SURTEES ON GUZZI’S V8
EDITOR FROM 1978-1987
Mike Nicks recalls CB’S early days, and introduces JS testing Guzzi’s epic 500
Iwasn’t the right person for the job when I took over Classic Bike for its second issue. I started riding – 250cc BSA C15, BSA and Triumph 650s, 250cc Royal Enfield Continental GT – in the dying years of Brit bikes. But CB founder Peter Watson had left to join Bike magazine, and I said to the publishing company: “I’ll put together a couple of issues until you find a proper editor”.
I stayed for seven years. I couldn’t believe what delights I found in motorcycling’s past. Matchless had produced a gorgeous 600cc overhead-cam V4 road bike, the Silver Hawk, in 1931 – 50 years before Honda produced its first V4 roadster. AJS raced a water-cooled, supercharged, 500cc ohc V4 Grand Prix bike in 1939. I’d assumed the past had been mainly plodding side-valve singles.
I plunged into this world like an explorer discovering a lost city in the jungles of South America. The Japanese rush of cylinders and power in the ’60s and ’70s seemed to have sucked from people’s minds any knowledge or appreciation of anything prior to the Honda CB750. It was said at the time that you could buy a lorryload of Triumphs for a fiver.
I tried to transmit my sense of almost childlike wonder about motorcycling’s heritage to the pages of Classic Bike. I was in my mid-thirties, and I reckoned that if I felt as I did there must be others of my generation who thought like me. Rocketing circulation figures proved that to be true. Historic motorcycling had previously had no national voice, but Classic Bike gave it that forum in those pre-internet times. Owners clubs, parts makers, restorers and riders could all now interconnect. I wanted CB to do much more than just eulogise the past; I wanted it be about classic motorcycles today. What’s a BSA Gold Star DBD34 or a Gilera Saturno really like to ride? What breaks, who makes the bits, what’s a realistic price to pay? I never positioned myself as an expert, except perhaps on putting a magazine together. Much of the writing I commissioned from the few people of my generation who knew something about classics. For a while we even had John Surtees (above right) as our track tester – and his memorable Moto Guzzi V8 test is over the page. I could have used the old guard, but they tended to write in the pompous style of their era. ‘Some vibration was apparent,’ they would say of a device that rattled your gonads off.
Except Vic Willoughby (in the middle, bottom right). He wrote for weekly mags in the ’50s and ’60s with an objectivity his pals seemed to lack. Anything by Vic tells you what motorcycling was actually like before CB rediscovered it.
‘WE HAD JOHN SURTEES AS OUR TRACK TESTER...’