Mike’s bikes

A World Cham­pion within four sea­sons! To say that Mike Hail­wood burst upon the mo­tor­cy­cle scene in 1957 would hardly be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion...

Classic Racer - - WHAT’S INSIDE - Words: Bruce Cox Pho­tos: Mor­tons Ar­chive & Don Mor­ley

Bruce Cox charts the his­tory (and the cir­cum­stances) around the mo­tor­cy­cles that car­ried the ex­quis­ite skill-set of Mike Hail­wood through his tra­vails. That in­cludes some­thing Mike’s fa­ther did that ul­ti­mately caused Mike a great deal of em­bar­rass­ment.

In an age when all but the fac­tory team rac­ers trans­ported their bikes to meet­ings in small vans, on trail­ers and even on mo­tor­cy­cle side­car out­fits, Mike’s bikes ar­rived in a large bus-sized trans­porter. Em­bla­zoned across its sides were the che­quered flag em­blem of his per­sonal ‘team’ – Ecurie Sportive – and the slo­gan “For the Love of the Sport”.then, as if that was not eye-catch­ing enough, there was also a script above the wind­screen telling the folks at the pad­dock gates: “Here Come Mike’s Bikes”! That was be­cause his mil­lion­aire fa­ther, Stan, im­me­di­ately ap­plied the same colour­ful ap­proach to the racing ca­reer of his son as he did to the mo­tor­cy­cle sales busi­nesses that had made him rich. He fol­lowed the Ecurie Sportive trans­porter in his Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal with his shy teenage son hun­kered down with em­bar­rass­ment in the front seat, but that was the way that ‘Stan the Wal­let’ (as he was soon nick­named by the pad­dock wits of the time) did busi­ness. Em­bar­rassed or not, it was up to Mike to live up to the hype. Live up to it he did – and this, com­bined with his po­lite and dif­fi­dent per­son­al­ity, soon won over any crit­ics who might at first have re­garded him as a spoiled lit­tle rich boy. At Oul­ton Park on April 22, 1957, Mike fin­ished a cred­itable 11th in his first race, rid­ing a 125cc MV Agusta, and his first win came less than two months af­ter his de­but. On June 10 that year, he won with his MV Agusta 125 on the fast and dan­ger­ous course that used the roads of the Army camp at Blandford in Dorset. In the 32 years that fol­lowed, Mike raced no fewer than 42 dif­fer­ent types of mo­tor­cy­cle for 18 dif­fer­ent brands and ei­ther won or at least scored ‘top three’ podium paces with most of them. Surely, a record that is un­likely ever to be equalled? Mike started racing with Ital­ian bikes in the

light­weight classes, in­clud­ing a tiny 50cc twostroke Itom on which he fin­ished third at the same Blandford meet­ing where he scored his first win with the MV 125. Then there came a sec­ond place with the Itom at Oul­ton Park in Au­gust. He only rode the lit­tle 50 twice, how­ever, and the most sig­nif­i­cant bikes that set him quickly on the path to suc­cess were both from MV Agusta. Ce­cil Sand­ford, one of Bri­tain’s first world champions had won the 1952 125cc cham­pi­onship for MV and this win was fol­lowed by five more ti­tles for the Ital­ian Carlo Ub­biali be­tween 1955 and 1960. The works rac­ers that achieved those suc­cesses used sin­gle-cylin­der, dou­ble over­head-camshaft engines whereas Mike’s first MV was the sin­gle over­head-camshaft ‘pro­duc­tion’ racer of­fered for sale to pri­va­teer rid­ers. Nev­er­the­less, this ‘cus­tomer’ model proved more than good enough to win many races for Mike and many oth­ers. The other light­weight MV Agusta with which Mike was equipped for his first sea­son was the 175cc Super Sport model with which Ital­ian rid­ers in the 1950s con­tested the great pub­lic road races like the ‘one lap of Italy’ Mo­to­giro d’italia and the Mi­lano-taranto race in which rid­ers raced down al­most the whole length of the Ital­ian penin­sula. In­tro­duced in 1955, the Super Sport 175 was in­ter­est­ing in that it used the swingin­garm front forks patented by Bri­tish en­gi­neer Ernie Ear­les, and made fa­mous by their use on the big BMW street bikes of the era. The Super Sport’s en­gine dif­fered from the pure rac­ers by hav­ing the sin­gle over­head­camshaft drive train and valve gear con­cealed in a tun­nel within the cool­ing fins of the cylin­der and cylin­der head as this made for more suit­able styling for what was es­sen­tially a sporty lit­tle road bike. In Bri­tain, these engines were usu­ally bored-out to their max­i­mum pos­si­ble 203cc ca­pac­ity and used with suc­cess in the 250cc class by rid­ers such as Mike O’rourke, Derek Min­ter and, of course, the young Mike Hail­wood, who no­tably used his to win a na­tional race at Crystal Palace in the south Lon­don sub­urbs. Prior to that meet­ing, he had raced both the 203 and the 125 MVS to a ‘dou­ble first’ in a Wir­ral 100 club meet­ing on the tight lit­tle Rhy­dymwyn cir­cuit in North Wales. The track was only 16 feet wide and wound be­tween the stor­age bunkers of an old Army de­pot. Only many years af­ter racing had ceased there, and Gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion re­stric­tions lifted, was it re­vealed that the de­pot had once been the site of chem­i­cal weapons pro­duc­tion! Af­ter Mike’s suc­cess­ful de­but year, the com­pet­i­tive bikes just kept on ar­riv­ing at the Ecurie Sportive work­shops – along with an ever-in­creas­ing amount of sil­ver­ware for the dis­play cabi­net in the Hail­wood home. In 1958, Mike em­phat­i­cally con­firmed his tal­ent by win­ning three ACU Stars – which were the equiv­a­lent of sea­son-long Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships. He took these in the 125cc, 250cc and 350cc classes, hav­ing added a Manx Nor­ton to his bikes in the smaller cat­e­gories. Not sur­pris­ingly, this earned him the Pin­hard Prize, an an­nual award for the great­est achieve­ment in any branch of mo­tor­cy­cle sport by a rider un­der 21. That sea­son he fin­ished third in the Light­weight 250cc TT on the Isle of Man and teamed with an­other young rider, Dan Shorey, to win the Thrux­ton 500 Miles en­durance race on a 650cc Tri­umph Tiger 110.

Dan hailed from Ban­bury, only 30 miles or so from Hail­wood’s Ox­ford­shire home, and he had worked with Mike at the Tri­umph mo­tor­cy­cle fac­tory. Both teenagers had been ap­pren­tices there be­cause their mo­tor­cy­cle dealer fa­thers (who were both Tri­umph agents) had wanted their sons to gain some hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. Dan won the Pin­hard Prize him­self in 1959, win­ning many races on the ex-hail­wood MV Agusta that he pur­chased when Mike moved on to other mar­ques. He went on to be one of Bri­tain’s best rac­ers on both the UK short cir­cuits and in in­ter­na­tional Grands Prix with his own Manx Nor­tons. The stint at Tri­umph ob­vi­ously helped Dan as he main­tained his own machines through­out his suc­cess­ful 15-year ca­reer. On the other hand, it ob­vi­ously had the op­po­site ef­fect on Mike who prob­a­bly never laid a span­ner on a bike ever again! Mike’s ca­reer path had an even steeper up­ward tra­jec­tory than Dan’s and he closed out the 1950s by win­ning all four ACU Stars in 1959 – 125cc, 250cc, 350cc and 500cc. Though 1958 was only his sec­ond sea­son in racing, Mike had al­ready proved him­self ready to move on to the in­ter­na­tional stage and fa­ther Stan’s wal­let was al­ways open when it came to pro­vid­ing his son with the best pos­si­ble chance of a race win. This is why Mike’s de­but en­try for the 1958 Isle of Man TT (run on the seven mile Clypse road cir­cuit rather than the al­most 37.75 miles of the Moun­tain Course) was at the last minute changed from his MV Agusta to a name pre­vi­ously un­heard of. The Pa­ton was the Ital­ian cre­ation of for­mer FB Mondial chief me­chanic Giuseppe Pa­toni and the fa­mous de­signer of sev­eral suc­cess­ful racing mo­tor­cy­cles, Lino Tonti. The FB Mondial machines had won sev­eral world ti­tles in the 1950s but, along with Gil­era and Moto Guzzi, the com­pany had quit the racing scene in 1957. Pa­toni and Tonti did not want to let their com­bined tal­ents go to waste so came up with a neat lit­tle dou­ble-over­head camshaft sin­gle­cylin­der 125 that drew on what Giuseppe had learned at Mondial but which had sev­eral im­prove­ments over the orig­i­nal. Stan Hail­wood rea­soned that the pedi­gree of the new Pa­ton twin-cam 125 meant that it had to be a bet­ter bet than the sin­gle over­head-camshaft ‘cus­tomer’ ver­sion of the MV Agusta that Mike had been us­ing – so out came that fa­mous wal­let. Mike did full jus­tice to the pur­chase and in his de­but at the Isle of Man TT he fin­ished sev­enth, beaten only by fac­tory machines from MV, Du­cati and MZ. In 1958, Mike also moved on to a dif­fer­ent 250. The most ef­fec­tive ma­chine for the pri­va­teer rider in that class dur­ing the mid to late 1950s was with­out doubt the Sport­max model of­fered by the Ger­man NSU com­pany. By the time of the TT Mike had swapped his MV Agusta for one of these sin­gle-cylin­der rac­ers and used it to take third place in the 250cc Light­weight race. It was only his sec­ond ride on the Isle of Man, just a cou­ple of days af­ter his sev­enth place in the 125cc race. He could hardly have had a bet­ter de­but TT week. The Sport­max had be­longed to John Sur­tees, who had rid­den it to vic­tory in many races in the mid-1950s. When it be­came su­per­flu­ous to re­quire­ments af­ter he had joined the MV Agusta fac­tory team, he did a deal with Stan Hail­wood for Mike to bor­row it. Ac­cord­ing to John, he re­ally did not want to sell it but Stan worked on the prin­ci­ple that pos­ses­sion is nine-tenths of the law and sim­ply re­fused to give it back! Us­ing the ar­gu­ment that John didn’t need it any­more whereas Mike did need a com­pet­i­tive 250, Stan al­legedly just opened that fa­mous wal­let and kept tak­ing cash out of it un­til John felt that there was enough money on the ta­ble and scooped it up. The 1959 sea­son was only Mike’s third year in racing and he was al­ready by then rated as un­de­ni­ably the best rider in Bri­tain. Much of this was down to his fa­ther con­tin­u­ally shop­ping around for the best bikes in Mike’s early days and pay­ing the best peo­ple to pre­pare them, but the best bikes are no good un­less the rider is tal­ented. Mike surely was and, in ad­di­tion, he would think noth­ing of rid­ing in four classes at a sin­gle meet­ing – 125, 250, 350 and 500cc. There­fore, of­fers

of ma­chin­ery kept on rolling in from fac­tory teams all the way through his ca­reer be­cause of his prodi­gious tal­ent and his em­i­nently like­able and highly pro­motable per­son­al­ity. En­cour­aged by Mike’s TT per­for­mances in 1958, Stan next pur­chased two of the 1957 FB Mondial world cham­pi­onship-win­ning 250cc rac­ers for 1959. Ce­cil Sand­ford had won the world ti­tle for Mondial in 1957 and then the com­pany pulled out of racing while at the top. Stan, how­ever, per­suaded Mondial that its twin over­head camshaft 250 sin­gle could still be com­pet­i­tive in pri­va­teer hands in 1959 and Mike proved that was very much the case with a great ride in the Light­weight TT. Hav­ing over­taken the MV Agusta fac­tory team rid­ers, Carlo Ub­biali and Tar­quinio Provini, he was lead­ing the race un­til the Mondial’s en­gine quit with less than two laps of the seven-mile Clypse course to go. Af­ter this, the Mon­di­als pro­vided Mike with nu­mer­ous wins on the Bri­tish short cir­cuits but there was an­other Ital­ian name on the scene that was even­tu­ally to be­come in­deli­bly and for­ever linked with that of Mike Hail­wood. Dur­ing the 1950s, Stan Hail­wood had be­come the Bri­tish im­porter for an Ital­ian mar­que that had joined the in­ter­na­tional racing scene in 1956 – the now-fa­mil­iar name of Du­cati. Late in 1958, Mike rode one of the 125cc GP over­head-camshaft sin­gles with suc­cess on the UK short cir­cuits and in 1959 joined Ital­ian rid­ers Bruno Spag­giari and Al­berto Gan­dossi and the Swiss star, Luigi Taveri, rid­ing 125cc twins on the fac­tory team. It was not, how­ever, a happy Grand Prix sea­son for Du­cati in 1959 as there were all kinds of me­chan­i­cal prob­lems with its new twin-cylin­der machines. There was only one Grand Prix vic­tory for Du­cati that sea­son and that was when Mike got one of the sin­gle­cylin­der ‘sec­ond string’ bikes home first in the Ul­ster GP. This was one of the new ’desmo’ mod­els in which the usual valve re­turn springs were done away with and the valves were both opened and closed by a me­chan­i­cal sys­tem us­ing triple over­head camshafts. It is a sys­tem now syn­ony­mous with Du­cati, of course. Dis­il­lu­sioned with racing af­ter its lack of suc­cess, and hit by a re­ces­sion in the sales of road bikes, Du­cati quit racing at the end of 1959 and sold off the ‘desmos’ to the for­mer team rid­ers. Mike used his to dom­i­nate the 125cc class in Bri­tish short cir­cuit racing in both 1960 and 1961, in­clud­ing win­ning the ‘sin­gle race’ Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship at Oul­ton Park in each of those years. Dur­ing the fi­nal sea­son of its ini­tial foray into racing, Du­cati had been noth­ing but am­bi­tious. As well as its 125cc sin­gles and twins, the fac­tory had also built a 125cc four-cylin­der racer plus 250 and 350cc twins. It was ru­moured that Stan Hail­wood ac­tu­ally fi­nanced the fac­tory de­vel­op­ment of the twins with Mike in mind. If that was the case, then it was one of the few times when Stan’s money was not well spent as both the 250 and 350 Du­cati twins were still lit­tle more than pro­to­type machines when they joined the Hail­wood sta­ble and lack of fac­tory de­vel­op­ment meant that they were only destined for fail­ure. Mike had no no­table suc­cess with the Du­cati twins in 1960, al­though he was still a win­ner with the faith­ful three-year-old Mondial. By 1961, Mike Hail­wood had be­come one of the first Bri­tish rid­ers to ride for Honda, the Ja­panese fac­tory whose twins and four­cylin­der machines were be­gin­ning to eclipse the Ital­ian and Ger­man op­po­si­tion in the smaller ca­pac­ity classes. In June 1961, us­ing a Honda 125cc twin and a 250cc four along with a 500cc Manx Nor­ton, Mike be­came the only man in the his­tory of the Isle of Man TT dur­ing its world cham­pi­onship years to win three races in one week. He rode the Honda twin to win the 125cc Ul­tra-light­weight races and one of the fac­tory’s fours to take the 250cc Light­weight class vic­tory. Then, on the fi­nal day of TT racing that year, he made his­tory by win­ning the Se­nior TT with the Nor­ton. Amaz­ingly, it could have been even bet­ter.

Ear­lier in the week, Mike had lost the chance of win­ning all four solo class races when his 350 AJS 7R failed with a bro­ken pis­ton pin while hold­ing a com­fort­able lead. At the end of the sea­son, if any­one re­ally needed any proof that Mike was one of the best rid­ers in the world, he won the 1961 250cc world cham­pi­onship for Honda even though he was not a full fac­tory rider but got the bikes in a deal bro­kered by the UK im­porter. Rather sur­pris­ingly, con­sid­er­ing his 1961 125/250 TT dou­ble and world 250c ti­tle Mike was not of­fered a full fac­tory con­tract by Honda for the fol­low­ing sea­son ei­ther. The Ja­panese fac­tory was con­tent to stick with its es­tab­lished team rid­ers, the Rhodesian Jim Red­man, Aus­tralian Tom Phillis and the Swiss, Luigi Taveri. Quite pos­si­bly, Honda’s de­ci­sion was coloured by the fact that Hail­wood had also ac­quired a fac­tory ride in the big­ger ca­pac­ity classes by sign­ing with MV Agusta to take over the 1962 rid­ing du­ties of the Ital­ian fac­tory’s pre­vi­ously all-con­quer­ing 350 and 500cc fours af­ter Gary Hock­ing moved on to car racing. Honda, of course, had its own plans for those classes, es­pe­cially the 350cc cat­e­gory from 1962 on­wards, The MV fours had pre­vi­ously taken John Sur­tees to seven world ti­tles (three in the 350cc class and four in the 500cc cat­e­gory) be­tween 1956 and 1960 and Gary Hock­ing to a 350/500 world cham­pi­onship dou­ble in 1961. Mike went on to go one step bet­ter than Sur­tees in the 500cc class and in 1965 be­came the first rider to win four con­sec­u­tive world ti­tles for MV Agusta in that premier cat­e­gory. In 1957, here had been a gap in Sur­tees’ string of 500cc suc­cesses when he and MV were beaten by Libero Liberati and Gil­era to the World Cham­pi­onship. For the 1962 Isle of Man 250cc TT, Mike went back to Ital­ian ma­chin­ery and rode a twin-over­head camshaft Benelli en­tered by well-con­nected Cheshire dealer Fron Purslow. He was ly­ing fourth be­hind the Honda fours of Derek Min­ter, Jim Red­man and Tom Phillis un­til its en­gine gave up the un­equal strug­gle. This was even af­ter the bike’s fair­ing had come loose, caus­ing Mike to stop and have it re­moved.

He then restarted and con­tin­ued flat on the tank of the now-naked bike in hot pur­suit of the Hon­das. All to no avail as his pur­suit of the Ja­panese fours over­stressed the Benelli’s sin­gle cylin­der en­gine. Apart from the 50cc Itom in his ear­li­est days, Mike rarely rode any two-stroke rac­ers dur­ing his Grand Prix ca­reer but there were a cou­ple of no­table ex­cep­tions. In 1959, he rode one of the East Ger­man MZ 250cc ro­tary valve sin­gles at Monza in the Ital­ian GP (al­ways termed the ‘Grand Prix of Na­tions’ in those days). He fin­ished ninth and was im­pressed enough with the lit­tle bike to re­turn to the team and ride both 125 and 250cc machines on odd oc­ca­sions in the years to come. The MZ, of course, was the brain­child of the leg­endary Walter Kaaden – the fa­ther of modern racing two-strokes who was the ge­nius that first fully ex­ploited the use of ex­pan­sion cham­ber ex­haust pipes and booster ports in the cylin­der walls. These al­tered the pres­sure waves of the ex­haust gases and thereby max­imised the flow of the fuel/air charge through the two-stroke’s cylin­ders. In 1962, Mike re­turned to MZ and in the East Ger­man 250cc GP, urged on by some 200,000 fran­tic home fans, he used the team’s two-stroke twin to hound the four­cylin­der Honda of Jim Red­man all the way to the che­quered flag, even­tu­ally fin­ish­ing just two-tenths of a sec­ond be­hind in a photo fin­ish. A year later, he re­turned to the Sach­sen­ring with MZ and this time won the 250cc East Ger­man Grand Prix to send the mas­sive crowd deliri­ous with joy at the home team vic­tory. Two years pre­vi­ously, in 1961, Mike had also formed an as­so­ci­a­tion with an­other two-stroke guru, Dr Joe Er­lich – an Aus­trian en­gi­neer work­ing with the De Hav­il­land air­craft com­pany in the UK. He rode Er­lich’s sin­gle-cylin­der 125 (which closely re­sem­bled the MZ) to a cou­ple of Grand Prix fourth places in Spain and France and in the next sea­son re­peated those plac­ings in Spain (again) and Bel­gium. Fi­nally, he used the EMC to take him to the third step on the podium in the West Ger­man GP. Back in the big­ger classes, by 1962 the

heavy old four-cylin­der 350cc MV Agusta was get­ting too long in the tooth to dom­i­nate as it had done in the days of Sur­tees and Hock­ing. Es­sen­tially it was just the 500cc bike with a smaller en­gine and, as such, even with Hail­wood on board it was con­sis­tently out-sped over the four sea­sons from 1962 through 1965 by the lighter and more nim­ble Honda four – a bike that had ar­rived in the 350cc cat­e­gory via the di­a­met­ri­cally op­po­site route of be­ing ex­panded from a suc­cess­ful 250. MV Agusta came out with a lighter, more com­pact three-cylin­der 350 that would challenge the Hon­das in 1965 but it was a bike destined more for use by MV Agusta’s new kid on the block, Gi­a­como Agostini, rather than as a pay­back for Mike’s ster­ling ser­vice in fight­ing los­ing bat­tles on the hefty old 350cc four. Ago was the an­swer to Count Agusta’s dream of see­ing an Ital­ian win­ning on his red and sil­ver rac­ers so it is hardly sur­pris­ing that he be­came Agusta’s ‘spe­cial one’ once he had showed his po­ten­tial. Dur­ing 1965, when his MV Agusta Grand Prix com­mit­ments al­lowed, Mike also en­tered se­lected UK events rid­ing for the team run by Es­sex mo­tor­cy­cle dealer, Tom Kirby, on Match­less G50 and AJS 7R machines. Es­sen­tially these were the fac­tory team bikes of the As­so­ci­ated Mo­tor­cy­cles Group, the par­ent com­pany of those two mar­ques, Kirby was also a BSA dealer and en­tered Mike in the 1965 Hutchin­son 100 Pro­duc­tion race at the Sil­ver­stone on a BSA Light­ning Club­man. The ‘Hutch’ was one of the main pro­duc­tion races of the sea­son and, there­fore, very im­por­tant for man­u­fac­tur­ers look­ing to es­tab­lish a per­for­mance im­age for their cur­rent mod­els. In heavy rain, Mike won the race from Phil Read on a Tri­umph Bon­neville. Back at MV Agusta, Mike got his hands on the 350cc triple in 1965 but mostly had to make do with the hefty old ‘four’. So at the end of the sea­son, af­ter iron­i­cally us­ing the triple to win the fi­nal 350cc Grand Prix of the year on Honda’s own cir­cuit at Suzuka, Mike did the log­i­cal thing. He stayed on in Ja­pan to sign for Honda and so re­joined the Ja­panese fac­tory for which he had won the 250cc world ti­tle in 1961.

Mike Hail­wood storms round the Scar­bor­ough cir­cuit in 1957 on his 175cc MV Agusta.


Stan (left) pro­vided more than a few bank notes to aid his son’s ca­reer.


Mike Hail­wood on The Moun­tain Mile 1959 Ju­niortt.


Hail­wood, 125cc Du­cati, leads 1959 mass start TT.


Left: Hail­wood wins 1961 Race Of Year, Mal­lory (Nor­ton).


Above: John Sur­tees and Mike Hail­wood push off 1961 TT.


Mike Hail­wood made it a triple dur­ing his mem­o­rable TT week of 1961.


Be­low: Mike’s Arter Match­less won the Race of Aces, 1964.


Left: His­to­ry­maker Hail­wood on his way to win­ning the 1961 Se­nior TT.


Right: Next year, an­other win – Mike en route to the 1962 Se­nior TT on his MV.


Left: Mike guides the 350 AJS to vic­tory at Brands Hatch in 1964.


Back on board – Mike Hail­wood on his MV 500 won the 1965 TT de­spite crash­ing and re­mount­ing.

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