THE TWO WHEEL TI­TLES

Fac­tory ma­chin­ery and Count Agusta not with­stand­ing, Surtees had the world for the tak­ing. As long as he could put up with the slow progress of the Ital­ian’s devel­op­ment regime...

Classic Racer - - HOW IT BEGAN - Words: Alan Cath­cart Pic­tures: Mor­tons Archive

He won again at Assen on his Dutch TT de­but, and made it a hat-trick of vic­to­ries the fol­low­ing week at Spa-fran­cor­champs in Bel­gium, to es­tab­lish an unas­sail­able lead in the 1956 500cc World Cham­pi­onship. Surtees won his first of seven world crowns aged just 22, de­spite suf­fer­ing a bro­ken arm in a Ger­man GP crash. He’d ef­fec­tively been banned from de­fend­ing his ti­tle by a six-month FIM sus­pen­sion in re­turn for sup­port­ing the pri­va­teer rid­ers’ strike for rea­son­able start ex­penses at the 1955 Dutch TT. In 1957 John Surtees over­came any af­ter-ef­fects from the bro­ken arm to win the sea­son-open­ing Span­ish GP in Barcelona. But that year’s MV Agus­tas were no match for the Gil­eras, and Surtees bat­tled to fin­ish third be­hind these in the 500cc cham­pi­onship, win­ning just once at Assen, and fifth in the 350cc se­ries be­hind the all-con­quer­ing Moto Guzzi sin­gles, and the pair of DKW twostroke triples. This led him to urge Count Agusta to im­prove en­gine re­li­a­bil­ity and the four-cylin­der bikes’ han­dling – es­pe­cially with the full ‘dust­bin’ stream­lin­ing that was by then uni­ver­sal. “The prob­lem was that MV Agusta wasw a side­line from the Count’s avi­a­tion busi­ness,”b John said, “and that meant t heir knowl­edge of aero­dy­nam­ics was di­rectedd towards gain­ing lift, whereas ono a mo­tor­cy­cle you needed quite the op­po­site.o Moto Guzzi had their own windw tun­nel, and were much more ca­pa­ble of de­sign­ing mo­tor­cy­cle stream­lin­ing that was sta­ble at high speed.” This led John to en­vis­age leav­ing MV Agusta for Moto Guzzi, to the ex­tent of agree­ing a test ride on the firm’sfi in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive 500cc V8.V Just be­fore set­ting a date for this – which would surely have fin­ished his chances of re­main­ing with MV Agusta – on Septem­ber 15, 1957 Guzzi an­nounced it was join­ing Gil­era and 125/250cc dou­ble world cham­pi­ons Mon­dial in with­draw­ing from racing. MV Agusta had orig­i­nally agreed to join its three fel­low Ital­ian com­pa­nies in re­tire­ment, but Count Agusta thought bet­ter of it, thus open­ing the door to his bikes’ suc­ces­sive GP race vic­to­ries against pri­va­teer com­pe­ti­tion mounted on ag­ing Bri­tish sin­gles, and an un­in­ter­rupted run of world ti­tles for his four­cylin­der red and sil­ver ‘fire en­gines’. John Surtees was a ben­e­fi­ciary of this, win­ning a hat-trick of cham­pi­onships in 1958-60 in both 350/500cc classes by scor­ing vic­tory in 32 out of 39 races, while also be­com­ing the first man to win the Se­nior TT three years in a row. He won ev­ery GP race he started in 1958 and 1959, a to­tal of 25 vic­to­ries in suc­ces­sion, which re­sulted in his emu­lat­ing Ge­off Duke by be­ing voted the BBC’S Sports Per­son­al­ity of the Year in 1959. The lack of com­pe­ti­tion on two wheels led to him tak­ing a test drive in a race car at Good­wood in which he showed prom­ise.

Left, main im­age: BBC Sports Per­son­al­ity of the Yyear, John is flanked by his par­ents and sis­ter Ddorothy.

Above: John’s good­bye to MV Agusta. It is 1960 at Monza af­ter a near crash which tore his boot off, he was still able to win the race by over one minute and 16 sec­onds.

Be­low left: In 1958 in his mo­tor­cy­cle shop at West Wick­ham, Kent with a proud mum and dad in at­ten­dance.

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