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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 29 October 2007
OK, so this isn’t a bike review, but anyone with a passion for the past will appreciate us slipping this feature into the Classic section. Agostini, Surtees, John Cooper, Stan Woods, John Blanchard - all these great riders, plus many more, were on-track aboard some of the most evocative racing motorcycles ever made.
Museums are fine if all you want to do is look, but the sight and sound, of classic bikes like the MV Agusta triple, Gilera, Benelli and Honda fours, blasting around Mallory Park is a million miles more involving, more satisfying - no matter how old you are. Alastair Walker watched history in motion - action pics by Stevie Pearson and Alastair.
Clip 1; Near Miss - This little Norton single went grass-tracking
Clip 2; Bump starting a smoky little MV Agusta single
Clip 3; Norton’s F type; dared to be different
GP racing is enjoying a revival in interest in 2002, as four stroke machines - plus the obvious genius of Valentino Rossi - make the blue riband championship more exciting than it has been for about 15 years. Pity the new Honda V5s don’t sound as good as their old four, five and six cylinder bikes from the 60s.
But if you crave that audio-visual experience, you can get it from watching some of the best classic racing meetings in the UK. The Goodwood sprint is excellent, Scarborough’s Gold Cup weekend is another rare treat, but the Post TT at Mallory is a chance to see some high speed action, at a compact spectator circuit - stand on the hills either side and you can see virtually the whole track, which forms a natural amphitheatre.
Ago steers the MV Agusta 500cc triple through the rain-soaked Mallory hairpin
Once, this was a ’modern’ bike race, when top riders from the UK and overseas, fresh from the rigours of the TT, would battle it out for big cash prizes. Now, many of those same riders attend this classic event, happy to meet up with old friends - and rivals - plus ride some great racing bikes too.
Star of the show was Giacomo Agostini, who was re-united with an MV Agusta 500cc triple, now run by Team Obsolete in the USA at various events. Everywhere Ago went in the paddock a crowd followed - this guy still has fans worldwide. The same went for John Surtees, who was mobbed by autograph hunters at the Norton tent in the paddock.
John Surtees meets the crowds at Mallory
Of the two riders, Surtees was undoubtedly faster on the track - in fact, few could match the pace of the ex-GP (cars and bikes) World Champ in the Leicestershire rain. Ago waved to the crowd and `toured ’ around, but Surtees entered races - big difference.
For a relative youngster like myself (I got into biking in the 70s) it was interesting to get into the paddock and look at some of the rare race machines. The Norton F type single for example, was something I had never laid eyes on before and this early 1950s bike could have been easily mistaken for an Italian marque, like Ducati or Aermaccchi, if you just changed the gas tank. I wonder if the McCandless brothers hadn’t created such a great frame, what other directions Norton-AMC might have taken with their chassis..?
Norton’s 1954 F type racer
All kinds of good stuff could be found in the paddock, from a Vincent painted monkey bike, to a slab-side Munch four from Germany. The racket from the Honda 250cc four, which Beaulieu museum had brought along was ear-splitting, but so good to listen to. People were smiling broadly at the sheer, unadulterated, raucous music that these old bikes make - the MV Agusta dominance of the Corse Italia parade laps was a definite crowd pleaser. Those Italian fours had an edge, a rough, raw noise, that symbolised GP racing in the 60s.
I suppose for Italian bikers at the time, the MV Agusta factory wrote the soundtrack to the 1960s, not the Beatles and the Stones. Once you hear these bikes revved hard in anger, you can understand why apparently sane men spend the price of a terrace house on first buying, then maintaining them.
The brutally fast Munch machine
In truth, being a bit of youngster compared to a great many of the blokes at the Post TT, I found the two stroke TZ Yams and RG Suzuki fours more exciting to watch.
These bikes were my dream machines years ago and the violent power delivery, plus marginal handling, make them a serious challenge, even today - well, would you fancy knocking a TZ up a gear, coming out Gerrards on skinny tyres, at around 110mph?
Chris takes it steady in the rain
All credit to Lea Gourlay then, who walked away with the opening 350cc race, despite a strong challenge from insidebikes.com’s very own freelance racer, Chris Pearson, who fought his way up from 5th at the start to 3rd spot, just five laps later, before binning it at the hairpin.
"I just caught a back-marker at the hairpin and we touched - down straightaway in the wet," said Chris later, "but I was OK, and so is the bike, so that’s OK. We’ll see how the big TZ goes in race five later."
Superbikes of the 70s can be temperamental things
Sadly, the rain got even worse later on and race five - the Superbike event - was red-flagged as stair-rods came pelting down, then Chris’s bike decided it didn’t want to play anymore after an early bath. That’s classic bikes for you.
The Open Classic event had a real battle going on, with a pair of Summerfield Nortons duelling for most of the 15 lap race. I think Gourlay was on one of them, with Colin Breeze on the other, but I couldn’t be sure. The speed those guys were taking the hairpin on a track soaked with rain, and patches of oil, was incredible - real skill.
So, after a long day, soaking up the classic atmosphere, I headed home, having seen some great racing, although I reckon the races themselves could do with being cut to ten laps, rather than fifteen. For me, just walking around the paddock during the morning, seeing some priceless racebikes ’in the metal’ was the highlight. It’s always good to see how motorcycling developed, and which blind alleys seemed like good ideas at the time.
If you’ve ever been to Stafford, or other classic shows and just looked at old bikes, then try this, much more interactive, type of event. Like many an old bike racer, it’s better than you think...
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