1980 Northern Experts
Imagine that you have been told that your ‘works’ contract would not be renewed due to a poor run of results but we have a new model coming out we would like you to promote before the year end. Cumbrian based Nigel Birkett had ridden for Suzuki before moving to Montesa UK importer, Jim Sandiford’s team. Starting with the Cota 348 model he then moved to the 349 but did not deliver the results expected of him. Sandiford decided not to hire Birkett after his contract ended but in the meantime asked him if he would ride the new Cota 200 model until the year end. Birkett agreed and what happened next shocked the world of trials.
With a point to prove, Birkett took to the new machine like a duck to water. He made a few minor modifications to suit his delicate riding style that had earned him the nickname ‘butterfly Birkett’ and quickly won a string of National trials including two British Championship rounds.
By the time he had taken a very impressive fifth place finish at the Scott Trial, he had been offered the opportunity to move to the fast emerging Fantic brand to ride their new 200 model in 1981. Sandiford came back to Birkett with a revised offer but his decision was made and he duly agreed to ride the new ‘Red Devil’ from Italy.
His last ride on the new model Montesa Cota 200 would be at the end of season Northern Experts trial in December.
As it happened, the event was held not far from Birkett’s home town of Broughton in Furness near Penrith, jointly run by the Manchester 17 MCC and Cumberland County MCC.
The north of the country had been hit by a very cold weather front which included snow and ice on the ‘fells’ around the area which had turned it into a winter wonderland. The section marking team had to mark the fifteen sections, three mile course on the easier side due to the extreme conditions but first the riders had to get to the event and for Birkett this journey proved very hazardous. With ice covered roads causing havoc the normal forty minute trip took Birkett two hours!
With a good quality entry of the top riders from the various Northern Centre’s, the event was quite a prestigious one to win and the Northern Experts Trophy carried the names of many famous riders. Birkett began the event riding with the confidence he had gained with the success on the Montesa and took an early lead with a three mark score for his opening lap. Pushing him though was fellow Montesa rider, Malcolm Rathmell, on the Cota 349 and Fantic mounted Chris Griffin, who both wanted the win.
The event was proving a touch on the easier side as due to the winter weather conditions many of the hazards were moved into the rocky rivers which were now becoming deeper due to the melting snow high on the surrounding hills.
A Close Finish
On the second lap it looked as though Birkett’s push for his final win was not going to happen as firstly his chain de-railed and with it a five mark penalty was registered by the observer before another two five mark penalties pushed him into second position on eighteen marks lost behind Rathmell with Griffin also in contention for the win. With the time element now coming into play, Birkett had to rush his last lap and also contend with the rising water levels but he had done enough to take a very popular win by a single mark from Rathmell as Griffin lost out on the most cleans tie decider. Behind these three, Chris Myers came home in fourth position in front of Peter Cartwright.
A very young John Lampkin on the SWM came out victorious in the fight for sixth position in front of new Moto Gori rider, Welshman Mike Leddy. Behind Leddy it was only two marks which separated Peter Oakley, Tony ‘Sam’ Calvert, Steve ‘Butch’ Robson, Howard Jackman and Ady Morrison on the Majesty.
In the very strong sidecar class it was Mick Wilkinson and Kevin Lockwood on the Ossa outfit who took the win on the tie decider from Lancastrian Malcolm Ellis and Frank Griffiths who just failed to make the results a ‘one-two’ for Montesa. Further down the order Classic Trial Magazine contributor, Mike Rapley, with Mannix Devlin in the chair of the Beamish Suzuki outfit headed Robin Luscombe with Steve Kershaw in the sidecar of another Suzuki outfit to round off the top ten finishers.
Finishing out of the awards was Martin and Alan ‘Sid’ Lampkin who had a fun day out at the event using an old Bultaco three wheeler.
Despite the inclement weather conditions this venture between two Northern based clubs had been voted a huge success.
End of an Era
As Birkett finished the event and was announced the winner the ever sporting Montesa UK importer, Jim Sandiford, gave Nigel Birkett a pat on the back and shook hands with him knowing it was the end of an era for the Birkett — Cota 200 relationship.
John Hulme, Classic Trial Magazine Editor: “I rode in this event having travelled on the treacherous roads with Dave Porritt and Scott Rowland in a car towing three motorcycles on a trailer. The trip was very hazardous to say the least!
“The win by Birkett rounded off an excellent year end for him. He was incredible to watch on the Montesa Cota 200 and I often wonder, as I am sure the late Jim Sandiford did, what the partnership would have achieved in the 1981 trials season. It’s a fact that no one else since has achieved the success Birkett did on a small capacity machine at the very top of the sport.”
British Expert winner in November, Malcolm Rathmell on the bigger capacity Montesa could not match the performance of Birkett and the Cota 200.
Comerford’s Bultaco supported Peter Cartwright fights one of the fast flowing rivers.
Mike Leddy on one of his first outings on the Moto Gori. A very young John Lampkin was the only member of the famous Yorkshire dynasty riding the solo route. His father Arthur and Uncle’s Martin and Alan competed in the sidecar class. Tony Calvert stands tall on the 350 Holden supported yellow Ossa ‘Gripper’.
Andy Gardner keeps his feet up on the 200 Fantic.
Moto Gori team manager David Hooke. Earlier in 1980 Graham Tales had joined the Colin Appleyard’s Motorcycles Trials team.
Glenn Scholey fires the Comerford’s Bultaco over an awkward rock.
Sidecar winners Mick Wilkinson with Kevin Lockwood (350 Ossa).
The Colin Appleyard’s Trials Team from left to right: Graham Tales, David Calvert, Chris Myers with the manager Stuart Feeny.