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Davida went to The National Motorcycle Museum Open Day – Saturday 1st Nov 2014
As part of the Museums 30th Anniversary celebrations, Davida went to The National Motorcycle Museum on Saturday 1st Nov 2014, not only to welcome the Museum as our newest Davida Dealer, but also to experience the free Open Day they’d planned. You could tell by 10am that visitor numbers would be high.
I am happy to accept the global opinion that this is the biggest and most amazing collection of British pioneering, iconic, historic, racers, prototypes, shoppers & tourers in the world. Half way around the 1st of the 5 halls “casting pearls to swine ” came to mind; without the gravitas of background knowledge required this collection was going over well my head. More about that later.
What I hadn’t expected at The National Motorcycle Museum Open Day , and what made this an exceptional and unique event, was the 45 minute chat shows with the elite from Triumph and Norton race teams, held within the National Motorcycle Museum’s huge and impressive 600 seat Imperial Suite. In front of a full house, Steve Parish expertly interviewed the key people, the back room boys as well as racers, who were involved in the racing success of 4 of the museums famous race bikes:
The Norton Rotary Years with Brian Crighton, Trevor Nation and Ian Simpson
Slippery Sam with Mick Grant, Les Williams, John Woodward, Bill Fannon and Norman Hyde
Norton 750 Racers / the NVT Challenge with Phil Read, Mick Grant and Norman White
TT machines with John McGuinness, John Cooper and Ken Sprayson
After Mick Grant had fired up Slippery Sam and rode to the front, he joined the others on stage. Triumph Factory Race Team Manager, Les Williams, gave an informed and humorous account of the teams ever first ever race at the 1970 24 hour Bol’d’Or, including how the bike gained the name Slippery Sam and how the team went on to win four consecutive TT production races between 1971 & 1975. Les even remembered the exact spark plug models they experimented with.
The ‘bonhomie’ that existed 40 years ago between these 5 men was still very tangible on stage today. Whilst Les emphasised the quality of expertise and huge dedication of his team, never-the -less he was still honest enough to convey they were a team’ flying by the seat of its pants’, throwing everything they had at winning these races.
I lost count of the number of times Les praised the bravery and skill of Slippery’s racer Percy Tait, recalling with great pride and in great detail Percy’s greatest race track moments.
Once it was known that Percy was actually sitting quietly at the back of the hall, Percy got the second loudest applause of the afternoon.
Les was keen to tell of Percy’s defining racing moment at that Bol’d’Or in 1970, although Les believed not his most memorable by any means.
Having switched from green mineral oil to Castrol R at the last minute, Racer Percy Tait, known to the team as ‘Sam’, was first out at Monthlery. On his first pit stop, every inch of the bike and Percy was covered in oil. Not having a clue why, they drained and refilled the sump and cleaned everything up with petrol and he went back out.
“This went on for hour after hour” said Les. At the end of the race Les wrote Slippery Sam on the side of the bike and from then on it stuck.
Norman Hyde was part the team that went to the 1970 24 hour endurance race at Bol’D’Or.
” Imagine; Travelling down to Monthlery near Paris… At 45mph in an old van……Shaking everyone to bits… Once there I went straight in to Paris to buy chalk for the pit board…It never stopped raining….Nobody got any sleep between the day we arrived till the Monday night after the race….The race started at 3pm on Saturday and finished 3pm on Sunday, but of course we didn’t sleep till later on Monday as we had some celebrating to do ”
“At Monthlery your pit board information was delivered from a roofless concrete bunker at the side of the track, with the constant rain I was standing in this bunker in 3 foot of water… I communicated with the team via a wind up telephone which would electrocute you every time you spun the magneto…. I was counting the laps as the bike passed by throughout the night…Identification lights had fallen off or stopped working….It was incredibly hard to identify each bike as they went passed, You had to study hard each and every bike. ”
“After 2 days, in the middle of the race, I asked the team if anyone had thought of bringing any food… we hadn’t eaten since we got there. We sent a Frenchman off with some money to get food.”
“Did you ever see him again ?” quipped Steve.
NORTON 750 RACERS & NVT CHALLENGE
Norman White’s sheer passion and love for this machine was so very evident, and he rightly took centre stage for the most part of the interview, he had after all put so much into this bike over an incredibly short amount of time. Enthusiastic to explore and discuss the engineering challenges he faced from the varying racing styles of riders Mick Grant and Phil Read and John Cooper. Mick and Phil reviewed the differing pay levels within the team.
THE TT MACHINES
You really can’t go wrong sticking a microphone under the nose of these two much loved TT racers, John Cooper and John McGuiness, such is the charm, wit and gentleness of both men. Whilst both gave interesting accounts of their TT experiences, neither found a conclusive answer to the question a woman asked from the floor “Do racers have something extra or something missing ?” Good question Madam.
The biggest, loudest and most heart felt applause by far over the whole day was for Ken Sprayson. Who ? Yes, exactly. You’d have to be an enthusiast of a certain age to know that Ken Sprayson is ‘The Frame Man’ .
Mostly known for building of the Norton feather-bed frame and the frame which helped to tame Hailwood’s infamous Honda RC181, not many people know that Ken supplied an annual free welding repair service to the Isle of Man TT racers for 50 years, between 1958 – 2008, only stopping because his services became redundant as broken parts of production race bikes where replaced rather than repaired. ” One TT race day a small Japanese man came and stood in my garage & said nothing, so assumed he was from a big team & didn’t want any one to know why he needed me. ” I’m guessing Honda. Ken asked him to come back at 7pm when his garage would be empty. Returning at 7pm they took Ken and his gear to secret location, with the opened rear van and garage doors creating a concealing corridor, Ken entered the garage to find the whole team’s bikes with broken frames. ” In the whole 50 years I never ever charged any one a penny for fixing their race bikes, it was always free,…. including this Japanese Team”.
As a passionate rider of 20 years with a fair few miles under my belt, I’ve been around classic bikes for a few decades. I remain though, highly appreciative of form but largely ignorant of function. As an ill informed 2 wheel enthusiast then, without any useful technical or engineering nowse , I am used to missing out on some of the finer details.
Even so, with more than 850 bikes on display at The National Motorcycle Museum, I had some expectation that the collection would surprise and delight me, and hopefully expand a little my appreciation of the history of the British Motorcycling.
Firstly, it wasn’t obvious to me why the dozen or so machines had been selected for display in the reception area. A 1906, leather belt driven, 985cc Norton automatic twin, with a ” handlebar mounted carburettor ” next to a cut away Triumph; a cigar shaped land speed record holder next to a carved soild wooden motorcycle; a lone Wooler.
Then after 30 minutes and half way into the 1st of 5 halls I had to take a break. My tiny brain, overwhelmed & mashed by the sheer numbers of high gloss tanks, with brass twiddly knobs and bits attached to shiny chrome handlebars. Intensely displayed, uniform row after uniform row, hall after hall equalled one bamboozled brain.
The large prints of historical photographs hung on the wall behind the bikes gave a whiff of the lifestyle these bikes may have enjoyed in their hay day. Impossible to imagine though is the sheer blood, sweat and tears that the winners and the losers must have spent inventing, designing, financing & manufacturing in small workshops across the UK. The smashed dreams; the sleepless nights; exhilaration of success: the collective evidence of the our colossal industrial prowess born of the energy, passion and intellect of Britons.
Whilst some of the bikes here have been intensely idolised and documented, the vast majority have an unexplored secret life, concealing millions of untold stories of human and motorcycling endeavour behind the riding, the fixing and the racing of these bikes by their owners over the decades.
The National Motorcycle Museum also has the largest dedicated motorcycle bookshop in the world, and perhaps where I should spend more time !
The National Motorcycle Museum- An overwhelming collection but amazing too.
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