An hour with…

Some peo­ple seem to pack enough into their lives to cover three life­times and just such aper­son­isalf Hagon. CDB spent an hour in his com­pany to celebrate the di­a­mond an­niver­sary of the busi­ness that bears his name

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Words: Tim Brit­ton Pics: Tim Brit­ton and Mor­tons Archive

… the leg­end Alf Hagon. We sit down with the for­ward thinker and try to keep up as he talks about bikes, bike sport and howl­ing over an air­field on a v-twin JAP.

Interviews are all well and good – a list of ques­tions to ask and in­for­ma­tion to gain based on what the in­ter­viewer knows about the in­ter­vie­wee and so forth, but some­times it’s bet­ter just to sit and chat, go with the flow and see what comes up… which is what we did with Alf Hagon. Let’s be hon­est about this from the out­set, there’s no way a few pages in a magazine could ever de­liver the full flavour of a life lived by some­one like Alf Hagon, it would take a full mag to even come close. So, in a light and airy room up­stairs at Hagon Shocks, which houses a se­lec­tion of the mo­tor­cy­cles and ac­ces­sories his fer­tile and of­ten un­con­ven­tional mind has con­ceived, Al­fred Joseph Hagon chat­ted about his mo­tor­cy­cling life, a life into which he has packed so much that it is hard to be­lieve he’s only 86. Squeez­ing so much into his life must have meant he started this mo­tor­cy­cling lark quite early, at which the be­spec­ta­cled racer laughed: “Yes, a few of us were rid­ing bikes on the bombed out waste grounds in the area shortly af­ter the end of the war. We got in trou­ble with the po­lice quite fre­quently as they couldn’t fig­ure out how we were run­ning mo­tor­cy­cles when petrol was strictly ra­tioned.”

What it seems the law couldn’t un­der­stand was Alf and his pals were us­ing methanol fuel which wasn’t ra­tioned. “They would stop us and quiz us to see how we were get­ting petrol, we kept telling them it wasn’t petrol but they wouldn’t have it.”

Af­ter such in­for­mal­ity in the be­gin­ning, Alf’s mo­tor­cy­cling took a more struc­tured ap­proach when he joined the lo­cal mo­tor­cy­cle club in his home town of Il­ford in Es­sex. “They were great days of club mo­tor­cy­cling and there were loads of us lo­cal lads in Il­ford Ama­teur Mo­tor­cy­cle Club and the club ran all sorts of events, as I sup­pose did lots of other clubs in those days.”

It was Il­ford Ama­teur Mo­tor­cy­cle Club which would help young Mr Hagon take his first steps to­wards a com­pe­ti­tion ca­reer.

“The club was look­ing for vol­un­teers to help at a grasstrack meet­ing. I asked what I’d have to do and they told me I would be mar­shalling the riders – this seemed okay to me and I asked if I could have a ride too, they said yes and that was the start of it all.”

Once Alf saw there were other events be­sides grasstrack, he em­braced the whole lot. “I did ev­ery­thing I could, tri­als, scram­bles, speed­way, hill climbs, it was all fun.”

But what I wanted to know, was which ma­chine started all this sport­ing in­ter­est off?

Alf told me: “I got hold of a 1937 2H Tri­umph sin­gle, 250cc, not the most glam­orous mo­tor­cy­cle in the world but I did a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions to it such as fit­ting BSA tele­scopic forks and a Tri­umph sprunghub rear wheel to mod­ernise it a bit. The motor was in need of at­ten­tion and at that time I was work­ing in an en­gi­neer­ing place and they let me take in the fly­wheels so I could re­place the big end bear­ing with the proper equip­ment.”

While he was at it, Alf also added a high com­pres­sion pis­ton from a twin Tri­umph and bored out the 250’s in­let tract so a big­ger car­bu­ret­tor could be used. “Once it was set­tled down and per­form­ing cor­rectly it would see off my mate’s 350 Club­man Goldie,” he grins. Speak­ing of the Club­man Goldie re­minded Alf he’d had a crack at the Club­man TT on a spe­cial Nor­ton In­ter­na­tional from Nor­ton them­selves. “It was okay but there’s a lot of stand­ing around wait­ing at the TT and the whole ex­pe­ri­ence wasn’t good.” What Alf went on to ex­plain was the Nor­ton hit prob­lems over in the Isle of Man. “I’d rid­den it to the TT and was shar­ing a garage with Terry Shep­herd, and in one of the prac­tices I man­aged to bend a valve and de­stroy the front brake. Luck­ily Ferodo sorted the brake and I did the valve and got the bike run­ning prop­erly again.”

It was run­ning so well Alf was ly­ing eighth un­til the points in the mag­neto closed up and af­fected per­for­mance. “I was in the Isle of Man for a fort­night and got one race, at the time I was still rac­ing speed­way and was do­ing four meet­ings a week so it was ob­vi­ous what I should be con­cen­trat­ing on.”

Ask­ing Alf how he took to the cin­der tracks brought the rev­e­la­tion he’d been asked by Wal Phillips. “I’d been along to watch speed­way but never thought of try­ing it un­til Wal Phillips in­vited me along. I’d been do­ing okay at grasstrack and Phillips had heard of me and said I should go along to a prac­tice ses­sion. I rode there in my leathers one af­ter­noon, hopped on the spare track bike and pro­ceeded to fall off a lot. I was in­vited back to try again, this time Wal gave me some tips and I stopped fall­ing off and did more proper laps then he put me in some races and I did al­right. So, sud­denly, I was a speed­way racer.”

At this time Alf was also be­gin­ning his busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties and a slight steer­ing of the con­ver­sa­tion in the di­rec­tion of work

be­gan with the ques­tion “what did you want to do af­ter you left school?” I felt sure the an­swer would be some form of me­chan­i­cal oc­cu­pa­tion but it seemed young Alf fan­cied the idea of be­ing a cab­i­net maker. How­ever, work was scarce in that area and his first oc­cu­pa­tion was at an en­gi­neer­ing firm which made moulds for the glass fi­bre in­dus­try. The skills learnt in that area would stand him in good stead when mak­ing parts in such ma­te­rial for his cus­tomers.

He fol­lowed this with a stint in the pat­tern­mak­ing shop at Ford, be­fore join­ing Plessey’s Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neers. All the while Alf had been mak­ing bits and pieces for all sorts of mo­tor­cy­cle sports, based in a ba­sic shed in the fam­ily gar­den.

“I’d al­ways en­joyed do­ing bits and pieces for other rac­ers and it con­trib­uted to my rac­ing fund too. A lot of the things I made were be­cause we – rac­ers – couldn’t get cer­tain things or what was avail­able wasn’t quite right.”

He started by pol­ish­ing con rods to re­lieve met­al­lur­gi­cal stress and thus al­low­ing them to last longer in race en­gines, then moved on to mak­ing frames for grasstrack rac­ers.

By 1958 the shed was long out­grown and proper busi­ness premises had to be sourced. These premises were to be­come fa­mous through­out not only the speed­way and grasstrack world but gen­eral mo­tor­cy­cling too and many a fa­mous and not so fa­mous name beat a path to 350 High Road, Ley­ton in East Lon­don.

Nat­u­rally enough the speed­way, grasstrack and long­track fra­ter­nity were reg­u­lar vis­i­tors, with peo­ple like Barry Briggs, Peter Collins, Egon Muller, Ole Olsen, Don God­den and Mal­colm Sim­mons in and out of the place. Alf was also on first name terms with in­dus­try no­ta­bles such as BSA’S Bert Per­rigo, Cos­worth’s Keith Duck­worth and for­mer BSA man Bill Ni­chol­son who went to Jaguar cars.

“These lads would all pop in for a chat and dis­cuss what was hap­pen­ing in the in­dus­try at any one time, of course there were also lads who wanted things do­ing. I re­call Ivan Mauger rush­ing in with a sketch for a frame one Mon­day – he was test­ing it on a track by Thurs­day,” says Alf, as if it was some­thing any­one could do.

“Vic East­wood too had some ideas about a sheet al­loy framed bike and we did a few of those in solo and side­car form; Dutch rider Ton van Heughton was Euro­pean cham­pion on one of our al­loy chas­sis Yamaha out­fits,” he muses. Fel­low East Lon­don busi­ness­man Don Smith also popped in: “Don had some great ideas about us­ing Kawasaki en­gines for speed­way and we did a bit of work on the project un­til it turned out Kawasaki didn’t know about it. I think Don got into a lit­tle bit of bother over that.”

Dur­ing this pe­riod of work­ing Alf got the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a bit of a prob­lem solver for peo­ple. “I en­joyed be­ing able to fig­ure out what was wrong and of­fer a so­lu­tion or two and we had peo­ple like Bob Lep­pan ap­proach­ing us for frame ad­vice,” he says.

Alf did it first – grass bikes on a hill climb.

Speed­way formed ama­jor part of Alf’s sport­ing life.

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