Seen at the ’66 show

Words: Richard Rosenthal Photographs: Mortons Archive

With the British motorcycle industry struggling, the Labour Government appeared hell-bent on finishing it off. Due to an ailing economy, purchase tax rates were sky high, then Westminster hiked minimum HP deposits from 10% to 40% as motorcycles, including commuter mopeds, lightweights and scooters were reckoned ‘luxury items’. Still, the show must go on…

One of the undoubted stars of the show was American Bob Leppan, with his twin-Triumph- powered Gyronaut X-1, the fastest motorcycle in the world.
One of the undoubted stars of the show was American Bob Leppan, with his twin-Triumph- powered Gyronaut X-1, the fastest motorcycle in the world.

What has the fearless American comic strip hero Dick Tracy, created by Chester Gould, got to do with the 1966 London Motorcycle Show?

The annual show, held 50 years ago against a background of cut backs, employment insecurity and seemingly excessive taxation, featured the stunning, cigar-shaped Gyronaut X-1, its nose cone and tailpiece removed, the latter revealing linked dual Triumph 650cc twin-cylinder engines, tuned to deliver 70bhp@8200rpm apiece, coupled to a Triumph gearbox.

In interview, rider Bob Leppan oft claimed ‘I’m no Dick Tracy’, implying he wasn’t as fearless as America’s favourite comic strip legend. Despite his claims of eliminating risks, assessing conditions and endless safety checks, hurtling across the rock-hard Bonneville salt flats at 250mph laying feet forward in a two wheel projectile with over-stressed parallel twin motors screaming by your ears is less than sound. In fact, Dick Tracy is perhaps the retiring one!

Read more in October’s edition of TCM

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