It was a very in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion, firstly with Mick Bow­ers about the BSA Bantam tri­als pro­ject, that then led to a phone call to a cer­tain Michael Martin. My fa­ther Ron had men­tioned his name on many oc­ca­sions, and I, as a young per­son, had seen thi

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS - Words: Michael Martin and John Hulme • Pic­tures: Michael Martin, Bob Light, Anne Scuse, Barry Robin­son, Mo­tor Cy­cle and Yoomee Archive

At the time of the start of the BSA Group crash I was work­ing at The BSA Group Mo­tor Cy­cle Re­search Cen­tre, Um­ber­slade Hall, at the time re­joic­ing in the job ti­tle of Chief Pro­ject Man­ager – Sin­gle Cylin­ders. So in 1972, I elected to take my re­dun­dancy money and set up Mick­mar En­gines.

A Mick­mar En­gine

Some years ear­lier I had been Group Chief De­vel­op­ment Engi­neer of BSA Gen­eral En­gi­neer­ing Divi­sion at Red­ditch, Worces­ter­shire, which amongst many things pro­duced the BSA range of in­dus­trial and agri­cul­tural en­gines. The Gen­eral En­gi­neer­ing divi­sion had been dis­banded so that the main Red­ditch fac­tory could be switched to­tally to mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion, and the power unit busi­ness was sold to Vil­liers.

A group of us had dis­cussed set­ting up a power unit man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness of our own, but this had only been talk. Apart from that, the Mick­mar En­gine pro­ject was not a long, drawn-out pro­ject; it was quite a sud­den de­ci­sion to set off into the blue with the new en­gine! Even the name was de­rived by the lads that worked for me at Um­ber­slade Hall who thought up the name — not that dif­fi­cult!

In the last month, be­fore I left they would tell peo­ple who were vis­it­ing me ‘you’re wast­ing time talk­ing to him, he can only think of his Mick­mar En­gine’. Dur­ing that last month, I did work very hard at mak­ing sure that the projects I had worked on were prop­erly doc­u­mented and handed over to the ap­pro­pri­ate peo­ple. I did visit Bert Hop­wood, the main man at Tri­umph, who had no time for the Um­ber­slade set up. He asked me what I was go­ing to do and by that time I could see no point in be­ing other than truth­ful. “I am go­ing to set up a busi­ness to man­u­fac­ture en­gines. Firstly I am look­ing at do­ing a 175cc five-speed two-stroke en­gine. I want to fill the gap left by the with­drawal of the Vil­liers En­gines from the mar­ket” I said.

When I had been in charge of the en­gi­neer­ing of the BSA Bantam and the fu­ture range of twostroke en­gines at BSA we had started to look at the smaller ca­pac­ity sizes for the fu­ture two-strokes. We had got up to the point where we had got wooden pat­terns for the new pro­posed 175cc en­gine. The pro­ject had stopped there and the projects moth­balled. Mr Hop­wood, with a grin and a wink, said: “I sup­pose you know where the pat­tern equip­ment is for the aban­doned 175 is?” I said: “Say no more sir!” In fact, we set out with the widest of ob­jec­tives not just as nar­row as mo­tor­cy­cle en­gines. In­deed we did do a de­sign of a 150cc side-valve en­gine for Atco lawn mow­ers and a scotch crank en­gine for a lo­cal foundry. How­ever, the first im­por­tant pro­ject was to get a two-stroke tri­als en­gine go­ing.

At that time there was still a ves­tige of a mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try that had ex­isted around the Vil­liers en­gine. They were look­ing for a sen­si­ble en­gine. Minarelli and Puch en­gines had been tried and found want­ing. How­ever that op­por­tu­nity to sup­ply en­gines was, in fact, time-lim­ited. Firms were stop­ping pro­duc­tion of mo­tor­cy­cles al­most by the month.

By the time we got sorted the mar­ket had gone. We then needed premises, and we found an old unit in Selly Oak, Birm­ing­ham, that had made de­liv­ery car­riages for horse-drawn Co-op op­er­a­tions. It was a some­what rick­ety unit on three floors. The top floor, be­ing on street level, had ac­cess to Bris­tol Road and the low­est level had ac­cess to the canal. It was about a mile from the old Ariel fac­tory.

Ini­tially, the team con­sisted of me, my then wife, Roy Rich­mond who had worked for me as a Pro­ject Engi­neer at Red­ditch and Um­ber­slade and Mac McGowan, who had worked for me at Red­ditch & Um­ber­slade and pre­vi­ously at Royal En­field. Mac was the most hands-on of all of us. Roy didn’t like the Selly Oak premises and only lasted about a month, and was re­placed by Rod Arscott. Rod was a fam­ily friend pre­vi­ously work­ing for the City of Birm­ing­ham Pub­lic Works Depart­ment. Any­way, I got on and in­deed de­signed a 175cc pis­ton-ported two-stroke en­gine with a bolted on five-speed gear­box.

I was well known in the mo­tor­cy­cle world at that time, and we had plenty of pub­lic­ity. Bob Cur­rie, then Mo­tor Cy­cle’s Mid­land Edi­tor, was an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter and was al­ways call­ing in to see how we were do­ing. The re­sult of this pub­lic­ity was an ap­proach from Greeves. Greeves did not want a 175cc. It had to be 250cc. So my won­der­ful ex BSA 175cc cast­ings were no use to me! How­ever, one set of cast­ings I con­verted in my guise as chief pat­tern maker to make 250cc heads and bar­rel pat­terns.

The 250cc En­gine

So the main de­sign ac­tiv­ity at Selly Oak was to de­sign the 250cc en­gine. A lot of the de­sign work had been done be­fore Selly Oak ap­pear­ing. The de­sign of any­thing has to recog­nise the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in which the pro­ject is be­ing pro­duced. In our case, that meant ev­ery­thing had to be at near enough zero cost. That meant we had to use bits and pieces from wher­ever. The pis­ton and pis­ton rings needed to be made out of posh ma­te­ri­als and ma­chined on very high-qual­ity ma­chin­ery. We found a firm in Italy that was mak­ing pi­rate pis­tons for the 250cc Bultaco and Ossa ma­chines. Thus the Bultaco, Ossa and then Mick­mar all had the same 72mm bore and 60mm stroke!

Be­cause I had been in­volved with the BSA Bantam for some years, and the Bantam it­self was 58mm stroke, with the new en­gine we were op­er­at­ing in an area Amal was clearly the place to go for our car­bu­ret­tor. Phil Wood of Lu­cas was an old boy of King Ed­wards Gram­mar School, as was I, my brother and Peter Inch­ley who had much to do with the Vil­liers Star­maker. So it was Lu­cas ig­ni­tion equip­ment.

We used a sys­tem that Montesa had used, us­ing rollers in semi-cir­cu­lar grooves in the gear­box main shaft so as to avoid hav­ing ex­pen­sive tool­ing to make splines. The nodu­lar iron crankshafts and the iron fly­wheel came from Hayes Shell Cast where one of the direc­tors was John Taft, a fel­low BSA ap­pren­tice. We had one mas­sive jig mas­ter­minded by Mac McGowan that served for the ma­chin­ing of the main cast­ings.

We were try­ing to do things prop­erly and on the sec­ond floor of the Selly Oak build­ing we had in­stalled a Heenan & Froude DPX 0 en­gine test dy­namome­ter. The en­gines were run on the dy­namome­ter as a Saturday job by Gra­ham Carter, who had worked with me both at BSA Red­ditch and Um­ber­slade Hall.


Be­cause of the pub­lic­ity we got from Bob Cur­rie we had a fairly con­stant trudge of pos­si­ble cus­tomers turn up at the door. What we re­ally needed was cus­tomers with a cer­tain amount of un­der­stand­ing and cer­tainly tenac­ity com­bined with pa­tience! On that ba­sis, Greeves came and went very quickly with­out a ma­chine ever ap­pear­ing.

David Brand, who then owned Sara­cen, did achieve a ma­chine that looked the part and in Septem­ber 1973 gave Mick Bow­ers the hon­our of be­ing the first com­pet­i­tive rider on a Mick­mar. David couldn’t put up with our ‘snails pace’ of de­vel­op­ment work and went off to make ra­di­a­tors.

A very in­ter­est­ing ma­chine ap­peared with Dun­can MacDon­ald; just a look at the pic­ture of his MAC ma­chine shows he was years ahead of his time. He also frus­trated by us though and switched to an Ossa en­gine. When it came to tenac­ity, we can name three Selly Oak projects that did help us for­ward in big ways. Firstly the great old man of mo­tor­cy­cling Len Vale-Onslow Se­nior, who had pro­duced SOS ma­chines prior to the war and had a small num­ber of Valon ma­chines af­ter the war, en­gaged Steve Wil­son to build a Mick­mar pow­ered Valon ma­chine for Alan Wright. The Valon ma­chine was also based on a Sara­cen frame. Hav­ing some­one such as Alan on the ma­chine was a real boom even if he did some­times need a cer­tain amount of ‘fet­tling’ to keep him go­ing.

Then Bernard Gore ap­peared at the door one day want­ing to buy an en­gine and make a frame and cy­cle parts to make an all-Bri­tish ma­chine. This he did and went on to record the first-ever Mick­mar win and then fol­lowed that by win­ning The Welsh Tri­als Cham­pi­onship. He also rode in the Bri­tish Ex­perts, where he was the only solo rider mounted on a Bri­tish Ma­chine.

The next per­son to knock on our door was Pat Onions from Cot­ton. Pat and I got on so very well, right from that very first meeting. He was used to run­ning Cot­ton on a shoe­string. They were us­ing Minarelli en­gines, but they had to put a lot of work in to make the en­gine into a tri­als one. Pat Onions and Eric Lee made the Cot­ton to take the Mick­mar.

We then did a lot of test­ing with the Cot­ton rid­ers Pat Bar­rett and John Close. Most of the test­ing was done on the Cotswolds at what was John Draper’s farm. What Pat wanted was to pro­duce a club­man’s tri­als model so that the lads could have a bit of fun, but it had to be re­li­able. So he put John Close on the ma­chine. Pat was look­ing for John to do a com­plete sea­son on the Mick­mar Cot­ton and de­liver a First Class award in Western Cen­tre tri­als week in week out. John pro­ceeded to do this. Pat was so pleased; he was ready to or­der but…

Move to Yeovil

The next time Pat called in I had to ex­plain that Mick­mar had hit the buf­fers and we were go­ing to have to give up. Pat would have none of it. “We haven’t come all this way to give up now; you’ve got a su­per power unit, and we want it. Don’t do any­thing dras­tic; give me a fort­night to sort some­thing.”

Over the next few days, Pat went around the in­dus­try to see if any­one would take us on. The one firm that was in­ter­ested was Talon En­gi­neer­ing run by Ge­orge Sartin down in Yeovil. They were go­ing to sup­ply hubs and brakes to Cot­ton and pos­si­bly also sprock­ets. Ge­orge rea­soned with­out an en­gine Cot­ton wouldn’t be want­ing any­thing else. Ge­orge saw it as a way of gain­ing ex­tra busi­ness as well as pro­tect­ing ex­ist­ing or­ders. So the ex­er­cise was put in place.

Mick­mar in Selly Oak had a ‘con­trolled’ liq­ui­da­tion so that the sup­pli­ers re­mained on side to sup­ply the Yeovil en­ter­prise. The draw­ings, the stock, my fam­ily and me upped sticks and moved down to Yeovil. The Selly Oak ma­chin­ery was of no in­ter­est to Ge­orge, so Mac McGowan took the ma­chines and set him­self up as a ma­chin­ing unit. To this day in Ast­wood Bank, Worces­ter­shire he makes spare parts for an­cient Lis­ter en­gines, etc.

The Talon Com­pany changed its name to Talon En­gi­neer­ing Ltd with Ge­orge as Manag­ing Di­rec­tor and me as Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor. Dur­ing this pe­riod Ge­orge man­aged to or­gan­ise it so that we could have a man­u­fac­turer’s team in the 1975 Col­more Cup Trial. Al­most cer­tainly this was the last time an all-Bri­tish made ma­chines team was en­tered in a Na­tional trial. I had watched it since I was a tod­dler, pas­sen­gered in it and rid­den solo in it. It had been one of the great­est clas­sics of all and at that time was still one of the most im­por­tant tri­als run.

The Talon Mick­mar team was David Fisher, Alan Wright and Bernard Gore. We achieved a cer­tain no­to­ri­ety when some of the 12 ma­chines were pe­nalised 10 marks for ex­ceed­ing the noise level in the noise test as two were Mick­mars, with Bernard be­ing the quiet man! At least they knew we had been there. The move to Yeovil was a boost to the en­gine pro­ject be­cause Talon had some very good kit to make things and also were spe­cial­ist mak­ers of lost wax cast­ing tool­ing. Ge­orge him­self set to and made new tool­ing for some of the gear­box parts. The gear se­lec­tor mech­a­nism on the early Mick­mar had been some­thing of a prob­lem. The new tool­ing moved us to a dif­fer­ent level.

Wasp Tri­als Bike

Yeovil is not so far from the Wasp pro­duc­tion unit in Wilt­shire. The boss of Wasp, Robin Rhind Tutt, had made some tri­als mo­tor­cy­cles over the years and was in­ter­ested in in­clud­ing a TalonMick­mar en­gined tri­als model in his range. Like Pat Onions Robin wanted to see a ma­chine run­ning week in week out in the lo­cal tri­als. Win­ning would be nice, but again he wanted to pro­duce a club­man tri­als model that would be re­li­able. Robin gave Ge­orge Green­land the job of mak­ing a pro­to­type and the run­ning of the ma­chine we con­trolled from Yeovil, us­ing Mike Hann as the rider. Mike worked at Yeovil Col­lege and so as well as be­ing a good lo­cal rider he also had an en­gi­neer­ing in­put to the pro­ject.

When the Talon-Mick­mar pro­ject even­tu­ally floun­dered the Wasp was left aban­doned at the Talon fac­tory. Many years later Rob Sartin, the son of Ge­orge and now boss man of the highly suc­cess­ful Talon En­gi­neer­ing busi­ness, asked Jock Wil­son to sort out the old Wasp. A com­plete re­build led to the ma­chine that now re­sides in The Sammy Miller Mu­seum.

BSA Co­op­er­a­tive

It never came to any­thing, but the BSA co­op­er­a­tive ap­proached us re­gard­ing mak­ing en­gines for an up­dated BSA Bantam. The lit­tle-known BSA co­op­er­a­tive was set up by the BSA work­force in re­sponse to the Tri­umph co­op­er­a­tive. A pic­ture ap­peared in De­cem­ber 1975 in Mo­tor Cy­cle News of BSA’s shop ste­ward, Harold Robin­son, with the Bantam and the Talon-Mick­mar, though the en­gine was not named. It seemed that as I had been a BSA ap­pren­tice any­thing I may have de­signed was clearly BSA prop­erty! I am afraid when it came to mil­i­tancy the Tri­umph lads had the edge over their Small Heath coun­ter­parts. Cer­tainly, Harold was not the fire­brand of his name­sake ‘Red Robbo’ down the road at BMC, Long­bridge.

The light at the end of the tun­nel gets ex­tin­guished!

By the win­ter of 1975/76, we were still op­er­at­ing on a knife edge, but light at the end of the tun­nel started to ap­pear, only to be cru­elly ex­tin­guished. At this time, around half a dozen tri­als ma­chines were in reg­u­lar use: Bernard Gore, by now was on a Miller High­boy frame Cot­ton and still per­form­ing well in Mid Wales; Mr Knight, who had bought the Sara­cen from David Brand, op­er­at­ing around Nor­wich; John Close was on the Cot­ton – our Mr Reg­u­lar in the Cotswolds; and Yeovil rid­ers Mike Hann was on the Wasp and Trevor Ring on an­other Miller framed ma­chine.

Pat Onions, from Cot­ton, had got to the stage of ask­ing us to sup­ply Cot­ton with six en­gines per week and Wasp had or­dered and taken 12 en­gines. With these two man­u­fac­tur­ers, it looked like we would be mak­ing some 40 units per month. But it just didn’t hap­pen. Wasp was so busy mak­ing their world cham­pi­onship win­ning side­car out­fits they just never got round to pro­duc­ing the ma­chines to the Green­land pre­pared pro­to­type.

Even worse was to hap­pen with the Cot­ton pro­ject. Cot­ton had a sleep­ing Di­rec­tor, Terry Wil­son, who came into some money and bought out the other share­hold­ers and made him­self Chair­man of the Com­pany, leav­ing Pat Onions as a non-pow­er­ful Manag­ing Di­rec­tor.

Cot­ton now wanted to set out their stall with a sup­ply of 200 en­gines per week. Frankly, we could not see it and also we had to look to fund three months of pro­duc­tion. It just wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. In the last few weeks of our op­er­a­tions, we did look at set­ting up a big­ger com­pany, but fund­ing was not avail­able. Dur­ing this pe­riod I also did the ini­tial de­sign work on a 500cc twin and a 750cc triple based on the 250cc sin­gle.

Big Bertha

In April 1976 we did pro­duce one over­size en­gine of 320cc, us­ing a Bultaco pis­ton. This en­gine was put in one of the two Miller cat­a­logue spe­cials built from Sam’s cat­a­logue parts by Les Thomas. Yeovil­based Les had made Tri­umph Cub Tri­als ma­chines in years gone by and was a very en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of the Talon Mick­mar pro­ject.

All Over

By the spring of 1976, it was ba­si­cally all over. Ge­orge and I shook hands and went our sep­a­rate ways. Talon went on to be­come a very suc­cess­ful busi­ness mak­ing a large range of sprock­ets and other mo­tor­cy­cle good­ies and to be­come one of Yeovil’s lead­ing en­gi­neer­ing em­ploy­ers. I went to work as a Type Test Engi­neer at West­land Heli­copters and then moved to be­ing Manag­ing Di­rec­tor at Bri­tish Seag­ull in Poole, the out­board en­gine peo­ple. By a quirk of fate, the Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor at Bri­tish Seag­ull was Doug He­len, my old friend from BSA/Tri­umph days. There was a spell then as Chief Engi­neer at Vil­liers In­dus­trial En­gines, and then some con­sul­tancy work. I still do a bit of con­sul­tancy work to this day, help­ing small firms manag­ing their op­er­a­tions in line with var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

A Bit­ter Sweet Vic­tory

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 1975 we were ap­proached by David Hale from West­field School, Yeovil for an en­gine to power a Hover­craft. I am quite sure when I started the Mick­mar pro­ject that I have had many ideas as to where a Mick­mar might ap­pear, but a Hover­craft was not one of them! Any­way David Hale got his team of en­thu­si­as­tic pupils to build a ma­chine. David Hale re­ally wanted me to go to one par­tic­u­lar event, but I didn’t want to know. By then the nov­elty had worn off. I should have gone though be­cause West­field School won the All Eng­land Schools Hover­craft Cham­pi­onship held that year at Lon­gleat Sa­fari Park in Wilt­shire. We did also sup­ply one other cus­tomer with a Hover­craft Power Unit, but then hav­ing sup­plied it we heard noth­ing, un­til five years af­ter the pro­ject had ended they phoned up want­ing to or­der en­gines!

At­tempts to Res­tart

There were some abortive ef­forts to keep the en­gine go­ing. Ash­ley Tubes, who used to sup­ply Tri­umph with frame parts, wanted me to move back to the Mid­lands but I was not en­thu­si­as­tic. Len ValeOnslow and Eve­sham Mo­tor­cy­cles made var­i­ous ef­forts, but none was suc­cess­ful. At some point along this route, the draw­ings got lost – so that re­ally was that!

The MAC idea from Dun­can MacDon­ald pro­vided the mould for a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion of tri­als mo­tor­cy­cles us­ing the alu­minium mono­coque idea. 1974: Dun­can MacDon­ald on the Mick­mar en­gined MAC – MacDon­ald Auto Cy­cles – at the back of Birm­ing­ham Univer­sity....

A very in­ter­est­ing ma­chine ap­peared with Dun­can MacDon­ald. Just a look at the pic­ture of his MAC ma­chine shows he was years ahead of his time.

This is the pic­ture of the Montesa Im­pala and its in­ge­nious use of grooves and pins in­stead of the con­ven­tional splines more com­monly found in the gear­box. The com­plete Sara­cen In­vader with the Mick­mar en­gine housed in the frame. The new Mick­mar en­gine.

Bob Cur­rie used this su­perb open-en­gine draw­ing in an ar­ti­cle on the Mick­mar pro­ject for Mo­tor Cy­cle. Is this the ul­ti­mate BSA Bantam tri­als model? When Michael had been in charge of the en­gi­neer­ing of the BSA Bantam he con­ceived the ma­chine that could...

Based in Derby, Silk Mo­tor­cy­cles pro­duced this tidy look­ing tri­als pro­to­type with the Mick­mar en­gine. Many years later Rob Sartin, the son of Ge­orge and now boss-man of the highly suc­cess­ful Talon En­gi­neer­ing busi­ness asked Jock Wil­son to sort out the...

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