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Sidecar Review - Posted 28th November 2016
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Martello Sidecars, Part Two

The Martello sidecar story started with a one-off outfit named Moby Dick. Steven Lancaster explains how the idea grew into a production model...

In the early 1970s, sidecar enthusiasts Len Turner, Dave Clark and Frank Foster first started discussing the general requirements for a family-friendly sidecar, but didn’t have the time to take things further. Len worked for Dormobile, working with glassfibre moulds. A year later, Les Bray formed Martello Plastics Ltd, based in Folkestone. He approached Len Turner to join the new company sometime around 1972.

By the mid-1970s Len Turner was a fabricator at Martello Plastics and had recently acquired a damaged-repairable GL1000. Together with Malcolm Reynolds (who needed a sidecar urgently to transport his young family), Dave Clark and Brian Clark (all of whom had practical sidecar experience over many years), he continued the discussions and started drawing up their design requirements for a possible production run of a new type of sidecar.

The friends now had the opportunity to progress the project. The new design would address the shortfalls and incorporate all the design elements they felt were necessary but lacking in available sidecar products at that time. Conveniently, Les Bray, the owner of Martello Plastics, had also recently joined their WHAC club. So it was agreed that Les would finalise the design details and manufacture the moulds. Len could complete a prototype run if sufficient initial orders were placed to make the project viable.

The general design principles were then agreed, with emphasis on an aerodynamic frontage with adequate leg room, good waterproofing (gained by the use of a solid roof), decent sized boot space, a windproof body and generous cockpit space to ensure ease of access into the cockpit.

During a visit to the London sidecar rally in 1980, members of WHAC came across Clifford Day’s sidecar unit, the one nicknamed ‘Moby Dick’. At first glance it appeared to meet most of the group’s requirements. After a conversation with Len Turner, Cliff agreed to release his 12-piece mould set for further evaluation on suitability and design, with an eye for development by Les and Len via Martello Plastics in Folkestone.

Les Bray and the WHAC group set about discussing the design, modification and practical aspects required to alter Cliff’s original design to meet their needs and to justify/develop a limited production run for Martello Plastics. Only then would it be possible to gauge the demand and commercial aspects of sidecar production. The group concentrated around the front of the sidecar, truing up the front profile while making it lower in height and more aerodynamic.

By early 1981 and using Cliff’s moulds, Les and Len built up the Type 1 sidecar shell. This was found to be badly warped, especially in the front section, due to distortions within the original moulds, hence a completely new mould would be required. Extensive modifications were also necessary to suit Martello Plastic’s production techniques and to incorporate the modifications and enhancements sought by Les Bray.

Major modifications were made to the development moulds to gain the enhanced design and to suit production techniques. An initial order for four sidecars was placed from Len Turner, Malcolm Reynolds, Dave Clark and Stan Ching. Using the modified and smoothed shell, a two-piece production mould was completed. Two prototype Martello shells were then produced, the first being a child/adult version as a test mule for Len, and one single-adult saloon for Malcolm.

Martello Sidecars, Part Two Margaret Clark seated in Dave’s 1975 GL1000 outfit, the first production Martello sidecar

Once Malcolm had the shell, he designed and built up two chassis sections in his garage. The markings for the chassis layout are still present on his garage floor today! Len and Malcolm undertook the initial development of the sidecar shell and rolling chassis, taking the sidecars to Germany in September 1981. Then the following February they took their new Martello sidecar units to the Dragon Rally in North Wales. Here in the depths of a snowy winter, Malcolm won the best outfit award, which he still has on his mantlepiece.

Martello Sidecars, Part Two Dave’s GL1000 and the first production model Martello, in colour!
Sidecars on Now...

The production Martello sidecars started to be built, with the first going to Dave Clark and then one Stan Ching. Sidecar chassis were initially manufactured by Dave Clark or Len to the basic design provided by Malcolm. Martello Plastics continued making sidecar shells to order into the late 1980s, until production ceased due to commercial factors. Development of the Martello shell continued right up to the end of manufacture, with a special, one-off 30 ounce lightweight shell being produced. The team aimed to produce a new mould to allow a wider, more modern look.

Martello Sidecars, Part Two Dave’s saloon outfit and Len Turner’s child/adult version (Click to embiggen)

Although detailed records no longer exist, it is believed that a total of 24 or more Martello sidecar shells were manufactured during the 10 year production run. Each sidecar built by Martello Plastics was considered as an individual and challenging project in its own right. The builders devoted considerable personal input into each shell to meet their own high standards and to exceed the individual customer’s requirements, and this effort far exceeded the price which each unit achieved.

Martello Sidecars, Part Two A customer sidecar photographed outside the company workshop on Dave Clark’s trailer, ready for despatch

All the original Martello moulds were moved to the firm’s new factory site in the mid-1990s, but subsequently were broken up when storage space became limited. The Martello Sidecars Owners group has documented the complete history of 12 of the sidecars built in Kent, and have further details on another four or five units. There may be another half dozen Martello sidecars out there somewhere – perhaps you know of one?

If so please contact or join the Martello group on Facebook (martellosidecarownersgroup). If you have any old photos or information to share, it would be much appreciated.

Martello Sidecars, Part Two

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