1979 Dirt Bike Show
Just over 40 years ago, history was once again in the process of being recorded as the Bristol Dirt Bike Show opened its door for the first time in 1978. It was classed as the first-ever entirely off-road motorcycle show. In 1977, the new ‘kid’ on the block in the print world was Trials and Motocross News. It delivered what the off-road world wanted, its dedicated weekly paper. The standout show in the motorcycle world at the time was the Motorcycle Mechanics Show held at the Royal Horticultural Showground in London. TMX, as it was known, wanted to sell their new publication and display it at the show, but this did not work out with the show organisers. Led by the well-known photographer, Martin Christie, a new consortium including Alf Hagon (Hagon), Bill Lawless (TMX Editor), Brian Leask (Husqvarna Importer), Bryan Goss (Maico Importer), Alan Clews (CCM), Cliff and Roger Holden (Ossa/SWM Importers), Alec Wright (Kawasaki Importer), Jim Sandiford (Montesa Importer) and Comerfords (the Bultaco/ KTM importers), gathered together and the show soon became a reality. After that early success, it went from strength to strength. This article started when my good friend Alan Vines told me he had some colour pictures from the 1979 show, which we feature here. We must apologise if the quality of some of the images is not to the usual standard, but these were ‘found’ by chance from all those years ago.
Dirt Bike 80
Titled ‘Dirt Bike 80’, the 1979 show ran from November 13th to the 18th and was opened by the Wheelie King from America Doug Domokos, who kept the queues entertained as they waited outside.
When the doors closed on Monday evening, more than 22,000 people had passed through the entrance to what can only be described as an offroad paradise. The biggest surprise came on the Sunday morning as around 2,000 people queued to gain access Yes, on a Sunday when everyone usually goes out in the ‘dirt’ to enjoy their passion for riding off-road motorcycles!
One of the major attractions was the opportunity, for the first time, to see in the flesh the new models. Many importers themselves saw the new 1980 model ranges for the first time, never mind the buying public. New rider signings were carried out in front of the many spectators, and the opportunity to get an autograph from the top riders was welcome, yes everyone loved the
MARTIN CHRISTIE: “In 1978, it was the first time that the off-road world could stand up and be counted, with a show run by off-road motorcycle enthusiasts. With support from Trials and Motocross News, we started not knowing much, but it soon became a ‘runner’, with overwhelming support from a dedicated bunch of enthusiasts. It’s as simple as that. The response from the off-road industry was incredible, and soon all the halls were full to the brim of
exhibitors. You may even ask why? It’s because there had never been this type of show before.
“We had an inkling it would work as the well-known motorcycle shop, Comerfords had earlier held a small-scale one in its showrooms which had gone down a treat. We chose Bristol and the exhibition centre for its central location and excellent motorway access. It’s quite simple; if you want people to attend, make it simple for them, and we did.”
JOHN HULME: “When the show started, I remember quite clearly the hugely enthusiastic response it received from the off-road world. When TMX was announced as a new publication, it certainly gave the off-road world a ‘buzz’ of excitement. In our household it was definitely moving from Wednesday, being the day for the Motorcycle News delivery, to Friday when TMX appeared in the local newsagents. I had an Ossa at the time, and in Macclesfield, you could get TMX on a Thursday afternoon, and the trials machine was used on many occasions for the journey to get the ‘jump’ on the other readers.
“When I moved to Morecambe in the early ’80s to work on the Heysham Power Station, you could come off nights on a Thursday morning and literally get the paper hot off the press from its Victoria Road headquarters. I raise my hat to the fact that TMX became such a driving force in the off-road world, and especially my favourite sport motorcycle trials.
Part of my pleasure with the magazine is giving the sport the exposure it deserves. Before anybody asks, there will not be a Trial Magazine Dirt Bike Show; my boots are nowhere near big enough to follow TMX, but I do appreciate the support everyone gives us.”
John Shirt’s new Majesty 250cc was the new machine that raised a few eyebrows at the show.
Wanting to expand his model range, John Shirt Snr showed off his new 200cc Majesty. The three-model range included 200cc, 250cc and 320cc Majesty models on the Mitsui stand, who were the official Yamaha importers into the UK. The dummy is wearing one of the French Furygan one-piece riding suits which were so popular at the time, the MAX branded crash helmet is the one worn by Mick Andrews.
John Hulme: “I had to take a second look at this picture when I first saw it! This was my very first Majesty Yamaha and ‘Shirty’ used it as the show bike at Bristol. I had to wait until after the show to get my hands on this 320cc Majesty. My late father Ron always said it was the best-looking trials motorcycle he had ever seen.”
The Miller trials motorcycle. Yes, the great Sammy Miller produced his very own trials motorcycle in 1979. This rare colour picture captures the machine in all its glory. Using the Italian Hiro engine in the tried and trusted Sammy Miller ‘Highboy’ frame, the project was unfortunately aborted as it could not be made financially viable. The engine would eventually find success in the Armstrong and Garelli production trials motorcycles, and Steve Saunders would take his first British Championship title on the Armstrong CTM 310 model using this very engine in 1983.
With the Spanish motorcycle industry in financial meltdown this would be the last, as we knew it, green Ossa trials machine produced. On the right in his ‘Sunday Best’ suit is Roger Holden. He and his father Cliff were the official UK importers of Ossa machines.
This is the very first UK picture of the new generation of red-and-white Montesa models, the Cota 200cc. In 1980 Nigel Birkett would take it to British Trials Championship victories as the new generation of ‘Micro’ trials machines would once again become a major force on the UK trials scene.
After an unsuccessful season in 1978 on the Beamish Suzuki Malcolm Rathmell, seen here on the right, had returned to his first love Montesa in 1979 to win the British Trials Championship. In a very successful year he would also give Montesa their very first Scottish Six Days Trial victory and also the win in the Scott Trial. Here he celebrates the success with his Montesa sales manager Mike Wood on the left and his wife Rhoda in the middle.
That man Sammy Miller was very much a man in the limelight at the show. He had presented his ‘New’ Miller trials machine to the press on the opening day. Here he happily signs copies of his superb trials book titled: “The Will to Win”. I am still not sure about that green belt that Sam had around his waist and the clothing colour combination though!
The new Cagiva 350 model looked very nice with its red aesthetics, and some obvious thought had gone into the development of the rear suspension as it had a box-section swinging arm and dual rate suspension. Obviously very prototype looking, it was well presented for their first attempt at the trials market.
Another show ‘Surprise’ was sprung by the UK importers of the Italian manufacturer Cagiva with its new trials model. This was another machine that had come straight from the Milan show, with very little information available.
In September 1978 Alan Clews had made a production run of 105 CCM 350Tr four-stroke trials machines and by Christmas they had all sold out, despite the hefty price of £1,280.00. This machine carrying the Sandiford Motorcycles name was on the CCM stand and had been used by Eddie Smith with support from Jim Sandiford.
The new yellow Ossa ‘Gripper’ model on its first UK viewing. It was radical to say the least, with a 324cc engine and six-speed gearbox and a long travel rear suspension setup which gave a reputed seven inches of travel. Production machines were promised for the Scottish Six Days Trial in May 1980. This machine typified what was special about the Bristol show; brand new machines in the flesh and presented for the 1980 season in December 1979.
American Bernie Schreiber was the 1979 FIM World Trials Champion and the Bultaco had won 11 of the 12 rounds with the top three positions filled by the Sherpa models. This is Schreiber’s world championship winning machine, it would be the last as the Bultaco brand fell into financial decline in the early 80s.