I always look forward to reading Classic Racer, but my goodness how I enjoyed the November/ December issue. There were a number of articles to which I could closely relate. The 250cc Mondial: I always lusted after this bike after seeing Provini win the 1957 TT but never realised that there were two versions of the cam drive.
Having been lucky enough to own an RC30 the article about Steve Ward and his exploits/ achievements on one obviously rang bells and then ‘Hated Hailwood.’ I still remember riding at BEMSEE’S Trophy Day at Silverstone in 1958 when – into the paddock – comes this big Comma transporter with ‘Ecurie Sportive’ emblazoned on it.
There were at least four bikes inside and with a ‘professional’ mechanic, Jim Adams I think his name was, to look after all those bikes. S M B Hailwood was the rider and his dad arrived in a Bentley Continental! Spoilt little rich kid poncing around was what I thought until he rode around the outside of me at Copse on his 175cc MV at a fearsome rate! My view on the bloke changed in an instant!
And then the article on Mike’s NSU: In 1961 I was making up the numbers on the 250cc grids. Easter and the meeting at Crystal Palace: I wasn’t riding, but was helping a mate, Ron Chandler on his G45. Parked next to Ron was a rider with no one to help him, so I volunteered my services. The rider was Mike Gamble, who
came from near Coventry. Mike’s bike was an NSU Sportmax and how I lusted after it.
Sadly, Mike came off and broke both his legs. He went off to hospital and I gave my details as a ‘local contact’ for his family. I took his bike and van until they could be collected. Mike stayed in hospital for a few weeks and I visited. We kept in touch and he said he was quitting racing and I immediately asked how much he wanted for the (slightly bent) NSU.
We agreed a deal and I had no idea about the history of the bike when I went to pick it up. Apparently this was the bike that Mike Hailwood had used when coming 3rd at the 1958 TT. Without knowing it, I had bought a competitive bike with such provenance.
I sorted out the minor damage and rode it for the first time at Brands Hatch later in 1961. I rode the bike in 1962 and 1963 seasons and while I achieved zero success I had so much fun!
I knew that Mike owned two Sportmaxes and from what I heard, I was convinced mine was the Glen Henderson bike and not the John Surtees one.
But Alan Cathcart’s article points out the Henderson bike was equipped with a Rennmax twin leading shoe rear brake. My bike certainly wasn’t, so could it have been that my bike was the one Stan Hailwood had bought from Surtees? We will never know, as I never noted the frame and engine numbers.
In May 1963 I was at Snetterton and on the grid for the 250cc race was a ‘rice burner’ of all things. And a two-stroke! Robin Denny was riding and I was in 4th place and the Sportmax was flying – suddenly Denny whizzes past on his TD1A and disappears. I think he had changed out of his leathers and had a beer by the time the rest of us had finished. It was the first big race that Yamaha won in Europe and I saw it as the writing on the wall.
I sold the NSU three weeks later. And that ended my association with a bike that was a bit of racing folklore! I wonder where it now rests?
The Editor says: “What a great story, love the pic of you. And we’re glad you liked the issue.”