The last time I had visited the Butser Lime Works trials venue near Petersfield in Hampshire was in 1988. The occasion was the rain-drenched round of the FIM World Trials Championship. In 2016 a round of the British Trials Championship was held at the very same venue, but this time in brilliant sunshine. Whilst watching at the hazards a guy I had not seen for more than nearly forty years approached me, it was Mick Whitlock. After exchanging pleasantries, he praised me on the success of my publishing ventures on motorcycle trials. We started to talk about the past years when I made the suggestion: “It’s about time we generated an article on the Whitehawk success story for the magazines”. With a slight pause he said he would think about it. We eventually parted and a few weeks later I called him to ask about the article. He had been asked by other people to talk about his life, and I found it quite a privilege when he said that he would love to generate an article for one of my own magazines.
From a very early age Mick had always had an interest in anything mechanical, and his own ideas on how things could be improved were always in his head. He left school and found his way into the dockyards as a teenager at Portsmouth where he served his time as an apprentice Coppersmith in 1957. His years there were taken up learning all he could about the processes of joining steel together including brazing and welding. He soon took note of all the anomalies associated with the heating and cooling process and how this could affect the use of steel in manufacturing. Inside his mind he knew that one day he wanted to manufacture his own frames for a trials motorcycle of his own design.
Used by so many young people around the period of the early sixties, the motorcycle was the main form of transport chosen. He started riding trials on a Triumph Tiger Cub which was soon followed by a Royal Enfield Crusader model. Mick would be attracted to the motorcycle showrooms of Bob Gollner Motorcycles based at Denmead near Portsmouth. Here he could view the latest machines available, and soon came the purchase of a Sprite trials model.
Bob Gollner was a successful businessman and rider in his own right, and he had the desire to build his own brand of trials motorcycle. Bob spoke with Mick and offered him a job in 1966 to build a new trials motorcycle and the Cheetah brand was born. They both believed they could make a better job than the Sprite with the use of Mick’s fabricating skills and Bob’s enthusiasm and financial input.
They aimed to produce a top quality trials machine that could be offered to suit the allimportant pockets of the trials rider’s needs. Mick soon started to work on a new frame, using Reynolds 531 tubing with all-brazed joints as he knew this was the best process for a trials application. To enhance the look of the new machine it would stand proud with its chrome and nickel finish. The frame design was based around the Villiers 37A engine.
Bob Gollner knew that the secret to success was the superb quality of manufacturing and the way the machine would be marketed, and the Cheetah ticked all the boxes. You must remember that around this time the Spanish machines from Bultaco, followed by Montesa and then Ossa, were starting to take hold but the die-hard British public was still proud to be associated with a product produced in Great Britain.
A brand new complete machine would cost £219 supplied in kit-form, but Gollner offered many options. Frame kits with parts manufactured by Whitlock could be purchased to upgrade your Greeves, DOT or Cotton machines as they used the same Villiers engine as the base point. The Cheetah stood very proud and both Bob and Mick were very pleased with the outcome. REH front forks from Robin Humphries could be fitted with the addition of a front disc brake. Other parts were offered including a Greeves Anglian alloy square cylinder head and barrel, giving you a top of the range Cheetah model for £269.
Off the back of the resources used from this first joint venture in 1968 a Cheetah frame kit was manufactured to take the Triumph 199cc Tiger Cub engine. As is well documented, the supply of the Villiers engines dried up as did the Triumph ones, and the dream was over.
With the supply of the Villiers engines over, the work with Bob Gollner would be finished. Mick had now got a good reputation for his workmanship and engineering skills with many people taking note, including Eric Cheney. Eric was well recognised as a leading authority on motorcycle frame design and manufacturing and he had seen Whitlock’s work first hand, and was very impressed.
With his experienced welding and brazing techniques Cheney soon had Mick working on his motorcycle frames for various clients including Phil Read. It was a well-known fact that the Yamaha that Read was going to use in the 1971 250cc World Championship needed its handling characteristics improving, and he approached Cheney in the hope he would take him on board to improve this. In truth Cheney was not so interested in the project, as he was more off-road orientated, and so he handed the job over to Whitlock.
Mick had now moved to his own premises at Cowplain in Hampshire, with Cheney still supplying him with work. Mick looked on this as a new challenge and worked with Read to fabricate a new frame for his Yamaha engine. The new frame worked very well and Read would go on to take the 1971 250cc World Championship, much to his delight. Cheney would still find work for Mick including involving him in the Cheney Triumph ISDT machines and other various projects.
Soon other people would take note of Mick’s high standard of workmanship and approach him to commission their own ideas. Mick would then do his utmost to fulfil their ideas and designs.
Mick would soon have many customers from the various walks of the trials world who wanted to use his skills. One of his early customers was John May, the son of Reg of Bultaco fame. Soon a Whitlock frame was built, and he had his own special with a BSA Bantam engine fitted. Montala Motors Limited in Guildford was the original Montesa importer to the UK headed by John Brise. The poor materials used in the fabrication of the steel tubular frames were presented to Whitlock, with the idea of producing a much better one in both quality and fabrication. These were built and tested around the Montesa Cota 247 but after various problems with health and business for Brise these were never made available. Frames were fabricated from his new premises at Horndean in Hampshire, and in 1971 Sammy Miller approached him to start work on his new Hi-Boy frames and various other parts for his new expanding aftermarket trials accessories business.
Mick had always kept in touch with Bob Gollner and he approached him to make what is believed to be the first Yamaha trials machine, the Gollner Yamaha. This was based around the DT 125 model from Yamaha and it turned into a very competitive machine, which Gollner rode in the 1971 Scottish Six Days Trial. Mick had himself kept his hand in at trials and in particular he still rode in the ‘Scottish’ every year on a variety of his own machines using many different engines.
The early Mick Andrews Replica Ossa trials models were now starting to make their way onto the UK trials scene but they had a major problem
with the rear chain derailing. They came with a plastic composite type of sump shield fitted, which was part of the frame, to protect the engine but it allowed the frame to flex when power was applied and threw the chain off the sprockets. Whitlock soon had the job in hand, and the machines sold through Bob Gollner had his new chrome frame fitted which used an aluminium sump guard, which in turn eradicated the chain derailment problem.
Word soon got around about the engineering and fabricating skills of Mick Whitlock, which would lead to the start of an interesting project from a Scandinavian customer. The Sachs engines from Germany had a superb build quality and were deemed bullet proof. They produced a 125cc single cylinder air-cooled engine which had been used by other manufacturers such as Sprite. You must remember that the small engined Micro trials machines were still in demand and the new Scandinavian customer had a vision of building his own machine with the Whitlock connection, and he funded Mick to produce a complete machine using the Sachs engine. Sammy Miller tested the machine and praised its build quality, much to Whitlock’s delight. Unfortunately nothing ever came of the project.
Another man with a vision of his own trials machine was George Sartin, of Talon Sprockets fame. He had spoken with the Martin brothers in the Midlands, who had worked with Sartin to produce the Mickmar engine. Whitlock would fabricate the frame for the new trials project of which an example can be found in the Sammy Miller museum. With so much interest in his work Mick would produce some of his own Whitehawk machines using the Bultaco as the machine donor. Sammy Miller would also have him make a Hi-Boy frame for the Ossa engine. Miller had recognised the growing aftermarket parts that the trials riders wanted and used Whitlock to generate and test various products for him.
Single Shock Bultaco
Now contracted to the Japanese Honda company, in Easter 1974 Sammy Miller unveiled his new Miller trials tea m. Pending the arrival of the first four-stroke Honda engines from Japan for his new development project he would mount his five-man team on an array of machines using both Bultaco and Ossa power until these arrived. The machines would be named Millers and ridden by himself, Brian Higgins, Geoff Parken, Bob Stanley and Mick Whitlock. The new Miller machines would be based around the successful ‘Hi-Boy’ frame kits, and many of Sammy Miller’s aftermarket parts, including aluminium components and Girling rear shock absorbers, were fitted. Whilst Sammy would use a conventional twin-shock suspension setup on the new Honda trials machines the Miller team could soon start to use a new single-shock frame presented at the team launch.
Designed by Sammy Miller he spoke with Mick Whitlock, who had fabricated a similar frame almost twelve months earlier and sent the prototype to Bultaco in Spain who made the decision not to develop it further. Miller along with Whitlock made the decision to go along with the idea alone to discover its potential. The Cantilever frame was constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing with a Ø 2” main down-tube, with a damping unit that had been adopted from a Formula One racing car located inside the tube. The damping unit would come from the front suspension used on Ken Tyrell’s team cars, and one of his engineers Roy Topp has been instrumental in advice on the adoption of the 200lb spring for motorcycle trials use. The damping adjustment was at both ends by the way of a threaded top piece with a locking ‘ring’. 1½” of movement of the oil filled unit becomes 3½” at the rear wheel — to briefly explain the system. As they started to develop the complete machine, which required a new fuel tank and air-filter box, the Honda engines arrived and with Miller fully committed to the project the idea was shelved.
Whitlock would continue to ride the Miller Bultaco and help with parts for the Honda project.
As the saying goes, as one door closes another one opens, and this was the case in the Whitlock story. Around 1975 Suzuki had a huge stock of the Suzuki RL trials models, which in truth never sold world-wide in the volume that was predicted. Beamish Motors, headed by the Beamish brothers, were the official Suzuki importers for off-road machines and with the support of the Japanese manufacturer they decided to address the problem of what to do with the stockpile of machines, many of which were in America. They imported a small batch of the RL 250cc models and gave them to Brian Fowler to evaluate what was required to make them into a machine that would sell. Fowler soon identified that the machines were not suitable for the UK trials type of hazards.
On behalf of Beamish Motors, Fowler approached Whitlock to fabricate a new frame for a small run of six machines. He also manufactured some of the cycle parts to make the RL 250cc into a competitive trials machine. Graham Beamish was encouraged by the enthusiastic approach to the project and the Beamish Suzuki trials machine was born, and it was launched onto the UK trials scene.
Initially complete RL machines would be stripped down and Whitlock was supplied with the various parts needed to complete the machine build. The success of the project required a move to new premises at Hambledon, in Hampshire, as more staff was recruited to produce 25 frames per week such was the demand. A new production trials sidecar frame was added as the Beamish trials model range was extended to include the 250cc, 325cc and Sidecar.
Eventually the Beamish Motors organisation completed a deal with the Japanese for them to supply just the engines, front forks and wheels etc for production builds. With everything in full flow the Whitehawk Company suffered a huge blow when Heron took over the competition department from Beamish Motors and cancelled the trials production and orders.
For the Whitehawk Company and staff, this was a major blow as Mick Whitlock had fully committed everything he had to the Beamish project, and in one moment he lost everything he had built up! Mick was reduced to signing on the dole for two weeks, such was the impact of the loss of the Beamish Suzuki work. It was a case of staying Japanese for the Whitehawk Company and its employees as Mike had a look at improving the Yamaha TY 80, making it into a machine for a wider market as a new project. He built a new prototype frame in Reynolds 531 tubing for the TY 80, giving it the upgrade it had needed for the more modern market. Local rider Andy Clinkard would be the new ‘works’ rider and he loved it.
Taking wins on the new Whitehawk 80 it proved a massive hit with the schoolboy market, and Mike Whitlock was back in business with the machines on sale in December 1979. What’s interesting to note is the fact that with the Southern based Andy Clinkard contesting the ACU Youth Championships on the machine it brought together the North and South of the country in the schoolboy events, making for a very competitive championship.
As with anything that went through the Whitehawk workshops the Whitehawk 80 would be continually evolved, leading us to the Whitehawk MKII. This was an ace card to play with the new model as riders could purchase the new frame kit with bigger wheels and convert their existing one as an upgrade.
These machines opened the door for a massive development of youth riders who had an easy to ride, reliable machine, which could be upgraded as the riders grew into the next classes. Mick put a schoolboy team together of three riders headed by Clinkard, and the success continued. Even in 2017 the Yamaha TY80 powered models are still running and in demand for the young rider entering the trials world, such was the superb build quality of the first Whitehawk frame kits.
Mick had watched John Shirt Snr develop the successful range of Majesty trials machines, and off the back of the Whitehawk 80 he decided to produce his own range of Whitehawk Yamaha trials models. Using the out of date Yamaha TY models as donor machines he would fabricate his own frame kits and components to supply the completed Whitehawk Yamaha trials machines in 125cc, 175cc, 200cc and 250cc engine sizes.
From the dismay at the finish of the Beamish Suzuki project Mick now enjoyed the success with Yamaha. Once again he had to move to bigger premises, staying in Hampshire, at Horndean to meet the production requirements. For the next few years this was the mainstay of Whitehawk, but as with anything, new models come out and people move.
With the introduction of the world changing mono-shock Yamaha that was introduced in 1983 it put the final nail in the coffin for the twin-shock Whitehawk Yamaha. The door was closed and he moved into smaller premises nearby where with the help of friends he got involved with making of BMX frames and opened a small BMX shop, giving him the lifeline for an income. These were very satisfying days as the business pressure was removed, and he made many friends in the BMX world. It was during this time that the Mini Moto and Pit Bikes started to surface, and after a chance meeting he came into contact with Gordon Edwards who was based in America. He ended up fabricating many frames for GEM to supply the growing market in this area of motorcycling.
The End of an Era
With a passion that would not die, Mick was approached by Craig Mawlam when he purchased the Majesty brand and the stock of parts. He commissioned Mick to make a new batch of Majesty frames with the blessing of John Shirt Snr. As usual these were to a very high standard, and off the back of this came some more frame-fabrication work. The Honda four-stroke twin-shock machines are very much still in demand, and a small batch of RS and TLR replica frames were made along with aluminium swinging arms.
Classic Trial Magazine would like to thank Mike Pearce for supporting Mick Whitlock with the generation of this article. Mike Pearce is a former employee of Whitehawk and a long-term friend of Mick Whitlock, and this story could go on forever as they reminisced about the years spent together in their younger days as we talked about the article and its content. I am sure we will have missed some parts of the story out, but above all we now have the Whitehawk years on record.
There may be one final twist to this tale though. On the 31st October 2016, Mick Whitlock celebrated his 75th birthday, and with it the lease ran out on the gas bottles he has used all his life to produce the Whitehawk products. The lease has not been renewed but as yet the bottles have not been collected!
Many of the pictures used in this article have come from Mike Pearce and Mick Whitlock. If you are the copyright works originator of any images please feel free to contact Classic Trial Magazine, as with the passing of time they cannot remember who generated some of the images.
A very early picture of a young Mick Whitlock.
Bob Gollner on a very early Cheetah trials model. The Cheetah frame using Reynolds 531 tubing with all-brazed joints was an early example of this master tradesman’s work. It would stand proud with its chrome and nickel finish and was designed around the Villiers 37A engine. 1967 and the Royal Enfield’s already showing small Whitlock modifications — the cigarette was a permanent fixture! From the four-stroke Royal Enfield to this two-stroke Gaunt Suzuki. Mick loved trying different machines.
Motorcycle dealer Bob Gollner knew the secret to success with the Cheetah was the superb quality of manufacturing and the way the machine would be marketed. The new machine stands very proud. The 1967 Cheetah works team left to right: Mick Whitlock, Chris Cullen and Arthur Dovey. In 1968 a Cheetah frame kit was manufactured to take the Triumph 199cc Tiger Cub engine. REH front forks from Robin Humphries were fitted with the addition of a front disc brake. As is well documented, the supply of the Villiers engines dried up, as did the Triumph ones, and the dream was over for the all-British machine. Extra braking power from the disc brake was most welcome but at the cost of the additional weight it added to the machine. Without the cigarette Mick samples the delights of this early radial cylinder head Bultaco. The Whitlock success stands proud on the office coffee table.
Mick had always kept in touch with Bob Gollner after the Cheetah venture and he approached him to make what is believed to be the first Yamaha trials machine, the Gollner Yamaha. This was based around the DT 125 model from Yamaha and would later have its engine size increased to 175cc. Two very happy people: Mick Whitlock on the left and Bob Gollner on the right with the new Gollner Yamaha trials model. How on earth did the once mighty BSA motorcycle empire miss the opportunity to put a trials BSA Bantam into production. This joint venture between Eric Cheney and Mick Whitlock gives us a vision of just how good it could have been with its novel frame arrangement. The exhaust front pipe is used as the front down-tube! You can almost see Mick’s head ticking about new ideas as he sits on the Whitehawk Bultaco. Giving 100% as always, Mick on his special Bultaco in 1970. While working for Eric Cheney this Bultaco was built with a new frame. The quality of the steel tubing from Spain was still very poor.
The engineering and fabricating skills of Mick Whitlock would lead to the start of an interesting project from a Scandinavian customer who had a vison of building his own machine with the Whitlock connection, and he funded Mick to produce a complete machine using the Sachs engine. Unfortunately nothing ever came of the project despite the machine’s potential. Whitlock soon had the job in hand to improve the new Ossa, with the machines sold through Bob Gollner having the option of having this new chrome frame fitted which used an aluminium sump guard, and which in turn eradicated the chain derailment problem. The early Mick Andrews Replica Ossa trials models were now starting to make their way onto the UK trials scene but they had a major problem with the rear chains derailing. They came with a plastic composite type of sump shield fitted which was part of the frame to protect the engine, but it allowed the frame to flex when power was applied and threw the chain off the sprockets. Loving his trials riding as much as ever: Mick Whitlock on the Ossa is in the centre with Roy Collins on the left and Eddie Austen on the right. The 125cc Whitehawk certainly looked the business.
Sammy Miller tested the Sachs engined machine and praised its capabilities, much to Whitlock’s delight. With so much interest in the ‘Hi-Boy’ frame kits Sammy Miller would also have him make a Hi-Boy frame for the Ossa engine. Miller had recognised the growing aftermarket parts that the trials riders wanted and used Whitlock to generate and test various products for him. Geoff Parken stands outside Sammy Miller’s trials shop with his new ‘Hi-Boy’ Bultaco. On this machine in 1974 Parken took a surprise win at the Victory Trial, which was a British Championship round, as a Novice rider.
This is the Bultaco single-shock frame designed by Sammy Miller after he spoke with Mick Whitlock who fabricated it. Bultaco in Spain made the decision not to develop it further due to the costs involved. It was constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing with a 2” Ø main down-tube and a damping unit from the front suspension of Ken Tyrell’s car team, with the help of one of its engineers Roy Topp. With all the components clamped in place fabrication could commence. The frame jigs were always very busy places. Production in full flow.
David Clinkard on a production Beamish Suzuki, which carried so much Mick Whitlock input to make it the success it was. The Beamish Suzuki sidecar, seen here in action with John Gaskell in charge and Harry Wood in the sidecar. He won three consecutive British sidecar titles. Completed sidecar frames ready for assembly. The starting point of the successful Whitehawk Yamaha was the TY80. Mick Whitlock still gives so much credit to the success of the Whitehawk Yamaha TY80 project to young Andy Clinkard’s wins on the machine bringing it to the headlines of the trials world. The success of John Reynolds on the Beamish Suzuki is well documented in issue 16 of Classic Trial Magazine.
The Whitehawk youth trials team: Andy Clinkard, Kevin Bleasdale, Neil Hubbard. Kevin Bleasdale was from Cumbria and a schoolboy champion. Sadly he died many years ago ice-climbing on Mount Fuji. With the help of friends he got involved with the making of BMX frames and opened a small BMX shop. These were very satisfying days as the business pressure was removed and he made many friends in the BMX world. As with most of his projects Mick Whitlock was always very hands-on. His attention to detail was something he very much prided himself on, which was reflected in the final product. The very early Whitehawk assembly line. It’s not a case of who had one of the Whitehawks but who did not. A very young Dougie Lampkin did.