That was the year…

Com­pare the Nor­ton to BSA’S al­most gazel­le­like 500 sin­gle. The ISDT of­ten show­cased fu­ture de­vel­op­ments in our in­dus­try and proved they would work too. Nat­u­rally the press were there.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Words: Tim Brit­ton Pics: Mor­tons Ar­chive

…that the press got a hold of the ISDT team bikes for a pre-event try­out. Their sketch artist went along too, oh if only we could af­ford sketch artists these days.

This is a lit­tle bit of per­sonal in­dul­gence on my part here... and I sup­pose I ought to apol­o­gise for that.... but it’s prob­a­bly ob­vi­ous to reg­u­lar read­ers that the ar­chive here at CDB is an ex­ten­sive place, and not a lit­tle dan­ger­ous.

‘Dan­ger­ous’ be­cause of the con­tent and the sub­tle way time van­ishes – you see, I’m a sucker for the line draw­ings pro­duced by the likes of Lawrie Watts in The Mo­tor­cy­cle and Mo­tor­cy­cling in the days be­fore com­put­ers when tech­ni­cal artists had to sit down at a draw­ing board and pro­duce im­ages from sketches they’d made and notes they’d taken in the most odd­ball of cir­cum­stances.

These line draw­ings have a sec­tion all of their own within our nor­mal ar­chive where the orig­i­nal im­ages are stored in art fold­ers. The dan­ger comes when look­ing for the draw­ings in a fea­ture such as this 1952 ISDT test. It is so easy to be­come dis­tracted… which is why the ar­chive fea­ture for this is­sue is a lit­tle older than we’d nor­mally go.

You see I was look­ing for some­thing else and the cross ref­er­ence threw up the ACU or­gan­ised test of po­ten­tial team mem­bers for the 1952 ISDT.

Once the draw­ings were laid out sev­eral had date ref­er­ences, so it was an easy job to find the Mo­tor­cy­cle edi­tion they’d been used in and cross ref­er­ence it to the Mo­tor­cy­cling back is­sues. To di­gress slightly, the ba­sis of the ar­chive is the back is­sues, im­ages, glass plates, ma­chine files and brochures used in The Mo­tor­cy­cle since 1902. There are some Mo­tor­cy­cling im­ages too, but due to a stor­age dis­as­ter many years ago in­volv­ing damp, most of the Mo­tor­cy­cling stuff was turned to mulch whereas the Mo­tor­cy­cle ma­te­rial was stored higher up and sur­vived.

Luck­ily we have the back is­sues and a re­pro depart­ment which can work won­ders…

Any­way, look­ing for the fea­ture in­spired by the draw­ings soon brought to light that the 1952 ISDT in Aus­tria was set to be an in­ter­est­ing one for a num­ber of rea­sons, and as win­ner of the In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy con­test for the pre­vi­ous four years great things were ex­pected of the Bri­tish teams.

The event would turn out to be a much tougher one than ex­pected and the UK teams were not the only ones who suf­fered me­chan­i­cal fail­ures, ac­ci­dents and or­gan­i­sa­tional dis­as­ters. The weather and atro­cious con­di­tions put those on larger ma­chines at a dis­ad­van­tage as their power could not be used to make up for lost time.

For UK team riders who did man­age to ne­go­ti­ate cer­tain ex­treme sec­tions of the course and main­tain some sem­blance of time they found these sec­tions would be scrubbed as many other riders didn’t make it. Nor­mally re­li­able ma­chines such as the fac­tory Tri­umph twins suf­fered gear­box prob­lems... and the list went on.

There was some sil­ver lin­ing though, as the 1952 ISDT was the one where three stan­dard BSA A7s were used as a club team

...due to damp stor­age most of the Mo­tor­cy­cling stuff was turned to mulch. Luck­ily we have the back is­sues and a re­pro depart­ment which can work won­ders… BSA was test­ing its new swing­ing arm frame.

and all three won gold medals and lifted the Maudes Tro­phy for BSA.

How­ever, all the prob­lems, heartache and mis­ery was still in the fu­ture and as the ACU or­gan­ised the ISDT se­lec­tion tests in Llan­drindod Wells in Wales in July things looked promis­ing. With the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers rep­re­sented, their star riders on hand and the gen­tle­men of the press to record it all, the se­lec­tion tests could be­gin. These tests were to find out the suit­abil­ity of the ma­chines plus the abil­ity of their riders to cope with the ex­pected con­di­tions in Aus­tria later in the year. It was also a chance for the man­u­fac­tur­ers to trial a few de­vel­op­ments in sim­i­lar con­di­tions to an ac­tual event as Llan­drindod Wells had hosted d the ISDT sev­eral times.

With riders and ma­chines ar­riv­ing in the Welsh town through­out the day jour­nal­ist and artist were kept busy pho­tograph­ing and sketch­ing catch­ing up on the lat­est de­vel­op­ments. I sus­pect they would have been made aware by the fac­tory pub­lic­ity ma­chine of each maker’s new de­vel­op­ments and would be seek­ing them out to see for them­selves.

With the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers all hav­ing many years of ex­pe­ri­ence in such events, the e in­ter­est­ing dif­fer­ences were to be found in the de­tail. Com­mon fea­tures in­cluded Tommy y bars welded on to the spin­dles of wheels al­ready of the qd type, spare car­bu­ret­tor slides se­cured in tubes ready to fit, spare ca­bles run­ning along­side the orig­i­nals so chang­ing one would be the work of sec­onds and, in those days of rigid footrests, a spare one se­cured to the frame. All pretty much com­mon through the dif­fer­ent mar­ques.

Where the in­ter­est­ing bits started were when mak­ers launched ei­ther com­pletely new ma­chines or rad­i­cally al­tered older ones. Take Ariel for in­stance. Though a 500cc twin had been in its range for some time, the ones pre­sented at the se­lec­tion tests fea­tured an all al­loy en­gine which was claimed to be de­signed es­pe­cially for the

ISDT. BSA too turned up with a new frame for its sin­gle cylin­der 500s. Claimed to be the road rac­ing frame, it was of the swing­ing arm type and fea­tured a sin­gle point tank fix­ing mount and would form the ba­sis for all fu­ture scram­bles frames.

Nor­ton and Tri­umph placed their faith in ma­chines al­most as they were the year be­fore, with the Meri­den twins not even hav­ing rear sus­pen­sion – it be­ing dif­fi­cult to pro­duce a qd wheel for the sprung hub. With a nod to the fu­ture the ACU had specif­i­cally re­quested those man­u­fac­tur­ers who pro­duced small two-strokes to come to the tests. This was with the re­al­i­sa­tion that Euro­pean mak­ers of small bikes of­ten had the ad­van­tage of more for­giv­ing speed sched­ules and sec­tion times in the ISDT.

In the end it was Fran­cis-bar­nett which stepped up to the mark and brought three ma­chines along for the test and also one of the com­pany founder’s sons came along too.

A test­ing time

While the ma­chines them­selves were to be thrashed as hard as they could be over the two days, with a morn­ing and af­ter­noon lap of around 115 miles plus a speed test and a night run, all of which would fea­ture in the ISDT, the riders too would be tested to see how quickly they could ac­com­plish main­te­nance tasks and sim­ple repairs.

Dur­ing the run­ning of the test it was likely a rider could be halted and asked to do any num­ber of me­chan­i­cal jobs from chang­ing a tyre to re­mov­ing the float in the car­bu­ret­tor, or swap­ping ca­bles and points – all of which were de­signed to repli­cate prob­lems which could be en­coun­tered on the route.

Such tasks would present lit­tle prob­lem to fac­tory riders and they would likely have been prac­tis­ing the fastest way to do just these things. Also show­ing a fair turn of speed were three riders in the speed test, one of the re­quire­ments of the ISDT then was to main­tain an hour at a con­stant speed – let’s say 60mph – which ended up with riders go­ing faster and faster un­til the in­evitable spills… youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance isn’t a new thing…

In the end the tests were cer­tainly of value and each maker went away with food for thought and not a small amount of wreck­age to con­sider be­fore the Septem­ber event.

The riders them­selves were cho­sen from the finest of the off-road world. Rep­re­sent­ing their coun­try in the pres­ti­gious In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy con­test were Hugh Viney, Jim Alves, Bob Manns, Jack Stocker and Bob Ray. The Vase A and B teams were to be Dick Clay­ton, Stan Evans and Ted Usher and Johnny Brit­tain, David Tye and Rex Young.

A quick quar­tet

A cou­ple of weeks af­ter the se­lec­tion tests Mo­tor­cy­cling’s man Denis Hard­wicke had the op­por­tu­nity to test four of the ac­tual ma­chines – Rex Young’s Nor­ton Dom­i­na­tor, Jack Stocker’s 700 En­field, Bill Par­son’s Ariel and David Tye’s Goldie. Par­sons was on the se­lec­tion test and his bike was ex­actly as team­ster Bob Ray’s Ariel. These four were deemed the most spe­cial of the pro­posed ISDT team bikes as they dif­fered so much from pro­duc­tion ma­chines.

Hard­wicke hauled out his foot­ing-coat, pulled his beret firmly on to his head and set off to re­port on four mo­tor­cy­cles de­signed to take on the tough­est com­pe­ti­tion in the world. Denis got his hands on the Ariel Hunter twin first and the bar was set ex­tremely high.

Though based on the pro­duc­tion ma­chine, Ariel had gone to town on the de­sign and ex­e­cu­tion of this ver­sion and it was no­tice­ably

…prac­tis­ing for the speed test saw riders go­ing faster and faster un­til… well youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance isn’t a new thing…

the light­est of the four bikes thanks to its al­loy bar­rels and head and a per­for­mance in ncrease from care­ful at­ten­tion to the en­gine. Ke eep­ing all this power on the ground was the job b of spe­cial hy­draulic dampers made to rese em­ble the plungers of the stan­dard ma­chine. A fur­ther mod was to use a ca­ble rear brake sys­tem which kept the brake pedal more con­stant and al­lowed more sen­si­tiv­ity. It was with some re­luc­tance Hard­wicke re­turned the twin to Selly Oak but there was a Royal En­field twin to try next.

On get­ting the En­field our man noted it had rear set footrests and foot con­trols for use by the rider in the speed tests, al­low­ing him to tuck fur­the er in be­hind the steer­ing head for less win nd re­sis­tance. It worked too as Denis hurt tled along a straight stretch of road, glancedd at the speedo which reg­is­tered 75mph… then snicked into top gear. With the en­gine still pro­vid­ing power Hard­wick reck­oned the 95mph show­ing was still be­low the max­i­mum avail­able. This was con­firmed later by RE man Char­lie Rogers. Af­ter fur­ther rid­ing that day, Denis re­ported any rider is­sued with a ma­chine which could leave a black tyre mark on the road had bet­ter have a steady throt­tle hand. He also re­ported that vis­ually there was lit­tle to dis­tin­guish the 700cc model from the 500cc one but it was phys­i­cally heav­ier.

Of the four ma­chines he rode Hard­wicke felt some affin­ity with the Dom­i­na­tor Nor­ton, as he had had some ex­pe­ri­ence of the com­pany’s race ma­chines. On the face of it us­ing road prac­tise for an off-road ma­chine would seem odd, but it worked. The ma­chine pro­moted com­plete con­fi­dence in the rider.

Hard­wicke ad­mit­ted he was tak­ing lib­er­ties with the ma­chine to try and pro­mote some quirk­i­ness but even aim­ing at pot­holes and bar­relling into cor­ners way too fast then slam­ming on the an­chors failed to faze this ex­cel­lent twin.

The fi­nal one of the four, BSA’S Gold Star, had an in­cred­i­ble amount of power avail­able and was wrapped in the lat­est swing­ing arm frame so it han­dled well and ac­cord­ing to its rider David Tye “would al­most steer in mid-air.” Be­ing de­vel­oped from the scram­bles frame the chas­sis would have lit­tle bother in cop­ing with the rough ter­rain and Hard­wicke was im­pressed with its sure-foot­ed­ness what­ever the sur­face, and it was an­other ma­chine he re­luc­tantly re­turned to the fac­tory.

At the end of the day though his­tory would record it was the three Star Twins rid­den by Van­house, Rist and Martin which would bring the hon­ours to the UK and BSA, but that doesn’t de­value the se­lec­tion tests, nor the lessons learnt from them and, de­spite the hic­cup in 1952, GB would lift the In­ter­na­tional Tro­phy again the fol­low­ing year. So yes, the lessons must have been learnt well.

For the ISDT fac­tory comp de­part­ments made com­po­nents slightly more ac­ces­si­ble.

Pre­vi­ously seen only on the road rac­ers, BSA reck­oned its all-welded frame would sur­vive the ISDT. Royal En­field fit­ted bikes with two sets of footrests so riders could tuck down on the speed tests. Pil­lion? on the ISDT? No, Nor­ton too wanted its riders to be able to adopt a rac­ing crouch for the speed tests.

On this BSA a spare clutch ca­ble can be seen, ready routed through the frame and only need­ing con­nect­ing up at ei­ther end should the orig­i­nal be dam­aged. Water­proof­ing a dis­trib­u­tor by using­amoulded rub­ber cap worked.

Ariel pushed the boat out and re­placed iron with al­loy to give en­gines a cooler ride. Like all of the bikes used by the UK teams, this Nor­ton bris­tles with fea­tures tomake main­te­nance quick, eas­ier and there­fore keep the team­man on time.

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