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Bike Review - Posted 24th october 2014
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Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch

It was called the launch of a lifetime. James French celebrates 50 years since the Royal Enfield Continental was let loose upon an unsuspecting world...

50 years ago this week, Britain’s quickest 250 rode 1000 miles in just over 22 hours in what became known as Enfield’s launch of a lifetime. The entire tale appears back in RC40 (the August 2007 issue of RealClassic magazine), but as the model has been recently revived by the current incarnation of the company, it seems only right to recall this astonishing achievement on its 50th anniversary.

The Redditch firecracker was ignited in October 1964, travelling from John O’Groats to Land’s End inside a 24 hour timetable using a team of five riders. Three of the riders were recruited from the motorcycling press of the day to ensure maximum publicity for the new model from Royal Enfield.

Royal Enfield had asked their apprentices what they would most like to have on a learner-legal sports 250cc machine, and so the Continental GT was born. It came fitted with a larger carb with long bellmouth and a 9.5:1 high-compression piston – with other tweaks this gave the five-speed 250cc machine 21.5bhp at 7500rpm. On the styling side came factory-fitted clip-ons and rearsets; sleek, red, glassfibre tank; humped racing style seat and a flyscreen which gave the new GT the wow! factor. RE couldn’t make enough of them.

Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch Brian Crow at John O'Groats

The specially prepared launch machine, with its titanium conrod, went to Scotland via a train. It was then ridden by Brian Crow, RE’s tester, to John O’Groats for the start of the end-to-end (or top-to-tip as publicity material would call it) marathon. Brian set off on the 23rd October 1964 at 7pm following a route and schedule devised by RE’s sales manager Roger Boss. It was his idea that the spectacular launch, which called for an average speed of 43mph, would also fit in two racetrack stops for some high speed laps at Oulton Park in the hands of Geoff Duke, and John Cooper at Silverstone.

Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch Bruce Main-Smith and Patrick Braithwaite

Brian rode to Fort William and handed over to Peter Gaunt (the RE works trials rider) who rode and thrashed the little GT to Carlisle through the cold, almost freezing, night. Then the first gentleman of the press, Patrick Braithwaite, had his turn. Pat rode to Oulton Park but due to the track conditions the session was called off. Pat then rode to Penkridge in Stafffordshire to meet up with Bruce Main-Smith, the second press jockey. Bruce used the A5 to head for Silverstone for the track test there. Conditions were better and John Cooper thrashed the GT around for eight laps, averaging over 70mph with a fastest lap of 73mph. The bike had been misfiring slightly before taking to the track but the fault was traced to a loose wire in the ignition switch which was rapidly fixed.

Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch Bruce Main-Smith at Taunton
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BMS took the helm once again and headed for Taunton to meet the final rider David Dixon who rode the GT to Land’s End. Journo Dixon averaged 50mph (on minor roads…) to finish the marathon session comfortably half an hour ahead of the 23 hour schedule. Years later, looking back on the ride and the bike, Dixon said: ‘I loved it. It was quick and would pull on to well over 70mph. Beautiful little bike.’

Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch David Dixon at Land's End

We can now look back at what a remarkable achievement this was. There were few by-passes or dual-carriageways and no mobile phones. All the fuel stops had to be carefully planned in advance – and against the odds a brand new machine survived 1000 miles in the less-than-gentle hands of the press!

Royal Enfield Continental GT Launch

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