Shoot­ing stars

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Stu­art Fran­cis

Since the ear­li­est days of mo­tor­cy­cles some de­sign­ers have looked at adding some of the crea­ture com­forts of a car to a mo­tor­cy­cle: a bet­ter seat­ing po­si­tion, bet­ter weather pro­tec­tion, and iso­lat­ing the noisy, oily en­gine from the rider. The 1911 Wilkin­son four was prob­a­bly the first ten­ta­tive step in this di­rec­tion but the idea re­ally emerged in the 1920s with the Ner­acar (US de­signed, made in the UK and the USA), which in­cor­po­rated cen­tre hub steer­ing. A num­ber of such ma­chines ap­peared in Europe and the US be­fore WWII; in the UK the RO Mono­car (built by pi­o­neer avi­a­tor A.V. Roe) and the Whit­wood Mono­car, in Ger­many the Mor­gan Mono­trace and the Mauser, and in the US the 1934 Hen­der­son KJ Stream­line, to name but a few. The idea re-emerged in the early 1950s when NSU (Ger­many) were look­ing for ways of im­prov­ing the aero­dy­nam­ics of mo­tor­cy­cles to help them break some world land speed records. NSU de­vel­oped a ma­chine, called the “fly­ing ham­mock”, with a re­cum­bent rider in a cigar-shaped shell, that set a num­ber of world records. This stream­lined ma­chine clearly demon­strated im­proved aero­dy­nam­ics and high speed sta­bil­ity over con­ven­tional ma­chines. Sim­i­lar cigar-shaped de­signs have been used for vir­tu­ally all sub­se­quent world record-set­ting ma­chines. The con­cept re­ally took hold again in the early 1970s when Mal­colm Newell and Ken Ley­man de­signed and built the Quasar. The Quasar’s in­tro­duc­tion was the cat­a­lyst for what is now known as the Feet For­ward move­ment. The pro­to­type Quasar was built at EC en­gi­neer­ing in Melk­sham; Wil­sons of Bris­tol then took over the project and

man­u­fac­tured seven ma­chines. The project then moved to Ro­marsh Spe­cial Prod­ucts Ltd of Calne, who built ten more ma­chines. A fur­ther six Quasars were made by in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing Mal­colm. Mal­colm also made a mock-up for a ‘Sports Quasar’. The Quasar had a twin loop space frame that went over the rider’s head and they were ini­tially fit­ted with lead­ing link forks. A mildly tuned 850cc Re­liant Robin en­gine* pow­ered the ma­chine, con­nected to a Re­liant four speed gear­box and shaft-driven rear wheel. Two AP Lock­head hy­draulic discs up front and one at the rear took care of brak­ing. The en­clos­ing fi­bre­glass body work pro­vided su­perb weather pro­tec­tion, cov­ered the en­gine and trans­mis­sion and pro­vided a large lock­able stowage com­part­ment. The sloped wind­screen, with wiper and washer, gave ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity, while the twin Ci­bie quartz head­lamps and large rear light clus­ters were as good if not bet­ter than most cars of the time. The cock­pit was com­fort­able with a fairly low seat­ing po­si­tion, with a sim­ple un­clut­tered in­stru­ment panel. The rider sat on the low slung fuel tank that helped to lower the cen­tre of grav­ity; a pas­sen­ger could be ac­com­mo­dated but it was a bit cosy. The fledg­ling com­pany tried to in­ter­est the po­lice and other or­gan­i­sa­tions into buy­ing the Quasar. They would in­vite them to the fac­tory, sug­gest­ing they come down on their cur­rent ma­chine and bring their best rider. A demon­stra­tion of the Quasar’s speed and han­dling on the lo­cal roads and mo­tor­way in­vari­ably led to a high-speed pur­suit with the guests strug­gling to keep up. The UK Mo­tor­cy­cle Sport magazine (aimed at the older, bolder and tech­ni­cally aware rider) adopted and cham­pi­oned the con­cept of Feet For­ward mo­tor­cy­cles. The jour­nal­ist Paul Blezard wrote hun­dreds of col­umn inches ex­tolling their virtue, in­ad­ver­tently prov­ing their crash­wor­thi­ness on at least two oc­ca­sions, one of which was hit­ting, at speed, an up­turned car sit­ting in the fast lane of a French mo­tor­way (he walked away with a bro­ken wrist). After the Quasar, Mal­colm Newell de­signed and pro­duced the Phasar. His aim was a more af­ford­able ma­chine that in­cor­po­rated most of the Quasar’s best fea­tures. The Phasar used donor ma­chines that Mal­colm ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied. The frame was al­tered to lower the seat­ing po­si­tion and move the fuel tank lower down. An open-topped fi­bre­glass body sur­mounted the frame and en­gine pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent weather pro­tec­tion. There were two main types of Phasar, the cen­tre hub steer­ing and the “twin head steer” (see side box for ex­pla­na­tion). Mal­colm un­der­took a num­ber of these con­ver­sions and was work­ing on a Honda Gold­wing-pow­ered Phasar when he died. Royce Creasey, liv­ing just down the road from Mal­colm in Bris­tol, de­vel­oped his own Feet For­ward ma­chine pow­ered by a Du­cati sin­gle us­ing Di­fazio

cen­tre hub steer­ing. Royce’s next ma­chine was called the “Fly­ing Ba­nana”, a Honda CX500 pow­ered ma­chine. He then went on to de­velop the Voy­ager. The Voy­ager was a so­phis­ti­cated ma­chine with an im­proved cen­tre hub steer­ing ar­range­ment, pow­ered by a tuned Re­liant Robin en­gine mated to a Moto Guzzi 5-speed gear­box, with shaft drive to the rear wheel. The ma­chine, with fea­tures like ad­justable seat­ing and a heater, even­tu­ally went into lim­ited pro­duc­tion in the early 1990s. Royce chron­i­cled his ad­ven­tures and de­vel­op­ments in the

Mo­tor­cy­cle Sport magazine. Mal­com pro­duced a cou­ple of one offs, the most out­ra­geous of which was “the slug” a GPZ1100 pow­ered, rear en­gine, feet for­ward ma­chine that looked like an NSU fly­ing ham­mock on steroids. It had a the­o­ret­i­cal top speed of over 200mph. Mal­colm used to test it out early on Sun­day morn­ings on the nearby M4 mo­tor­way, once claim­ing the mo­tor­way was like a slalom course when ex­ceed­ing 160mph! To un­der­stand Mal­com Newell’s ma­chines you re­ally need to know the man him­self. I first met Mal­colm Newell in 1973 in the gloomy public bar of the Canal Tav­ern, Brad­ford on Avon. Chitty (as he was known to his friends) had his au­di­ence en­thralled, re­count­ing his lat­est ad­ven­ture (they usu­ally in­volved cars, mo­tor­cy­cles and women). Mal­colm at­tracted a wide cir­cle of friends with di­verse in­ter­ests and he liked noth­ing bet­ter than to have a (some­times heated) dis­cus­sion about a tech­ni­cal is­sue or tell one of his em­bel­lished side-split­ting sto­ries. Mal­colm didn’t come from a tra­di­tional en­gi­neer­ing back­ground, com­plet­ing a print­ing ap­pren­tice­ship be­fore mov­ing into en­gi­neer­ing. In the late 1950s Mal­colm got a job with AC cars in Slough mak­ing the glass-fi­bre bod­ies for AC Co­bras, learn­ing glass-fi­bre skills that stood him in good stead for the rest of his ca­reer. He worked for Mar­cos cars for a while de­sign­ing and de­vel­op­ing the body shell for the dis­tinc­tive Mini Mar­cos. He worked for Jack Di­fazio, in his Bath shop, when Jack was de­vel­op­ing his cen­tre hub sys­tem that he fit­ted to a num­ber of ma­chines in the 1960s to 1980s. Mal­colm set up his own mo­tor­cy­cle shop in the ru­ral mar­ket town of De­vizes, Wilt­shire in the late 1960s. He called it “Chitty, Chitty Bang”, where he cus­tomised ma­chines and pro­duced the ‘Revo­lu­tion’. This ma­chine was a trike, pow­ered by an Austin 1100 at­tached to a space frame and a mo­tor­cy­cle front end; ape-hanger han­dle­bars and a ba­nana seat com­pleted the chop­per im­age (it is ru­moured that one still ex­ists). Mal­colm was alive with ideas; some were to­tally im­prac­ti­cal but some were real gems. He de­signed a crash hel­met that need no straps, us­ing a mov­able chin por­tion that locked the hel­met on the head. He was com­mis­sioned by Cen­tu­rion, a ma­jor Bri­tish hel­met man­u­fac­turer, to de­velop the idea. He also de­signed a “flat pack” emer­gency shel­ter that could be mass pro­duced us­ing plas­tic im­preg­nated tri-wall card­board. The shel­ter could be as­sem­bled in a few min­utes and was more sub­stan­tial than a tent. The UN looked at pro­duc­ing them. Mal­colm oc­ca­sion­ally had a backer that helped him out, as his con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tions of his lat­est ideas sold them on the idea of help­ing him. Chris Baker who sup­ported Mal­colm in the later years was a kin­dred spirit. Mal­colm, like a lot of bright peo­ple, be­gan to lose in­ter­est once an idea had been proved or a pro­to­type made; he was al­ways im­pa­tient to move on to the next project.

Mal­colm’s rid­ing and driv­ing skills were le­gendary. He had the abil­ity to ex­tract a few more miles per hour out of a ve­hi­cle than any­body else, usu­ally just be­fore the en­gines let go! He got an in­di­cated 90mph out of my old Skoda Estelle on the M4 mo­tor­way (the best I had achieved was 80mph). A few miles later the camshaft snapped in half. I also re­mem­ber hang­ing onto the seat­belt of his Yugo pickup whilst he slid it around a large round­about on a Bris­tol trad­ing es­tate, demon­strat­ing the poor han­dling and lim­ited lock! Mal­colm’s fi­nal de­vel­op­ment was an­other Feet For­ward ma­chine but with a pair of closely cou­pled front wheels, in­de­pen­dently sprung but linked by


ABOVE Mal­com Newell; ir­rev­er­ent as al­ways. RIGHT ‘Chitty’ in a typ­i­cal ebu­liant mood.

Twin front wheel test ve­hi­cle. RIGHT The Revo­lu­tion Trike. BE­LOW Mal­colm test­ing the un­fin­ished pro­to­type on an in­dus­trial es­tate!

Mal­colm Newell and Bruce Ley­man work­ing on the pro­to­type.

Front view of the pro­to­type Quasar with the beak nose.a

Just like a car with han­dle­bars. The Quasar pre­sented an im­pos­ing sight from any an­gle.

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