Donnington's two-wheeled history



No expression of commiseration can compensate the National Motorcycle Museum for the loss of so many historic machines in last year’s disastrous fire. All the more reason to be pleased at what bikes are left, both at the Museum and elsewhere.

Tom Wheatcroft, for instance, has a new display of historic motorcycles at Donington Park. These include bikes that raced on that circuit prewar. The exhibit was opened recently by Ron ‘Rocket’ Haslam.

`Titch’ Allen, BEM, who in 1931 attended the first discussions about the suitability of Donington Park for motorcycle racing, was present, as were other pre-war riders. They included Arthur Welsted, the holder of the motorcycle lap record – a man who still rides his RD350 Yamaha though now in his 90s! – Dennis Jones and several others.

The display includes the Raleigh on which ‘Squib’ Burton won the inaugural bike race at Donington May 1931. ‘Titch’ Allen has loaned it his 1921 Rex Acme, and Ivan Rhodes three Velocettes. The display- and the Grand Prix Collection – are open every day up to 4pm.

Elsewhere, there are plans for the return of the racing motorcycle which the well-known Welsh rider Charles Sgonina designed and built. It was of very advanced twin-ohc concept and he rode it successfully in speed trials and sand races, notably at Pendine, in the early 1920s.

The Sgonina Special motorcycle was in the IoM Museum in the 1970s, owned by John Griffiths, but after his death in ’83 it disappeared. It was thought to have gone to Japan or Switzerland, but Lynn Hughes has since discovered it in Austria. The Museum of Speed at Pendine has on show in the summer months the famous Parry Thomas LSR car ‘Babs’ and would like to add the Sgonina Special and other motorbikes with Welsh speed connections to this interesting display.

Support for the scheme should be directed to Dr David Jenkins, National Museum of Wales, Department of Industry, Collections’ Centre, Heol Crochendu, Parc Nantgarw, CF15 7QT. Sgonina competed with a GN, too, and I visited one of his sons in Cardiff many years ago. We talked mostly about the 1914 TT Humber which his father had bought after the war and which I discovered much later, along with a 1913 Zust