15th October 2010
Colin Mitchell had never been to the Manx Grand Prix before. It turned out to be a wonderful week of classic motorcycling, and here are his highlights...
My friend Jim Balls (yes, officer, that is his real name!), called round to my house at the beginning of August on board a Yamaha XS750 of 1977 vintage. We sat in the garden drinking a cuppa and setting the world to rights. He hedges round something for a while and then comes out and asks if I would like to come to the Manx Grand Prix with him. I immediately say that I would but that it would need clearance from the Exchequer, who was out at the WI or Horticultural Society or some such goings on, none involving motorcycles. I agreed to telephone him in the evening.
The outcome was positive and all I needed to find out was what the arrangements were. Jim helps most days at a classic motorcycle shop and had been to previous MGPs through contacts there. This year it seems that two acquaintances were unable to go, leaving him with ferry bookings for two and a van, together with a shared room at a B&B. A party of about nine or so would regularly stay at the same house, most of whom were known to Jim but only a couple to me. Oh! Well, in for a penny as they say…
Not being a member of the VMCC I signed up and attempted to enter for the Jurby track sessions and the closed road parade. Unfortunately my entry was too late and was returned. I still proceeded, although at this point my only machine in the shed was a 1997 R850R BMW. Jim very kindly loaned me his Yamaha as he was taking his ES2 Norton. We also squeezed a 1967 TriGreeves in the van and so we were all ready.
We started off very early and drove to Heysham for the ferry without problem, with time for a walk along the beach before joining the queue for the ferry. Shortly before arriving the heavy rain had changed to a clear blue sky and after the usual chat with other riders and van drivers we set off for the crossing to the Isle of Man. We were quickly off the ferry and on our way to Ballamodha and our home for the next 11 nights. Already there were John and his son David from Lancashire who greeted us with our hosts Kathy and Nigel Bowrey, motorcyclists themselves and fresh from a 9000-mile ride in the USA aboard their Harley.
The first Friday was spent getting the machines out and having my first taste of Manx motorcycling since my last visit in 1997. The remaining guests, another John, Grahame and the terrible trio of Goff, Mick and Dave all started to arrive and the collection of motorcycles grew bigger. John and David had a Norton, an AJS twin and a Mike Hailwood replica Ducati, John came aboard his trusty BMW twin and Grahame had a very nice Triumph triple (Raygun silencer type) and a Honda XBR500. Mick and Goff had their International Nortons and David a slightly modified Velocette Viper.
The weekend flew by with excursions onto the course which was easily accessed at Ballacraine via Foxdale. One time, after rounding the Ramsey hairpin and running up towards the top of Snaefell, the Norton began to rattle and smoke started to pour from the exhaust. This necessitated a quick Yamaha run to collect the van and ferry the Norton back. Later in the day the general consensus was that the big end had failed probably due to a faulty oil pump.
Jim was very keen to enter the closed road parade and hurried off in the morning with the terrible trio to attend the briefing and sign up. I followed on quietly on my own, riding the Greevus. This is a Greeves frame with a Triumph 3TA engine which was built up by Mick and Goff. It was a surprisingly (to me, at least!) good handling machine, although a little short of grunt on the longer slopes.
I enjoyed my potter out to the airfield. Parking up quite early in the day I was later amazed by the huge numbers of machines that gathered there. It would have taken the next month to have seen everything. I met up with the others and watched the track sessions -- Goff had a huge smile on completing his first track ride -- and looked at too many machines to list them all. A huge amount of man hours has been expended over many years to bring these machines back to a life and, better still, to an active life.
The weather remained good throughout the week and the days passed very quickly. There were the races each day. Monday saw me at Ballacraine for a day on my own. The races are something to behold and I still have difficulty trying to explain the excitement of the machines passing within inches of the walls and bank, not to mention some front doors! Monday was the day of the VMCC parade and I watched Jim passing, I have promised not to use his picture as he has his mouth open in terror of turning in on the wrong side of the road at traffic lights. Mick and Dave acted as Marshalls among the front groups and missed the incidents that saw the parade stopped at Ramsey Square.
During the following days we were to be seen in Laxey for the Norton Owners Club meeting and a chance to see the Gold Stars on the quay side. Wednesday's racing was viewed from Quarter Bridge and later in the week we assembled at the Grandstand for the classic event where the older John was on duty as a refueller, We also viewed from the Church at Sulby crossroads and then took the winding road up to the Bungalow, which has a tremendous vantage point from both sides of the road. We went sight-seeing at the Laxey Wheel and visited the Ramsey Sprint. We ate ice cream in Peel, saw the museums at Kirk Michael at Murray's and our evenings were occupied with a superb barbecue at the lodgings hosted by Kathy, Nigel and their son Domenic assisted by David with the gin and tonics (enough of that here!). We also fielded two teams at the pub quiz in Castle Town and spent an evening with our hosts over chilli and a George Formby DVD.
What a week. All too soon it was back to the ferry and the drive home, Thanks to our hosts and the TEAM for making this a tremendous first time at the Manx.
For details about the next Manx Grand Prix and VMCC rally, see: www.vmcciom.org
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