The Classic Motorcycle

The late Anthony F Wilding


Fabulous Zenith V-twin transporting a Wimbledon tennis champion and steered by an Olympic gold medal winner.

Image: Mortons Archive

Published in the May 20, 1915 issue of The Motor Cycle, this picture was shown with the caption: “The late Captain A F Wilding, in the sidecar of Lieut-Commander G W Hillyard’s 10.8hp Zenith machine. Both were keen motorcyclists, although, of course, they were known best as lawn tennis players, especially Wilding. The latter was killed a few days ago.”

Alongside the picture came an obituary, explaining: “Undoubtedly Captain Wilding, R N D, who was killed in action recently in France, was best known in the world of sport as a lawn tennis champion, but the part he took in the motor cycle pastime was by no means inconsiderable.

“From the earliest days he was an enthusiastic motor cyclist, and the first important competition in which he took part was the Land’s End to John O’Groats trial in 1908, in which he gained a gold medal. His next feat was to attempt to get from London to Constantinople on his Bat, to which make he was very faithful. He succeeded after many trials and troubles in getting as far as Nish, in Serbia.

“Wilding was a splendid specimen of humanity, a fine sportsmen, and a genial companion. Owing to the fact that he had travelled the world he was cosmopolitan in his ideas and had little of the British insularity about him.”

His obituary goes to mention that Wilding was a fine cricketer and also born in New Zealand, the latter fact puts him in a class of one, as the only Kiwi to win the Wimbledon tennis championships, which Wilding did in 1910. He defended his title at the next three Wimbledons, too, on his way to becoming a true world sporting icon.

Tony Wilding was born on October 31, 1883, in Christchurch, to wealthy English parents, who’d emigrated to New Zealand. Anthony’s father Frederick was a tennis doubles champion and also represented New Zealand at cricket; Anthony was a first class cricketer too, but tennis was Tony’s real game. He (partnered by Norman Brookes, from Melbourne) was responsible for Australasia winning the Davis Cup (then the International Lawn Tennis Challenge) in 1907, 1908 and 1909. Wilding was ranked number one in the world in 1911, won a bronze medal at the 1912 Olympics and his record of 114 career outdoor records, shared with Rod Laver, still stands, as does Wilding’s 23 titles in a single season, in 1906. The duo of Brookes and Wilding won the 1914 David Cup; it was Wilding’s last sporting conquest. He was killed at Neuve-Chappelle, France, on May 9, 1915.

George Hillyard was at the time of the photograph secretary of the All England Club, and had been a tennis player of some repute himself, though he never won a Wimbledon title, twice finishing runner-up (1889 and 1890) in the doubles. In 1905, Hillyard lost to Wilding in the final of the Bad Homburg tournament, in Germany, but won (at the age of 44) gold in the 1908 London Olympics. An ex-Navy man, Hillyard rejoined for the duration, surviving and living to the age of 79. Interestingly, as well as both being first rate cricketers, Wilding and he were the same height – at 6ft 2in, they’d have not come across many taller contemporaries.

The picture reproduced here was first published in The Motor Cycle of July 10,1913, with the heading and caption thus: “TENNIS CHAMPIONS AS MOTOR CYCLISTS” going on to say, “A F Wilding last week retained his title as All England tennis champion by defeating M McLoughlin. He is seated in G W Hillyard’s Zenith-Gradua [custom-built Millford] sidecar. The engine is a special cycle car type JAP of 90mm bore by 85mm stroke, 10.8hp.”

Sporting a Leicestershire registration, Hillyard’s Zenith (alas, no longer on the DVLA registers) used one of the ohv ‘90 bore’ engines, with a capacity of 1082cc, making it just about the fastest thing on the road in its day, plus what a fantastic and stylish combination it is – a suitable choice of transport for its illustrious cargo.
Endurance Test


Covering upwards of 2000 miles, on a 350cc sidecar outfit carrying two full-grown men, in February, sounds like purgatory, though it was in the name of publicity…

Image: Mortons Archive

On Monday, February 9, 1925, at approaching 9pm, a crowd gathers to watch the departure of a 350cc OK-Bradshaw, fitted with an OK Number 2 touring sidecar, on a 2000-mile nonstop trial. Occupying the appendage was an ACU observer, while there was a team of eight riders scheduled behind the Easting screen fitted to the motorcycle – the ACU-men (there were three of them, including Arthur Bourne, the others S T Huggett and T Pope) was afforded the same protection.

Most of the riders were OK agents in various parts of the country – they were J Edmondson (Keswick), R Hickman (Luton), G Sankey (Service Co., London), R Lawson (Bristol), Frank Hallam (Birmingham), plus OK head tester W J Johnson, A Johnson (another OK tester) and Jack Emerson, from Bradshaw engines; the experienced Emerson, whose competition career stretched back before the First World War, had finished sixth on a Bradshaw-engined DOT in the 1924 Junior TT.

The Motor Cycle of February 12, 1925, explained the motivation for the attempt: “In addition to proving that a 350cc sidecar outfit is capable of traversing the length and breadth of the country, the manufacturers wish to increase the confidence of the public in overhead valve gear – at least as far as Bradshaw engines are concerned – as they have faith in this type of unit and consider that the test will help to overcome much existing prejudice.”

The mentioned overhead valve engine was the Granville Bradshaw designed ‘oil boiler’, featuring an outside flywheel as well as the then relatively avant-garde valve-gear arrangement, plus oil cooling. But did it all work? That was the question the public wanted answering, hence the high-profile stunt. Starting from that 9pm start time, the outfit was to cover 2048 miles in 111 hours, 23 minutes, in a ‘star shaped route radiating from Birmingham.’ Although the aim of running nonstop was missed, total time the engine wasn’t running was apparently ‘about half an hour’ of which ‘…nine minutes was lost to carelessness, the tanks being allowed to run dry with a consequent delay in refuelling.’ The attempt finished at 12.30pm, on February 16.

The ‘involuntary stops’ in total numbered five, with several (four) being down to magneto issues, due to the inclement conditions occasionally encountered – not only was there heavy rain, but it also snowed too. The fifth was the aforementioned petrol foul-up. There were eight other stops, when ‘…the engine came to rest when idling, but was restarted in a matter of seconds.’ The average speed (including all the driver changes, the adjustments, the refuelling etc) was 18.39mph, with fuel and oil consumptions averaging 69.5mpg and 2128mpg respectively.

Motor Cycling (February 25, 1925) concluded its report thus: “At the conclusion of the test the combination was examined externally and the engine was partly dismantled for inspection. With the exception of the following, the whole outfit was found to be in excellent order: – Adjustment required to front brake, rear wheel bearings, secondary driving chain and the rear gear control. One spoke in the rear wheel was fractured. The engine was in very good condition, there was no appreciable wear in the bearings, the valves were not pitted and there was but a slight carbon deposit. Both inlet and exhaust tappets required adjustment. The petrol and oil used were BP and Castrol respectively.”

Despite the useful publicity, the firm of OK – a partnership between Ernie Humphries and Charles Dawes based in Hall Green, Birmingham, which built its first motorcycle in 1899 – was not long for the market, disbanded in 1926. Humphries promptly formed OK Supreme, while Dawes switched purely to bicycle manufacture; the works was passed onto Veloce/Velocette, although Dawes carried on making cycles in part of it, Dawes still being a bicycle manufacturer today, although it passed out of family ownership in the 1970s. Humphries was to make OK Supremes until 1940, the company’s highlight a 1928 Lightweight TT win.
TSS on trial


The eight-valve Bonneville twin which could’ve perhaps been original Triumph’s saviour.

The ultimate Meriden twin? Perhaps it was, but, like so many things in the final 20 or so years of the ‘original’ British motorcycle industry, 1983’s TSS was more an example of what might’ve been, rather than what actually was.

It’s reported that around 440 of the genuine-120mph topping TSS 750cc twins were made – but they were also beset by niggling problems, under-developed, and something of a final hurrah that, with a little bit more thought and effort, and finance, could have perhaps been a machine that would’ve eked a bit more out of the famous old engine, albeit it wasn’t ever going to be a long-term solution. Though that may have come in the form of the 900cc DOHC twin that was also on the drawing boards as the lights dimmed, and then finally went out at Meriden.

The story of the TSS can be traced to the late 1960s, when Weslake (founded by Harry Weslake and famous for all manner of work, notably the engine in Dan Gurney’s race-winning Formula 1 car, Jaguar and Vanwall car work, speedway, aero and marine engines, among others) produced an eight-valve cylinder head kit, which could be fitted onto a Triumph bottom end. It was originally supplied by the Rickman brothers, makers of Metisse motorcycles, though later supplied by Weslake themselves. The kit upped capacity to 686cc and featured paired valves, operated from the pushrods by forked rockers. Importantly, it gave a useful performance boost.

In 1976, the rights to make the Weslake passed to the company owned by Dave Nourish, who died in the autumn of 2021. His Nourish Racing Engines (NRE) business was heavily involved in speedway, preparing Peter Collin’s Weslake single-cylinder motors, so, with Weslake struggling financially, NRE took over the four-valve speedway single and the eight-valve twin, which was used in, among others, John Hobbs’ famous drag racer, The Hobbit. In 1979, NRE provided Triumph with a kit for the T140 engine from which Meriden developed its own version, seemingly (and maddeningly) managing to introduce problems which there hadn’t been with the Weslake/NRE offering.

Standard T140 crankcases were used for the TSS, but there was a new shorter, stiffer, beefier one-piece crankshaft, to cope with the higher rpm the right valve head allowed – it was reckoned the TSS would rev to an eye-watering 10,000rpm and beyond, with 7000rpm the standard limit for a normal Triumph twin. There was a completely new aluminium cylinder block too, with its bores spaced half an inch further apart than the rest of the range, meaning the new connecting rods had to run slightly offset on the gudgeon pins at the small end.

The new result of this endeavour was an engine (now with flat-topped pistons owing to the cylinder head revisions) which made 59bhp, a not-to-be-sniffed at figure for a 750cc twin and one bhp up on the recently departed 828cc Norton Commando. But, sadly, shoddy manufacture meant that the first supplied examples of the new model suffered from porous cylinder head castings, and subsequent warranty claims pretty much strangled the TSS at birth, especially when allied to blowing cylinder head gaskets, as well as steel liners which slipped down the alloy barrels. It was all dispiriting and largely avoidable stuff, but instead of being the saviour, meant the TSS was just another nail in Triumph’s coffin.

In 1983, the last Triumph Bonneville left Meriden, as Triumph went into voluntary liquidation on August 26that year. In the wake of the collapse, house builder John Bloor bought the company, lock, stock and barrel, though lots of the spare parts and manufacturing plant went to Les Harris, who reached agreement to put the Triumph Bonneville back into production. The first machines were made in summer of 1985, with 1255 made before the licence agreement ran out in 1988, before Bloor’s Triumph, announced late in 1990, started production in 1991.

The new Bonneville arrived in 2001; of 790cc, its double overhead camshaft, eight-valve engine produced 61bhp, all showing that the men at Meriden weren’t far off the mark with their efforts, being what they had planned in the early 1980s.
I had a TSS, and an '02 New Bonnie. Great bikes, both.
Muddied Waters


Slightly mysterious Ariel, ridden by the Cambridge cox, as he arrives for training at Putney Boathouse, prior to the 1946 boat race.

Looking at this picture, there are things that don’t tie up, so we sent it over to the ever-helpful Roger Gwynne, at Ariel specialist Draganfly, to try and work out exactly what it is. He said: “It looks most likely to be a 1946 350cc NG, with side springs on forks (as used 1939-46), the small headlamp, which is postwar, and the small oil tank, so 350cc, not 500cc. Tank is probably black rather than red and the rims are all black so NG, not NH.

“But registration LMK 443 is a London number from May 1942, which does not match the image, as many features would not have been present on a bike built at that time, even if it had been built for a civilian organisation. I am not aware of any being built for anyone other than the Armed Forces except for a few for ‘FF,’ which may be ‘The Free French.’ The last civilian bike was dispatched in May 1941.

“The bike in the picture does have unusually high handlebars, usually found on ‘colonial’ models, but two inches taller than normal ones were used on the military W/NG. It isn’t clear, but the front wheel could be the smaller 6½in brake one as used on the W/NG, so this could be an ex-W/NG that has been ‘civilianised’ with a panel tank but retaining floppy W/NG pillion rests. The registration could be because it was used by the RAF or Royal Navy, I don’t know if they used civilian registrations. There was a contract for 100 bikes for the Navy that was built in dribs and drabs between January 24, 1942, and April 30, 1942, so it could be one of those. I would love to know the engine and frame numbers!”

There’s a fair bit about the W/NG in the concluding part of Richard Rosenthal’s Val Page profile (see page 66) but, suffice to say, it was based on the popular pre-Second World War 350cc Ariel single, with many servicemen happy to be allocated one – the super-modern telescopic-forked Matchless G3L apart, it was arguably the pick of the DR (dispatch rider) offerings.

The man riding this one is G H C Fisher, cox in the Cambridge boat for the 1946 boat race, which was the first to be held since 1939, cancelled on account of the Second World War. This was the 92nd running of the event, it first taking place in 1829, between teams from Cambridge and Oxford universities, over 4.2 miles on the River Thames between Putney and Moorlake. The first race was won by Oxford (who boasted an ‘Arbuthnot’ in their crew; the Abuthnot Trial being named after Rear-admiral Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot, third place finisher in the 1908 TT and who went down with his ship, HMS Defence, at the battle of Jutland in 1916, though it’s impossible to determine if they were related) but it wasn’t until 1836 there was a second contest, won by Cambridge, then until 1856 it was an intermittent affair.

From then on though, it’s been held annually, interrupted only by the First and Second World Wars, and Covid-19 in 2020. In 2021 the race was held on the River Ouse near Ely, where, incidentally, an unofficial happening had taken place in 1944. These are the only two times it has not been on the Thames. The 2022 event is scheduled for April 3.

Despite his Ariel getting him back and forth to training, and despite Cambridge starting favourites, Fisher and his light blue crew were bested by Oxford’s dark blues, though Fisher was back the next year and enjoyed better fortune, as Cambridge triumphed in dismal weather. The 1947 win took Cambridge (in which Cambridge’s boat boasted five future Olympians) to a 49-43 advantage in overall victories; as of 2021, the tally for the men’s race stands at 85-80. There has also been a women’s race since being first held in 1927, becoming annual from 1934, and Cambridge won that in 2021 too; they have a win ratio of 45-30 in their favour in that event.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: The longest day


France’s Bol d’Or 24-hour race celebrates its centenary this year. Here, we have a brilliant action photograph from the 1924 edition, where solos and sidecars ran together.

This rather remarkable action picture is taken from the June 19, 1924 edition of The Motor Cycle, the original caption reading thus: “One of the Rene Gillet drivers, whose passenger had a strenuous 24 hours.”

Yes, 24 hours – as the event in which the combination was taking part in was the Bol d’Or 24-hour race, held at Whitsuntide, on a road circuit (‘Circuit des Loges’) in the forest of St Germain, near Paris. The rider is Henriet, passenger unknown, though they finished third in their class, for 1000cc sidecars.

Both Motor Cycling and The Motor Cycle carried coverage of the event – with each leading their reports on the news that, in a sea of French, Belgian and Swiss motorcycles, it was a British-made Sunbeam, an early 493cc overhead valve parallel model ridden by 28-year-old Parisian marque agent Rene Francisquet, which ran out overall victor, despite the fact that of the 49 entries, just three were British-made – Bartlett on an AJS, who retired, and Minot’s Triumph, third in the 600cc sidecar class.

The Bol d’Or had started in 1922 at a circuit called ‘de Vajours,’ its home forone year, before three years at Circuit des Loges. There was a one season hiatus in 1927, with a different track used, before a return in 1928, until 1936. After that, it moved to Montlhery, using part of the speed bowl.

Post Second World War there was a 1947 return to the Circuit des Loges, before eventually back to Montlhery (1952-60), a break, two years at Montlhery (1969 and 1970), Le Mans 1971-77, Paul Ricard 1978-1999, then Magny Cours 2000-2014 before back to Paul Ricard to date.

The winner of the first two events had been Tony Zind, from Lyon, on a Motosacoche, but he couldn’t challenge in 1924, finishing well down the order, Francisquet enjoying (if that’s the right word!) his victory, by covering 951¾ miles in the period, completing 265 laps of the circuit. Second place went to Belgian Achille Hufkens, five laps shy of Francisquet, but well clear of his compatriot and fellow 350cc two-stroke Gillet rider Joseph Reinhartz, both clear of fourth finisher, Oswald Lambert, on a 500cc Gillet. Fifth was first sidecar, Swiss Ed Gex, with Mademoiselle Gex in the chair of the 1000cc Motosacoche, ahead of Lucien Lemasson on his remarkable 175cc French-made Thomann.

Our man Henriet managed 207 laps of the 3.59 miles circuit, compared to Gex’s 243 and Labourdette, the lead Rene Gillet V-twin, who covered 225. Fourth and fifth in class were two more Rene Gillets, piloted by Richard and Lecombe. Made initially in central Paris from around 1898, Rene Gillets were offered commercially from circa 1902, then from 1904, V-twins became the company mainstay. Commercial success led to a move to bigger premises in Montrouge, south of the city centre, while the big V-twins being made there found favour for their robust construction, being used extensively by the police and Army.

While updated versions of the big V-twins were produced post Second World War, later production focussed on small (up to 250cc) two-strokes, before the business closed in 1957. Incidentally, the factory is not to be confused with Gillet, which was a Belgian concern.

Rene Francisquet was to win again in 1925, again on a Sunbeam, before the Wolverhampton maker completed its hat-trick, with Damitao taking top honours in 1926. It wasn’t until 1931 there was another British maker (Velocette) to win, while Harley-Davidson claimed its only victory in 1938. Two rider teams were instigated in 1954, three rider teams in 1982.

The event wasn’t held in 2020, owing to Covid-19, but returned in 2021, with this year’s – the 100th anniversary – taking place over September 16-18. Riders will complete in teams of three and won’t be expected to eat and drink on the move, like Tony Zind did.
Book of the Week: Classic Superbikes II


Our first book of the week for August is the recently published Classic Superbikes II by Frank Melling.

A classic superbike is a motorcycle which has universal appeal, regardless of your age or riding experience. It’s the bike you dream of riding – even if you’re a non-motorcyclist.

Bikes like this are inspirational and their stories need to be told with passion, enthusiasm and flair. These are not bikes for the measured tone and the meticulous recording of fuel consumption figures. Classic superbikes are about laying your life, or marriage, on the line just for the chance to ride one.

In this second volume devoted to the world’s finest motorcycles, Frank Melling returns to the garages wherein dwell some of the most powerful and unruly beasts ever to stalk the world’s highways and byways.

Classic Superbikes II is the follow up to Classic Superbikes, also by Frank Melling. It was published in July of 2022.

You can buy the book here.


The September edition of The Classic MotorCycle magazine offers a lavishly illustrated celebration of legendary machines, riders and races, and news, reviews and rare period images from the golden age of motorcycling.

Drawing on an archive stretching back to 1903, The Classic MotorCycle magazine provides an unparalleled insight into more than a century of motorcycle design, development, riding, racing and much more.

The September issue includes:

Lusty lookalike​

Superbly crafted Velocette special, with the performance it delivers as good as the Venom Thruxton model it apes, though the electric-start replica benefits from better manners.


Mystery machine​

With its engine made in 1904, how come this Fafnir (if that’s even what it really is…) appears on the Pioneer Register as 1911? ‘Period updates’ is the short answer.


The last hurrah​

Final incarnation of the BSA Bantam was the best, while this B175 is still made to work for its living, being used as its maker intended, over half a century on from when made.


Spanish trendsetter​

The dinky Montesa 125 Sprint was quite some goer, being the first two-stroke to secure a place on a GP podium, with second and third (plus fourth) in the 1956 125cc TT.


A subscription to The Classic MotorCycle magazine means you can enjoy all of this, plus plenty of other benefits such as making a major saving on the cover price and FREE postage.

It’s quick and easy to sign up and, whether you do it online or over the phone, our team is ready and waiting to get your new deal under way or extend your current package.
The New Naughty 90s Hall at The Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show


‘Classic’ is in the eye of the beholder and well, it’s time for the new guard to make their mark at Stafford.

The Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show is back in Stafford this October, and tickets are available here!

The brand-new Naughty 90’s hall, in association with Suzuki, will showcase the very best and most interesting future classics from the 1990s and early 2000s. You’ll find a mixture of clubs from the era and a display of individual, affordable bikes that you simply must have in your garage.

Meet the Editor of Classic Motorcycle Mechanics, Bertie Simmonds on his own special stand where you can listen to some 90’s music (a reminder of what you’d forgotten), play the PlayStation 1 against your mates (no expense spared), and chat to Bertie about his magazine, Classic Motorcycle Mechanics. Hell, he might even give you a free T-shirt if you subscribe!


Oh and by the way, did we tell you we’ve got Niall Mackenzie’s 1992 Honda NR750? Yes, the oval piston beauty built by Honda…. because they could! It will take centre stage with Niall’s other beauty, a 1999 Yamaha YZF-R7 OW-02. You’d better make a point of stopping by!

Have you got a 1990-2000’s classic bike? Would you like to display your motorcycle for the weekend? If so, you’ll get two free weekend passes, free camping and be in with a chance of winning one of many awards across the weekend including the ‘Best in Show’. Plus your bike will be admired by thousands of classic fans! Find out more here.
Morris Lubricants launch video series on how oil is made


Morris Lubricants have released a new video series starring Guy Martin – designed to provide end users and distributors in the motorcycle trade with an insight into how oil is made and the factors that should be considered when choosing a lubricant supplier.

The series of five short videos demonstrates the key areas that should be considered when selecting oils and lubricants, to ensure maximum equipment life and reduced production downtime.

The videos feature Guy Martin, lorry mechanic, motorbike racer, TV presenter, engineering enthusiast and Morris Lubricants’ ambassador who is taken through the production process by the company’s Technology Manager Adrian Hill. He demonstrates the key areas that should be considered when selecting oils and lubricants, to ensure maximum reliability of components in engines and gearboxes.

A heavy goods vehicle mechanic by trade, Guy was eager to discover each stage of the manufacturing process and how oil is formulated to keep mechanical systems lubricated even in the toughest conditions.

“After spending time at the factory in Shrewsbury, I now appreciate the science and skill that goes into the oil production process,” said Guy. “I didn’t realise the company produced so many different varieties of oil and lubricants.

“It blew my mind when Adrian said that Morris Lubricants ships 12 containers of oil a week to countries as far away as New Zealand, Iraq and China and how much trust their international customers have in the product being made in Britain.”

Adrian added: “Guy was genuinely interested in the process, spontaneous with his comments and amazed by what goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

“He was excited by the prospect of trying something new and enjoyed filling a few barrels, capping them and putting the Morris Lubricants seals in place.

The process​

The video explains that the oil blending process is strictly monitored, beginning with the raw materials, which includes base oils and additive chemistry being delivered into the Shrewsbury manufacturing facility.

A stringent quality assurance process is then followed. All the base oil and additives delivered to the company are quarantined, sampled and sent to the on-site quality control (QC) laboratory where they are subjected to a suite of tests to ensure they are suitable for use. The Morris Lubricants’ QC laboratory currently conducts more than 5,000 quality control tests a month.

Once approved, these materials are released for production and are then carefully blended together, in compliance with strict formulation guidelines, to produce the finished high quality lubricant.

Each oil product is specially formulated to meet the needs of individual applications alongside strict global and original equipment manufacturers’ (OEM) specifications.

The blended lubricant is then sampled, sent to the QC laboratory and subjected to a series of chemical and physical tests. This ensures the formulation has been followed exactly.

When approved by the QC laboratory, the sample is released for filling. Once again, before filling begins, a final sample is taken from the filling head and checked a final time to ensure compliance.

The approved lubricant can then be filled into the appropriately labelled and batch numbered package. The pack sizes filled with lubricant ranges from 1 litre bottles, 5 litre contours and 25 litre drums to 205 litre barrels as well as bulk containers. This process ensures full traceability of the quality of the finished product.

The finished product is palletised, stored and then shipped out to customers in the UK or overseas. 44 million litres of product leave the company’s two manufacturing sites per annum, with 12 shipping containers leaving Shrewsbury every week to supply quality products to customers all around the world.

Guy Martin and Adrian Hill.

Adrian talks Guy through how oil is made.

About the episodes

The video series starts with Episode one and highlights the arrival of various high quality raw materials coming from the numerous suppliers based all around the world.

Episode two covers the processes that are conducted in the QC laboratory which conducts more than 5,000 tests a month.

Episode three explains the computer-controlled blending process and an eco-friendly ultrasonic technique which has cut blending time from 60 to 10 minutes. The company has the versatility to blend volumes from 200 to 70,000 litres.

Episode four takes viewers to the filling lines where various packaging formats are available to satisfy a diverse range of customers.

Episode five focuses on storing and shipping products which each have tamper-proof seals. The company ships oil and lubricants around the globe with 12 containers leaving Shrewsbury every week.

The video series has been launched on Morris Lubricants website and Facebook and can be viewed at
The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club turns 40!


It’s hard to believe but one of the most modern clubs in the classic bike scene is actually turning 40 this year. They’re bringing over 50 bikes to Stafford this October to celebrate!

VJMC will be bringing along 50+ bikes to the Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show in Stafford this October.

The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) has always been run by a dedicated team of volunteers since it was founded in 1982 by a small group of like-minded enthusiasts, who appreciated early Japanese bikes, their style, reliability, practicality and technological achievements. At the time of the club’s inception air-cooled four-cylinder bikes still ruled the roost, twin shock absorbers were still in vogue and a middleweight bike was probably 350-500cc and almost certainly a two-stroke.

How times change: the very bikes that were new back then are now collectable and as prized as any early 60’s Japanese offering.

The club’s number one aim is to promote the enjoyment of Japanese motorcycles, pure and simple. You don’t even need to own a bike to be a member! How open-minded is that? All they ask is that members share the club’s passion for some of the most amazing mass-produced bikes ever to come out of a factory.

It really isn’t possible to stereotype a VJMC member; some own big bikes, others are moped mad. Some are passionate about one particular marque; others have wide-ranging eclectic tastes. It takes all sorts to make a club and that is what the VJMC is all about; enjoying the bikes for what they are.

This October they are taking Stafford by storm and bringing over 50 bikes from the members; some concours, some daily rides but all pay homage to the Japanese manufacturers. You can’t miss this. (stand M57, Main Hall plus other zones).

You can buy tickets here!
Great article on the Italian bikes. Quite a line up of Benelli. More models than Triumph?
PREVIEW: October issue of The Classic MotorCycle


The October edition of The Classic MotorCycle magazine offers a lavishly illustrated celebration of legendary machines, riders and races, and news, reviews and rare period images from the golden age of motorcycling.

Drawing on an archive stretching back to 1903, The Classic MotorCycle magazine provides an unparalleled insight into more than a century of motorcycle design, development, riding, racing and much more.

The October issue includes:

A weighty name​

Big Norton which could bear the burden.

Dave the watch​

Fascinating career of a much travelled motorcyclist

Sturdy old soldier​

Ex-military Royal Enfield which is still serving well.

Gilera’s last stand​

The final factory racer from 1950s Gilera

A subscription to The Classic MotorCycle magazine means you can enjoy all of this, plus plenty of other benefits such as making a major saving on the cover price and FREE postage.

It’s quick and easy to sign up and, whether you do it online or over the phone, our team is ready and waiting to get your new deal under way or extend your current package.
Book of the Week: Taking it to the Limit


Our book of the week this time around is Taking it to the Limit by the award-winning Peter Starr!

With over 40 years experience in and around the motorcycle industry and 35 years as an award winning documentary film maker Peter Starr is very uniquely positioned to champion his favorite sport.

His first book is about the 20 years he spent making over 40 films about motorcycle racing and working with some of the greatest racers in the modern history of the sport.

His iconic film Take It To The Limit, winner at two prestigious Film Festivals, forms the backbone of this book. The film itself is soon to be released as a 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD.

Starr is an enthusiastic motorcyclist, making several long distance trips each year, many to other countries. These riding experiences will form the basis of a future book currently in preparation.

All of Starr’s motorcycle films will be made available on DVD in the near future.

Starr continues to write for some of the top American motorcycle magazines such as Motorcyclist as the occasion arises.

Along with motorcycling, Starr enjoys still photography as a calmer, more solitary way of recording experiences than his movie making career.

Each issue of Taking it to the Limit comes with a free DVD!

You can purchase your own copy here!
A (free) trip down memory lane

We’ve been digging through the archive and found this issue of The Motor Cycle from August 1923.


It’s a fascinating read with page after page of original adverts. Find out what a sleeve valve engine is. Get a shop-soiled Harley for £95 or a brand new A.J.S for £60. Read a road test for the latest 249cc Velocette. There’s a brilliant questions and replies page where you’ll find out how to stop valve clatter – and just how serious is piston slap? Oh, and petrol is 8½d a gallon!

Have a read below and let us know what gems you find on our Classic Bike Hub Facebook post. Click here to read, or click the cover below.

Test your bike knowledge with our quiz!

Just for fun, can you identify what you’re seeing in these five zoomed in photographs?

How many did you get right?
Dressed to Thrill: BSA Rocket Gold Star


This BSA Rocket Gold Star isn’t perhaps what it appears to be – but then its owner is perfectly happy to acknowledge that.


‘A Rocket goes into orbit… New clubman’s six-fifty twin from BSA’ was the headline which greeted readers of The Motor Cycle on February 8, 1962, announcing the launch of the A10-powered Rocket Gold Star.

Usually mounted in a slightly modified – minus the kink to avoid the 500cc single’s oil pump – twin downtube Gold Star frame, the 650cc RGS was – in my opinion – the most beautiful bike ever to leave the Small Heath production lines. But its star didn’t shine for long… By 1962, the pre-unit twin cylinder engines had been superseded by BSA’s new unit construction 650cc A65 and 500cc A50 twins, and production of the RGS would only last for around 18 months.


In that time, around 2000 machines would roll out of the factory gates, with an on-the-road price in 1963 of £329-9s. From the age of six – following my first ride on the petrol tank of my big brother Rod’s James – I had made my mind up that on reaching 16, I too would become a motorcyclist, a dream that was kept alive every Saturday, as I accompanied my mother on her weekly shopping trip. While she went to the butcher’sto collect our Sunday lunch, I would go next door to25 Catherine Street, where, with my nose firmly pressed at the window of Difazio motorcycles, I’d view the latest offerings from Small Heath.


Founded in 1914 by Italian immigrant Pascal Difazio, the dealership had by the early 1920s become the first BSA agents in Somerset and it was here, in the spring of 1962, I was to view my first Rocket Gold Star. Sixty years on, I can still recall the thrilling sight of that stunning 650cc twin standing in the window, with the early morning light gleaming off the chrome petrol tank and mudguards. To my young eyes, with its down swept ‘ace’ handlebars and rearset footrests, it looked like a refugee from the racetrack, and it was at our local track, at Thruxton, in June of that year I witnessed six similar examples circulating in the annual 500-mile endurance event.

The winners that day were Phil Read and Brian Setchell on the 650SS Norton entered by Syd Lawton, covering 213 laps at an average speed of 71.17mph, seven laps ahead of our local hero Roy Ingram, partnered by Fred Swift. Ingram and Swift also won the 500cc cup on their incredibly quick 88SS Norton, while the best of the Rocket Gold Stars was the one ridden by the pairing of Derek Powell and David Williams, on the machine entered by the Gold Star specialists Taylor/Dow of Banbury.

Eddie Dow was a man who was a top-class all-round competition motorcyclist, with wins in both one and six-day trials, including first class awards in the Scottish Six Days and gold medals in the ‘motorcycle Olympics’ – the super-tough ISDT – and victory in the Clubman’s TT, all on single-cylinder BSAs. He soon became known as ‘Mr Gold Star.’ But by 1960 the Goldie singles were being phased out and Small Heath were working on the new unit construction twins, though Dow was quick to recognise that there was still a market for the A10 engine, and what better frame to mount it in than the race-bred Gold Star?


He was held in high esteem by the upper management at BSA but his initial approach of building such a machine was only met with a lukewarm response. Not one to give up on his idea, Dow and his service manager John Gleed decided to go through the BSA parts list and assemble the list of the many individual components needed to assemble a clubman’s Gold Star with a Road Rocket twin in place of the single cylinder unit.

He placed an order with BSA for the parts and in 1960 assembled the first Rocket Gold Star. If period reports are to be believed, five of these specials were produced at the Banbury workshops before BSA changed their minds about producing a limited run of the beautifully-finished 650cc twin.


The first pre-production model was tested by Motorcycle Sport magazine, which heaped plenty of praise on the sweet handling and ‘ton up’ 100mph+ performance, while the second machine was used as a marshal’s bike in that year’s TT. Sadly, a conrod broke during testing and had to be replaced before the racing started, then this bike was later loaned to Worcester County Constabulary to test. As previously mentioned, production started in early 1962 and it proved to be a most profitable exercise as the 2000 machines were soon snapped up by enthusiasts, five of those sold by Difazio’s in Frome.

In addition to the 2000-odd which rolled out through the Small Heath factory gates in 1962/63, there have been plenty of replicas constructed. Indeed, it is often wryly remarked that… ‘Of the 2000 originally made, 3000 still exist…’ To the casual observer, this month’s test bike – a Super Rocket A10R engine mounted in an original RGS frame – could well be a genuine machine, but its owner Marcus Mitchell is keen to point out that, like his previously tested B31 Catalina-inspired single, this machine is very much a well presented ‘bitsa’ with no pretensions of being the ‘real thing’.


In his day job, Marcus is a high-class stonemason and as he told me, he was in his late teens before he first took to the roads on a powered two-wheeler.

“Although my dad had a Honda step through as a commuter, there was no history of motorcycles in our family and I was 18 before I first had my first powered two-wheeler. Up until that time, I had been cycling to work – which was hard going –but then took over my father’s Cub, which was lying unused in the shed. It was great to have an engine instead of leg power and from then on, I was hooked. I quickly progressed to a 250cc Honda which I passed my test on and then went looking for a bigger bike. Although by now the home industry was on its knees. I loved the look and sound of the beefy British four-strokes and during the next 20 years or so I owned several A10s, a very reliable B40 and a B44 Victor special.


“But by 1998 I was setting up my own business so the bikes had to be sold and it was another 10 years – the business was then booming – before I could concentrate on motorcycles again. I initially bought an Ariel Red Hunter from my brother and although it was a decent enough bike, it didn’t have the same appeal or charisma as my BSAs. I decided to move it on and went looking for another 650cc twin, eventually discovering this one – XHT 532 – advertised in Surrey on eBay.

“I’d always loved the styling of the Rocket Gold Stars with the ace ’bars, rearset footrests, chrome and silver petrol tank and Siamese exhaust pipes, so it was perfect for my needs and joined my stable of BSAs in 2011. The engine was as sweet as a nut, but the four-speed gearbox was a bit whiney and I decided it would be cheaper to replace it with a modern five-speed ’box, made by Nova. I also changed this bike’s flat ’bars to a pair of ace bars to make it a bit sportier, but other than that, it’s pretty much as I bought it.

“I’m a great believer that bikes are for riding and since buying the A10/RGS special I’ve covered quite a few miles, including a trip to France and two outings to northern Spain for the 2018 Moto Piston rally and the following year to Colombres, both involving routes through the Picos mountains. They were great events, though during the 2019 Colombres rally the bike developed a leaking head gasket which is the only trouble I’ve encountered in the years I’ve had it.”

Having travelled many thousands of miles through Spain myself – including the superbly organised Colombres Rally – I can vouch that the Iberian country offers some wonderful motorcycling roads. However, for my test on the A10 special, I have to satisfy myself with some equally excellent, traffic-free roads around the Somerset/Wiltshire border. Sat on the bike, I’m immediately transported back to 1962, viewing a virtually identical bike in the Difazio showroom, and also that magical day on June 24, which saw me sat on the roof of Rod’s A40 van at Thruxton watching the 500-mile endurance racers zooming by.


As Marcus has promised, with ignition on and a generous priming of the single Amal 389 Monobloc carburettor, it only took one lunge of the kick-start to bring the big twin bursting into action with a purposeful, and healthy, ‘burble’ through the Siamese exhaust system and Goldie silencer. In the November 22, 1962 edition of The Motor Cycle there was a test of a ‘pukka’ RGS, reading: “Scintillating high-performance road burner; good brakes, excellent rider comfort and docile traffic manners.” It went on to say: “An 85mph top gear spread speaks volumes for the tractability of a sporting engine. And on top of this, the 646cc Rocket Gold Star has effortless, surging acceleration through the gears and a tireless 90mph cruising gait. The maximum of 105mph obtained on test could certainly have been bettered had the November weather been cooperative.”


With first gear engaged and the bike under way, I can concur with everything that was written in the period road test. The race-bred Goldie frame meant that the bike effortlessly negotiated the long sweeping Wiltshire bends with ease and when needed, the full width 190mm front brake was as good as any you would find from a 60-year-old machine. The new Nova gearbox was a revelation in the way it selected all of its five gears, but such was the seamless power delivery from the 46bhp twin (50bhp in race spec) and the way it would respond to the throttle from as little as 25mph in top, it felt that four speeds would be more than enough. Riding it at 60mph, the combination of ace ’bars and rearset footrests gave a perfect riding position, and given an appropriate off-road (airfield) piece of tarmac I’m sure that the Super Rocket/RGS replica would be more than capable of matching the 105mph top speed obtained in 1962.

XHT 532 may not have the providence of being the genuine ‘real thing,’ but there is no doubt Marcus has got himself a superb machine, and it’s little wonder you usually see him with a big smile on his face.


Finer Details

Engine Four-stroke air-cooled OHV parallel twin
Capacity 646cc
Stroke 84mm
Comp ratio 9.1:1
Power output 46bhp@6250rpm
Carburettor Amal 389 Monobloc
Lubrication Dry sump
Ignition Six-volt Lucas magdyno
Gearbox Five-speed Nova foot change
Frame Duplex
Suspension Front: Telescopic hydraulically damped
Rear: Swinging arm twin shock
Brakes Front: Single leading shoe eight-inch,
Rear: Single leading shoe seven-inch
Tyres Front: 3.25x19in, Rear: 4.00x19in
Weight 315lb
Tank capacity 16 litres
Top speed 105mph (est)
Price £299 (including purchase tax)
It always gets me how many wildly varied models that BSA stuck the name "Gold Star" to...
31 Speedway Motorcycles to be auctioned at Stafford this October


This October’s Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show features an extraordinary collection of 31 Speedway Motorcycles, reflecting the glory years of a sport, once the second most popular in the UK.

The Forshaw Speedway Collection represents 60 years of speedway history from its beginnings in the 1920s. Led by an exemplary pre-war American duo of a Crocker and an Indian, the collection also includes European solo-style motorcycles, representing great marques such as BSA, Douglas, Norton and Rudge. They are offered with associated memorabilia, including six engines and an extensive selection of race jackets. Having been displayed at the prestigious Haynes Motor Museum for the past 25 years, the collection is now offered with a total high estimate of more than £500,000.

The auction starts at 10am on both days with viewing beforehand and during each day. Access to the auction is with a catalogue which you can buy beforehand or on the day. Just visit and head over to the motorcycle section.

There really will be something for everyone, just take a look at these three unique and incredible bikes for sale at the auction

1912 New Hudson 349cc Lightweight Project

Like Sunbeam, the British New Hudson Cycle Company was noted for building high-quality motorcycles, the result of the work of the leading engineer Herbert ‘Bert’ Le Vack, designer of the celebrated J.A.P. Speedway engine, which powered New Hudson machines such as this example.

The motorcycle is offered as a barn-find direct from 70 years’ single-family ownership from the descendants of Brooklands racer Angus-Maitland who campaigned at the celebrated British circuit before the First World War. He was also one of the founders of the Trump Motorcycle Company, noted for its formidable Trump-Jap ‘90 Bore’ Veteran racer, whose racing team was later sponsored by the Duke of York. Estimated at £3,000 – £5,000

1928 Sunbeam 493cc Model 9

The two-owner from new 1928 example offered is one of the rarest of its type, as one of the last ‘flat tankers’ before Sunbeam adopted the more popular saddle tank, and offered a unique lubrication system. Just 19 Model 9 Sunbeams of this type are recorded with the VMCC register.

Purchased new by Walter Stoney, a Sergeant flight mechanic with 101 Squadron, this Sunbeam supported its owner’s war service in the RAF, carrying him from the RAF base in Norfolk to his home in Hetton, North Yorkshire, with a regular pit stop at Leeds Railway Station for a ‘pot of tea’ in the winter months. He rode the motorcycle for more than 60 years until his death.

Its subsequent keeper was friend fellow Yorkshireman Ken Ellwood, and RAF pilot who purchased it in 1987 when Walter died and restored it to its former glory some 13 years later, even though he did not have a motorcycle licence and preferred to fly his Tiger Moth aeroplane. It is now offered by the Ellwood family after 35 years, with an estimate of £10,000 – 12,000


1934 Crocker Speedway 500cc OHV, £100,000 – 150,000

Crocker’s hand-built master pieces earned the marque a legendary status, with its V-twin machines some of the world’s most valuable. Founder Albert G Crocker started out making speedway frames for V-twins before producing more suitable single-cylinder machines.

It is believed that no more than 30 – 40 single-cylinder bikes were produced, including this 1934 example, known as the ‘Red’ Rice Crocker after its original rider, which Richard acquired in a swap for a Brough-Superior in 1996. It has been described as the ‘most original known as it still has the correct Crocker tank, frame, etc.’ The motorcycle is totally original except for the seat which was replaced by Rice and so has become part of its history. Estimated at £100,000 – £150,000


The show takes place October 15-16. You can grab your tickets here: The Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show (
Winds of Change


By 1936, BSA were in a trough. For once, their competition team of Bert Perrigo, Jack Amott, Harold Flook and Marjorie Cottle failed to win a major trial, and sales, although steady, weren’t picking up, as the UK struggled out of the world recession. Time for a different approach.

At the Leader’s unveiling, Val Page stands, head bowed, right of centre of the picture. Interestingly, Edward Turner stands alongside him.



Appointed managing director of BSA Cycle Ltd in 1921, replacing Charles Hyde, Commander Godfrey Herbert DSO was promoted to the board of the BSA Group in 1936 – a move upstairs for the man who’d steered BSA Cycles Ltd through the worst economic crises ever. Again promoting internally, the group appointed BSA Cycles Ltd’s chief salesman Joe Bryan as Herbert’s replacement. Aside from his sales duties, Bryan was responsible for many BSA publicity stunts, including the world tours with V-twins.

As chief salesman, Joe knew the motorcycle range needed a revamp. True, BSA weren’t in the parlous situation of Ariel or Triumph when Valentine Page set to work, but their products were treading water rather than making the best of an improving world economic situation in the mid-1930s. Bryan knew staying still wasn’t enough if BSA motorcycles were to survive.


The 1937 side-valve B20, one of Page’s new introductions.

Another of the 1937 newcomers, the ohv Sports B21.


Through 1936, other than at BSA, few grasped Mr Page had moved from Coventry to Birmingham. All was revealed in September 1936 at the dealers’ convention on the ‘silver screen.’ Rumours at the convention implied Joe Bryan was to unveil a new range, but all knew he was in South Africa on BSA business. And one didn’t just jet back for a meeting in 1936.

As dealers swapped stories and enjoyed BSA’s hospitality at the convention, the lights went out and, using the then-modern talkie motion picture technology, Bryan appeared on the big screen to reveal BSA’s 14-model 1937 range. The drama stunned the assembly into silence, who watched and listened intently.

Just two models, the ohv 748cc Y13 and side-valve 986cc V-twins, were continued from last season, joined by 12 new single cylinder machines. As dealers watched, many recognised who was behind the programme, simplification of motorcycle identification and modernisation. Mr Valentine Page. A handful were unhappy, but most were delighted with the new models to attract new buyers and retain existing customers. Let the cash registers roll.


The 1937 M20 and M21; the M21 was revised for 1938, with

different-to-1937 bore and stroke.


Another of the 1937 models, this the 500cc ohv M22.

Some assumed Page had replaced Herbert Perkins (d.1957), a gifted engineer who’d been with the BSA group since 1920. However, Perkins was a group engineer who worked on many projects away from motorcycles, such as machine tool designs including the copy lathes BSA manufactured, production line development, economies of manufacture (also one of Page’s many skills) and BSA cars, including the Scout. Whether the two men got on is unknown, but Perkins did work alongside Page on motorcycle development, although Val was the group’s motorcycle designer.

Val Page’s rationalisation included dropping the 150cc motorcycles and ending three-wheeler production. As well as 12 new single cylinder machines, dealers learned the new model classifications. BSA’s past 250cc-only B code was now used for 250 and 350cc ‘lightweight’ machines, while the existent M code was applied to 350cc to 600cc singles. The V-twins remained as was.

Val Page’s launch model B and M series

Drawing from his experience at JAP, Ariel and Triumph, which combined with his design skills, correct drawing office practice and frame development work learned first at Ariel, Val Page had no hesitation in dropping long-standing BSA designs, including forged frame backbones and crankcase extension oil sumps. That visually his engine design bore resemblances to his work at Triumph with regards to magneto position, timing chain cover designs and valve gear, which in turn bore resemblances with his work at Ariel and even back to JAP, is no surprise.

Again, it wasn’t always a case of out with all the old, thus the 250cc (249cc) range kept the traditional BSA dimensions of 63x80mm (bore x stroke) and the 350s (with the exception of the M19) used the 71x88mm dimensions BSA had introduced for 1933 with the R series models. However, rather than bore out the 350cc engine to 85mm giving a 499cc engine for the ‘500cc’ range, familiar to owners of post Second World War B33 and B34 machines, Page opted for engine dimensions of 82x94mm (496cc).


The hot one of the 1937 range – the 500cc M23 Empire Star.

The new models had brazed-up frames with a top tube, instead of cast backbones. Though while frame design was common across the new single cylinder range, frames were built to suit models and only interchangeable with like models.

Val Page design features also common across the ranges included rear, behind the barrel, mounted Lucas Magdyno (magneto an option for competition models), revised valve gear identifiable on ohv models by the cast aluminium pushrod enclosing tower, and enclosure for springs and stems with cooling passage for the springs and valves. Again, common to all single cylinder models was dry sump lubrication, with worm driven double gear pump mounted in a protruding casting to right side crankcase half. Models with duplex cradle frame had a kink in the right side bottom rail to accommodate the crankcase-cast oil pump protrusion.

All models had single exhaust port cylinder heads, with twin port optional for some models. And all except the competition model had push-in front pipe to engine exhaust port, with securing straps to frame. The competition B25 (ohv 348cc) had its exhaust pipe secured by a finned nut.

* By the close of 1937, BSA had sold over 19,000 motorcycles. To put this into perspective, UK motorcycle registrations amounted to just over 56,000. Of course, some of the 19,000 Beezers were exported.

* Whether BSA’s fortune changed, or Page’s new models were responsible, or both… in early 1937, Bert Perrigo, riding his works B25 Competition model, won three major trials (Lister Trophy, Colmore Cup and Victory) in weeks. Later, Perrigo stepped back from most trials, except six-day events. Although entered on an Ariel outfit for the year’s SSDT, Harold Tozer turned out on a factory 496cc BSA outfit, securing a Silver Plaque and started his long and successful association with the factory.


Famous picture of Wal Handley posed with his tuned Empire Star at Brooklands, where he secured a Gold Star for himself and a model name for BSA.

The Gold Star legend​

The naming of the BSA Gold Star is legend, so, briefly, TT winner, pilot, car racer and motorcycle shop proprietor Wal Handley pushed out his BSA Empire Star on June 30,1937, for the BMCRC mid-week handicap. As many know after their 1921 IoM TT debacle BSA weren’t a racing factory – okay!

Handley’s mount, based on an 80mph Empire Star (M22 or M23, take your pick – both have been quoted) was prepared for Brooklands by Val Page, David Munro and Herbert Perkins. Wal’s Weybridge Track pit crew were BSA factory trials rider Jack Amott and well respected former competition rider Len Crisp. Folklore implies BSA’s Bert Perrigo, also an amateur pilot, persuaded Handley at their West Bromwich Aero Club it would be a great wheeze for Wal to earn a Brooklands Gold Star (breaking the Outer Circuit 100mph lap barrier on a specific class of machine for their first time). Mr Handley would get his Gold Star and BSA lots of publicity. Of course, if it all went badly wrong, the factory would distance themselves from the affair.

Some – those devoid of a sense of fun! – claimed/claim the secretive effort was a successful attempt by Handley and BSA to deceive the Brooklands handicappers. Personally, I think nothing could be further from the truth; rather BSA wanted to secure a 500cc (Class C) Gold Star. Albeit a tiny item, but one which is truly worth far more than its weight in gold. One can only imagine what was going through the minds of fellow competitors, as Wal Handley, supported by Amott and Crisp, readied for the day’s race card-opening three-lap event on Brookland’s outer circuit. Surely, an untried racing motorcycle, developed from a touring single more suited to off-road competition, hadn’t a chance against their track-bred motorcycles?


Harold Tozer was one of BSA’s new recruits, here pictured heading for 1938’s ISDT.

In little more time than it takes buy a pint of beer, Wal Handley thundered round the banked outer circuit to win the race at 102.27mph, with a fastest lap of 107.57mph. Even though the press gave the foray scant coverage, BSA were cock-a-hoop and made their own publicity. Less than two months later, a new machine for 1938 was announced – the 496cc M24 Gold Star.

The fast roadster (also offered with high pipes and knobbly tyres to competition men) was developed from Handley’s Brooklands mount and the Empire Star which sired it. The M24 had aluminium alloy cylinder head and barrel (fitted with Austenitic liner) with integrally cast pushrod enclosure replacing the separate cast tower of their iron engines. Weight was pared down to 315lb. Press tests confirmed over 90mph and a racer was briefly offered with claims of over 100mph.

Midlands factory merry-go-round​

Val Page continued at BSA through much of 1938, updating models, while some claim he was involved with others – including David Munro and Herbert Perkins – in developing a BSA parallel twin. Possible or not? Unofficial sightings around Birmingham suggest examples were tested in early 1939.

Val moved briefly back to Triumph towards the end of 1938 as chief engineer, with Edward Turner now the factory’s managing director. Just months later, in May 1939, Mr Page was at Selly Oak, replacing Vic Anstice as Ariel Motors’ chief designer. At the time, both Ariel and Triumph were under the control of the Sangster family, with Jack Sangster looking after the latter.

Ariel W/NG​

Although Ariel announced their 1940 season range in early September 1939, almost all their stocks of single cylinder machines were taken by the Government’s War Office, albeit a few escaped into private hands.


Pictured in 1944, an Ariel W/NG with its Home Guard rider.

Through his career, Val Page spent many long days and late nights designing and developing motorcycles against tight deadlines, but the Second World War must have been his most pressing task. Luckily, for once he had a good starting point – Fred Povey’s 346cc single cylinder works competition model ridden in the 1938 Scottish Six Days Trial, an event won by Len Heath, also Ariel. Page thoughtfully considered what military riders needed… A good-handling, rugged motorcycle offering a decent top speed and acceleration, which is also reliable and simple to maintain.

The 346cc single (72x85mm) with 6.5:1 compression ratio was devoid of unnecessary equipment including tank top instrument panel and simplified bearings where appropriate, including to gearbox selector shaft, while military additions included a long prop stand hinging out from under the saddle. A single prototype was supplied to the War Office on July 18, 1940, and production began three weeks later. The W/NG underwent updates during the Second world War but retained its girder front fork throughout its production run, arguably what worked well in peace time off-road competition would also serve the military with aplomb.

Sources state Selly Oak supplied the UK and Allied forces 47,599 W/NGs – dispatch riders were delighted when allocated one and today survivors remain highly sought.


The November 1947 launch picture of the 500cc Ariel twin.

Ariel 200cc Colt, which owed much to BSA. This picture dates to 1956.

Two cylinders​

War over, Page was officially working on a four-stroke parallel twin in his Selly Oak drawing office. As with rivals, it is likely he’d started work before hostilities ended, as Triumph’s twin had pulled the rug from under rivals. Prototype 499cc ohv twins were under test by autumn 1946 and two models were announced in November 1947 – the KG De Luxe Fieldmaster and KH Red Hunter.

They shared the 63x80mm engines, but tuned differently – the KH Red Hunter had 7.5:1 compression ratio and polished cylinder head with carburettor to suit, while the KG Fieldmaster had a 6.8:1 compression ratio and no cylinder head polishing. Developing 26bhp at 6500rpm, the KH was tested solo at up to 85mph, while the 24bhp at 6000rpm KG was a little slower solo but still achieved 65mph with single seat sidecar.

Although these 500cc Ariel twins never achieved the sale success of Triumph and BSA twins, they are well thought of and Ariel rightly claimed in period they were the only maker worldwide to manufacture one, two and four-cylinder motorcycles. There were developments of the twin cylinder range, including the 28bhp at 6200rpm 499cc KHA for the 1953 season, and finally the 647cc ohv twin cylinder, BSA ‘inspired’ FH Huntmaster for 1954.


At an Institute of Mechanical Engineers talk on two-strokes, Val Page, centre, is flanked by Peter Humber, of The Motor Cycle, left, and Vic Willoughby.


What motivated Ariel to enter the lightweight market with a 200cc machine is unclear – some reckon they were influenced by Triumph’s Tiger Cub, but considering launch dates, this seems unlikely, though they may have been aware of developments at Meriden. Designed under Page’s tenure, and doubtless with his input, the Colt seems, in hindsight, an odd machine, a mix of then-modern and dated thinking. For example, its plunger rear suspension frame was like that of a BSA Bantam, yet, unlike many lightweights, it boasted accomplished hydraulically damped front fork.

Coded the LH, its 198cc (60x70mm) ohv engine, with 7.5:1 compression ratio giving 10bhp at 5600rpm, drove through a Burman GB30 four-speed gearbox. Weighing 270lb, the Colt had 19inch wheels, five-and-a-half inch front and five-inch rear brakes and testers reported just over 60mph top speed, a little less with pillion passenger.


Val Page hadn’t been involved with two-stroke engine design since his time at JAP,which ended in 1925, and, anyway, these were predominately economy units. His 1950s brief from the board was for a modern, under 250cc two-stroke twin cylinder machine, as their research implied such a machine with an engine built as one with the gearbox was the ideal power unit for a sophisticated, quarter litre class motorcycle, which would have the advantage of low tax rates. An ideal mount for learners and the experienced rider, they claimed.

Two schools of thought exist as to whether Mr Page took a long, hard look at the then-best 250cc class two-stroke twin cylinder motorcycle on the market, the German built Adler, or didn’t. I’ve always favoured the first option, and, if so, Val was in good company, as it is clear both Yamaha and Suzuki took more than a passing interest in the Adler MB250 before committing. And for those who don’t like this theory, it is worth remembering the first ‘high speed’ modern engine was designed by George Bouton and unveiled as the De Dion Bouton in 1895, and, in principle, every ‘high speed’ internal combustion engine is its descendent.

The Leader’s engine was a 247cc (54x54mm) twin cylinder loop scavenge two-stroke unit with 8.25:1 compression ratio, developing 16bhp at 6400rpm. It was fitted with an Amal 375/33 Monobloc Carburettor, Lucas 50W alternator and Burman CP-like gear cluster (slightly narrower pinions) in a housing which was part of the engine castings. A pair of metal pressings welded together formed the spine frame to support the underslung engine. Further pressings formed the bodywork and trailing link type front fork structure.

Weighing 330lbs dry (with accessories) the Leader had 16-inch wheels, with six-inch sls drum brakes front and back. Running on petroil, press testers hit almost 70mph sitting upright behind the Leader’s full screen and leg shields. Fuel economy was quoted as 80mpg at 50mph, with a suggested comfortable cruising speed of 50-60mph. On December 18, 1958, Motor Cycling’s tester penned: “Modern motorcycle performance and handling combined with rider protection. Full enclosure and modern styling.” Valentine Page had hit the design brief for the last time in his long career.

One hopes his bosses fully appreciated their quiet, cultured, gifted design engineer. Or, as Roger Barlow, one of Page’s younger staff members at Selly Oak during the late 1950s, oft remarked of his old boss, “One of life’s gentlemen.”


The Ariel Leader, envisaged as a sophisticated and modern touring motorcycle.

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