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6th September 2013

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Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival '13

Richard Jones attends a new event at Donington, and discovers several classic bikes which aren't actually red and Italian (as well as quite a few which are both of the above)...

My ticket to the Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival came courtesy of Fuel Solutions - thanks Andy - and as there was also a spare ticket Mrs Jones accompanied me. As such we went in the car so no tales of motorcycles failing to start or getting soaked or some such nonsense. We were accompanied by a colleague from work, Oliver, but he sat quietly in the back of the car listening to his iThing or whatever they are called. It was straight up to the M1 from Jones Towers so I managed not to get lost and we parked close to the paddock entrance so I couldn't lose the car when the day was over. Boring, I know - I will try and do better with a more interesting intro next time!

We set off first for the Classic Bike Clubs' Show and lurking outside was Bonhams - I know 'lurking' is perhaps rather unfair but they are always there to tempt poor unfortunates with gorgeous exotica which is inevitable very expensive. Luckily Mrs Jones was there to bring me back to earth with a good dose of reality. 'You could get a car for that amount of money' (which is slightly better than 'You could buy a house for that' when I've been taken with a particularly attractive Brough Superior).

Fully enclosed...

This 1929 Ascot-Pullin 496cc Sports Utility is to be offered for sale by Bonhams at the Stafford show in October. It is only one of eight surviving examples of 1914 TT winner Cyril Pullin's revolutionary design, and was one of three restored by the Light brothers. Ascot-Pullin began manufacturing motorcycles in 1928 at Letchworth and the design sought to introduce car industry practice to the conservative world of motorcycling with the 'New Wonder Motorcycle'. The engine was a horizontally mounted ohv single that drove a unit, three-speed gearbox via helical gears. The pressed-steel frame housed not only the engine and gearbox but also the petrol and oil tanks. There was also a telescopic centrestand for ease of parking, and extras included an adjustable windshield with optional wiper, leg shields and a rear view mirror.

Perhaps the most innovative piece of equipment on the Ascot was its hydraulic brake system, possibly the first time they were used on a motorcycle. Pullin initially used his own design but this was soon replaced with a Lockheed system. Unfortunately teething problems, combined with the aforementioned conservative motorcycle-riding market's distrust of innovations such as rear view mirrors, led to an early bath for Ascot Pullin which ceased manufacture in 1929 after 400 or 500 of these machines had been built. This one has, until recently, has been residing in the Hockenheim Museum; it's been serviced and an estimated £20-25,000 will get you the motorcycle and a Swansea V5.

Low slung...

Douglas were quick to jump on the dirt track - later to become speedway - bandwagon with their 500cc DT5 and 600cc DT6 competition machines when the sport arrived in the UK in 1928 at High Beech in Epping Forest. The DT provided an instant success - the first orders came from Australian A J Hunting, the managing director of International Speedways, and by the end of 1929 some 1300 had been sold that year. The ohv layout also featured roller bearing big-ends, there was 3-speed gearbox with a hand-change attached to the frame and the bike came with twin carburettors, each with their own control cable. Importantly the Douglas had an un-sprung duplex cradle frame which provided a low centre of gravity whilst, at the same time, high ground clearance. Being a speedway bike you only got one footrest - on the offside - and the whole thing came to £85 in July 1929. Unfortunately Douglas' success was short - some cunning Rudge owner adapted his frame which allowed it to flex like the Douglas. The extra power of the Rudge made it far more competitive; this and the 1930's Depression saw off the Douglas speedway models.

This 28hp machine, with a later Norton gearbox and clutch, is the SW5 version which was manufactured for more general racing use. It has seen a bit of life - it was sold to a gentleman from the Isle of Man, raced at Brooklands, registered for road use in 1952, returned to the Isle of Man in the 1960s and came back to the mainland in the 1970s. It was purchased by the present owner in June 2011 and he is interested in discovering more about its history so if you know anything about it …

Fully faired...

An event of this type would not be the same without something from the Sammy Miller Museum and they pulled out all the stops with this one. Behold the Giulio Carcano designed Moto Guzzi V8 500 which comes from the mid-1950s, a time before computer-aided technology was around to produce this engineering masterpiece. Tucked in the 90-degree angle between the two banks of cylinders are eight 21mm magnesium-bodied Dell'Orto carburettors; then, to make life more interesting, the engine is water-cooled and its double overhead camshafts are driven by gears. All in all it produced 79bhp at 12,000rpm and allowed Keith Campbell set a new lap record of 118.14mph at the 1957 Belgian Grand Prix. The machine was raced for two seasons - 1956 and 1957 - but never won a grand prix. Unfortunately Moto Guzzi then pulled out of racing before the engine could be developed further.

Pointy nosed...

We moved outside to where bikes were being prepared amongst a huge collection of vans, caravans and marquees. This Gilera sidecar outfit caught my eye amongst the more modern racing 'kneeler' outfits - it's red and Italian so it was a foregone conclusion. Gilera was unique amongst Italian factories in racing sidecars, not least due to the fact that Luigi Gilera had raced them before becoming responsible for the marque's sidecar squad led by Ercole Frigerio who worked in the experimental department. They had a good run of success until 1949 when the world series when Eric Oliver came along to secure the title with wins at Bremgarten Forest and Spa. However Gilera had a trick up their sleeve for the Italian GP in the form of a 112mph outfit, essentially a pre-war water-cooled racer with the supercharger removed and a sidecar added. When Oliver retired, Frigerio and passenger Ezio Ricotti won their home grand prix and Gilera were runners up in the series with 18 points to Oliver's 27.

I was chatting to the lady in the caravan by the Gilera and it turned out she was the outfit's passenger - at 70 years old. She showed me this wonderful head-on photo of her and her husband racing where she is at right angles to the motorcycle. It brought a whole new meaning to the word courageous.

I subsequently discovered from Bob Zwarts, a classic sidecar racer, that this was Christine Etheridge who, with her husband Dennis, is a living legend in the sidecar racing world and they have put many much younger riders to shame with their passion, energy and skill. They have raced all over Europe - the Gilera has appeared in Holland many times - and also New Zealand; they also campaign a 750cc Norton powered kneeler in CRMC/BHR events. Long may they continue.

Classic Italians on now...

Glowing in the dark...

Just to show I am not wholly obsessed with Italian racing machinery - I am but cut me some slack - here's Gus Kuhn's 1971 Mk3 Seeley Norton CCS 750 which was ridden by Dave Potter to win the F750 British Championship in 1972. This is reputed to be one of the most original Seeley machines in existence and was last ridden by Colin Seeley at the 2010 Mallory Festival of 1000 Bikes. Incidentally it is appropriate to mention Mr Seeley at this point as the Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust was the charity represented at the Donington Festival.

As well as the bikes on static displays, there was plenty of action on track in the racing and the parades…

Great photo...

It's red, it's Italian and it's ridden by Sammy Miller. 1951 Moto Guzzi 500.

We're none of us getting thinner...

John Player Norton 750. Peter Williams designed monocoque framed machine; one of these won him the 1973 Isle of Man F750 TT

There goes Senior. Or Junior...

Phil Read riding a Suzuki-Life RG500

Probably...

This is probably Will Loder on a Greeves Oulton 350

Crowded...

Penny Daws looks on as Russell Bleach's Norton 750 is passed by David Crawford and David Baxter's BMW 750

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More photos of Donington and other classic bikes at www.flickr.com/photos/.../sets/


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