BSA’S backroom boy British Sidecar Champion in 1968 he may have been, but it was bad luck and worse timing that robbed Peter Brown of the greater success he undoubtedly deserved. Pete Crawford spoke to the man himself and discovered the ins and outs whil
Trials, sidecars, engineering or submarines! Many things with many engines make appearances amidst the story of one of the most natural all-rounders to take up the competitive mantle. Peter Brown’s story is one that every motorcycle race fan should know.
“Actually I was educated at the same school as Doug Hele, which was Kings Norton Grammar and I thought the war was bloody wonderful. We all did. We lived on a hillock looking down to Bourneville, where Cadbury was, and one day a twin engine bomber, most probably a Heinkel 111, came across level with our house dropping bombs closely followed by what I suspect was a Hurricane, which shot it down. “I had a cousin who fought in Hurricane squadron 501. Squadron Leader Kenneth Lee. He was my hero and I was going to be a fighter pilot you see, but as I grew older I realised they were never going to have me, and that was a turning point. It was a case of: ‘I can’t be a fighter pilot so just what can I be?’” It was a trip to the 1949 TT, paid for by his mother on the understanding that he passed his school certificate, which changed everything. The likes of Ernie Lyons, Johnny Lockett and Freddie Frith in full flight left a profound impression. Careers advice was against it but two years in a local engineering apprenticeship and night school led to work at Copes of Bearwood, County Cycles and PJ Evans working on parts for Bentleys, among others. Ultimately it secured a place at Ariel’s. “I worked under Len Moss, in the service department and served my time with various fitters, ending up with the guy who did the square fours, Sammy Peter. He was meticulous and a stickler for discipline, which was very good learning for me. I got to working on my own and filling in here and there and I’d started scrambling and trials, as one could purchase bits at very reasonable prices. Actually the prices were ridiculous! “Len had a mate in East Anglia, a big Ariel agent, and I got the job of at least once a year having this chap’s son’s engines, stripping them completely, giving them a bit of a tweak. I probably had a go at the cylinder heads and generally made a half decent job of building them. Then they used to go into the competition shop to be brake tested. “Now, in the competition shop the boss was Ernie Smith, who was a frightening personality, but working for him was a bloke called Clive Bennett. All the Bennett brothers were mixed up with Ernie Earles, but that was how I got to know him initially, at Ariel’s. I never heard anything back on those engines, but that was the attitude then, no one ever told you if you’d done a good job.” But he obviously had and Clive Bennett’s awareness was to prove useful in the future. In the short term however a ‘busting’ row with Len Moss saw a departure from Ariel’s and spells at Birmingham dealers Colmore Depot and as Midland Area Representative for Isetta bubble cars – an episode that could fill a book in itself. This first flirtation with three wheels was cut short by an opportunity at BSA, which looked too good to be true, and nearly was.
Cascades, Oulton Park, 1966. Peter leads Norman Hanks. Note the extended screen and committed eyes from the white BSA boys!