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5th August 2011

2011 Festival of 1000 Bikes (3)
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Richard Jones found so much to like about the Festival of 1000 Bikes that he couldn't cram it all into one report. So here's the first part his review of this classic motorcycling extravaganza...

You've got to hand it to the VMCC - one week they've organised a day where the largest collection of pre-1931 motorcycles in the world is on display and a few weeks later they're putting on the Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory. Two days of classic motorcycles, over a thousand taking part in track sessions and classic motorcyclists including Sammy Miller, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Kenny Roberts. As the younger generation put it - respect!

The main aim of my visit this year was to see my IAM observer and chairman of the BSA Owners' Club, Trevor Collier, riding his Moto Guzzi V50 around Shaw's Hairpin. When we saw it at the Red Marley Hill Climb, this bike demonstrated quite a turn of speed and I was hoping to be able to get some in-focus photographs.

Mallory Park is not far from Hinckley and we passed the Triumph factory where my bike (aka Tessie) would have been assembled in 2004. I was lucky enough to visit the factory last year and it's a very impressive set up - more like a large operating theatre than a factory. Everything is hi-tech, there are no oil stains and it's all on a huge scale. I know this doesn't appeal to everybody but it does demonstrate how a high quality mass produced motorcycle is produced in the 21st century. I do have some photographs if anyone is interested.

I seem to have veered away from the point of all of this so now back on track. The first order of business was to get parked up and the camera out. Surprisingly I was able to park on the tarmac bike park close to the entry gates - I'd expected to be miles away although Saturday tends to be somewhat quieter than the more popular Sunday when the stars are out (on the track that is). Mallory, for those who don't know it, is more like a country park which happens to have a racing circuit sitting in it. There are great views of the circuit, the lake and surrounding countryside from the main spectator area - far better than Silverstone or some of the larger tracks

Anyway with camera prepared and me perspiring somewhat given the warm and sunny day I arrived at the Hairpin bend in time to take some photos of Trevor as he indulged in the first of three sessions booked during the day.

Note eager racing crouch and throttle wound back to the stop. Not.. The BSA Owners Club chairman riding a Moto Guzzi? Strange but true

For the uninitiated at first sight it may look as if the riders are riding in a manner that might suggest that they are in competition or even, dare I say it, racing. This is not the case - these are track sessions and the riders are definitely not trying to see how many times they can overtake the other participants. Perish the thought - that would be far too dangerous. I think the best description I heard is that these sessions are a spirited procession around the Mallory circuit to allow the riders to demonstrate their machines' capabilities to an adoring public.

The next order of business was a trip down the Avenue of Clubs. I know this may suggest a tree-lined boulevard in Paris with rather risqué establishments selling baguettes, Pernod and anisette but the reality is rather different. It is, in fact, a rather gravelly and, after a period of dry weather, dusty piece of track where the various owners clubs set up displays of their assembled hardware. Food and drink is available but it tends more to the burger and bacon sandwich end of the spectrum rather than haute cuisine. That being said it is very pleasant on a sunny day and the first thing I came across were some gentlemen wearing RealClassic tee shirts and a Moto Morini bearing the same legend.

I really must clean my bike.. A cunning new form of advertising perhaps?

There were a number of other motorcycles that came into the lens view along the Avenue and one of the more unusual was a Sunbeam that had had its original engine replaced with a modern S&S V-twin and named as an XB9 Special. I'm sure the purists may not be overly enthusiastic with this apparent heresy but I have to say I quite liked it. It would be interesting to know how it handled - the three leaf clover emblem attached behind the engine may or may not provide a clue.

S&S? Or Buell?.. Heresy or a bit of fun - it's all in the eye of the beholder

The Rudge marquee also had much to commend it with an excellent display of machines. The photographic backdrop to a beautiful 1939 Special could almost make you believe you were in the factory. The present owner acquired it for £5 in 1958 and in the subsequent 52 years it has led a chequered life having been saved from scrapping after an accident and then bursting into flames in the early 1970s which resulted in the need for a new engine. Since being restored in the 1980s it has covered 41,000 miles including five laps of the Isle of Man TT course in 2001.

Please resist more in future.. Yes - I know - but there are times when Photoshop can't and shouldn't be resisted

In my youth I was a huge fan of Norton Commandos and had a poster of them on my bedroom wall. (there were also less salubrious posters but best not to mention these). I was also a fan of the John Player Norton team and used to lap up the reports of them in a certain weekly motorcycle newspaper that appeared on Wednesdays. When I saw a JPN Norton just sitting there I couldn't resist it and it's only the fact that I was bound to be caught that stopped me from spiriting it away.

Please tell us more about the other posters.. If you look carefully you can see Peter Williams' autograph on the fairing

Walking down to Avenue, carefully avoiding some of the more enthusiastic riders heading for their track session, you can cross the bridge into the Paddock where the race bikes are being prepared and some of the more exotic machinery is on display. The trade sponsors are also here and the first marquee I spotted was Bonhams where arguably the most expensive classic motorcycle in the world was on display (if you exclude TE Lawrence's Brough).

I wonder which company is auctioning this bike?.. What - no security guard?

The AJS E90 - dubbed the Porcupine by the motorcycling press due to the distinctive spiked cylinder head fins - debuted in the 1947 IoM TT with a best position of 9th when ridden by Les Graham. Two years later Graham came home in first place at the inaugural Grand Prix World Championships. However the E90 was bedevilled with problems, possibly due to the fact that it had been designed for use with a supercharger, and in 1952 the E95 engine was introduced although again with its own problems. In 1954 Jack Williams took over the race team and his development work led to a far smoother and reliable engine and a better handling motorcycle. 1954 was to be not only a very successful year for the Porcupine, with a second in the Ulster Grand Prix and first in Sweden, but also its swansong as AJS withdrew from Grand Prix racing at the end of the season.

The example being offered by Bonhams at Quail Lodge in California in August is only one of four works bikes built and has an estimated sale price of $750,000 - $950,000. Given auctioneers tend to take a conservative approach to estimates I'd make sure you had at least £500,000 in your bank account before bidding.

For those with somewhat less to spend Bonhams were also displaying the Brough Superior I'd seen and photographed at the Banbury Run.

Bit o' woodworm in that brake plate, by the look of it... Simply beautiful or what?

This 1929 SS100 known as Moby Dick was acquired by a Mr Charles Hobbs, a young garage proprietor from Guildford, who spent a considerable amount of money improving its appearance and speed. JA Prestwich produced larger bore cylinder barrels taking the capacity to 1150cc which when combined with 8:1 pistons, allowing the use of a petrol-benzole mixture, a big bore racing carburettor and open exhausts went a long way in achieving Mr Hobbs' twin goals.

ECE Baragwanath further built on performance by once again raising the compression and improving valve timing. Twin carburettors were fitted and the rear end also locked solid to provide more rigidity and lower the riding position. Dennis May - 'Castor' of Motor Cycle Weekly - reported a run of 115mph and Mr Hobbs claimed that it should do 120mph. Incidentally it was Castor who named the machine - the first time he tested the Brough it was chromium plated all over and apparently looked white on a bright but cloudy day - 'Moby Dick: the big White Monster'. Moby also visited Brooklands in 1933 when it was entered by Hobbs into the Clubman's Flying Kilometre Trial and reached 101.68mph.

Moby Dick passed through several owners one of whom, Louis Holland, had the frame and forks copper plated. In later years the renowned Brough Superior restorer, Tony Cripps, put Moby Dick into its current superb state with the correct petrol tank. 'The copper plating and Brooklands exhaust system suggest a track history and the myriad lightening holes drilled by Charles Hobbs long ago hint at its sprinting past.'*

Bonhams are estimating a sale price of £240,000 - £280,000 when the machine is offered for sale at Stafford in October. Given its provenance I would say that this brings a whole new meaning to the word 'conservative'.

Talking of the name Hobbs and extremely fast motorcycles I also espied Mr John Hobbs' 1974 twin Weslake engine Hobbitt in the Paddock. This impressive piece of engineering set a new world record for the standing quarter mile in 1977 with a two way average of 9.165 seconds. The Hobbitt went on to record a best time of 8.07 seconds and a terminal speed of 176mph, just missing out on a sub-eight second time. The bike on display is just how it appeared after its last season in 1981 with original Crowerglide slipper clutch and twin Shorrocks superchargers blowing a nitro methane / methanol mixture into the four cylinders with a total displacement of 1700 cc. The bike was run in the lunch break as part of a display of sprint machines - needless to say it looked and sounded awesome

You'd need more than hairy toes to ride this... JRR Tolkien would have been proud

The paddock is now full of sound and fury as race engines are revved to ever higher decibels with machines being pushed and ridden around and through the milling spectators. However there are areas of calm where motorcycles and their owner can be seen taking a more relaxed approach to race preparation

You wouldn't know it, but Sunday was swelteringly hot...

Anyway - time for some more racing…


*"Legends in Their Lifetime - George Brough & Lawrence of Arabia". C.E. "Titch" Allen OBE BEM. 2010. I am indebted to this seminal work for the history of Moby Dick which so intrigued me when I first saw it at the 2011 Banbury Run. I hope that Mr Allen's estate will forgive me for cribbing these few paragraphs

I'll be posting many more photos from this event to my Flickr site over the next few weeks.


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