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.