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29th March 2013

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British Historic Racing at Mallory Park

Richard Jones attends the classic racing motorcycle test day at Mallory Park and presents a visual feast of old motorcycles going quite fast (and some standing still, too)...

I managed to tick off a couple of items on my 'must visit' list recently; often these things don't come up to expectations but for, a change, I wasn't disappointed. First visit was to Rothley, to Pooks Motor Books which specialises in, not unsurprisingly, all things automotive including motorcycles. Saying I like books is something of an understatement and Pooks has books galore - every conceivable nook and cranny in two buildings is stuffed with books, manuals, magazines and brochures. I could quite happily have spent the day there but had to drag myself away only having bought two books and a copy of The Motor Cycle from 1935. If you can't make it to Rothley then Pooks will be at the Stafford show in April.

A short distance from Rothley is Ellistown and what should be there be but North Leicester Motorcycles, a longstanding item on my list. NLM have been specialising in classic Italian motorcycles for 40 years with a particular emphasis on Moto Morini. If you are at all interested in Italian exotica then a trip to NLM is essential - the showroom is filled from top to bottom with Moto Morini and Moto Guzzi, seasoned with a sprinkling of Ducati, Benelli, Gilera and Laverda.

There cannot be a showroom in the UK with more vowels painted on the side of fuel tanks than this one and Stuart is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. However you must beware - I almost committed to buying a Moto Guzzi and it wasn't until I got home that Mrs J forcibly reminded me there was no more room in the Jones Towers coach house until I got rid of one of the existing machines. So if anyone is in the market for a BMW R69S… buy now whilst stocks last.

The next and final stop was at Mallory where the VMCC were holding their British Historic Racing test day; I thought it would be quiet but the car park was fairly full considering it was mid-week. Apologies if the photos are not as sharp as they could be - there was a keen wind blowing and my hands were shaking.

They're all related to each other, you know...

This is George Walters' Norton Kneeler and the passenger is George's daughter, Karen; sidecar racing runs in the family as Karen's husband, Geoff is also a passenger. The machine dates back to 1961 and it was only last year that the original 600cc engine was replaced with a 750 Commando unit. George is extremely inventive when it comes to his outfit; the chair nose cone was fabricated from a Hoover Constellation and the passenger grab handle on the rear fender was originally fixed to a bath.

I suspect that engine is a *long* way from standard...

This is Ron Maul on his BMW which he built in three weeks after his previous sponsor was unable to fund another bike for 2013. Despite the fact that the engine was still tight he was going around the circuit at a very creditable speed and you will hopefully be able to see the impact his cornering had on the rocker box covers. I think the bike is based on a R75/5 but I suspect the engine is closer to a full litre in capacity these days.

It was whilst I was photographing the BMW that I met David Sykes who is currently building a new outfit based on an all-iron Harley Davidson which should be well worth seeing in action when completed. David is also an author and I was able to get an autographed copy of his book 'Out of Time' which is set in Iraq where a US Marine Corps lieutenant and a British Parachute Regiment sergeant are tasked to find and buy a stolen historic racing motorcycle. Sounds intriguing and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Tum te tum. Wonder what's for tea?...

I have to say that this is my mental image of what historic motorcycle racing is about - a chap riding a black Velocette and wearing a waxed jacket. I'm sure that if he had been allowed to wear an open face helmet there would be a briar pipe firmly clenched between his teeth. Well done that man!

This Rudge pre-dates the racing crouch...

'The 250cc Rudge, known as the Stratford Rudge, has been raced and maintained by Mervyn Stratford since 1968. In the following year, 1969 Mervyn won the VMCC 250cc championship on this machine and since then it has hardly stopped winning.' I found this on a very comprehensive site devoted to this machine (www.stratford-rudge.co.uk). I won't repeat all the details - you can read it yourself at your leisure - but suffice it to say this is a 1934 specification bike with a fully radial 4-valve engine which runs on methanol.

Like a brick.... But not as pretty...

It's when you see a photo like this that you realise why the early K series BMW' were known as 'flying bricks'; that engine seems, like the bumble bee, to be aerodynamically impossible. However this gentleman gallantly piloted his flying brick around Mallory at very creditable speeds and certainly far faster than I would have done if I had been in the saddle.

You can't go wrong with pointy racing boots...

I'm taking a massive leap of faith in my powers of deduction but I think this is Mick Baldwin on his AJS 7R 350 (and if it's not my apologies to Mr Walker and whoever it is riding this lovely bike).

Looking rather wonderful...

It's red and Italian and these characteristics are good enough for me to include it; given that Ducati 200cc appears on the head of the engine I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions. There was quite a bit of Italian exotica being ridden and it all looked rather wonderful; more please.

No good hiding, Mr Blue Hat...

Along with the Stratford Rudge this New Imperial must have been one of the oldest motorcycles at the event. The gentleman in the blue hat (out of shot, busy fettling the machine) confirmed that it had been a good day on the basis that nothing had broken or blown up and he hadn't fallen off.

And last, but by no means least, there were some very intrepid riders haring around the circuit on scooters. I know I shouldn't stereotype but I was rather disappointed that they weren't wearing parkas and mohair suits. You can't have everything…

Vespa. Splendid... Splendid classic scooters on now...

If this has whetted your appetite then make sure you are at Mallory on the 21st April 2013 for the first British Historic Racing meeting of the season. There are more details at the VMCC site at www.britishhistoricracing.co.uk, and if you want to see some more photos from the test day have a look here...

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