SAM BROWNLEE

Classic Trial - - FRONT PAGE - Words: John Hulme with Mick An­drews and Sam Brownlee Pic­tures: John Shirt Snr, The Brownlee Fam­ily, Yoomee Archive and Barry Robin­son

Tri­als and mo­tor­cy­cles have been my life if I am hon­est, and some of my fond­est early mem­o­ries al­ways go back to Mick An­drews and his fa­ther, Tom. My fa­ther, Ron, had come into con­tact with Tom at lo­cal tri­als around the Bux­ton area and had wit­nessed a very young Mick turn­ing up on the back of his fa­ther’s ma­chine. Keen for his young son to have a ride on a tri­als model; Mick would soon be rid­ing my fa­ther’s ma­chine him­self on some well-known haz­ards such as Cheeks Hill. As his ca­reer pro­gressed, we all re­mained good friends. When­ever Mick was at a trial or prac­tis­ing Tom would prompt Mick to let me ride his works ma­chines, which was some­thing which was most cer­tainly a priv­i­lege and en­vied by many on­look­ers. In the seven­ties, I would see more and more of an en­thu­si­as­tic young per­son with Mick and his wife Gill who, de­spite his young age, was al­ways in­ter­ested and will­ing to help Mick. Tom pointed out it was a young boy from the vil­lage in El­ton called Sam Brownlee, who had taken an in­ter­est in tri­als. In a con­ver­sa­tion, I asked Mick who he was, and his an­swer was ‘The Ap­pren­tice’. Over the next years, my re­la­tion­ship with him would grow and con­tinue un­til the present day. Oh, and just for the record, he never got fired as so many do in the Alan Sugar TV pro­gramme! He went on to be­come a mind of in­for­ma­tion on the Yamaha tri­als ma­chines and re­mains part of the ‘Fam­ily’ at the An­drews house­hold.

Stephen Brownlee (Sam)

The world was a much bet­ter place when Sam was born, on De­cem­ber 3rd 1962 in the quiet vil­lage of El­ton, Der­byshire. In his ear­lier years, he would at­tend El­ton Church of Eng­land School. Many read­ers will be think­ing El­ton, that’s where Mick An­drews is from; yes, you are cor­rect. It is where the story of the ap­pren­tice be­gins as we join the ad­ven­ture of one young man in the world of mo­tor­cy­cle tri­als. Just for the record, his name is Stephen Brownlee, ‘Sam’ came along a lit­tle later as you will find out.

The first work­shop

Life for Sam in his younger days was very much made up of school­days, ed­u­ca­tion and fam­ily life with the en­ter­tain­ment found, as in many small vil­lages, just knock­ing about with your friends. All this would change one day as, when walk­ing back home from school in 1969, he heard a noise which was a mo­tor­cy­cle with the en­gine run­ning and he peered in­quis­i­tively into a work­shop on the main street of El­ton and saw Mick An­drews work­ing on his Ossa. After a few weeks of pass­ing by, he gen­tly knocked on the door as he went into the work­shop and was en­thralled to see Mick work­ing on his tri­als ma­chines. After sev­eral weeks of call­ing in after school and be­com­ing more in­ter­ested, the friend­ship grew be­tween them. Mick en­joyed the en­thu­si­asm of young Sam, and in turn, he was en­gaged in Mick’s devel­op­ment work on the early Ossa on his now reg­u­lar trips into the work­shop.

A few small tasks were given to Sam, and his re­la­tion­ship with the me­chan­i­cal side of mo­tor­cy­cles had be­gun. At this point Mick gave him the nick­name ‘Sam’; maybe Mick thought we had an­other Sammy Miller in the mak­ing, who knows, but the name has stuck with him ever since.

Over the next few years, the re­la­tion­ship ma­tured to such an ex­tent that Sam was help­ing Mick with the prepa­ra­tion of his fac­tory sup­plied Ossa ma­chines for high-pro­file events in­clud­ing the Euro­pean rounds and, of course, the Scot­tish Six Days Trial. Mick would be vic­to­ri­ous in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in 1971 and 1972, and the Scot­tish Six Days Trial which he won for the Span­ish man­u­fac­turer from 1970–1972.

The Ossa years were very much learn­ing ones for Sam as he watched and listed to Mick tak­ing notes on the changes that were made as they turned into the suc­cess­ful Mick An­drews Repli­cas.

Turn­ing Ja­panese

With the well-doc­u­mented move when Mick left Ossa and joined Yamaha in 1973 Sam em­braced the new chal­lenge, as he knew that a Ja­panese move was a very pos­i­tive one. Mick had his own vi­sion of a tri­als mo­tor­cy­cle of the fu­ture, and with Yamaha, he would start to de­velop the TY range. As part of the con­tract with Yamaha Mick was pre­sented with two of the new Yamaha TY80 mod­els, which would be­come leg­endary, to in­tro­duce young rid­ers into the sport of tri­als.

Soon Mick had the chil­dren of El­ton rid­ing the new TY 80s. For Sam, it was an op­por­tu­nity to em­u­late Mick and of course, share the TY model re­la­tion­ship. Many happy hours were spent with the chil­dren of El­ton putting the TY 80 through its paces un­der the mas­ter­ful guid­ance of Mick. With the on­go­ing work and the ar­rival of the Ja­panese Yamaha me­chan­ics Sam’s ed­u­ca­tion was very for­ward, shall we say!

When Mick won the 1974 Scot­tish Six Days Trial on the sin­gle-shock can­tilever Yamaha, the first for a Ja­panese ma­chine, he can re­mem­ber just how happy they were. It was now time to en­ter his first trial on the now well-used Yamaha TY 80. Un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Tom and Joan An­drews, Mick’s mother and fa­ther, he took part in his first event at ‘The Butts’ in Ashover. Sam was in his el­e­ment, and the tri­als bug had bit­ten him.

Dear Fa­ther Christ­mas

When he was 14 years old, Mick asked him what he was hav­ing for Christ­mas, to which he replied, “I would like a new Yamaha TY175, but I am not sure this will hap­pen”. To this Mick replied, “In my work­shop, there are ap­prox­i­mately five Yamaha TY mo­tor­cy­cles in en­gines and parts, all dis­man­tled, and if you can con­struct one un­der my su­per­vi­sion that will be your Christ­mas present”. Sam will tell you that this was one of the best Christ­mas presents he ever had, and the fam­ily’s fes­tive cel­e­bra­tions in 1975 cen­tred on the ‘New’ ma­chine.

Now an of­fi­cial Mick An­drews Tri­als Team rider he had many out­ings on the new ma­chine as the fam­ily Sun­days were now en­gulfed in tri­als. Mick would take Sam on his many out­ings to de­velop the Yamaha and to visit his many val­ued spon­sors, which in­cluded Ren­thal Han­dle­bars at Bolling­ton, near Mac­cles­field in Cheshire. On the jour­ney home, he called in with Sam to drop some han­dle­bars at John Shirt’s work­shop at Sta­ble Lane, Bux­ton. John was a life­long friend of Mick from their scram­bling days. John Shirt Snr used to pol­ish the Ren­thal han­dle­bars, and he asked Mick what Sam would be do­ing when he left school. After some short dis­cus­sion, Sam was in­formed that when he left school in late May 1978, he had a job if he wanted one. He knew that ‘Shirty’ and Mick had talked about start­ing work on a new tri­als ma­chine, which would in­volve con­vert­ing many new un­sold Yamaha TY ma­chines in­cor­po­rat­ing their many new ideas. With this in mind, the new Majesty Yamaha project would come to life with Mick pass­ing on his knowl­edge from his Yamaha devel­op­ment years to John, who would turn the dream into a re­al­ity.

Road run­ner

Sam would now be­come a reg­u­lar ‘Road Run­ner’ as he started on many 32-mile round trips from his home and fam­ily in El­ton to John’s work­shop at Sta­ble Lane in Bux­ton on his pur­ple Yamaha FSIE. The win­ter months were the hard­est, with the ex­posed A515 Ash­bourne-to-Bux­ton road of­fer­ing all the ex­treme el­e­ments we are sure you can imag­ine.

With the spring months came some wel­come good news. With John and Mick’s in­flu­ence, he started com­pet­ing in the Bri­tish School­boy Cham­pi­onship Tri­als on the very early 200cc Majesty. This smaller ca­pac­ity came about as John Shirt lay in bed one night and ex­plained to his wife, Mar­garet, that he had an idea about a new Majesty model. The prob­lem was it was one o’clock in the morn­ing, but he was in the car and over to the work­shop! As night turned into day the new Majesty 200 pro­to­type was de­liv­ered, at nine o’clock. This ma­chine was once again a pro­duc­tion Yamaha TY 175 con­verted into a Majesty. Sam ar­rived at work to see a very ex­cited ‘Shirty’ ex­plain about the new ma­chine! The con­ver­sion was achieved us­ing a new He­po­lite pis­ton, and the good news got even bet­ter when he told him he would be rid­ing it in the School­boy Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship.

One of the most mem­o­rable rides on the new 200 Majesty was at the cham­pi­onship round in York­shire at Pate­ley Bridge. Dur­ing the event, the ma­chine started to lose power, but sec­ond po­si­tion was held on to, and valu­able points scored. With the ma­chine, in the work­shop, the cylin­der head and bar­rel were re­moved to find a bro­ken pis­ton ring.

The 200 Majesty proved a mas­sive hit with the buy­ing pub­lic, and many of the tri­als stars of the late seven­ties honed their skills in tri­als on the ma­chine. Over the next few months, a Yamaha TY 250 model car­bu­ret­tor and reed-valve as­sem­bly were added to in­crease the per­for­mance.

A new frame

The con­ver­sion process of the Yamaha TY 250 into the 320 Majesty was now col­lect­ing many new cus­tomers who wanted an al­ter­na­tive to the once dom­i­nant Span­ish ma­chin­ery. In early 1979, John would see a huge break­through for the project as he was al­lowed to dis­play the new Majesty on the of­fi­cial Yamaha im­porter’s stand, Mit­sui, at the an­nual Rac­ing and Sport­ing show in Lon­don. With both him­self and Mick An­drews on the stand, the in­ter­est in the ma­chine was in­cred­i­ble. It prompted sales from Europe for the ma­chine, and to­gether with in­ter­est in the 200cc con­ver­sion, the work­shop at Sta­ble Lane was a very busy place to be.

The man-hours in­volved in con­vert­ing the orig­i­nal TY frame into a Majesty were very labour in­ten­sive, and so John started to look at hav­ing pro­duc­tion Majesty frames man­u­fac­tured. As he grew Sam moved to the Majesty 320, which was mod­i­fied weekly as a test-bed for any new ideas and the devel­op­ment of a new frame was on the mind of them both. John turned to his old Speed­way friend Don God­den. He had the knowl­edge and fa­cil­i­ties to fab­ri­cate a sam­ple frame with the ideas of what John had in mind. It ar­rived in mid-Septem­ber 1979, and he im­me­di­ately built his 320cc Majesty com­po­nents into the new frame. He was de­lighted with the re­sults, and on the scales, it weighed in at 200lbs with fuel and oil. Yamaha was very im­pressed with the fin­ished prod­uct and sug­gested they could be pro­duced weekly in batches of 25 with the sav­ing in labour of con­vert­ing the orig­i­nal TY frame now gone. It was all hands on deck as the ma­chines with the new frame started to lit­er­ally fly out of the door.

The ic­ing on the cake was when Mick An­drews won the world round in 1980 on the Majesty 320. In May, Sam would ride for the first time in the Scot­tish Six Days Trial, fin­ish­ing in 57th po­si­tion on the 320 model.

The game changer

The An­glo-Ja­panese ma­chines were now very much in de­mand, and a team of ‘Works’ rid­ers was taken on board in 1981, in­clud­ing Rob and Nor­man Shep­herd, Ady Mor­ri­son, my good self and Sam.

John, with Sam’s as­sis­tance, had started work on a new 350 model us­ing a Yamaha En­duro model IT 425 pis­ton. As I and any­one who tested this devel­op­ment ma­chine will tell you, it was in­cred­i­ble! Al­ways want­ing to make a good ma­chine bet­ter the hunt was then on for a Yamaha RD 250 road model which had twin car­bu­ret­tors — all John wanted was the left-hand one as it had the choke lever fit­ted!

In 1982, be­hind the scenes in a very cloak and dag­ger op­er­a­tion, John had been talk­ing di­rectly with Yamaha in Ja­pan about a new world-chang­ing model. He moved his ideas back to the orig­i­nal 250 en­gine and pro­duced a re­ported liner fit­ted with a stan­dard pis­ton, and the Majesty 250S was born. He now needed a good strong rider with ex­cel­lent

devel­op­ment knowl­edge and, in early 1983, he turned to Nigel Bir­kett, who was sworn to se­crecy over the new Ja­panese project.

Pro­duc­tion of the 250S model kept Sam more than busy and Bir­kett came home with some good re­sults. What the pub­lic did not know was that dur­ing this time devel­op­ment work was be­ing done in con­junc­tion with Yamaha Ja­pan on the early monoshock model, as John fed them all his devel­op­ment ideas and work he had car­ried out on the Majesty. The new ma­chine was the sin­gle-shock, monoshock Yamaha. Nigel tested four ma­chines in Ja­pan but was once again sworn to se­crecy on his re­turn.

After Nigel and John had at­tended Yamaha Ja­pan, the first two ma­chines ar­rived at the work­shop in Sta­ble Lane for eval­u­a­tion. After weeks of mod­i­fi­ca­tions, John asked Sam where he was rid­ing on the 24th July 1983. On this date, Sam en­tered a trial at Nightin­gale Lodge, Bracken Lane, Hol­loway, Der­byshire, and was the first com­peti­tor to win an event on the Mono-Shock Yamaha.

Time to move on

The new monoshock Yamaha changed the face of tri­als for­ever and be­came a world­wide suc­cess story. As much as he en­joyed work­ing along­side John, Sam was now look­ing at the fu­ture and want­ing to earn more money to set­tle down with his fu­ture wife, Lisa.

In May 1984, he fin­ished be­ing em­ployed with John and mar­ried Lisa in March 1985. He moved into heavy plant main­te­nance to a com­pany where he still works to the present day, hav­ing moved up the man­age­rial lad­der.

Fam­ily life turned out very well, and they had a daugh­ter and two sons. He is still in­volved in the tri­als scene and owns a stan­dard TY250 B, first reg­is­tered in De­cem­ber 1974 and has only done 1000 miles from new, to re­mind him of his early work­ing life.

Sam is still a life­long friend of Mick and Jill, and they call each other fam­ily, and to this day he still as­sists Mick work­ing on mo­tor­cy­cles.

Well wrapped up in his Rush crash hel­met, Fury­gan one-piece suit and Mick An­drews’ ‘Hap­py­time’ gloves; Sam in ac­tion on the 320 Majesty at the 1979 North­ern Ex­perts.

Team Yamaha set sail for the 1980 SSDT from Sta­ble Lane in Bux­ton Der­byshire.

The first out­ing on the Yamaha TY 80 at ‘The Butts’ Ashover.

Look­ing very pro­fes­sional in his Yamaha jacket, Sam joined John Shirt Snr and Mick An­drews to dis­play the new Majesty on the of­fi­cial Yamaha im­porter’s stand, Mit­sui, at the an­nual Rac­ing and Sport­ing show in Lon­don.

When your wife’s car fails the MOT what do you do with it? Mar­garet Shirt’s lit­tle white Mini be­came ‘The’ car to ride over at Sta­ble Lane in Bur­bidge, the home of the Majesty Yamaha project and John’s work­shop.

Pos­ing for the fam­ily pic­ture at his home in El­ton with his 320 Majesty in 1980.

Feet-up at the 1980 Scot­tish Six Days Trial.

Still us­ing the con­verted TY frame on his 320 Majesty at the 1980 Bem­rose Trial.

Team Majesty at the 1980 Clay­ton Trial in Wales, left to right: Sam Brownlee, Nor­man Eyre, John Shirt Snr and John Hulme.

John’s first wife Mar­garet was very much a part of the Majesty Yamaha suc­cess story. She would col­lect forms filled in by the ‘Works’ rid­ers on how the ma­chines had run at the end of each day in Scot­land. She is seen here with John Shirt Jnr and Sam. Mar­garet passed away in 2004 after a ten-year fight against ill­ness.

Rid­ers and Majesties at the 1980 Scot­tish Six Days Trial. Sam is the fourth from the left.

Test­ing the 200 Yamaha to the limit in June 1980.

The su­perb pro­duc­tion 200 Majesty with the con­verted frame stands proud in late 1980.

A batch of plas­tic coated frames ready for as­sem­bly with the var­i­ous parts.

The very first God­den framed Majesty starts to come to life. We think this is around late 1980.

A stan­dard frame con­verted to Majesty spec­i­fi­ca­tion is mar­ried up to the en­gine.

As you can see here, this is very much a devel­op­ment Majesty sport­ing the chrome frame with the yel­low swing­ing arm. The slim­line re­place­ment oil pump cover can also be seen.

This rare pic­ture has Sam putting one of John Shirt’s econ­omy Majesty 175 ma­chines through its paces in 1981. Shirty was very aware of keep­ing the sport at a price for every­one, and this model used many of the stan­dard parts but also al­lowed the pur­chaser to have it up­graded to suit their pock­ets with the Majesty parts.

Sam un­der the watch­ful gaze of John Shirt Snr, on the left, works on the en­gine of one of the early God­den framed ma­chines.

Mak­ing sure all the Yamaha TY parts to be re­tained for the con­ver­sion into the new frame fit­ted was very im­por­tant, and they did! You can quite clearly see the sump guard, fly­wheel cover and alu­minium fuel tank.

Brand new Majesties ready for dis­patch in 1981. Here we can see on the left the red-and-white fuel tank with the chrome frame and the all-yel­low ones on the right. Did John Shirt Snr know about the mono-shock project in 1981?

By 1982 the Majesty sported the re­moval of the rear frame loop, as seen here in this ma­chine which was for ex­port, hence the full light­ing kit. The move was also made to the new colour scheme of red and white with the chrome frame.

Work­ing along­side John Shirt Snr and lis­ten­ing had given Sam so many en­gi­neer­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. In 1985 he made his own con­ver­sion of the Majesty into a mono-shock, a true tes­ta­ment of the many skills he had learnt un­der John’s guid­ance. John Shirt Snr and Sam are still very good friends.

Work­ing at Sta­ble Lane meant you had to turn your hand to all sorts of tasks as and when re­quired.

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