suggesting to Mr Collier, whom I consider one of the finest riders in the world, that he come to America. Just at this season of the year I can myself easily make upwards of £150 a week at racing, and Mr Collier, after the splendid performance he put up against me, would be a great drawing card at any meet in America (and there are on an average three a week), and could without difficulty nett a still larger sum.
“I hope Mr Collier will carefully consider the advisability of coming over to America, and I am sure that if he does he will have the same splendid reception that has been given me by the English newspapers and the motor cycling fellows I have run across. I hope to have an opportunity of coming to England another year, and if there is another TT race I want to have a go at it. I was handicapped this year, as I have not done any road riding for the past seven or eight years, but if I go in another TT race I shall do a lot of riding on the road and get prepared months ahead.”

1911 jakevchas jakespeed

THE DAY BEFORE he sailed home England de Rosier popped down to Brooklands to set flying kilometer and hour records of 88.77 and 88.23mph respectively; that evening Charlie and Harry Collier and their dad treated him to dinner at Frascati’s (where the MCC had been founded); they also invited EMP Boileau of The Motor Cycle, who remarked: “De Rosier has proved himself to be a good exponent of a good machine during his sojourn in England, and it was with great regret we said good-bye to him.”

“Racing Motor Cyclists’ Apparel.
THE TIGHT FITTING  leather suit which Jake de Rosier wore in his match with CR Collier was designed and made by Messr. Dunhills, of ‘Motorities’ fame. It is very light, and made in such a way that it can be worn close fitting, or let out to take padding. It should be a popular and suitable dress for all racing motor cyclists.”

SO IT WAS JAKE, JAKE, JAKE…but almost before de Rosier had crossed the Atlantic The Motor Cycle was able to report: “British motor cyclists have cause to rejoice in that CR Collier, the brilliant Matchless-Jap exponent, has gained from the smart American rider all the records the latter hoped would remain unconquered for some time after his departure. Collier and de Rosier last met on the occasion of the little dinner at Frascati’s which was reported in our issue of last week, and there was nothing in the quiet demeanour of the former to indicate that in just over a week he would have accomplished that which would set the whole motor cycle world a-talking. In their usually quiet and businesslike way, the Colliers went to work. Not a word was said to anyone, and on Saturday morning last the news flashed round, and caused a great stir among those who keenly follow the pastime.”
The Blue ‘Un’s headline and intro said it all: “SENSATIONAL RECORD-BREAKING.
CR Collier rides a mile at 91.37 miles an hour—the fastest speed ever accomplished on a motor cycle.”
That was for the flying mile (completed in 39.4sec). Charlie also did a flying kilometre in 25sec (89.48mph) and a flying five miles in 3min 35sec (83.72mph). The report concluded: “At the completion of the attempts, the brothers Collier showed no signs of pleasure; if anything, they were rather sad at the thought that they had not sufficient time previous to the match with de Rosier to do what they have now done with their machine.”