Classic Bike (UK)

BILL IVY: FI­NAL RECK­ON­ING

The 125cc world cham­pion met his end 50 years ago, at the Sach­sen­ring in July 1969. With the help of pre­vi­ously un­seen doc­u­ments we ex­am­ine the fi­nal days and sad death of bike rac­ing’s first rock ’n’ roll star

- WORDS: MAT OXLEY PHO­TOS AND DOC­U­MENTS: MOTORRENNS­PORTARCHIV.DE

Ex­am­in­ing the racer’s demise with re­cently dis­cov­ered doc­u­ments

It’s the morn­ing of July 12, 1969. Bill Ivy is com­menc­ing the fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion for the 350cc East Ger­man Grand Prix at the Sach­sen­ring aboard Jawa’s disc-valve V4. The bike is the lat­est cre­ation from the Czech mar­que that started life as a World War I ar­ma­ments man­u­fac­turer.

In fact the 1967 125cc world cham­pion and twice TT winner had re­tired from mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing at the end of the pre­vi­ous sea­son, fol­low­ing a bit­ter feud with Yamaha team-mate Phil Read. He had switched to cars, buy­ing a Brab­ham-ford to con­test na­tional and in­ter­na­tional F2 races. At the first round of the 1969 Euro­pean F2 se­ries at Thrux­ton, his speed stunned Jackie Ste­wart, Jochen Rindt, Gra­ham Hill, Derek Bell, Clay Regaz­zoni and oth­ers.

“Billy had more nat­u­ral abil­ity than any­one I’ve seen com­ing into motor rac­ing,” said Ste­wart. “Nei­ther John Sur­tees nor Mike Hailwood made the ad­just­ment as ob­vi­ously as Billy.”

But Ivy didn’t have the money to go car rac­ing, so he ac­cepted an of­fer from Jawa to earn some cash.

Ivy didn’t know it, but the 350 V4 would be­come one of the most mur­der­ous race bikes of that deadly era. At its GP de­but at Assen in 1967 the en­gine seized four times and it was a year be­fore it fin­ished a GP. Ivy rode the bike for the first time at a pre-sea­son race in Italy, where it seized. The en­gine’s weak­nesses were low-grade Iron Cur­tain met­als and thermo-siphon wa­ter-cool­ing. How­ever, when the disc-valve two-stroke ran well it was mighty quick – 70hp at 13,000rpm, good enough for 170mph, which must’ve felt a lot faster while rock­et­ing around the lethal street cir­cuits that were home to most 1960s Grand Prix events.

Ivy and the Jawa had their first GP out­ing at Jarama, which re­sulted in a DNF after the motor seized. In the next GP round at Hock­en­heim, he chased home Gi­a­como Agostini’s MV Agusta triple. A few weeks later he led Ago at Assen, un­til the en­gine oiled a plug, prob­a­bly be­cause it was run­ning rich to pre­vent pis­ton seizures. Thus, when he ar­rived at the Sach­sen­ring, Ivy must’ve had hopes of in­flict­ing a rare de­feat on Ago.

Ivy posted his re­quest for a race en­try to the Sach­sen­ring or­gan­is­ers on May 28, ask­ing for start money of £275 plus 2500 East Ger­man marks, a to­tal of around £350 (about £5500 to­day). He then got in his Maserati Ghi­bli and criss­crossed the Con­ti­nent, con­test­ing the West Ger­man 350 GP at Hock­en­heim on May 11, an F2 race at Zolder (where he ran sec­ond un­til side­lined by me­chan­i­cal prob­lems) on June 8, the Dutch TT on June 28, the Bel­gian GP on July 6. He also trav­elled to Monza for an F2 race on June 22, but didn’t start the event after a punch-up with of­fi­cials!

A few days after fin­ish­ing sec­ond to Ago at Assen, he sent the or­gan­is­ers a telegram (from Bri­tain, so pre­sum­ably done by a friend at home) ask­ing once again for money, so the or­gan­is­ers asked Al­fred Hart­mann, the East Ger­man Com­mu­nist Party’s sports-kom­mis­sar, to ne­go­ti­ate with Ivy at Spa-francorcha­mps.

The 26-year-old ar­rived at the Sach­sen­ring on Thurs­day, July 10, driv­ing his Maserati (reg­is­tra­tion plate EE 2676). On Fri­day Ago was fastest around the 5.3-mile street cir­cuit, ahead of Ivy and MZ’S Heinz Ros­ner. On Satur­day morn­ing Ivy and a fac­tory me­chanic push the Jawa out of the pad­dock to start the fi­nal 350cc ses­sion. At around 9.45am he com­pletes his first lap of the day, rid­ing past the pits and through the se­ries of fast kinks that take riders into the town of Ho­hen­stein-ern­st­thal. As he ap­proaches a left-han­der, the Jawa breaks a crank­shaft bear­ing. The bro­ken bear­ing seizes the en­gine, lock­ing the rear wheel and send­ing the bike into a side­ways skid, which hurls Ivy to the ground.

Trav­el­ling at around 90mph, Ivy is not in con­trol of his destiny. He slides along the road, his pud­ding-basin hel­met comes off and he slams into the road­side fence, fi­nally com­ing to rest, half on the road, half on the pave­ment. Mean­while the bike loses its fuel tank, which spews fuel across the track and ends up by the stone gate posts of num­ber 87 Friedrich En­gels Strasse, named in hon­our of the man who de­vel­oped the the­ory of Marx­ism with Karl Marx.

Over the years there has been much spec­u­la­tion that Ivy’s hel­met came off be­cause it wasn’t strapped up prop­erly, but this seems un­likely since he had al­ready com­pleted a full lap at speed. Pud­ding-basin lids weren’t the safest.

The mar­shals at post eight write two re­ports at 09:45, which stated: “Num­ber 61, crash”, then “Num­ber 61, crashed heav­ily and is be­ing treated”, then at 09:46 a fur­ther one: “num­ber 61 is taken away on a stretcher”. Di­eter Knorr, a mar­shal at post seven, later writes his own re­port. It says: “The ma­chine num­ber 61 came past as nor­mal. Be­fore the cor­ner the front of the ma­chine went down. I thought he used the hand [front] brake. After that the rear wheel veered to­wards the right. He crashed and skid­ded with his ma­chine on the road, hit a garden fence post and back from there. The rider was ly­ing on the road. His hel­met flew across the street. Two res­cuers of the DRK (Ger­man Red Cross) were on the scene with a stretcher right away. I showed the yel­low flag im­me­di­ately and the clean­ing of the spilt fuel was started by the mar­shals at post eight. The DRK took the rider away on the stretcher.” Ivy is stretchere­d 150 metres to an am­bu­lance car. The ini­tial-ex­am­i­na­tion re­port de­scribes the griev­ous injuries suf­fered by Ivy: he is un­con­scious, but gasp­ing for air. The medics can find no pulse and his pupils don’t re­act to light. He has ma­jor bleeds from the nose and mouth. The di­ag­no­sis is very bad: he has suf­fered car­diac ar­rest and a basi­lar skull frac­ture – a frac­tured bone in the base of the skull. The medics do what they can; they per­form tra­cheal in­tu­ba­tion to keep his wind­pipe open, give him oxy­gen, un­der­take CPR (ar­ti­fi­cial res­pi­ra­tion and car­diac mas­sage) and ex­tract liq­uid from his nose and throat. While all this is hap­pen­ing, Ivy is be­ing driven to Lichtenste­in hospi­tal, five miles away. How­ever, on ar­rival Ivy is pro­nounced clin­i­cally dead. There are re­peated at­tempts at re­sus­ci­ta­tion, but with­out suc­cess. Doc­tors de­tail the causes of death: basi­lar skull frac­ture, frac­ture of the cra­nium, rup­tured right lung and ir­re­versible trauma and bleed­ing. An au­topsy is car­ried out two days later, which con­firms the causes of death. Shortly after the ac­ci­dent, the en­gine of Ivy’s Jawa was stripped for in­spec­tion by the Sach­sen­ring scru­ti­neers and FIM stew­ard Fran­ticek Smauss. Jawa me­chan­ics Jaroslav Seda and Karel Pis­cha dis­man­tled the en­gine. ‘A con­sid­er­able amount of alu­minium flakes was found in the in­take sys­tem for the bottom-left cylin­der, which had marked the disc-valve cas­ing,’ stated the scru­ti­neers’ re­port. ‘Fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion showed that the flakes came from the de­stroyed crank bear­ing. The de­struc­tion of the crank bear­ing re­sulted in a sud­den lock­ing of the en­gine, which caused the crash of the rider. All other parts, apart from the crash dam­age, were in a fault­less con­di­tion.” It is sig­nif­i­cant that the en­gine suf­fered a crank-bear­ing fail­ure, be­cause riders usu­ally got a frac­tion of a sec­ond’s warn­ing when a pis­ton seized, so they could be ready with

‘A CRANK-BEAR­ING FAIL­URE GAVE NO WARN­ING, NO CHANCE’

their left hand to pull in the clutch lever, but a big-end gave no warn­ing and there­fore no chance. Jawa with­drew from the meet­ing, but were soon look­ing for a re­place­ment rider. Aussie pri­va­teer Jack Findlay bravely ac­cepted an of­fer to ride the bike, com­menc­ing at the fol­low­ing week­end’s Czech Grand Prix at Brno. Two miles into first prac­tice, the cool­ing sys­tem leaked onto the rear tyre, caus­ing Findlay to crash, frac­tur­ing a col­lar­bone. Later that same week­end an­other Jawa 350 killed Czech rider Fran­tisek Bo­cek. Two months after that, the bike did fi­nally prove its po­ten­tial when Ital­ian Sil­vio Gras­setti took vic­tory in the sea­son-end­ing Adri­atic Grand Prix at Opatija (in cur­rent­day Croa­tia). How­ever, that was the V4’s only suc­cess and the bike slowly faded from the scene over the next few sea­sons. Ar­range­ments were made to re­turn Ivy’s body to his mother Nell, in Dit­ton, near Maid­stone. The body had to be trans­ported across bor­ders, so it was laid to rest in a zinc cof­fin, welded up by a lo­cal plumber. The cof­fin was held at the Karl-marx-stadt ceme­tery, then driven to Ber­lin six days after the ac­ci­dent. From there it was flown to Lon­don. The fu­neral was held at St Peter’s church, Dit­ton, with Read, Mike Hailwood and other bike rac­ers in at­ten­dance, as well as im­por­tant fig­ures from car rac­ing, in­clud­ing Ken Tyrrell and Frank Wil­liams. Ivy’s body was cre­mated and his ashes scat­tered at an un­known lo­ca­tion Ac­cord­ing to stan­dard pro­ce­dure, a ‘crim­i­nal com­plaint of un­nat­u­ral death’ was lodged by the au­thor­i­ties two days after Ivy’s crash. This came to noth­ing. How­ever, the East Ger­man po­lice were in­volved in the af­ter­math. Again, ac­cord­ing to stan­dard pro­ce­dure, Ivy’s room at the Moskau In­ter­ho­tel in Karl-marx-stadt (now Chem­nitz) and his Maserati Ghi­bli were searched and ev­ery item doc­u­mented. The list of his be­long­ings of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the life of a ’60s GP racer. Ivy was some­thing of a rock ’n’ roll dandy, so no sur­prise that his ef­fects found in his ho­tel room in­cluded ‘13 dif­fer­ent-coloured shirts... one green-pat­terned scarf... one elec­tric hairdryer’. Inside the Maserati were: ‘six tro­phies... 12 au­dio cas­settes [sadly, not in­di­vid­u­ally iden­ti­fied]... a can of car wax... a Yamaha mo­tor­cy­cle oper­at­ing man­ual...” plus money in seven dif­fer­ent Euro­pean cur­ren­cies. The car was driven to the Jawa fac­tory in Prague by Seda, Ivy’s me­chanic. It’s not known what be­came of it. Rac­ing was a very dan­ger­ous busi­ness in the 1960s and ’70s – seize-prone two-strokes and street cir­cuits were a ter­ri­ble mix. Ivy was the last-but-one of 25 riders to die at world cham­pi­onship events dur­ing the ’60s. The oth­ers lost their lives at the Isle of Man TT, Assen, Soli­tude, Dun­drod, Ima­tra, Brno and Spa Francorcha­mps. Thus death was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the pad­dock, and ev­ery rider who cared to face his own mor­tal­ity knew he

might be next. Ivy cer­tainly knew his num­ber could be up at any time. Bizarrely, the chills gripped him just be­fore his fi­nal out­ing. “He said to me the day be­fore he left for East Germany: ‘I re­ally don’t want to go this week­end, I re­ally don’t’,” he told friend Lady Sarah Mar­guerite Curzon, wife of rac­ing driver Piers Courage, who was killed dur­ing the 1970 Dutch For­mula 1 GP. “I said: ‘Then don’t go, Billy! If you re­ally feel that you’re not happy about go­ing, just don’t go.’ He told me he had to. ‘It’s my bread and but­ter’. I tried to per­suade him… but it was no good.” The pre­mo­ni­tions must’ve been pretty strong, be­cause be­fore leav­ing his flat near Heathrow, Ivy put all his af­fairs in or­der and left some money with a friend. “This is to pay for a booze-up for the boys if any­thing should ever hap­pen to me,” he said. “Be­cause I’ve got a feel­ing that one of these days I shan’t be com­ing back.” Ivy’s death had an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on cir­cuit safety at the part-cob­bled Sach­sen­ring and was an im­por­tant turn­ing point in the push for safer cir­cuits. On news of his death, the sur­vivors lob­bied the event or­gan­is­ers to put out more straw bales be­fore the next day’s rac­ing. Jack Findlay, Rod Gould and San­ti­ago Her­rero ad­vised on their lo­ca­tion. Her­rero had less than a year to live – the Span­ish star died fol­low­ing an ac­ci­dent at the 13th Mile­stone in the 1970 Light­weight TT, one of five rac­ing deaths at that TT. Fi­nally, the FIM seemed to get the mes­sage: some­thing had to be done to re­duce the death toll. They an­nounced that all Grand Prix events should be pre­ceded by a meet­ing with riders. As al­ways, it had taken a death to wake peo­ple up. The next chap­ter of the cir­cuit-safety story be­gan fol­low­ing the death of Jarno Saari­nen in 1973. The 350cc East Ger­man Grand Prix got un­der­way as nor­mal the next day, with the ex­cep­tion that a bou­quet of red car­na­tions was laid in Ivy’s grid slot while 200,000 fans held a minute’s si­lence in his mem­ory. Agostini took vic­tory in the 350 and 500 races, Renzo Pa­solini took the 250 on his Benelli and Dave Sim­monds won the 125 on his Kawasaki twin. The doc­u­ments that un­der­pin this story are pub­lished here for the first time. They were the prop­erty of the All­ge­meiner Deutscher Mo­tor­sport Ver­band der DDR, or­gan­is­ers of the East Ger­man GP, un­til the Ber­lin Wall came down, when the en­tire club archive was of­fered to the Jordan fam­ily of Ho­hen­stein-ern­st­thal, who main­tain one of Germany’s best bike-rac­ing archives. Andy Jordan com­piled and trans­lated the doc­u­ments. Bill Ivy was bike rac­ing’s first rock ’n’ roll star, some years be­fore Barry Sheene. A mo­tor­cy­cle me­chanic by trade and only five foot three inches tall, Ivy started out rac­ing 50cc ma­chines. He quickly rose through the ranks, rid­ing Bul­ta­cos for Frank Sheene, then win­ning the 1964 Bri­tish 125cc ti­tle. The fol­low­ing au­tumn he was picked up by Yamaha, at the sug­ges­tion of Phil Read. Three years later the pair were the bit­ter­est of en­e­mies. Ivy was fast and funny. He was a real char­ac­ter who lived as hard as he raced, with a taste for high times and fast cars. Mike Hailwood called him “a cheeky lit­tle rogue”.

‘IVY’S DEATH HAD AN IM­ME­DI­ATE EF­FECT ON CIR­CUIT SAFETY’

 ??  ?? The fi­nal reck­on­ing on rac­ing’s ’60s rock ’n’ roll pin-up, Bill Ivy
The fi­nal reck­on­ing on rac­ing’s ’60s rock ’n’ roll pin-up, Bill Ivy
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 ??  ?? DEATH CER­TIFI­CATE Bill Ivy’s death cer­tifi­cate, with time of death given as 10:30am, 45 min­utes after the ac­ci­dent. Causes of death were a basal skull frac­ture and a mas­sive rup­ture of the right lung.
DEATH CER­TIFI­CATE Bill Ivy’s death cer­tifi­cate, with time of death given as 10:30am, 45 min­utes after the ac­ci­dent. Causes of death were a basal skull frac­ture and a mas­sive rup­ture of the right lung.
 ??  ?? IVY RACE AP­PLI­CA­TION Ivy’s let­ter sent from his apart­ment near Heathrow air­port to the Sach­sen­ring GP or­gan­is­ers at the end of May, re­quest­ing a 350cc start. It looks like the or­gan­is­ers have scrib­bled 2500 West Ger­man marks, which is about £4300 in to­day’s money.
IVY RACE AP­PLI­CA­TION Ivy’s let­ter sent from his apart­ment near Heathrow air­port to the Sach­sen­ring GP or­gan­is­ers at the end of May, re­quest­ing a 350cc start. It looks like the or­gan­is­ers have scrib­bled 2500 West Ger­man marks, which is about £4300 in to­day’s money.
 ??  ?? START MONEY RE­QUEST Ivy’s post-assen telegram, re­quest­ing start money, which was sent from West Malling in Kent to the Sach­sen­ring or­gan­is­ers. He asked for a to­tal of around £5500 in to­day’s money, which con­tra­dicts the usual claim that riders con­tested GPS for next to noth­ing.
START MONEY RE­QUEST Ivy’s post-assen telegram, re­quest­ing start money, which was sent from West Malling in Kent to the Sach­sen­ring or­gan­is­ers. He asked for a to­tal of around £5500 in to­day’s money, which con­tra­dicts the usual claim that riders con­tested GPS for next to noth­ing.
 ??  ?? IVY’S PER­SONAL EF­FECTS (LEFT) Per­sonal ef­fects found in Ivy’s Maserati Ghi­bli (pages 1 and 2), reg EE 2676, en­gine num­ber AM115598/18427365. The full list reads: six tro­phies, 12 au­dio cas­settes, one can of wax car pol­ish, one pack of Dunhill fil­ter cig­a­rettes, three mag­a­zines, one Yamaha op­er­a­tor’s man­ual, one driver’s bag from the Grand Prix of Lim­bourg [an F2 race at Zolder on June 8, which Ivy had pre­sum­ably vis­ited dur­ing this Europe trip], two anoraks, one car-rac­ing suit, one pair of car-rac­ing shoes, one car-rac­ing hel­met, one travel bag, one road at­las of Europe, one Dutch TT com­mem­o­ra­tive tile, one set of Dutch TT rider’s doc­u­ments, one Lon­don street at­las, one pair of sun­glasses, one set of doc­u­ments for the Fin­nish GP [to be staged on Au­gust 3], var­i­ous Bar­clays Bank doc­u­ments, one lighter, one screw­driver, one brief­case con­tain­ing a Bri­tish pass­port, a GDR cus­toms dec­la­ra­tion, one Maserati cus­tomer ser­vice card, one car reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment, var­i­ous in­sur­ance doc­u­ments, one driv­ing li­cence, once in­ter­na­tional driv­ing li­cence, one foun­tain pen, one gold wrist­band, six keys, one pair of nail scis­sors, one ra­zor blade, cur­rency in West Ger­man marks, pounds ster­ling, Dutch guilders, Ital­ian lire, Fin­nish marks, East Ger­man marks, Swiss francs, Bel­gian francs, US dol­lars, and French francs.
IVY’S PER­SONAL EF­FECTS (LEFT) Per­sonal ef­fects found in Ivy’s Maserati Ghi­bli (pages 1 and 2), reg EE 2676, en­gine num­ber AM115598/18427365. The full list reads: six tro­phies, 12 au­dio cas­settes, one can of wax car pol­ish, one pack of Dunhill fil­ter cig­a­rettes, three mag­a­zines, one Yamaha op­er­a­tor’s man­ual, one driver’s bag from the Grand Prix of Lim­bourg [an F2 race at Zolder on June 8, which Ivy had pre­sum­ably vis­ited dur­ing this Europe trip], two anoraks, one car-rac­ing suit, one pair of car-rac­ing shoes, one car-rac­ing hel­met, one travel bag, one road at­las of Europe, one Dutch TT com­mem­o­ra­tive tile, one set of Dutch TT rider’s doc­u­ments, one Lon­don street at­las, one pair of sun­glasses, one set of doc­u­ments for the Fin­nish GP [to be staged on Au­gust 3], var­i­ous Bar­clays Bank doc­u­ments, one lighter, one screw­driver, one brief­case con­tain­ing a Bri­tish pass­port, a GDR cus­toms dec­la­ra­tion, one Maserati cus­tomer ser­vice card, one car reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment, var­i­ous in­sur­ance doc­u­ments, one driv­ing li­cence, once in­ter­na­tional driv­ing li­cence, one foun­tain pen, one gold wrist­band, six keys, one pair of nail scis­sors, one ra­zor blade, cur­rency in West Ger­man marks, pounds ster­ling, Dutch guilders, Ital­ian lire, Fin­nish marks, East Ger­man marks, Swiss francs, Bel­gian francs, US dol­lars, and French francs.
 ?? PHO­TOG­RA­PHER UN­KNOWN ?? Ivy ar­rives at the Sach­sen­ring on July 10, 1969 in his Maserati Ghi­bli
PHO­TOG­RA­PHER UN­KNOWN Ivy ar­rives at the Sach­sen­ring on July 10, 1969 in his Maserati Ghi­bli
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 ??  ?? TRANS­LA­TION: On the marked po­si­tion, the mar­shal saw how the ma­chine went side­ways. The rider sep­a­rated from the bike very late and flew through the air be­hind his bike. He skid­ded along the fence and came to a rest with half his body on the road. He was re­moved by the res­cuers of the Red Cross.
TRANS­LA­TION: On the marked po­si­tion, the mar­shal saw how the ma­chine went side­ways. The rider sep­a­rated from the bike very late and flew through the air be­hind his bike. He skid­ded along the fence and came to a rest with half his body on the road. He was re­moved by the res­cuers of the Red Cross.
 ??  ??
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 ??  ?? ABOVE: Gi­a­como Agostini and Heinz Ros­ner next to Ago’s MV in pole po­si­tion, with a bou­quet of red car­na­tions laid in Ivy’s grid slot at the start of the 350cc race the next day
ABOVE: Gi­a­como Agostini and Heinz Ros­ner next to Ago’s MV in pole po­si­tion, with a bou­quet of red car­na­tions laid in Ivy’s grid slot at the start of the 350cc race the next day

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