Bracebridge Street bonanza


There was a definite Birmingham accent in the motorcycling halls at this year’s Race Retro event at Stoneleigh.

Words and photography: ALAN TURNER

This year, Norton was the main theme for the motorcycling element of this huge three-day show, occupying four halls of the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.

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The stand from the National Motorcycle Museum had a small selection of examples of the marque, contrasting nicely with the new models from the current Donington-based factory.

The gleaming machinery was complemented by the bikes owned by members of the Norton Owners’ Club. These were racers, mostly cammy models, but there were a couple of later Commandos. Most of the bikes came with interesting provenance.

This year, the organisers changed the interview and autograph sessions to another hall. In past shows, these were regular diversions in an area adjacent to the motorcycle section.

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Mick Grant was in the Classic Trial Challenge this year, but in 1972, he raced this John Player F750 Norton, now in the National Motorcycle Museum collection.

This made a dramatic difference to the footfall and, as a result of the decision, many show visitors missed the Classic Trial Challenge. This took place three times each day.

Unfortunately, it was not a reprise of a previous trial in 2006, when Race Retro was known as the ‘Historic Motorsport Show’.

Riders were presented with an imaginative course, that even included a rocky waterfall, and proved to be a very popular spectacle. This year’s Race Retro took place on the far side of the autojumble.

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The idea was to showcase Pre-65 trials and demonstrate a less well-known sporting discipline to those who might not even know of its existence.

That instantly-recognisable Norton look on the owners’ club stand.

The obstacles were artificial, made up of old railway sleepers and concrete blocks with some hefty boulders to vary the symmetry.

Set out on the cold concrete on the periphery of the event, the course was certainly uncompromising – as even the best discovered.

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Mick Grant rode a lightweight 186cc Bantam special, and Keith ‘Kirk’ Hobson and Nathan Jones were both Tiger Cub mounted.

There was respect for the evergreen Arthur Browning (billed in the programme as the Cadbury’s Milk Tray stuntman!).

Arthur’s no-nonsense style enabled him to force his unusual 500cc Jawa four-stroke single round, although not always feet-up, or without stopping, but he was not alone – everyone got caught out at some point.

Many stands offered memorabilia, and among them was this poster. The film (literally ‘Engaged to Death’) dates from 1957. The price ticket read ‘£455!’

Straight line sport was represented by a combined effort from the National Sprint Association and Shakespeare County Raceway.

Pride of place on the stand was Henry Body’s 1929 Douglas twin that took Henry to 274 class wins over the years, his best time being 12.16 seconds, his quickest terminal speed 115mph.

With the recently introduced stricter licensing requirements for older riders, octogenarian Henry has reluctantly decided to pull down the curtain on his competition career.

Jerry Cookson was beating the drum for the Shakespeare drag strip, which has long been a favourite for sportsman racers.

Under threat from developers, in spite of rumours to the contrary Jerry could confirm the raceway remains open and there is a full programme of events for 2016.

A regular at Race Retro, ‘A Bed of Ice’ combines a Featherbed chassis with the engine from a Jawa ice speedway bike.

A new date for the calendar is a special Vincent event on April 17. This has already attracted a lot of interest and hopefully there will be plenty of V-twin thunder at the venue, near Stratford upon Avon, on the day.

The Historic Fifty Motorcycle Racing Club members reminded visitors high performance 50cc (egg-cup) capacity machines were established long before Yamaha’s ‘Fizzy’.

Pride of the club’s display was its earliest registered Itom, a 1958 model with a reminder of times when a twist-grip gearchange was often found on bikes in the smallest racing class.

The local VMCC section is a regular attendee, but showed fewer bikes this year.

However, the gaps in the display allowed visitors to get up close and personal with the machines, especially a superbly restored Triumph Model H, and a rare 1928 Ariel Model E ‘Super Sports’ that also attracted attention.

Ralph Richardson and the Rudges he used in Vintage racing.

On the other side of the aisle, the Association of Pioneer Motorcyclists racked up another year of supporting the event. Michael Drakeley had his latest restoration on display.

He has managed to find yet another Bown from the little-known marque’s flurry of activity in the 1950s.

The latest bike, a 1953 example, is propelled by a Villiers engine of 125cc. Known as the Tourist Trophy model, the marketing department was obviously earning its money!

Another bike of interest here was an NSU, styled like the better-known Max, but this was a ‘Superlux’, a 200cc two-stroke never officially imported into this country.

The German owner had a serious road accident and abandoned the bike in this country where its restoration has been a slow process.

Mick Grant picks his way carefully over the rocks on his 186cc Bantam.

Ralph Richardson attracted a lot of interest with a brace of racing Rudges. He built a 1934 250 and a 1931 350 from a trio of totally dismantled bikes purchased for £25 for the three – but that was in 1967!

Finishing them in maroon earned him the sobriquet of ‘Red Baron’ as he raced in vintage events from 1991-2001. “I was a middle order rider,” he confirmed, “but it was a lot of fun.” Nowadays, the bikes are ridden at parade outings.

Silverstone Auctions held another sale on the last day of the event. Unfortunately for the bike vendors, the preceding array of exotic cars seem to have captivated the buyers.

A BSA A10, a Canadian import, made less than £3300, but a restored 1928 Raleigh sidevalve and a 1930 R6 AJS, also restored, failed to sell.

Henry Body won numerous awards with this Douglas sprint bike.

Perhaps of most interest was a circa 1930 Irish-registered Sunbeam, a mix‘n’match of 9 and 90 parts. Apparently, this was a popular formula for race bikes at the time, but the competition provenance remains unknown and the bike was unsold.

Race Retro goes from strength to strength, but it remains, essentially, a car show. The current organisers have handed over to a new team, Clarion Events, so it remains to be seen if the bike side of the event, which appears to have great potential, will be developed.

Nathan Jones concentrates as he gets his Tiger Cub over the bundle of timber baulks.

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