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18th November 2013

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Classic Motorcycle Show, NEC 2013

From NSU to FS1E, from Norton Sidecar to Motorsport BMW; Richard Jones visits this weekend's Classic Motorcycle Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham...

I decided to let the train take the strain and caught a Virgin from Candy Floss Halt, the small station that lies close to Jones Towers, to the NEC where on arrival I was stunned to be surrounded by hordes of teenagers. Were they all going to the Classic Motorcycle show - was this some huge wave of interest from the younger generation in classic machinery? Sadly not - they were attending the Skills Show that was being held at the same time. One can only feel a great deal of sympathy for all these young hopefuls; they will probably be working into their late seventies or even eighties before they can retire and enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Fighting my way past these ingenues there then followed a long walk to the show halls where I thought I was in for a long bout of queuing to get a ticket. However it transpired that the long line was for the classic car show that was being held simultaneously and adjacently to the far more interesting motorcycle extravaganza. As a result the queue for bike tickets was me, the queue of one, and once my £14 was handed over I was free to get camera ready and head into the fray. It is at this point I must make two apologies, the first to Rowena for once again forgetting to take a general shot of the event although, in my defence, the NEC is not what you might call photogenic. The second apology is to you, dear reader, for the quality of some of the photographs. One day I will get around to reading the instruction manual for the flashgun. Anyway onwards and inwards.

1961 NSU 250cc Supermax

The first machine that caught my eye was this rather splendid 1961 NSU 250 cc Supermax, possibly because it's blue and I like blue.

I was interested to discover from "German Motorcycles- Interesting Facts You Didn't Know" that NSU stands for Neckarsulm Strickmaschinen Union which translates to Knitting Machine Union - an interesting marketing ploy. The company, as did so many, began by making bicycles at the turn of the 20th century, then started adding a 1½ hp Swiss Zedel engine and by 1903 they were using their own 392 cc 2½ hp engines. They then went on to design a simple free-engine clutch and a two-speed epicyclic that fitted into the engine pulley of the belt drive. I won't pretend to know what this means but I am sure that it was a Good Thing as NSU became a strong exporter, even penetrating the US market.

After the first world war the company continued building singles and V-twins and then in 1929 they employed Walter Moore, he of Norton fame, as their designer who created 348 cc to 596 cc overhead camshaft racing singles as well as more mundane two- and four-stroke engines for the mass market. These included the 98 cc Quick two-stroke that remained in production from 1936 to 1953.

Post war pressed steel frames and patented leading link forks were introduced and NSU also signed a license agreement in 1949 to manufacture and sell Lambrettas in Germany, a very lucrative source of income.

In 1953 the company announced a new ohc 250 cc four stroke that included drive to the camshaft by eccentrics and straps - again Greek to me but the Max, Special Max and Super Max set new standards of excellence for the 250 cc class and remained in production until 1963. NSU also excelled in competition with the 125 cc Rennfox single and 250 cc Rennmax twin which took first and second places in the 1953 250 cc world championship (Werner Haas and Reg Armstrong) and first in the 125 cc class of the same year (Werner Haas). The following year NSU claimed the first three positions in the 250 cc class (Werner Haas; Rupert Hollaus; Herman Paul Müller) and first and third in the 125 cc class (Rupert Hollaus and Herman Paul Müller); not a bad record by any means.

With the Lambretta license approaching expiry racing was abandoned in 1954 as NSU focused on the development of the Prima scooter and this, together with the NSU Quickly 50 cc moped, was highly successful. However by the late 1950's NSU were suffering the same fate as UK manufacturers with people moving from motorcycles to cars and although the company may have made the transition to 4 wheels with its Prinz air-cooled car its obsession with the Wankel engine proved its undoing. By 1969 the warranty claims for the Wankel engined Ro80 had ruined the company which was taken over by VW-Audi and the marque disappeared; "progress through technology" may have worked for the purchasers of the company but unfortunately not for NSU.

Ducati Mk III 350

Yes - I know it's another blue bike but you have to admit that this wide case Ducati Mk III 350 cc looks gorgeous despite my photography. This was the final variation of Fabio Taglioni's ohc single theme, which started in 1955, and is rather rare as only about 800 were manufactured between 1973 and 1975. The engine - which was 340 cc - was said to produce 29 bhp at 7,500 rpm and was reportedly good for 99 mph; that factory replica megaphone must have made every one of those horsepowers sound magnificent. The valves are operated by springs rather than desmodronic gears; although the latter may be iconic I have read they can be something of a pain to keep in trim, admittedly a problem I will never experience as I know my limits. This Kingfisher Blue and Metallic Gold example is no trailer queen; it is used regularly by its owner Roy Osborn and has attended the Moto Giro d'Italia and the Colombres Rally in Spain.

Manx Norton outfit

It was on the Norton Owner's Club stand that I had the great pleasure of meeting the co-pilot, or sidecarist as he prefers to be known, who won the 1953 FIM Sidecar World Championship with Eric Oliver at the helm - Stan Dibben.

Born in 1925 Mr Dibben served with the Royal Navy during WW2 and saw action in both Algeria and Malta, the latter being something of a hotspot when he was there in 1943. When discharged in 1946 he completed his apprenticeship as an electrician and then turned down an offer from Geraldo and his orchestra to play on cruise ships - Stan had also been professional trumpet player - to go and build Gold Stars for BSA. He was then headhunted by Rex McCandless who persuaded him to join Norton's experimental department to develop the pre-production Model 88, a 500 cc engine in the newly produced "featherbed" frame. Stan covered 48,000 miles on LOK 622 and contributed significantly to development changes made by Norton.

In 1953 he met Eric Oliver who was looking for an assistant to help him at MIRA to record the rear suspension movements and characteristics of his featherbed framed outfit. From laying on the "chair" watching the suspension, as the world champion hammered around the track at 100 mph plus speeds, Stan went on with Oliver to take that world championship sixty years ago.

If all this wasn't enough Stan went on to race singles, competing against a young newcomer called J. Surtees, before heading off to Australia to get involved with Donald Campbell's land speed record attempt with Bluebird. He then went on to have a successful career in the motor profession and was instrumental in introducing NGK sparkplugs to the UK which led to his book Spark Plugging the Classics.

Stan Dibben Classy Combos, on now...

Now in his eighties he is still extremely active as the vice president of the UK Norton Owners Club as well as being patron of one of the Australian branches of the NOC. A remarkable man who has lived a remarkable life; their isn't enough room to recount all his experiences here and if you want to know more his autobiography "Hold ON!" is available as an e-book from Amazon, Kobo and Waterstones.

There is also a very interesting and well made film of his experiences called "No Ordinary Passenger" where the background music is a studio recording on which Stan is playing the trumpet. I've just watched it and it is well worth 7½ minutes of your time.

I'm always looking out for something different and I found these two bikes sat out on their own with no word of explanation as to what they were or where they came from. Note to organisers - more description and a well marketed show guide would be of a great benefit to visitors generally and amateur scribes like me specifically.

Triumph Quadrent

The Triumph Quadrant - or "Quadrent" as this had on its side panels - was a 4-cylinder 1,000 cc "bitsa" designed and manufactured by Doug Hele in secret in 1973 using Trident parts, albeit with an outsourced camshaft. In the absence of any details at the show I am obliged to Wikipedia for the information that "the fourth cylinder came from grafting on an extra middle crankcase unit; but since the primary chaincase and final drive sprocket could not be relocated, the fourth cylinder protruded on the right hand side of the bike. The top speed was reputedly 125 mph." Why this was done must be a matter for speculation as it's unlikely it would have reached production and may have not been able to compete with Honda's CB750 or Kawasaki's Z1. I'm not sure if this is the original as there is one in the National Motorcycle Museum which is blue with a single disc on the front.

Holy BSA

This time I am obliged to a show visitor from South Wales who informed me that this monster had an overhead camshaft grafted on to the engine. My interest came more from the fact that so much had been drilled out of the bike to save weight that there looked to be more holes than motorcycle. Perhaps someone out in Real Classic Land knows a bit more about both of these machines?

BSA Bantam

It is 65 years since the first BSA Bantam was produced and it seemed appropriate to include one of them here. Adjoining the BSA stand in the car part of the show was the DKW display which also featured a 1951 125 cc motorcycle with the 4-wheel machinery; this belonged to Norwegian Fredrik Folkestad who also owns another 5½ of these motorcycles as well as numerous DKW cars. This machine was the progenitor of the Bantam and the coincidence of the two stands being together is interesting; unfortunately my photography really let me down so badly that I cannot show you the DKW.

Yamaha FS1E special

A sign of the time perhaps but the Yamaha FS1E merited a stand of its own and there were no fewer than eleven of these iconic machines on display.

1936 New Imperial 492cc V-Twin works racer

I have recently been reading up about Donington in the 1930's and was delighted to see this 1936 New Imperial 492 cc V-Twin works racer, as ridden by Stanley "Ginger" Wood, on loan from the National Motorcycle Museum. Mr Wood was an extremely talented and courageous rider, perhaps the only one with sufficient moxy to ride the bike at full throttle.

one of Ray Elger's Egli framed sprinters

My obligatory Vincent, this time one of Ray Elger's Egli framed sprinters. Ray was a toolmaker by trade but a sprinter by desire and the photograph of the number of cups he has won stands as testimony to his success.

BMW R100SRS Motorsport...

Finally if you look closely you will be able to see where I was drooling over Dick Booth's pristinely restored BMW R100SRS "Motorsport". These were only manufactured briefly in 1978 and were painted in "Motorsport" colours, featuring the "S" type cockpit fairing rather than the full fairing used in the R100RS. This is one of a batch produced for the Australian police who subsequently cancelled their order; its provenance can be confirmed by the presence of a plate on the swing arm stating "Australian Motor Vehicle Certification Board." I did ask Mr Booth if it was for sale which has led to what will be protracted, and possibly futile, negotiations with Mrs Jones.

Anyway here we must end although there are, as always, more photos at here....

Words and photos; Richard Jones

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