This time it is some old photographs, accompanied by notes, sent to me by Flt.-L.t. G. O’Donovan, son of the late D. R. O’Donovan, the Norton “wizard” of Brooklands fame, for my personal enjoyment, but the nostalgia from which he has generously agreed to let me pass on to you in these columns.
The first photograph shows his father’s first record-breaking Norton — a 500-c.c. side-valve single with a frame borrowed from Jack Emerson, called “Wanderlust” due to somewhat sketchy navigation. It had a Ruthardt magneto, Continental tyres and Bosch plugs, O’Donovan having previously been Competition Manager for N.S.U. Making its first appearance at Brooklands in the summer of 1913, it was ready to attack records in September and got the f.s. 5 miles at 71.5 m.p.h. and s.s.10 miles at 68 m.p.h., losing them to Triumph, but raising them, to over 73 m.p.h. in March, 1914. Later records included world sprint records at over 81 m.p.h. solo and over 64 m.p.h. sidecar. This machine was used for solo and sidecar races, and trials, Jack Alcock, of Atlantic flight fame, being the usual sidecar passenger, in return for which he taught O’Donovan to fly. The Norton was wheeled out for the last time in 1915 for a hurried record attempt, setting the world f.s. mile to 82½ m.p.h., before war closed down all such activities. In all it took no fewer than 112 records; it is now in honourable retirement, owned by Graham Walker.
Next comes a nostalgic picture of a 600-c.c. Big Four Norton combination in the Victory Cup Trial of 1919 — the war is over! This machine was used for a stunt performance involving flogging it up and down Bwlch-y-Groes an astronomical number of times and the engine, mounted in a BS/BRS frame, became the first 600-c.c. Norton sidecar racing outfit, afterwards employed for some long-distance record attacks. In 1920 it figured in a long-distance road-race, inasmuch as O’Donovan couldn’t resist a speed-duel with Ware’s Morgan in the course of that year’s London-Edinburgh Trial, which earned the comment in a motor-cycling paper that “it was the fastest machine in the trial but this was hardly the place to demonstrate it.”
Picture No. 3 shows the first post-Kaiser-war machine used for record attacks by O’Donovan, a 500-c.c. BS/BRS Norton frame with the 1913/14 engine and a Canoelet sidecar. Fourteen records fell at just over 53 m.p.h., a “navvy” who happened to be on the scene going as passenger when it was discovered that ballast was advisable. H. H. Beech borrowed the outfit for his “summer holiday,” which consisted of riding round Brooklands for six hours to collect the intermediate records and, a week later, the owner took the only remaining records in the class.
So these nostalgic pictures recall forgotten episodes of history. There is the 1920 T.T. Norton, used also for record-breaking at Brooklands when the belt-drive job was in temporary disgrace after losing the belt during a serious onslaught on records up to 12 hours. In the end this and the belt-drive machine, and variants of the two, took all records in the 500-c.c. class and most of the 750-c.c. and 1,000-c.c. records over one hour, solo and sidecar, as well as winning many races.
In the winter of 1920 O’Donovan agreed to develop a machine for Bertie Goodman of Velocette and evolved a 250-c.c. two-stroke on which the racing Velocettes of the next two or three years were based. Fitted with two carburetters and a “secret something,” about which even the rider, Rex Judd, knew nothing, the mile was covered at 72 m.p.h. Later, with an experimental exhaust system, the engine suffered a monumental blow-up and was thrown into the sewage farm to frustrate the curious!
There is a Norton with the first serious attempt at a properly-streamlined sidecar, which was developed by Vickers. Using basically the 1913/14 engine, Judd used this mount for his first big record ride, during which he took the 500-c.c. kilo record at over 85 m.p.h. — a fortnight before he had stowed himself inside the sidecar while O’Donovan captured records at a shade under 70 m.p.h. — this in February, 1921. This led to another streamline sidecar, again made by Vickers and weighing only 8 lb., in which Judd lay prone with his feet foremost and his head forming the tail. The Norton to which the sidecar was attached had a new s.v. engine developing 24 b.h.p. All manner of records fell to it, including the first-ever over-98-m.p.h. solo run and 98.5 m.p.h. over the mile at a later date. Its development only ceased because the first o.h.v. Norton was being built by O’Donovan. This was constructed largely at Brooklands from rough castings supplied by Nortons. It proved so fast that the “works” model 18 couldn’t hold a candle to it, and subsequently all the T.T. Nortons of that era were sent down to Byfleet for O’Donovan to prepare.
The 1923 version of the o.h.v. Norton was ridden in May of that year by little Albert Denly who had previously never done more than three laps at a trot, took the first over-80 hour record, at 83 m.p.h., and went on to get the 100-mile record at 79 m.p.h. This machine was lent to Lt. Grogan. R.N., who later raced Frazer-Nashes, and there is a charming story of how this hard-riding amateur proved that he had never heard of the “bonus” system of taking records!
There is another lovely story of the first o.h.v. sidecar Norton. Denly used to occupy the “chair” during record attempts and the sidecar wheel was habitually off the ground as the outfit was driven hard round the grass verges at the bottom of both bankings. This enabled Denly to break the monotony of these long runs by spinning the sidecar wheel backwards. He developed an ambition to do this for a complete lap, so O’Donovan obliged and held the model on two wheels for that distance. On one occasion O’Donovan and Denly won the Castrol Cup using Shell oil, in spite of a Castrol-biased handicap. It is said that Lord Wakefield refused to present the Cup, in winning which O’Donovan was caught by “Ebby” doing the kilometre at nearly 85 m.p.h. (it is 1923) so that further handicap races had to be shelved for some time hence!
The o.h.v. Norton is seen in the form in which it was taken to Monza in 1924, where records were captured at speeds up to 94 m.p.h., recognised as an Italian record and earning O’Donovan such titles as Notissimo corridore inglese, Valeroso recordman inglese and il simpatico campione. O’Donovan returned that year to Monza for the Gran Premio delle Nazioni with two Nortons, one of which was ridden by Tazio Nuvolari, who led for a time, blinded himself with fuel at a pit-stop, and finished second.
After the Norton photographs we come to the Raleighs, which O’Donovan designed for the factory from 1927 onwards. The 1928 Raleigh is a handsome motor-cycle by any standards, and it developed about 30 b.h.p. at 5,600 r.p.m. They were very fast, those machines, and the Raleigh Company spent vast sums of money on them but refused to pay for experienced riders, so that they had many crashes when they should have had successes.
Space precludes reference to all the historic photographs which Gerald O’Donovan sent to me, but I like the one showing Jack Williams’ 500-c.c. T.T. Raleigh and O’Donovan’s 350-c.c. O-engined Raleigh with T.T. frame (his engine, result of his own experimental work and never raced by the factory, was giving 32 b.h.p. at 8,500 r.p.m. on a compression-ratio of 13½ to 1, in 1939) on the occasion of beating the “record” Nottingham-Skegness, formerly held unofficially by George Brough! The average speed for the two-way trip was just over 70 m.p.h.
Twice while road-testing these machines O’Donovan and Williams were caught in police-traps — on the first occasion the Superintendent couldn’t believe the speed, so he interviewed the culprits, told them no magistrate would believe him and let them off with a caution. On the second occasion it cost £5 but the unfortunate policeman who gave evidence was reprimanded for exaggeration!
A picture of the Raleigh team for the 1930 German G.P. recalls how O’Donovan successfully conveyed these machines across Paris on the “Metro,” the protesting officials baffled by his stream of fluent Gaelic while the riders played deaf mute! Then we see the family hack, which was a mixture of 500-c.c. T.T./600-c.c. o.h.v. Raleigh with roomy sidecar. Astride it is the father of today’s George Brown of Vincent fame, and in case this useful combination is still about its registration number was TO 4377.
The last picture shows the great tuning wizard reverted to his first love, cycle racing, and we learn that in 1951, at the age of 75, he was good for a 50-mile race, by way of keeping fit and keeping in touch with the market — which should make you young ones think. Eventually this proved too costly for a small firm, riders asking £200 a ride, but before the war O’Donovan’s riders held every cycle record from 25 miles up to 12 hours. Certainly these family photographs I have been privileged to see, and two of which I reproduce, pay great tribute to one of the immortals of motor-cycle sport — and, of course, I have scarcely touched on the many racing and record breaking achievements by O’Donovan and his machines in this brief glimpse of the, may I say?, good old days.
Another interesting, if hardly nostalgic, arrival is a little booklet entitled “The Northern and Western Motorway,” sent to us by Mr. I. B. Gordon of Kendal. It has a Foreword by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. K.C.I.E., C.S.I., and it sets out to stress the fact that our roads were built for horse traffic originally and we must think in terms of the future. To ease traffic congestion the book proposes a motorway, divided into four sections — London to Birmingham, Birmingham to Salford, Salford to Liverpool and Golborne to Oldham. The first section would commence near Uxbridge at the termination of Western Avenue and by-pass Aylesbury, Buckingham. Brackley, Warwick, Leamington and Coventry, finishing on the southerly outskirts of Birmingham. The second section would by-pass Smethwick, West Bromwich, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesbury, Bilston, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Cannock, Stafford, Stone, Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Burslem, Wolstanton, Tunstall, Audley, Congleton, Macclesfield, Stockport, Sale, Stretford and Manchester, ending near the boundary of Salford. Similarly, section three would by-pass towns on the route Salford-Liverpool and section four do likewise for the run Golborne-Oldham. The approximate total length equals 226 miles. At first the motorway would be 50 feet wide, but sufficient adjacent land would be acquired to permit future widening. The first construction would be four-track and no pedestrians or horse traffic would be allowed on the motorway. No gradient steeper than 1 in 40 and no curve sharper than half of a mile radius would be allowed and as the road would be for “fast or semi-fast mechanical traffic” it would be wholly enclosed and uninterrupted throughout its entire length, with no level crossings, only junctions with principal connecting roads. The advantages of such a motorway to local authorities, traders and to the public are dealt with in the later chapters and the final chapter covers the toll charges which could be levied to pay for the new road. It is stated that “It is proposed to apply to Parliament for a Bill to form the necessary company and to authorise the construction and working of the motorway . . .”
When next you battle with the congestion and obstruction on these routes or through the towns named, the performance of your sports car reduced to that of a pre-war family saloon, you may care to think about this little booklet, which was published from Victoria Street, S.W.1. The date on the cover is 1923. — W.B.
Late in February the Editorial Volkswagen completed a year’s motoring, appropriately while the Great Freeze-Up was at its worst. We propose to refrain from writing of the car itself on this birthday occasion, except to remark that the British-made components on it have given excellent service. With over 18,000 miles run the Michelin tyres, which are sent out to Wolfsburg from this country and fitted to those VWs which are shipped to Britain, have never punctured and have considerable tread left. The Exide battery, which is fitted in this country, has never failed to start the engine, even after the car had stood idle in the open for four days, covered in snow, although this battery is a small one of only 6 volts, and has not been “topped-up” particularly frequently. — W.B.
Doing us a Good Turn
” -And Sudden Death,” by J. C. Furnas, published in America in 1936 and 1946, and now reprinted by Reader’s Digest, is a horridly bloodthirsty description of what happens to victims of various kinds of motor accident and how they die horridly (in a world in which morphia is apparently unknown), or suffer shocking injuries, in which case author Furnas does not omit to spare us any details. It might be thought that we should condemn such vivid anti-motoring propaganda but it occurs to us that by horrifying and frightening those incompetent drivers who go about with their cars only partially under control and hampered by incredibly slow reactions and absentmindedness, this nasty article may frighten them off the road or at least make them keep away from busy roads and rush-hours. In fact, perhaps Furnas has done the careful and competent a good turn.
Silverstone Club Meetings
The following clubs are scheduled to hold race meetings this year, on the dates shown, at Silverstone on the Club Circuit. Such meetings have much of the informal atmosphere of the smaller Brooklands meetings of pre-war days and provide an excellent school in which novices can gain experience. For insurance purposes no admission charges are made and admission is by ticket only, the clubs concerned relying on car-park charges to cover their expenses. Thus, if you propose to spectate, go in a large party in a huge motor car if you wish to he economical, but first obtain the necessary tickets, which are usually procurable easily from the secretary or members of the appropriate clubs — usually these meetings are open to a number of clubs apart from the organising club.
April 21st Vintage S.C.C.
May 19th Maidstone & Mid-Kent M.C.
June 2nd Eight Clubs.
June 23rd Midland M.E.C.
June 30th M.C.C.
July 21st Aston Martin O.C.
July 28th Vintage S.C.C.
Aug. 4th Bentley D.C.
Aug. 11th Nottingham S.C.C.
Aug. 25th M.G. C.C.
Sept. 1st S.U.N.B.A.C.
Sept. 15th Peterborough M.C. and Northants & Dist. C.C.
Oct. 6th North Staffs M.C.
“Motor Sport” 1956 Clubs Trophy
Once again this year the Motor Sport Clubs Trophy will be contested at Silverstone Race Meetings. Entry is open to members of the competing clubs but the cars must be sports cars. The first six finishers in the first of these Trophy Handicaps will be eligible to start in the following Trophy Handicap, and the first six in this will again go on to the next race. Marks based on positions gained are as follows: First place-6 marks; second place-5 marks; third place-4 marks; fourth place-3 marks; fifth place-2 marks; sixth place-1 mark. The winner receives the Motor Sport Silverstone Challenge Trophy and the £50 cash prize, second prize is £20 and third prize £10. First event is at the Vintage S.C.C. meeting on April 21st.