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.
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.
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.