Southern Experts 1968 Victory 1971
A good strong entry of 83 of the best solo riders in the Southern Centre assembled at Alfington Inn Public House in the start field near Otter St Mary in Devonshire in mid-December with a start time of 10.00am. Twenty-three sidecar crews joined them on a very cold day, with many competitors having to deal with the ‘black ice’ conditions on a hazardous journey on the roads to the event’s start area. Sammy Miller was still on the rampage on the two-stroke Bultaco, having won yet another consecutive British Solo Trials Championship. Now riding the five-speed gearbox model, he loved his home grown title of the ‘Mud Master’ and looked forward to the challenge of the day’s action in the hostile winter weather conditions. He, along with sidecar driver Ron Langston, had five Southern Experts titles under their belts and wanted to add to the collection. As we will find out not all went to plan for Langston as Miller just kept on winning — and doing it in style. To decide who would be victorious the solo riders would first have to pass through the 40 observed hazards, with 33 for the sidecars.
One thing that never affected Sammy Miller was the weather, and he arrived at the start ready for action. Well wrapped up in his waxed cotton riding kit he was, as always, the 100 per cent professional. He knew his arch rival and the rider who would eventually topple him from his record run of British championship titles, Gordon Farley, would be on his case all day. Miller was very confident he could add the Southern Experts title once again to his 1968 victories though, which included the Scottish Six Days Trial, Scott Trial and European championship title; he was going to take some beating!
All the riders were advised to be aware of ‘Regulation 8’. With the event being run very close to the shortest day of the year the hours of daylight would be at a premium. Regulation 8 states: “Failure to attempt an observed section when called upon by a marshal will result in a charge, and will result in a five mark penalty being awarded plus whatever marks are lost in the section”.
Any ties on marks would be decided by a Special Test with ‘dead’ engines. The rider would start his engine by any method with the machine’s front wheel on line A and ride as fast as possible to line B. The fastest time between the two points would decide the outcome of the tie break.
Groups of Sections
1: Cobbledicks; 2: Crink Um – Sidecar Only; 3: Staircase; 4: Sallicombe; 5: Jungle; 6: Raspberry Ripple; 7: Jim’s Joke – Solo Only 8: George’s Goyle – Solo Only; 9: River Rise; 10: Tuckers Mud; 11: Langworthy; 12: The Climb.
A Tough Start
It was straight into a tough opening hazard at Cobbledicks, where only ten of the 83 riders passed through it with their feet firmly on the footrests, which included Miller, Farley and Telling along with local rider Ian Blackmore on the Villiers powered AJS. By the time the riders got to the steep climb at ‘Staircase’ Miller was already looking on form as both Farley and Don Smith (Montesa) tried to keep in touch with him. No one cleaned ‘Staircase’ and even Miller had to resort to parting with three well-placed marks to keep forward motion.
At ‘Sallicombe’ the clean rides were once again very few – six, in fact, including Miller. The hazards at ‘Jungle’ had the riders immerse themselves and their machines in the deep black mud, which resulted in many marks being parted with. The hazard surrendered no ‘clean’ rides as feet were put down by everyone.
The aptly named ‘Raspberry Ripple’ consisted of a very awkward steep climb and, using his experience here, Miller parted with a good solid one mark as it was cleaned by Chris Cullen on one of the beautiful and functional looking Cheetah trials models. Three more riders cleaned the hazard including Charlie Harris on another new machine into the UK, the Montesa Cota 247, and Derek Cranfield (Greeves) and Alan Ketley (Bultaco). Miller knew that he was slowly but surely opening up an advantage over the other riders, and so was closely examining every hazard so that if he needed to part with marks to avoid the dreaded five mark penalty for a stop he would take a precautionary ‘dab’. This was the case at the last hazard in this group as he took in the solo riders’ hazards at George’s Goyle, parting with four more marks.
The Best for Last
Miller knew he had opened up an unbeatable advantage, but he always gave his best in all situations. Secretary of the meeting Ralph Venables had watched Miller’s career from its very beginning, and was more than intrigued to watch the change from the four-stroke Ariel at the back end of 1964 to the dawn of a new era with the two-stroke Bultaco in 1965.
The final group of hazards at ‘The Climb’ would be tough. These steep demanding climbs showed Miller at his very best as the majority of the entry fived every hazard, with the runner-up Farley the only rider challenging Miller through these final sections. Despite the cold winter weather Miller had once again won the Southern Experts convincingly. He had first won the event in 1960 and now set a new record of six wins in this prestigious end-of-season event.
The event had not run in 1967 due to the outbreak of the Foot and Mouth epidemic, but normal order was resumed in 1968 and the event was enjoyed by the majority of the entry, who all agreed it had been a tough but fair day’s sport. Sidecars Looking to join Miller and add a sixth Southern Experts win was Ron Langston on his Ariel with Doug Cooper in the sidecar. This was not to be though, as they never even reached the first group of hazards at ‘Cobbledicks’. The fourstroke Ariel ground to a halt with engine trouble even before they had attempted a hazard, much to their massive disappointment. As it turned out a fight for the victory took place between six of the other sidecar crews.
The man on form was Chris Spittle on the BSA, but the eventual winner did not have an easy day as the first six were covered by only six marks. He established an early lead from which he never looked back as Ray Bradley applied the pressure, but it was all in vain. As with the solos it had been a hard day of action which saw only 16 sidecar finishers from the healthy entry of 23.
Chris Spittle (BSA): After opening up an early advantage he kept his cool, despite only six marks covering the first six finishers, to take his first Southern Experts victory.
Charlie Harris (Montesa): This is one of the very first production Montesa Cota trials machines in the UK. Harris was supported by Montala Motors, the first official UK importers for Montesa trials machines.
Gordon Farley (Greeves): A constant thorn in the side of Sammy Miller, he had no answer to his rival’s supreme riding.
Derek Adsett (Greeves): A very consistent Southern rider for the Greeves brand in the factory supported team.
Peter Valentine (Bultaco): Another rider who made a quick move to the all-conquering Spanish trials machines with Bultaco.
Paul Dunkley (Cheetah): He scored many impressive results on the new Cheetah trials machines.
Derek Cranfield (Greeves): Looking very ‘English’ with his flat-cap, wax cotton riding suit and leather boots.
Ian Haydon (Cotton): You can read the story of Ian’s life in trials in issue 66 of Trial Magazine.
Alan Ketley (Bultaco): Another rider who scored some very good results in the early days of Bultaco.
Ian Blackmore (AJS): Many riders still believed in the once great British motorcycles but AJS would soon disappear forever.
Alan Blackman (Bultaco): Yes this is the father of Southern Centre ‘Ace’ Andy in more modern times, who can usually be found ‘minding’ for Dan Peace.
Lawrence Telling (Montesa): Another rider who moved to Montesa as the Spanish Armada arrived and started to dominate the trials results.
Dennis Brown (BSA): He made a strong challenge for victory in the hazards at ‘Raspberry Ripple’.
Ginger Budd (Ariel): The fourstroke power was still the one to have in the sidecar classes. The wise passenger has a crash helmet on!
Colin Hare (Ariel): He and his passenger look very confident.
Roy Bradley (Ariel): He made a late bid for victory, where he found his best form at the hazards at ‘Sallicombe’, but it was too late.
Bob Colein (Tribsa): Mix a BSA with a Triumph and you get the Tribsa!