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...
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.