Monday, 1 August 2011

Warzone Suaveway

Inspired by the Warzone Speedway feature in Sideburn 8 Jon sent a great photo of his dad, possibly the most suave motorcyclist I've ever seen, taken during the war. I asked for more details. This is what came back. Thanks Jon. G

Hello Gary,
Yes, rather sauve...maybe something to do with the signoras...the pic of my Dad was taken in Brindisi, Italy in the later stages of the war.

Anyway, I said I'd tell you a bit more -

The old man was born in 1921 and died a couple of years ago. It was he who fostered my lifelong love of motorcycles having been heavily involved in pre-war grass track at places like Brands Hatch and Layhams Farm. He was a keen supporter of New Cross Speedway too and I believe had a 'try out' just as WW2 intervened and put paid to such nonsense. He'd already become a sort of 'sponsored' 'tracker for a guy called Reg Marsh who supplied a dope burning 350 JAP engined New Imperial...Reg emigrated to NZ after the war and set up a motorcycle business there.

Having signed up as a mechanic in the RAF he ended up in North Africa where pretty soon the armed services had a proper league going, eventually he went via Sicily to Italy. I dare say the newly published 'Warzone Speedway' book on speedway will tell you much more (mine's on order) but bikes were very much of the home-brewed variety. There was no shortage of engineering know-how and equipment in the REME, RAF and RN workshops, and as you can see from the shots, rough approximations were made to the look of speedway machines back in blighty...the old man specialised in the tiny petrol tank variety! All parts were
scrounged and they generally ran on 'liberated' aviation spirit. The ultimate was an ohv machine of course, with plenty of side valve hacks knocking about however, this called for much creativity. Accounts of OHV Wermacht BMW ohv heads being grafted onto Brit crankcases via the expedient of a barrel turned from the bronze of a salvaged ship's propellor, weren't unknown. Front wheels often carried brake drums but with no internals. Competition was fierce! and it wasn't unknown for teams to recruit 'ringers' like Split Waterman to boost their chances of success.

He never lost the touch either; when I was a young teenager and a group of us rode field bikes at a mate's farm, the old man turned up one day and put us all to shame by grabbing an old 350 Velo and put it into a continuous slide with consummate ease. Naturally, my mother discouraged such activities but when he finally retired from aviation in 1980 he built himself a very quick Vincent Rapide from the proverbial 'box of bits', assuring her that it was just an old machine and very slow!

I've attached another pic showing the old man with his mate...
Best wishes for a great mag.
Jon Dudley


Nick said...

Jon, what fantastic memories of your father, and great pictures, a real treasure trove

Mick P said...

Superb, many thanks Jon, really appreciate the photos and story. A great dad, clearly.

Guy@GK said...

Good memories... lovely photos.

McQmoto said...

A terrific tale of ingenuity over adversity,father / son bonding and happy memories

Jon Dudley said...

Thanks chaps...the first bike I had (age 10) was built by him.. 2 stroke lawnmower engine in a ladies pushbike frame with a pint Castrol tin for a tank - looked a little like a very spindly prewar Scott. Running on a mixture of castor oil and methanol it ran up to 45mph on the nearby disused Matching aerodrome. But that's another story. Keep the back tyre spinning boys!