The Miss­ing Crooks Suzuki

Classic Racer - - WHAT’SINSIDE -

The story of a search that’s been on­go­ing in the hunt for a spe­cific mo­tor­cy­cle from the ages.

Through­out the 1950s Ed­die Crooks was an out­stand­ing mo­tor­cy­cle sport com­peti­tor, with high­lights that in­cluded three in­ter­na­tional six-day trial gold medals, a sec­ond place fin­ish in the 1953 Ju­nior Club­man’s TT and a Se­nior Manx Grand Prix vic­tory in 1959. On re­tire­ment from rac­ing in 1960, Ed­die set up a mo­tor­cy­cle busi­ness in Bar­row-in-Fur­ness and was one of the first Suzuki deal­er­ships in the United King­dom. It was through Crooks Suzuki that Ed­die be­came known as ‘Mr Suzuki’ in the UK. The Crooks Suzuki name gained much pub­lic­ity through rac­ing ex­ploits which re­sulted in vic­to­ries at the TT, Manx Grand Prix, Thrux­ton 500 miler, plus nu­mer­ous na­tional and in­ter­na­tional races. Through var­i­ous con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who worked closely with Jim Lee there was al­ways a ru­mour that Jim had man­u­fac­tured a rac­ing bike for the Crooks Suzuki team. Jim Lee, from Birstall, West York­shire, was an am­a­teur mo­tor­cy­cle racer him­self in the 1950s, how­ever he be­came best known for set­ting up Jim Lee Rac­ing Com­po­nents which man­u­fac­tured all sorts of mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ces­sories in­clud­ing af­ter­mar­ket frames (see Classic Racer is­sue 156 for fur­ther de­tails on Jim). The hearsay re­lat­ing to Jim build­ing a bike for Ed­die Crooks was that the com­pleted ma­chine was taken to an im­por­tant race meet­ing. How­ever, when the ex­ist­ing Crooks Suzuki rac­ing frame sup­plier saw the bike, he stated that it broke an agree­ment be­tween him and Crooks and as such Ed­die was not al­lowed to race the Jim Lee framed ma­chine. It is well es­tab­lished that Jim Lee had links with Crooks Suzuki, for ex­am­ple Jim made the large ca­pac­ity al­loy fuel tanks which were used on their T20 and T500 TT rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cles. Th­ese mo­tor­cy­cles went on to win the Light­weight Manx GP and 500cc pro­duc­tion TT with Frank White­way rid­ing. Sadly, no fur­ther de­tails were forth­com­ing to con­firm that Jim had man­u­fac­tured a com­plete mo­tor­cy­cle for the Crooks team.

Fast for­ward to March 2010

An ad­ver­tise­ment for the sale of a 500cc Jim Lee Suzuki ap­peared in Old Bike Mart. There was very lit­tle his­tory on the bike, other than it had been bought from Keith Brown in the Not­ting­hamshire area by the cur­rent owner in 2005. After in­spect­ing the bike it was ap­par­ent that both the frame and the bike as a whole were Jim Lee’s work. The Suzuki was clearly based on Jim Lee’s own spine framed Yamaha TR2B which was raced so suc­cess­fully by Mick Grant in 1970/71. Jim Lee was Mick’s first spon­sor and made a range of bikes for him to race. Per­haps the most suc­cess­ful of th­ese was the Yamaha TR2B en­gined spe­cial built for the start of the 1970 sea­son. This bike utilised an en­gine pur­chased from Pad­getts which was housed in an un­ortho­dox spine type frame man­u­fac­tured by Jim. The main spine of the frame used a 3in di­am­e­ter straight tube that passed be­tween the steer­ing head and swing­ing arm pivot. Ini­tially Metal Pro­file forks and an ex-rob Fit­ton four lead­ing-shoe Manx Nor­ton brake were used, but for the 1971 sea­son the front end was re­placed. Mod­i­fied See­ley forks were fit­ted, for which Jim fab­ri­cated a very dis­tinc­tive top yoke and a sin­gle disc brake setup. The Lock­heed hy­draulics were boughtin com­po­nents, but the hub and clamp used to an­chor the disc caliper to the fork leg were made in-house by Ge­off Thorne. Th­ese changes made a big im­prove­ment to over­all per­for­mance of the ma­chine, with the Mick Grant/jl Yamaha be­com­ing the top ‘spe­cial’ in the coun­try at the time. A 7th place in the Ju­nior TT, fol­lowed by a stun­ning 2nd be­hind John Cooper at the Post TT Mal­lory meet­ing in which he beat the works Yama­has, showed they were a se­ri­ous force to be reck­oned with. The sea­son was fin­ished off with 16 con­sec­u­tive wins at na­tional and club level. Based on this suc­cess, Jim placed an ad­ver­tise­ment, of­fer­ing to make sim­i­lar spine frame kits for other in­ter­ested par­ties. Put sim­ply, if some­one re­ally wanted to make the best avail­able spe­cial, they would be hard pushed to do bet­ter than this. Jim also had con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence with large di­am­e­ter or spine tubed frames by now, the Drain­pipe Dun­stall Nor­ton de­signed by Ed­die Robin­son and built by Jim in 1969 had also achieved an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion in the hands of rid­ers such as Ray Pick­rell and Ken Red­fern. Look­ing in de­tail at the Suzuki, it is clear that it was built for the 1971 sea­son. So many of the up­dates and im­prove­ments made to Jim’s own Yamaha were also in­cor­po­rated into this ma­chine. Most no­tice­able is the later front end. Jim’s top yoke was un­usual in that it was fab­ri­cated from Reynolds 531 tub­ing that had been swaged to an oval sec­tion. The yoke is con­sid­er­ably dropped which was re­quired due to the length of steer­ing heads used on later JL frames. See­ley forks and the JL hy­draulic disc brake con­ver­sion com­pleted

the front end. The rear brake and hub are mod­i­fied Suzuki com­po­nents, vir­tu­ally all other com­po­nents be­ing man­u­fac­tured by Jim Lee. The petrol tank was of the ear­lier de­sign used by Jim on all man­ner of bikes at that time, in­clud­ing his own 1970 JL Yamaha and Crooks Suzuki T500 pro­duc­tion rac­ers. A pho­to­graph seen of when the bike was ‘found’ in 2002 shows a high-back Day­tona Suzuki type seat fit­ted to the ma­chine, although this had re­cently been re­placed with a copy of the later JL type. It also showed the bike fit­ted with small vol­ume, un­si­lenced ex­pan­sion boxes of a type that were used on the early 1970s Crooks rac­ers. In this pho­to­graph the bike had a right-hand gear change, although this had sub­se­quently also been swapped. The frame de­sign, ge­om­e­try and de­tail are al­most iden­ti­cal to that used in the JL Yamaha. How­ever, to house a T500 en­gine some mod­i­fi­ca­tions were re­quired, the en­gine be­ing con­sid­er­ably larger and heav­ier than the Yamaha unit used in the orig­i­nal de­sign. As the en­gine is also taller, the front du­plex down-tubes were moved for­ward and less splayed apart as they had to fit be­tween the Suzuki ex­haust ports. On a T500 the inlet ports and car­bu­ret­tors are an­gled to­wards the cen­tre-line of the ma­chine and the main spine had to be scal­loped to clear both the bell-mouths and cham­ber tops. The main spine also acts as an oil reser­voir for the Posi-force auto-lube sys­tem. Fi­nally the off-side en­gine mount­ings are clamped to the frame and can be turned to one side, en­abling the en­gine to be re­moved. The cur­rent en­gine fit­ted is based on a Suzuki T500 unit, but has a num­ber of TR500 parts fit­ted in­clud­ing heads, pis­tons and ig­ni­tion sys­tem. Other mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude the fit­ting of later cast-iron liner cylin­der bar­rels mod­i­fied to give TR port tim­ings. The tim­ing-side en­gine cover had been re­duced in width to im­prove ground clear­ance, as the gen­er­a­tor was no longer re­quired. Straight cut pri­mary drive gears and a close ra­tio gear­box were also in­cluded in the build. The bike is un­usual in that Jim and his team clearly built the com­plete rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle around a sup­plied en­gine, at their premises in Birstall. When look­ing at the chas­sis and cy­cle parts it is ob­vi­ous that the bike was built as a ‘one-off’ and with lit­tle re­gard to cost. This im­plies the per­son who com­mis­sioned the bike was a se­ri­ous racer and had ac­cess to both con­sid­er­able funds and the nec­es­sary Suzuki en­gine and parts. As the very suc­cess­ful Yamaha TR2B en­gine was by now far eas­ier to ob­tain, it also sug­gests there was an al­ter­na­tive rea­son why it had to be a Suzuki. One can also as­sume there was a de­sire to race in the Se­nior 500cc class and in that they would be suc­cess­ful against an ag­ing grid of Manx and G50 ma­chines. In talk­ing with Neil Proc­ter-blain who worked with Jim Lee at the time, he clearly re­mem­bered work­ing on the chas­sis and how awk­ward it was get­ting the en­gine to fit. He also re­mem­bered that the bike was com­mis­sioned “by a big Suzuki out­fit on the coast”, but sadly could not con­firm who.

Fast for­ward to 2015

A col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs from the early 1970s were in­di­vid­u­ally listed on ebay. One of th­ese im­ages was cap­tioned as the ‘Jim Lee Yamaha’, although there were no other de­tails given. It was listed amongst a group of pho­to­graphs that were clearly taken in the TT pad­dock. For the JL Yamaha to be at the TT was not un­usual in it­self, as it fin­ished suc­cess­fully in both the 1970 and 1971 Ju­nior races. What was un­usual and ini­tially caught the eye was the length of the ex­pan­sion cham­bers. Th­ese ex­tended to vir­tu­ally the edge of the rear tyre, whereas gen­er­ally 350cc Yamaha tailpipes would fin­ish level with the rear wheel spin­dle. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the im­age re­vealed that a Suzuki rear hub was fit­ted to the ma­chine; it then be­came ap­par­ent that this was not the JL Yamaha at all. This was con­firmed by the black numbers on the light coloured back­ground, it had to be the Se­nior or 500cc class. The seat and fair­ing were both un­usual in shape and un­like any­thing man­u­fac­tured and sup­plied by Jim. The petrol tank was clearly Jim Lee and like­wise the spine frame. With­out a doubt it was the JL Suzuki. In study­ing the rac­ing numbers on the ma­chines shown in this and many of the other pho­to­graphs listed on ebay, it be­came ap­par­ent they were all taken in the pad­dock at the 1972 TT. The stick­ers on, and the fair­ing it­self also had a tale to tell. The fair­ing was painted in the same team colours and had the same Shell spon­sor­ship and many of the stick­ers as the rest of the Crooks Suzuki en­tries. Even the sticker on the petrol tank ap­pears to be the re­main­ing half of a Crooks Suzuki de­cal. But with­out a doubt, it was the Lam­plas stick­ers that gen­er­ated the most in­ter­est. Lam­plas were pro­duc­ers of glass fi­bre and plas­tic prod­ucts and were based at Con­sett in the north­east. The firm was owned by Les Sid­dle, a keen rac­ing mo­tor­cy­clist and along with ‘Ge­ordie’ Bell and Eddy John­son, was a founder member of the NE Mo­tor­cy­cle Rac­ing Club. Lam­plas sup­plied the dis­tinc­tive fair­ings with the hand cut­aways and the square seat units to Ed­die Crooks that were used on both this and the Stan Woods ma­chines in 1972. The pieces of the jig­saw were begin­ning to fall into place. An­other pre­vi­ously recorded de­tail sud­denly springs to mind. In a con­ver­sa­tion with Fred Broad­bent who raced a Jim Lee framed Nor­ton Com­mando in 1971, it was men­tioned that Eddy John­son of New­cas­tle also raced a JL bike at some point in the early 70s. Eureka! The pro­gramme from the 1972 Se­nior TT lists Eddy John­son as rider num­ber 57 and as such he is clearly the man to talk to. Eddy John­son had been rac­ing since 1958 and in 1969 pur­chased a sec­ond-hand TR250 from Ed­die Crooks. He raced the bike with con­sid­er­able suc­cess and was en­tered un­der the Crooks Suzuki ban­ner in both the Light­weight and Ju­nior classes at the 1969 TT. The bike was sold in 1970 as Eddy re­tired from rac­ing to take over the fam­ily busi­ness. This busi­ness was even­tu­ally sold to Thorn EMI and in 1972 Eddy re­turned home to Tyneside and de­cided to start rac­ing once more. Again he ap­proached Ed­die Crooks and this time was of­fered the Jim Lee framed 500 Suzuki that Crooks had com­mis­sioned. Eddy bought the bike in parts from Ed­die Crooks in 1972. It was a com­plete bike that had been fully stripped and he bought it

home from Bar­row-in-fur­ness in his wife’s car. He picked it up in early April and it took two months to re­build and pre­pare for the TT. It had the min­i­mum of testing at a Croft prac­tice ses­sion and in a sin­gle race at the same venue, be­fore head­ing off for the IOM. He was en­tered in the Se­nior 500cc race and stayed with Ed­die Crooks at his mother’s and shared their garage fa­cil­i­ties. Eddy said the JL framed bike han­dled beau­ti­fully at the TT, in com­plete con­trast to the stan­dard Suzuki framed “wa­ter-buf­falo of the Crooks pro­duc­tion rac­ers” which bucked and dived at ev­ery turn. Un­for­tu­nately dur­ing the sec­ond lap of the race, a wire to the battery broke along the Cronk Y Voddy straight and he coasted to a halt. A mar­shal rushed across and no­ticed the sev­ered wire, but in­sisted that no out­side help could be given. A penknife from the as­sem­bled crowd was thrown to the ground in front of Eddy and he made good a re­pair. On re­turn­ing to his pit at the end of the lap to re­fuel, he found his crew miss­ing. Ge­ordie Bell who was help­ing him that day had heard that Eddy had bro­ken down and re­tired him­self to the pub! In the end Peter Pad­gett in the ad­join­ing pit filled him up and off he went to con­tinue the race, but the time lost in both in­ci­dents con­trib­uted to his poor fin­ish­ing re­sult of 34th. The bike was raced at the Cad­well Park In­ter­na­tional in Septem­ber of that year, but Eddy con­sid­ered it un­com­pet­i­tive on the short cir­cuits against the all-con­quer­ing Yama­has. It was even­tu­ally sold in 1973 to ‘Big’ Frank Kennedy, one of the ‘Ar­moy Ar­mada’ whom Eddy had met at the UGP ear­lier in the year. After see­ing a pho­to­graph, Frank came over on the ferry from North­ern Ire­land to col­lect the bike and paid Eddy in cash with one pound notes! Frank’s brother Bill was able to shed some light onto the his­tory of the Suzuki whilst it was in North­ern Ire­land. He re­called that the bike was “never the most re­li­able”, but Frank raced it un­til to­wards the end of 1975 with the Ul­ster Grand Prix be­ing the last time he rode it. Un­for­tu­nately, there are cur­rently no pic­tures or fur­ther race de­tails of the bike in Frank’s hands, so if any reader could pro­vide any more in­for­ma­tion it would be much ap­pre­ci­ated. It is be­lieved that the bike re­turned to the main­land, as Frank was over ev­ery week at mo­tor auc­tions. The only other later ref­er­ences for a Jim Lee Suzuki 500 comes in a few meet­ings at Croft in 1976 en­tered by T L Clough of Lan­caster.

2018 and con­clu­sions

We still have not cov­ered the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: what did the JL Suzuki have to do with Team Crooks? Come 2018 and an in­ter­est­ing pe­riod photo is ob­tained in a col­lec­tion of rac­ing re­lated pho­to­graphs. To our sur­prise one bike is read­ily iden­ti­fi­able in Crooks Suzuki liv­ery – the Jim Lee Suzuki. No de­tails of the meet­ing are avail­able, but by look­ing at other pho­tos in the col­lec­tion and by ref­er­enc­ing old pro­grammes, it is clear that the meet­ing is the 1971 Mal­lory Park ‘Race of the Year’ Septem­ber In­ter­na­tional. Look­ing at the pro­gramme, in the Se­nior race there are only two peo­ple en­tered on 500cc Suzukis; The first is Barry Sheene, the sec­ond is Crooks rider Stan Woods.

Fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion of the photo shows that a Fon­tana drum brake is fit­ted in­stead of the Jim Lee disc brake that was used on the bike in 1972. It is ap­par­ent that the Fon­tana drum brake has been hastily fit­ted, as chain links are utilised to al­low the brake to be used with its ex­ist­ing ca­bles, which were most likely taken off an­other ma­chine as a pair. It begs the ques­tion, why would a drum brake be hastily fit­ted in­stead of the su­pe­rior Jim Lee disc brake? Look­ing at other Crooks Suzuki ma­chines that Stan Woods rode it is ap­par­ent that this brake setup was his pref­er­ence (e.g. ma­chine used in the 1972 In­ter­na­tional For­mula 750cc race at the TT). What we can­not cur­rently say for cer­tain is if Stan Woods and the Crooks team raced the bike at the 1971 Mal­lory ‘Race of the Year’, or whether it was just prac­ticed. There is still a fur­ther ques­tion though; why after plac­ing an or­der with Jim, sup­ply­ing the Suzuki en­gine and parts and then wait­ing for the bike to be made, did they likely only use the bike on the one oc­ca­sion? His­tory shows this is the pe­riod that it would have been at its most com­pet­i­tive. It also shows Crooks and Suzuki were gen­er­ally strug­gling with the han­dling of the stan­dard framed bikes when fit­ted with a tuned or TR500 spec en­gine. There must be an ex­pla­na­tion as to why it was not used. One thing is ap­par­ent, Ed­die Crooks and Jim Lee did not have a fall­ing out over the is­sues sur­round­ing the JL Suzuki. Jim went on sup­ply­ing tanks for both the T500 pro­duc­tion racer and the Crooks Suzuki tri­als bike that was in­tro­duced a few years later. Clearly the prob­lem was not be­tween those two. One must say all the above add sub­stance to the ear­lier hearsay, in that Ed­die Crooks was not al­lowed to race the bike. I guess we will never have the de­fin­i­tive an­swer.

Above: Jim Lee Suzuki chas­sis dur­ing restora­tion. (Jim Lee ar­chive)Be­low: Jim Lee Suzuki fol­low­ing restora­tion. (Jim Lee ar­chive)

The photo from ebay; Jim Lee Suzuki in the pad­dock at the 1972 TT. (Jim Lee ar­chive)

1972 Se­nior TT en­try list

Picture found in 2018 show­ing the Jim Lee Suzuki at the 1971 Mal­lory Park ‘Race of the Year’. (Jim Lee ar­chive)

Above: Eddy and Ge­ordie in the pits at the 1972 TT. (Eddy John­son ar­chive) Left: Stan Woods

Top: JL Suzuki and Yamaha back at home at the old Birstall fac­tory with Jim’s son Rob. (Jim Lee ar­chive)

Above: 1971 Mal­lory Park Race of the Year Septem­ber In­ter­na­tional.

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