‘Devel­op­ment’ at the BSA

Classic Racer - - PEOPLE -

“I saw an ad­vert in the Birm­ing­ham Mail, re­quir­ing a per­sonal as­sis­tant to the Chief Devel­op­ment En­gi­neer, who was ob­vi­ously Bert Per­rigo, though I didn’t know that at the time. “Any­way, I got it and ar­rived to find out where to go. They said go to the Devel­op­ment Depart­ment and find a Mr Len Crisp. He was one of the orig­i­nal char­ac­ters, sit­ting, like an ogre, be­hind a big desk. He lived in Coven­try and came ev­ery day with­out fail on a side­car out­fit. It didn’t mat­ter if there was 6ft of snow, he’d be there. So he had a look at me and said: ‘You don’t look like a clerk. What do you do then?’ So I gave him a re­sume of what I’d done and he says ‘Well fun­nily enough I can fix you up. If you want to I can get you some clothes and give you a bike to get you out on the road?’ I thought what the bloody hell is this? I’d ap­plied for a job as as­sis­tant to Bert Per­rigo, but thought I might as well go along with it and duly be­came a BSA Devel­op­ment Road Tester. Well, of course, you got paid for what you wanted to do any­way, rid­ing bikes. The best job in the world!” To help things along he was al­ready fa­mil­iar with his work­mate and fu­ture neme­sis, from the film set of a low bud­get B-movie. Ap­pro­pri­ately it had all taken place on three wheels. “They were mak­ing a film called the Black Rider and all the fac­to­ries sent peo­ple. I had an Ariel square four with the big­gest Wat­so­nian side­car you’ve ever seen, it was a bug­ger it re­ally was. Chris (Vin­cent) was work­ing for Nor­ton’s at the time and he never went any­where slowly. He was like a rav­ing lu­natic in those days and had a smash and wrote off his Nor­ton com­pletely. “The film stood us a big posh meal at a Lon­don Ho­tel. There were one or two cars

avail­able but they couldn’t get ev­ery­one in, so they told me to take Chris. I was fol­low­ing one of the BSA works scram­blers and I could not keep up with him on this square four. It meant rush­ing round is­lands at a fan­tas­tic rate of knots, with Chris bang­ing around in­side, with his neck in a col­lar. That’s when I first met Chris! “The next time around was when I joined BSA in Devel­op­ment, as a tester. We got to go­ing around to­gether and we had a won­der­ful time. His favourite trick was to find a road that he knew very well, so you couldn’t live with him, like the road from Meri­den to Fil­lon­g­ley – very in­ter­est­ing, hard bends, over the brows of hills – and he’d be at the cross­roads say­ing ‘where have you been, I’ve just had a cup of tea!’ So I went back and learned the roads and af­ter that I stuck to him like glue!”

By this time Vin­cent was well en­sconced at BSA, pro­gress­ing from grasstrack to cir­cuit rac­ing with an in­creas­ing level of tacit ap­proval. Brown, on the other hand, was com­pet­ing in tri­als, un­til an ‘in­ci­dent’ at the Wye Val­ley trial cur­tailed his fur­ther in­volve­ment and led, in a cir­cuitous path, to his own de­but on the track. “I was trundling around with Johnny Brit­tan. We had con­sec­u­tive num­bers and we ar­rived at one par­tic­u­larly nasty muddy thing and Johnny zoomed off on his Royal En­field – and Johnny Brit­tan was a tri­als rider of some re­pute – and he got stuck. He got stuck good and proper and he failed! With my hor­ri­ble big Ariel I cleaned it. The sec­tion, not the bike that is! And what hap­pened in the re­sults? I was down as fail­ing it and Johnny Brit­tan was down as clean­ing it. So I thought right I’m fin­ished I aint rid­ing in any more tri­als, which I didn’t. So I started scram­bling, with mod­er­ate suc­cess.”

Out to grass

Mar­riage and, as Brown puts it: “The on-set of do­mes­tic­ity,” were con­trib­u­tory fac­tors in a down­turn in ac­tiv­i­ties but an un­der­stand­ing wife led to some ex­ploratory tri­als pas­sen­ger-ing, with ex-u-boat cook Ro­man Ziel, and ul­ti­mately the pur­chase of an ex-dave Nour­ish grasstrack chas­sis. “I must have been get­ting ob­jec­tion­able as my wife said to me, ‘Go and buy your­self a mo­tor­cy­cle and start rac­ing again!’ So I thought what shall I do? I know I’ll have a go on the grass, on an out­fit! “I went to see Brian Martin, the BSA Com­pe­ti­tion Shop Man­ager, to tell him what I was up to and he said he had two A10 ex-in­ter­na­tional en­gines that hadn’t ever been used. He said ‘I don’t want them, you can have them,’ so I bought them for a ten­ner or some­thing daft, and ended up be­ing part of the Mid­land Cen­tre Team, which won the ’64 Na­tional Side­car Grass Track Cham­pi­onships. “Clive Ben­nett was also at BSA by this point and called me into the of­fice – I was still on the road at the time – and he says: “Pete, time your fun and games is over. You’ve had a bloody good run but I want you in on the en­gine bench and I’d like you to take over the twins sec­tion with Gra­ham Saun­ders. “So we were the BSA twin-cylin­der team and com­ing along to ’65 we got com­mis­sions for do­ing en­gines for Terry Vini­combe, who wastom Kirby’s lad, while Chris was go­ing to race in some­thing called the Side­car Race of the Year, at Mal­lory. So Gra­ham and I got the job of build­ing Chris’s en­gine, which we did and he rushes around and wins his heat and fi­nal.” Watch­ing his en­gine win – he’d also built Hail­wood’s Hutchin­son 100 en­gine – was the spur Peter needed to change fo­cus again. A £40 chas­sis from Bill Bod­dice’s front gar­den – which had once housed the abortive dou­ble Ariel Ar­row – was the start­ing point, and chanc­ing his arm he thought he’d try a di­rect ap­proach to BSA again, when it came to sourc­ing an en­gine. “I went to see Bert Per­rigo. I was very po­lite in those days and said since I’ve built this en­gine for Chris and since I’m go­ing to start road rac­ing if you could see your way clear to giv­ing me some help I’d be very ap­pre­cia­tive. This was the year af­ter my grasstrack cham­pi­onship, so it ob­vi­ously helped my machi­na­tions with Mr Per­rigo. ‘What do you want?’ he says: ‘An en­gine? Well, I tell you what, you can have an en­gine, but you can’t work on it in work time. You can stay over, and work on it un­paid.’”

Though never Brown’s of­fi­cial spon­sor – as was the case with Chris Vin­cent – Peter Chap­man ar­ranged en­tries and in the years to come he ne­go­ti­ated the money side of things, which was use­ful, as to quote Peter: “The peo­ple who or­gan­ised th­ese things were mis­er­able b*****ds!” – his views on the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the TT at the time are equally un­print­able. How­ever, Chap­man’s as­sis­tance came with no small de­gree of pres­sure. “Around that time Mal­lory, Brands, Sil­ver­stone, the con­glom­er­ate, was run­ning ‘Stars of the Fu­ture’ events. So Chap­man said: ‘Now I’ve en­tered you in all of them, you’ve got to win ‘em!’ Well, I thought, hell, I’d never raced on the road. Thanks a lot! What­ever, the first one I won and the sec­ond. Then we went to Mal­lory Park and for the first time I was af­fected by ‘swill’. But I won that too, even though ev­ery time I went round Ger­rards I was on one cylin­der. Ac­tu­ally, I was a bit over­awed at the end of 1965 be­cause Chap­man was on about get­ting me en­tries for this and that Grand Prix in 1966. I thought ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this?’ So I got en­tered by Fred Hanks in 1966, but went back to Chap­man in 1967, as he was a busi­ness­man and knew how to ne­go­ti­ate with the course own­ers, as they were all try­ing to get some­thing for noth­ing and pay­ing peanuts. “Test­ing road bikes dur­ing the day and with plenty of off-road ex­pe­ri­ence he was no novice, but to win first time out and be of­fered Grand Prix rides in his first full sea­son was no mean feat. It made for a busy 1967 and his first race in­volve­ment pro­vided a wind­fall of fu­ture spares. “Th­ese A50 Day­tona en­gines came in, with spe­cial mag­ne­sium crankcases, and we built them as best we could. I re­mem­ber Roy Be­vis and Alan Preece also worked on them too, but it was me they sent to Day­tona, which was ex­cel­lent, ex­cept that it wasn’t. The crankcases were made out of what I can only de­scribe as Gor­gonzola cheese. I mean it. They were to­tally por­ous. The bear­ings fell out, they leaked oil and I was sur­rounded by this stuff, glu­ing them with all sorts of things, try­ing to get them back to­gether, but for the life of me I can’t re­mem­ber whether one ever fin­ished. Shortly af­ter the event boxes and boxes of dis­mem­bered en­gines came back into the ‘shop’, so I mooched through and got the best bits I could find and thought: ‘Why can’t this be a 650?’”

This was all a bit in the fu­ture, how­ever, as 1967 was to be his sec­ond full sea­son on the tar­mac and more suc­cess­ful than 1966. “I went to the TT in 1966 with a 500 but it was a com­plete fail­ure. I mustn’t have talked to the fairies prop­erly. In 1967 on the very first lap the front brake, which was a 190mm Gold Star brake, ex­ploded out at unions Mills and locked the front wheel and forks in a gen­tle right-hand curve. I ended up go­ing up some old girl’s drive, who then gave us cups of tea and great big slices of fruit cake. “My main mem­ory of the prac­tice pe­ri­ods was the dif­fi­culty I had in us­ing all of the road. For years, test­ing bikes at a fair lick for Ariel’s and then BSA, I sub­con­sciously made sure that I kept to the left-hand half of the road what­ever the bends. It took a real ef­fort with the brain to let the out­fit drift from gut­ter to gut­ter.”

Left: Peter Brown and GRG Webb at the 66 Mal­lory gold cup. The tro­phies did not match the ef­fort put in (or the acheive­ment made). Right: Peter Brown’s 500 power chart – plenty of power com­ing in sharply.Be­low: Brad­dan Bridge, Isle of Man.

Be­low: Peter at the Vic­tory Trial in Feb­ru­ary 1954Left: Nor­man Hanks leads Vin­cent with Peter pulling a tight line to get early drive out.

Above: Brown and Webb lead Meade and Reynolds at Mal­lory in 1966.Be­low: Peter at the Wye Val­ley Traders in 1954.

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