That was the year when…
… the ISDT squad was paraded in front of the press at Fenny Drayton. It was a well attended affair with the industry notables all over the place.
If the atmosphere at the official team launch of the UK’S 1966 ISDT bid was anything to go by then yes, our teams could possibly win this prestigious event. Hopes were high for a successful trip to Sweden where the ISDT was to be held that year, and the not-so-surprising news for those assembled at the Casa Blanca Motel, Fenny Drayton, Warwickshire in early August 1966 was the machinery supplied to the teams. AJS had provided its men with traditional machines, superbly prepared; Greeves the same, though Jim Sandiford’s bike nipped up on the speed test when closing the throttle at the end of the MIRA straight starved the engine of lubrication for a few seconds but in reality all eyes were on the Triumph and BSA machines.
Mindful of the issues from the previous year, steps had been taken to address the problems suffered and the press was presented with Triumph-engined BSAS. Triumph’s unit engine had a proven reliability record, thanks to Jeff Smith, BSA’S Victor Mxer was on top of the world so, why not marry the two and go for gold?
While the press day was a chance for everyone to see the machines prepped and ready along with their riders, the story had really begun in February when a large piece in Peter Fraser’s column, On The Rough, in the Motorcycle laid out the aims of the BSA group’s deputy MD. Such an announcement heralded several changes in ISDT thinking and perhaps the realisation that maybe mixing and matching good components from within the group could be a good idea. Such an announcement from the biggest UK manufacturer did raise a few hopes
about production machines based on these motorcycles but these hopes were quashed early on. A firm statement clearly stated that these hybrids were an ISDT exercise pure and simple.
What the February statement from the factory did say was 12 machines were to be produced with the blessing of the factory management. Unfortunately, as is reasonably well known, company politics came into play and rather than working together it seemed as if elements within each of the factories went out to restrict the co-operation. Tales abound of vital components being misplaced, other parts vanishing, comp departments saying there wouldn’t be time to build the new machines and so on… So bad was the situation that for the big test at Llandrindod Wells rather than there being nine of the proposed 12 machines available there was only one. In the background to all of this Greeves had already produced its machines and along with AJS had the actual team bikes available for the test. Greeves had even invited Peter Fraser to nip to the factory and try out one of the bikes for himself. Peter did and in blizzard conditions spent a day trying out the Challenger-engined MX3, pronouncing it excellent.
So, as the teams headed for the Welsh test instead of the hybrid machines being available for all, there was instead a mixture of refurbished 1965 models and four newly built models to that year’s spec. Hardly auspicious and a great opportunity missed for a serious shakedown test of the bikes. While the object of the exercise had been to try the bikes there were other reasons for going to Wales. It was part of the new team manager Jack Stocker’s drive to make the UK team the best it could be under whatever circumstances they would meet during an event. This meant dealing with incidents such as punctures in adverse conditions, braking and acceleration tests, spark plug changing and trouble shooting. Wales provided adverse enough conditions and team members displayed varying degrees of ability in allotted tasks. It should be reasonably obvious in an event where remaining on schedule is important, and anything that slows a rider down is bad as it means risks are often taken to make time up. It is from this sort of scenario the legend arose that a ‘gold’ means everything went right during the week whereas a silver meant trouble.
As the test event went on – 200 miles each day – a number of incidents caused concern as flywheels parted on Greeves, an AJS little end bearing seized and several of the Triumphs misfired as water was sucked into the air filters. Displaying a dedication to the job Jack Stocker acquired some tractor inner tubes and fabricated air-filter covers to keep the water out of the Triumphs and then helped AJS mechanic, Wally Wyatt, rebuild the failed AJS – a 350 to be used by Peter Gaunt. The test also allowed Lucas to trial a new style of ignition for the AJS team and pronounced it so good all three AMC machines would have it for the actual ISDT.
This ignition system had all of the benefits of a battery and coil one but without the battery, this created a weak link, as instead there was a capacitor from a television set, flexibly mounted, which provided the steady electrical current to the ignition coil. Unlike the often troublesome and temperamental energy transfer system this capacitor set-up was simple and robust and much in evidence when the pre65 movement got going years later. Despite the problems and technical issues Stocker deemed the Welsh try-out a success and those who needed to resolve the issues were working to do so and have the bikes ready for the ISDT proper.
The bikes themselves had been seen in the press and in what was regarded as being the best-publicised ISDT attempt for many years quite a bit was known about them. It didn’t stop them coming under close scrutiny though and while the AJS and Greeves’ machines were pretty amazing in their own right the Triumph engined BSAS were jaw dropping. Just before the Welsh test session Motorcycling was invited along to BSA to view one of the special machines and spent some time with a lad called Joe Saunt who’d been behind the project. Unfettered by the previous year’s failures as he’d only joined the back-room team at the start of the year Joe married the two best components of each make and produced a legend. He also produced a problem for the world outside the factory.
Legend has it these bikes were simply ‘parts bin specials’ with a Triumph engine bunged in a BSA Victor frame. You can almost hear the bloke down the pub can’t you? “Piece o’cake innit, anyone could do it… yeah, I’ll have another pint…”
Unfortunately for amateur builders everywhere producing one of these machines isn’t a simple matter of squeezing the twin engine into the single frame as the T100 unit is too big – ask anyone who’s tried it. When Motorcycling’s man interviewed Joe he found the frame was built to Victor Enduro dimensions but had been modified for the Triumph engine. Particular attention had been paid to positioning the engine to keep the Victor weight distribution, something that those outside the factory didn’t always do when trying to slot a twin into the Victor. The frame itself was made from Reynold 531 tubing, and so it was quite light already and in Victor use it carried the oil-in-frame tubes but for ISDT use the capacity wasn’t big enough so a separate oil tank was fabricated to go in the traditional position on the sub-frame. Additionally the head stock was strengthened with extra bracing. The sub-frame was also modified with extra bracing where the swinging arm pivot which was in itself a Triumph one as a Triumph rear wheel would be used to keep the chain line in place. Up at the front were BSA Victor forks in BSA yokes with two-way damping, and wheels were Victor for the front with a 3in x 21in rim and Triumph QD at the rear with a 4in x 18 in rim. As aluminium wasn’t deemed tough enough the rims were hightensile steel given its twin advantages of lightness and strength.
There were a number of pretty neat touches to the hybrid, a Vokes oil filter, for instance, allowed some back pressure in the lubrication system, which forced more oil to the top end of the engine as well as supplying a chain oiler to lube the rear chain. It was equally clear a lot of attention to detail had gone on as if a part needed to be accessed quickly or removed during the event then the minimum number of tools was needed to do so… with things like Tommy bars on wheel spindles, push-knobs for the
air filter, pull-knobs for the hinged seat; all things which save vital seconds during the cut and thrust of an ISDT.
Perhaps most puzzling, given its reputation, was the use of the Energy Transfer ignition system. Yet, those who understand how to set it up and how it worked always felt it was a much-maligned system. Whatever else it did, it provided both ignition and lighting in a simplified system.
The final spec for these engines was laid out at the press day and included all the mods detailed earlier but with the addition of light alloy barrels to the engines, a weight saving of nearly 8lb, a modified breather that vented into the primary case, a much lower first gear so the clutch wouldn’t have to be feathered in tricky sections, a stainless steel rear mudguard after the alloy ones split and a glass-fibre air-filter housing. Slight differences between the Triumph and BSA versions included low exhaust for Triumph riders and high exhaust for BSA riders. Opinion differed on the reason for this but an official explanation was the Victor chassis sat slightly lower than the Triumph one and thus placed the pipes too near the ground for comfort.
The Greeves on show at Casa Blanca were substantially as Peter Fraser had reported in April and consisted of a Challenger engine in the MX3 frame which, while similar to the 1965 frame, was actually a little shorter. This was expected to improve handling through twisty sections. Aiding this handling was the latest pattern Greeves’ front fork but instead of the glass-fibre mudguard an aluminium one was fitted. Greeves had experienced a rash of the plastic ones breaking and rather than make a substantially heavier glass-fibre one as it did for the rear, used the alloy blade.
Engine mods were aimed at adding reliability and included a shallower taper on the timing side main shaft to more securely locate the flywheel. Inside the flywheel the lighting coil was wound in two parts one feeding the headlamp the other the rear lamp and in an emergency either could be used for the other application… if you see what we mean. A small clutch modification saw a lengthened actuating arm fitted inside the gearbox end cover which gave a lighter and smoother action. The whole clutch was lightened by fitting light alloy clutch plates with a slower wear rate.
At the Press day the Thundersley two strokes wore additional tubing under the engine to prevent the primary case from being damaged.
The biggest changes though were reserved for the AJS models as instead of three different capacities the AMC men were out on newly built 500cc machines. Based on the experiences of the previous year it
was deemed better if all three riders rode identical bikes.
As the riders, resplendent in new Barbour jackets, smiled and posed for the press, checked out each other’s machines they were presented with wrist watches by the Smiths Industries representative, Jack Owens, before heading over to the MIRA test area where speed testing was to be conducted. It was as well they did as there was a last-minute hitch or two when Jim Sandiford’s freshly built Greeves engine nipped up and Arthur Lampkin’s bike refused to start. Sandiford's problem was traced to lubrication starvation when shutting the throttle at the end of the MIRA straight while Arthur’s seemingly major problem was found to be a wire touching the exhaust pipe. Bert Greeves promised the Sandiford bike would be run in a little more and Lucas would ensure all the electrical systems would be checked out.
So, how did they do?
Well, the general verdict was that the UK had put itself back in contention as potential winners of this event and barring a couple of minor problems might well have taken top honours in Sweden. The main bugbears were known before the event and while the machinery was superb for 1966 it was still heavier and slower than the opposition used and the team riders couldn’t gain access to the bikes for much-needed practice before the event. It was felt addressing these issues would go a long way to increasing our prospects of a win.
There was praise for the efforts of Jack Stocker and Eric Davey who ensured everything ran smoothly and the pre-event training proved beneficial to everyone. All in all it was a good grounding for 1967’s event in Poland.
The Trophy team lines up for the camera, left to right are John Giles, Roy Peplow, Arthur Lampkin, Ken Heanes, Ray Sayer and Sammy Miller. Teammanager Jack Stocker is behind Arthur while assistant Major Eric Davey REME is partly hidden by Ken Heanes....
Though the Victor frame carried oil- in-the-frame tubes there wasn’t enough capacity so an external one-gallon oil tank was fitted instead. Triumph ended up using ‘all Triumph’ bikes instead of the proposed Victorstyle framed versions… company politics...
Originally down to ride a 348cc AJS Peter Gaunt was issued with a 500 version as was the rest of the team. Spares and maintenance expediency was the claim.
Sammy Miller was drafted back in to the Trophy Team for 1966 and felt, at last, the British effort hadmachines up to the task.
Smiths Industries presented each team member with a wrist watch. Their man, Jack Owens, shakes John Giles hand as he presents the timepiece as Roy Peplow inspects his watch.
Surely not a little self- conscious there John? John Pease is asked to pose with his Greeves… Motorcycle’s off- road journalist Peter Fraser finds it amusing.
Scott Ellis checks out his 490cc TRIBSA while Peter Stirland and John Pease look on.
Some typical terrain for the riders. We’d love to know what BSA boss, Bert Perrigo, in themiddle of this group, has said to Triumph man, John Giles, but whatever it was it raised a smile. Giles is on the left, Jack Owens of Smiths Industries is next to...