THE 2(AND OFTEN 3-) WHEELER REMINISCENCES OF H. L. BIGGS PART I I-1925-1928
[In November H. L. Biggs suggested that we should devote more space to sporting motor-cycling. In spite of being convalescent after a long illness he backed his suggestion with an account of his own efforts in the early post-1918 days. Part I appeared in January and the concluding portion appears below.—Ed.]
EARLY in 1925 I went down to Bristol, taking with me my 147-c.c. Villiers, now with road equipment, and was extremely glad to be able to work with Tucker, for had he not already won a sidecar T.T. and Class F (600 c.c. and sidecar) in the 1922 and 1924 200-mile sidecar races—in 1922 with the 588-c.c. side valve, in 1924 with the o.h.v.proving that he had been able to wed speed to reliability, this second factor having been sadly lacking in my earlier experience with the Dimino?
Tucker’s tuning shop was above his general works, all machines having to be manhandled up a steep flight of wooden stairs. This gave rise to some hectic incidents, bordering, in some cases, on major disasters ; it had the advantage, however, of seclusion, allowing one to concentrate on the work in hand. There were definitely no sensational “secrets of tune” to disclose about Tucker’s methods, just meticulous attention to balance, alignment and assembly, our customary job being the preparation of Nortons for the discriminating. One of the first of these was a 490-c.c. o.h.v. for J. E. S. Jones, now well known as one of the ” Cream Crackers.” Another was a similar mount for sand racing in Ireland, this being built up to T.T. specification, i.e., with heavy duty, no k.s. gearbox and narrow mudguards ; the engine received rather more than the usual care and attention shown to the normal machines, ports being highly polished, flywheels and con.-rod lightened and compression ratio raised (actually to 6.7 to 1), with three compression plates in on its first try-out ! Lawson, Tucker’s foreman, and I would take the machines for test to a straight stretch some miles from Bristol, where Tucker would time us over a flying half-mile, his usual remark when such tests were completed being “Hurry back, but don’t blind,” the very incongruity of this remaining in my collection of well-remembered sayings. I see from my notebook that the machine referred to above clocked 78 m.p.h. over the half, after which the compression ratio was further raised to 7.2 to 1, giving a maximum with the plates removed of 8 to 1. All current types of Norton came in for attention, the. side-valve “Big Four” and” 16H,” as well as the 490 and 588-c.c. o.h.v. jobs. We had one of the first o.h.v. S.S.100 Brough Superiors along from George Brough for Tucker to ride, with sidecar, at the local hill climb. As it was intended that I should be the passenger in this projectile I was heartbroken when, at the critical moment, the A.C.U. and R.A.C. saw fit to institute their ban on all speed events on public roads, thus cutting out the majority of speed–trials on the racing calendar, including, of course, the event for which
we had spent so much time on the Brough. Work on the machines for the coming 200 Mile Sidecar Race in May helped to allay my disappointment ; we had three entries, Norton, Sunbeam and Zenith. Tucker’s mount was the 588-c.c. o.h.v. Norton, assembled with great care and incorporating his usual ideas, the tankage, of course, being increased to 7 gallons, 3 gallons carried in the bike tank and a further 4 gallons in a flat tank fixed to the floor of the Hughes sidecar, which body was mounted on a Swallow chassis, fuel being transferred from the sidecar to the main tank by the usual hand air-pressure pump operated by the passenger. The rear wheel of this outfit incorporated the then new hub brake and the forks were the special side-strutted Druids. The Sunbeam, to be ridden by Ron Lawson, was rather a “Special.” The engine, basically o.h.v. Sunbeam, was fitted with a Norton barrel and head, mounted on an aluminium packing block to allow for the length of the Sunbeam con.-rod, the stroke being 115 mm. and the compression ratio 7.1 to 1. The Sunbeam o.h. rocker gear was retained because of its lightness, and adapted to fit the Norton head. The bicycle frame was stayed from the back fork ends to the footrest mountings and stays were fitted alongside the front down tube, special footrests were made, and a 3-gallon tank fitted. All external pipes of the dry sump oiling system were flexible. I had no personal dealings with the Zenith, but think it was fitted with a 600-c.c. single port J.A.P.
V% km the three machines were ready we took them down to Byfleet, Tucker following in his Lea-Francis. I rode the Norton, which felt extremely potent, although we were not allowed to exceed 40 m.p.h. Our shed was over by the Aerodrome and, as the door was too narrow to admit a sidecar, we became adept at removing and refitting these between practice periods. No troubles were experienced during this time, save that whatever position I adopted in the sidecar my right hip continually contacted the air vent in the sidecar fuel tank, to my great discomfort. As to the race itself, Fred Dixon, riding a 600-c.c. Douglas, jumped away in the lead, which he kept for 16 laps, Tucker lying fourth. Round about the twentieth lap we, in the pits, noticed that his sidecar skid, a compulsory fitting to obviate accidents in the case of a broken wheel axle, was touching the ground, and on the twenty-fifth lap Tucker was called in by the stewards, who deemed the outfit unsafe, as the chassis was badly bent. Lawson, still running well, brought the Sunbeam into second place at 66.18 m.p.h., Chris Staniland being first, with a 588-e.c. Norton, at 68.88 m.p.h. I rode Tucker’s Norton back to Bristol on the Monday Morning with its sidecar
chassis still in the ” unsafe ” condition and having 7 gallons of P.M.S.2 on board. I note that I left the ” Blue Anchor,” Byfleet, at 5 a.m. and was back in Bristol at 8 a.m.—apparently not much wrong with the steering ! It was, however, the wettest ride that I have ever experienced, pouring unceasingly for the whole three hours, and as there were no mudguards at all I was drenched before and behind, goggles also being useless. Never have I been so glad to finish a run and to get into some dry clothes. Several weeks later I met Len Parker, the Douglas rider and sidecar T.T. winner, who had seen me passing through Bath on that morning, and was referred to as ” that moving pillar of mud,” a very apt description !
Some months later Tucker, finding that the ban was affecting his sales of specially tuned machines, closed down his tuning shop. I have notes of two rather special outfits we were working on at this time, one being for the sidecar T.T., having a 588-c.c. engine to T.T. specification, with dry sump lubrication, long valves and springs with extended spring collars and special rockers ; we made up a large diameter exhaust pipe which clamped over the port and extended some 18′ behind the rear wheel spindle, to aid extractor action. A Norton four-speed box was used and, bearing in mind the usual condition of unlubricated primary chains, an enclosed oil bath chain case was fitted. The other machine was for the Class F Championship at the Track, being similar in general detail, but with sprint compression ratio, small tanks, narrow bars, open primary chain and the regulation Brooklands exhaust system.
During my stay at Bristol I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with MacDermid, who lived at the same address, and who had, at the time, a Model “P ” Triumph, on which we had a good many runs, not entirely free from incident. Mac became very well known in motor-cycling circles as a fine rider in Manx amateur road races with Cotton and Norton machines. On returning from Bristol I went down to Capel to assist Calder, who previously acquired my ” Special ” Duzmo and who had a small tuning shop at his private residence. He was running two Zeniths, a ‘249-c.c. two-port J.A.P. in the sprint frame which had once housed one of Le Vack’s 850-c.c. camshaft engines (and which was always referred to as the “Tadpole “) and also a 344-c.c. two-port J.A.P. mounted in the usual Zenith racing cradle frame. We entered the 250-c.c. in a normal frame, with a Hughes sidecar, in the Surbiton Club’s Barnstaple trial, the only incidents that I can recall being the horrible feeling when the acetylene lamp tubing pulled off when travelling flat out downhillin a narrow country lane, “Mid the fact that, due to a tappet slacking
back, I ran practically the whole way up Porlock in a Sidcot suit. We later borrowed a 600-cc. P. & P.-J.A.P. outfit from Prestwich for the Kent and Sussex Club’s speed trials at Lewes. This was a potent machine, the rear tyre smoking in the approved manner when getting away ; I have no trace of the results of this event, only that Calder rode the P. & P. and I the 344-c.c.. Zenith, now fitted with large diameter exhaust pipes and carburetted by the famous finks Rat Trap,” and that we rode as each other’s passengers ! Our transport to speed events was an Essex coach, the 344-c.c. and sidecar being towed by a rigid bar with the 250-c.c., less wheels, on the luggage grid of the Essex, the wheels travelling inside the car with the usual bits and pieces necessary for these outings. At one of the Enfield Club’s speed trials, now held on private ground at Bedwell Park, Essendon, I had entered the 344-c.c. Zenith and sidecar and the 250-c.c. solo. It is interesting to note that in the 350-c.c. sidecar class there were two other identical Zeniths entered by S. M. Greening, the manager of J.A.P.’s experimental department, and by E. S. Prestwich, the result being Greening, Biggs, Prestwich, with one-fifth of a second dividing each time. The rain prevented any solo runs from being made, so I had no chance to try the 250-c.c. against similar opponents. Usually the C.U.M.C.C. would be fully represented at these Essendon trials, and some extremely interesting machines would arrive. I first saw the late Eric Fernihough’s single-cylinder Morgan in action at one of these, although we had
met before in the early days, when he was using one of those incredibly fast 20-c.c. side-valve New Imperial-J.A.P.s.
Calder next decided to enter the two Zeniths in a 50-mile solo race at Southport, our first experience of sand racing. I was to ride the 250-c.c. machine, and we fitted a mechanical pump to this (it had a hand pump lubrication system for sprints), borrowed a standard long frame from Zeniths and long-distance tanks from Greening, of J.A.P.’s ; the footrests were set up to allow for cornering on loose sand. The 344-c.c. had its large tanks mounted and the footrests modified as on the 250-c.c. Preparations were completed in the early hours of the Friday morning before the race, and we decided to leave for Southport right away, so, aided by the local policeman who was on night duty, we attached the sidecar chassis to the 344-c.c., bolted two planks thereon and mounted the 250-c.c. on these, hitching the complete assembly to the rear of Calder’s newly acquired 12-11.p. Darracq ; having a rough idea of the whereabouts of our destination, we set sail about 3 a.m. I remember getting very involved in Alperton, but once clear of this district got along fairly well, keeping the window open to prevent us from falling asleep and occasionally climbing lamp-posts to ascertain our course, arriving at Southport after lunch ; although I can remember the lights of Lord Street that evening, I remember nothing else ! On Saturday morning we got down to the sands early to accustom ourselves to the surface and attend to the usual odd jobs before the start. There was an enormous
field for this 50-mile race. I stalled my engine at the shirt and was so exhausted by push-starting in loose sand that, when I did get going, I found myself tearing up the wrong side of the course and, glancing up, saw the whole field in full flight coming straight towards me ! I quickly shot across the line of flags on to the correct side. The race was uneventful for MC. Calder retired early with plug trouble and I was worried by an ill-fitting crash helmet, having changed with Hamilton (now of the Monza Alfa) before the start as we thought we should both benefit.I managed to finish ninth on the only 250-c.c. in the race, which was won by C. M. Needham on an S.S.80 Brough Superior. As this was a combined meeting for cars and motor-cycles, I might mention some of the more interesting of the fourwheelers running on that day, chief amongst these being Major Segrave with his 1,998-c.c. Sunbeam. There were also such as Thistlethwayte (Frazer-Nash), Joyce with the sprint A.C., Higgin with a Miller, Horton (1,089-c.c. Morgan), Miss Cunliffe (3-litre Bentley), Coe with the ” 30/98 ” Vauxhall, Mayner (1,985-c.c. Mercedes), Ilitchon (1,996-c.c. Beardmore), Davenport, Marendaz and many others ; however, as this article deals with motor-cycling matters I will not tantalise the car enthusiasts by enlarging on these names. After the event we returned to our hotel to remove from our clothing and persons the sand, which seemed to penetrate everywhere, and to discover that, after the bill had been paid, we were so utterly broke as to have to cash in on empty P.M.S.2 tins to buy fuel for the return run ! At the end of the 1925 racing season Calder sold his Hughes sidecar to friend Braham and also disposed of his two Zeniths, purchasing a 496-c.c. 0.E.(‘
. Temple and sidecar. This machine had a veryrigid cradle frame and was fitted with a single-cylinder Summit engine manufactured by Anzani, the unusual feature of the unit being that the valve spring did not surround the valve stem and abut 011 the head itself, bait was remote from the valve, applying tension to the valve .collar proper via a stirrupshaped piece, the spring acting against a collar on the stirrup spindle and the rocker operating on the valve between the “U ” of the Stirrup, the extremities of which were joined by the actual valve collar. The valves, were inclined in the hemispherical head and a B. & B. carburetter supplied the mixture, while ignition was bya Bosch fling.generator.
I rode as passenger in this outfit with Calder in the ” London-Exeter,” memorable for the fact that I held the rear mudguard and stand on for many miles across the Plain whilst we were making up time, only to be caught out at a secret cheek at Middle Wallop. I swear that I suffered a 2-in, extension to my right arm after this. Early in 1926 we NS ere smitten with the idea of attempting long-distance records at Month:6’y, and we had the outfit up at Temple’s place in the Edgware Road to commence preparations. I was running an ” Indian Prince ” at this time, and Calder a ” 350″ A.J.S., and we would meet at Temple’s, riding up from our respective homes each morning. Temple himself was already in France with the big Anzani-engined machine, originally called the British Anzani, but now known as an Q.E.C. Temple ; aremarkable machine this. Produced towards the end of 1.92:3, it was the first motor-cycle to cover 100 miles in the hour, which feat it accomplished at Montlhery in 1925. In general it was an o.h. camshaft V-twin of 996 ex., fitted in a duplex loop frame of orthodox design, save that the construction entailed hard soldering the frame lugs, instead of the customary brazing ; Harley pattern forks and a Sturmey three-speed box were used and the rear brake was of Ford origin. The many ingenious details of the power unit, designed by Hagens of Anzani’s, I do not intend to describe here,. merely stating that since I first saw the machine in 1923 in its Original purple and yellow finish, it has been, in turn, known as a Montgomery British Anzani, O.E.C. Temple, McEvoy Temple and A.J.W. Summit, sometimes with a different tank, occasionally in a different frame, but always the same unit, and invariably successful. I believe its most recent appearance to date was in the hands of Noel Pope, the present Brooklands lap record holder, during his early training in handling fast motor-eyeles. To resume : our work on the 496-e.e. 0.E.(‘. Temple consisted of overhauling the engine, raising the compression slightly, substituting a Bosch magneto for the mag.generator, altering the handlebars and footrests to get a flat riding position, and making up and fitting a 5-gallon fuel tank in the Hughes sidecar and fitting Hartford Shock absorbers to the springs to assist them in coping with the extra load, the
usual air pressure system being used to transfer fuel to the main frame tank.
We crossed over to France before Easter, almost immediately returning for the Da.rracq, it car being essential at. isolated llontlhery. Then came the job of becoming used to the track, doing countless solo laps, as our sidecar did not arrive till later. Meanwhile, Temple was working on the big Anzani for his attempt on the 5 and 10 kilos and miles record. We removed various unnecessary bits to help reduce the frontal area wherever possible and I was pleased to go as passenger for the actual attempt. To fit the extremely narrow sidecar body I had my arms strapped to my side and was then strapped into the ” chair.-To My horror, after the standing warming-up lap I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the breaker strip showing all round the thin tread Of the rear Hutchinson tyre. On pointing this out, with many gesticulations, Temple casually remarked that he could hold the outfit if the tyre did go. I need hardly say that I counted those laps with some apprehension and was glad when we had finished without feeling that sickening lurch which usually denotes a burst, collecting the records aimed at, at about 92 m.p.h.
There was much activity at the track, Ortmans being out with the big Panhard, later driven by George Eyston. Garfield with the single-seater Weymann saloonbodied 45-h.p. Renault was after longdistance records ; it was amusing to see him casually wind down the window to throw out a cigarette end when passing the pits. I made the acquaintance of Richard and Pean, with their clever Vertical twin, o.h. camshaft Peugeot motor-cycles with high frames, narrow handlebars and polished brass fuel tanks. Mrs. Victor Bruce with a saloon A.C. was towing an auxiliary fuel tank on wheels (and looking rather A.F.S. I), filled by the mechanic, who jumped aboard the trailer tank as it slowed down, pouring the fuel in from a 5-litre tin as he rode round, dropping off at the pits on the next lap. I also had the honour of being driven in the Amilear works lorry by none other than their ace, Morel.
Our own record attempts failed to materialise, as we had continual trouble with the stirrup pieces used in the Summit engine’s comic valve gear, the breakage of these allowing the valve to drop just far enough for the piston to hit, which did it no sort of good whatever ! We had, in addition, trouble with sticking valves ol the Darraeq, and drove over to the works at Suresnes to get this rectified, and here experienced our first contact with the French propensity to indulge in strikes, one occurring as we arrived at the works. We saw Scales, the works manager and one-time race driver, who referred us to Mondin and Wilson, one of their Paris agents, who very efficiently cured our trouble. I was due to ride a friend’s 350-e.e. O.E.C. Blackburne at the 1?,ssendon speed trials immediately on our return to England, but owing to a little steering trouble had no luck ; I. also passengered Brabam in his 344-c.c. Zenith outfit, and, it adopted the face-down position, was surprised to observe grass where road
should have been. On remarking this phenomenon to Braham after the run-up. he explained that, as the spectators were encroaching on the course, he thought it best to remove a few with the sidecar wheel as a warning that ” motor racing is dangerous,as the placards exhibited along the course had it. I observe from my album that Walter Braidwood, then on the staff of MOTOR SPORT, was running his 498-c.e. A.J.S. at this event. I always considered Braidwood a remarkably fine rider, especially on road courses ; he put up some superb laps during one of the Manx amateur races in the rain, riding the somewhat clumsy two-port P. & M. Panther. On recoinmendation from the late Archie Birkin I went up to McEvoy’s, at Duffield, but only stayed a week, working on their T.T. entries, both with J.A.P. engines, a 490-e.e. single-port and a 344-c.c. two-port in cradle frames with Webb forks and Sturmey Archer boxes. Neither of them was successful in the races ; in passing, it is of interest to note that Patchett, their competition manager, later with F.N.’s and the designer of the Czecho-Slovakian Jawa, ran a Rhode similar to that owned at one time by the present Acting Editor of MoToa SPORT.-[Poor man.—Ed.] From here I returned to Wel: after the motor-cycle repair work at a local garage,. where I found time to build up my own ” Special ” Indian. I had spotted in a corner of Indian’s workshop in Euston Road some time before the frame,. with 5-gallon tank, of the machine which Reuben Harveyson rode in the first and only 500 miles race in 1921. At the same time I had obtained the cylinder barrels and heads of Le Vack’s eight-valve engine with which he had done 107 m.p.h. in 1920. Using a 1914 I-over-E crankcase assembly I plugged and retapped the holding-down bolt locations to suit the new barrels and heads, made up suitable push rods and tappets, induction and exhaust pipes, etc., using a standard Indian three-speed box, standard road wheels and specially side-strutted forks, as I had ideas for my favourite event, the 200 mile sidecar race. The exhaust ports on these four-valve heads were liberally drilled, so that, as well as exhausting through the normal port and pipe, the flaming gases blew out all round the port branch itself—Le Vaek suffered from badly burnt muscles when riding the short fixed gear eight-valver, referred to as the ” Camel,” owing to its humped appearance, and I had seen Capt. A. G. Miller, with sheets of asbestos round his legs, riding the same machine. It was necessary to plug these holes for road work and to comply with the existing silencer regulations. I put many hours of work into this machine, but, as grass track racing was becoming increasingly popular and the big Indian would have been a bit of a handful on grass, I sold it and bought the 1923 348-c.c. O.E.C. Blackburne, which I had borrowed for Essendon some time before and, finding the steering awkward, had approached Andy Leach with the intention of buying his Cotton frame to house the engine from the O.E.C. This idea did not materialise, so I strutted and braced the diamond frame until it had some sort of directional stability, and completely overhauled the engine early in 1927, fitting the new roller-bearing o.h. rocker gear and a larger T.T. Amac
carburetter. Blackburne’s rebuilt the crank and con.-rod assembly and converted the front brake operation to foot. The first grass track meeting at which the O.E.C. ran was a N.B. London Club affair at Sew ardstone, where I had a very interesting crash. Flat out down one side of the course I hit a bump, which, unknown to me, flatted the outer casing of the throttle wire, thus locking the inner. On arriving at the next corner and leaving cut-off to the last split second, I was surprised to find myself in the next field, having torn a hole through the boundary hedge ! I regularly entered at the Enfield and the Southgate Clubs’ grass meetings throughout 1927 and early 1928, modifying the bike in the light of experience, occasionally getting placed, but more often encountering the most appalling luck vt, ith breakages of the unusual kind. I remember once, after retiring with a broken cam lever (unlightened), I was loaned one of the latest two-port Blackburne-engined Rex Acmes, and, after winning my heat and the semi-final, was forced to ease up in the final owing to the piston starting to pick up, thus not even getting placed. I had purchased the ex-Calder sidecar from Braharn so that I could run in the sidecar classes and was extremely keen on this, building a very openwork body and . entering the outfit for the first time at a local club grass meeting. Here ill-luck again stepped in. Braham, who was
riding as passenger, rather overdid things on a left-hand corner, with the result that he fell out. I did not notice this until the next right-hand corner, when the bike tried to turn over the sidecar, and, looking back, I saw Braham sitting in the middle of the track. We w ere some 300 yards in the lead at the time, but as regulations rightly decree that one must finish with passenger in situ, we again did not get placed. The fact that I possessed a racing sidecar was again of assistance to me as a local rider who had purchased a two-port Ariel with a special 27-b.h.p. engine allowed me to ride this with my sidecar attached in the suitable classes, whilst he himself rode solo. Our chief opponent in sidecar events was Noterman, with a T.T. Triumph of great potency, and whenever we appeared together the Ariel seemed to experience minor troubles, just sufficient to put us out of the running. For instance, at a Watford Club meeting at Croxley Green we fractured a hightension lead, inside the insulation ; having cured this, the cork-inserted clutch decided to no longer transmit the drive, and, in addition, a loose coil of rope caught round my foot, tearing off my shoe, and making it most difficult to use the foot brake at all hard. At this same Watford meeting my collection of photographs shows me that the late Lionel Hutchings, then of MOTOR SPORT, was riding an o.h.v. Sunbeam. After replacing the cork clutch inserts by Ferodo, I won the 2-mile sidecar race at the next Southgate Club event by over
half-a-mile, proving that the outfit had possibilities.
Early in 1928 the dirt track craze came to England, and the Ilford Club staged their first meeting on a narrow cinder track at Loughton. I was riding the Ariel with sidecar for its owner, Pointer, who came as passenger, and had fitted a smaller body with a tubular loop for the ” inmate’s ” safety. We ran in pairs and won the heat easily by jumping into the lead at the start, the narrow track making passing difficult ; in the semi-final we were against Cohn Harley, the Zenith expert, who just beat us off the mark. I passed him at once, but he went ahead again, both outfits power-sliding viciously. In an endeavour to repass I left everything turned on for the last bend, hit a bump and Pointer, who was lying well out, was flung back into the sidecar and the outfit somersaulted twice, so the results for that race were one smashed wheel and a fine action picture in the Sporting and Dramatic!
Although I modified my O.E.C. for dirt, and rode several times with the Harringay Amateurs, my interest in motor-cycling sport was on the wane. Retaining a motor-cycle for utility purposes up to 1935, I entered in no more club events, but still follow the development of racing design, and look back with pleasure on those days when entries consisted of names now familiar in the car racing world.
My leathers and crash hat are carefully stored for . . . Who knows ? (Concluded.)