One wheel in the past: searching out what’s new in the old car world FAST…
MOTOR CYCLE SPEEDMEN: C. T. Ashby.
By L. A. U.
I T is usual in an article of the potted biography sort, if the subject is a motorcyclist, to say, Ever since the age of four when he was thrashed for riding his grandfather’s Brough Superior, So and So has had a passion for things mechanical,” or something like that ; readers will be surprised therefore when in the present instance the stereotyped phraseology is for once omitted. Cecil Ashby is indeed a very ” new ” speedman, as will be gathered from these notes. Educatedat Grays College, Essex, Ashby was one of those lucky (?) mortals whose school days ended during the early days of the Great War, so that he stepped without pause into khaki. For two years he led a comparatively unexciting life in the Transport side of the Royal Air Force, but anon the spirit with which all speedmen are imbued, must have fluttered, and Ashby transferred to the actual flying side of the corps. After the necessary training he took part in many “cloud scraps,” first as an observer, but later as a genuine pilot. As was to be expected, the two years spent in this manner were not altogether without thrills, Ashby speaks diffidently of one or two crashes and nasty moments, but luckily he emerged practically unscathed on the cessation of hostilities.
Post War Activities.
After the war, Ashby settled down in the city as an import and export merchant and as yet took no active interest in motoring matters. However, in 1921, he bought a 5-6 h.p. Indian and sidecar, as a means of locomotion, and not with any intention of using it for competition work, but as it was his first motorcycle it marks a definite step in the career of one of our leading speedmen. His second machine
was a Rudge-Multi, but it was not until 1922 that he first indulged in a competition. At this time he owned a 500 c.c. N.U.T. and he made his debut in the Surbiton Club Sopwith Cup Trial of that year. Ashby then became a complete victim to the motorcycle mania, and actually took the N.U.T. on the track at a small race meeting. On this occasion he had his first lesson on one of the very elementary principles of track racing, to wit, the use of the oil pump, paying for his lack of experience with a seized engine. Having thus learned one or two bits of useful motorcycle knowledge, our friend left the city and became sales manager to the now defunct Wooler Engineering Company, a capacity in which we suspect his city training proved more useful than his motoring experiences.
However, lest it be thought that Ashby was still a novice where tuning and riding was concerned, let us hasten to add that in November, 1923, he arrived at Brooklands with one of the famous “Flying Bananas” and astonished everyone and himself (?) by accomplishing a standing lap at 67 m.p.h. ! As the handicappers had based their calculations on a lap speed of about 55 m.p.h. for the Wooler, it can be judged by what margin he would have won if the machine had condescended to do another lap or so !
Shortly after this the Wooler Company came to an untimely end and Ashby joined the Coventry Eagle concern as southern sales and competition representative, in co-operation with F. J. Youngs of Kilburn.
For competition work he used a machine with a 500 c.c. side-valve J.A.P. engine, with which he earned medals in various reliability trials, including the big M.C.C. events. At the 1923 Olympia show C. T. Ashby joined the firm of W. J. Montgomery in the same capacity as he had previously held with Coventry Eagles •; he continued to use the J.A.P. engine and in the summer of 1924 he rode a 350 c.c. Montgomery in the Junior T.T.
On this, his first appearance in the I.O.M., he finished fourth, a performance which is all the more remarkable since he finished with all his valve springs broken.
A New Engine. Soon after the T.T., Ashby persuaded Messrs. J. A. Prestwich to build him a 500 c.c. o.h.v. engine, using one cylinder of the big o.h.v. twin which was introduced
to the 500 c.c. class, but also to the 750 c.c. and 1,000 c.c. classes. At the same period Ashby was also using a 350 c.c. Zenith for competition work, when not riding officially for Montgomery.
Again at the 1924 Show, Ashby decided to change his situation. This time he joined Messrs. Phelon 8z Moore and his job was to look after trade sales in the area covered by the London depot and to manage the competition side of the business in the south. This position he still holds and as a result of his numerous successes he has built up for himself a distinctly enviable reputation.
It is interesting to note that a clause in his agreement allows him, when not required to race a P. & M., to ride his own private machine at Brooklands and elsewhere, an opportunity that he has certainly not neglected.
that year. The wisdom of his choice is born out by the remarkable popularity of this engine among the sporting fraternity ro-day.
This new engine made its first public appearance in the 200 mile solo race, fitted in the Junior T.T. frame, and although one of the fastest machines on the track, so many bits fell off so often, that Ashby could only finish a bad third. His best laps were at nearly 90 m.p.h. Ashby’s first big win was in the 1924 B.M.C.R.C. championships, when to everyone’s amusement he outwitted one of the wiliest habitues of the track, to win the 500 c.c. race at 88 m.p.h. On the same machine, during 1924, Ashby, riding alternately with H. M. Walters, broke several records, including the 3 and 4 hours at 81.83 m.p.h. It is interesting to record that the times set up applied not only
Successes on the P. & M.
During 1925 Ashby won numerous medals in trials and was actually lying third on the penultimate lap of the Senior T.T. of that year, when the demon, mechanical failure, outed him from the race. However, his bad luck was atoned for later in Germany, when he won the T.T. race held over the Svvinemiinde circuit, at record speed, competing against big twins. In the Belgian Grand Prix he finished third after considerable delay due to a lost oil sump cap.
In the German Grand Prix he won the 250 c.c., class on a Zenith and incidently was drenched to the skin and nearly frozen by rain. Nevertheless, the same day on the P. & M. he managed to finish third in the senior event.
Ashby speaks with great enthusiasm of his experiences in Germany, so presumably the business of motorcycle racing need not be taken so very seriously after all ! As a private owner during 1925 and 1926 Ashby has used a 976 c.c. o.h.v. Zenith J .A.P. as he is a firm believer in the ” big-twin” cure for nerves. His theory is that if one is used to holding a machine capable of over 100 m.p.h., by contrast, the 500 c.c. machine used for road racing feels ridiculously easy to manage. Among his most noted successes on the big Zenith are the 200 mile sidecar race in 1925 and the 200 mile solo race this year, surely sufficient testimony to his ability to handle the big stuff.
On the P. & M., during the present year, he gained a gold medal in the International 6-Days Trial, and put up fast laps in the Senior T.T.
As one of the ” fresher ” racing men, it is not surprising to find that Ashby is by no means conservative in his views. He is a firm believer in the arrival of the small multi-cylinder machine, with unit construction gear-box and probably with electric starting devices for touring purposes. He also feels that there is room for a rear springing system with a very limited movement, both for racing and touring machines. Perhaps his most startling theory is that the internal combustion turbine will arrive before supercharging becomes general on commercially produced machines of present design. The ‘perfection of the supercharger should solve many of the problems that beset the turbine enthusiast. Discussing modern racing topics Ashby is sorry to find the I.O.M. course being gradually straightened out, as in its twisty form it proves a far finer test of man and machine than any race track.
With regard to the Brooklands road events he is of the opinion that these will give the long looked for fillip to motorcycle racing as a sport and as a spectacle, but thinks that loose sand is not the ideal composition for the bends, where solo motorcycles are concerned ! Ashby is decidedly opposed to any ban on home produced and non petrol fuels, especially in racing events which are run primarily for experimental purposes. He points out that petrol is not by any means the ideal
fuel and that the development of alternative fuels should ne absolutely unhampered, as he thinks that better fuels will enable smaller engines to develope greater efficiency and greater power than the larger engines used to-day.
Though most of his time is spent, thinking, selling or riding motorcycles, Ashby has a sneaking ambition to become a racing car driver, but at the same time he manages to crowd in two other hobbies, tennis and photography as a relaxation from his more strenuous professional activities.
Six Cylinders or Four ?
In considering the merits of the six cylinder type of car, which promises to have a big vogue for 1927, the competition man should not be led too readily from his allegiance to the trusty ” four.” From a selling point of view, the” six” has the talking points all along the line, with increased flexibility, even torque and whatnot, but when it comes to a point of maintaining tune in one’s own garage at home, with one pair of hands and the little time that can be snatched from the more serious business of earning one’s daily bacon and eggs, there are several snags in the multiplicity of cylinders. Twelve horrid little valves to grind instead of eight, twelve horrid valve springs to get back into place, each of them trying to outdo its fellows in the matter of long jumps, whilst the amount of energy consumed in de-coking a couple of extra” pots” is something that should not be undertaken too lightly by those of us who delight in adjusting the works ourselves.
One also wonders what the new owners of small sixes will say when they are presented with repair bills of corresponding magnitude, for it is not the size of the engine which counts when these jobs are undertaken, but the amount of pieces for which the mechanic has to find places when reassembling. People who are adhering to the four cylinder engine may feel a draught while the fashion lasts, but I do not think they have anything to worry about, at leait where the sporting owner is concerned. The fact that six and eight cylinder engined cars are breaking records and winning races has very little bearing on the subject. Private owners want cars that can be kept in tune with the minimum amount of cost and trouble, and that is precisely where the four cylinder engine comes into its own.
In the” Reliance” Open Reliability Trial, organised by the Liverpool M.C.C., the Premier-Award—the Reliance Cup for Best Performance of the Day, was carried off by Mr. Prank W. Giles, riding a 4.98 h.p. A. J. S. machine with sidecar. Mr. Giles also secured the Trident Trophy for the Best Performance of any passenger machine, and the Special Award for Best Sidecar Performance up to 600 c.c. Mr. Giles also gained a First Class Gold Medal, and made fastest Sidecar time up to 500 c.c. in the Acceleration Test.
In the same trail, Mr. 0. E. Rowley, on a 3.49 h.p. A. J.S. made the Best Performance, Solo machine, up to 350 c.c. ; the Fastest Time up to 350 c.c. in Acceleration Test ; and also secured First-Class Award Gold Medal.
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