This historic sprint machine was built in the early 1960s by three engineering apprentices, as the first of a number of sprinters they were to go on to be involved in building. Derek Chinn, Ian Messenger and Mick Butler (for they were the three) progressed to sprint success with their range of Pegasus machines, but the unlikely basis for this first machine was a circa 1938 600cc Panther – not what one would normally consider when thinking of a starting point to build a ‘sprinter.’
In its pomp, with the jockey-stature Mick Butler aboard, the Panther was capable of a 13.6 second quarter mile – not bad for a machine originally conceived at the Cleckheaton factory as a sidecar tug. Indeed, the aspiring trio’s modifications included converting the overhead valve engine to overhead camshaft. Later, it was also supercharged but this rendered it virtually unrideable, while there’s also evidence a Triumph twin engine was fitted at some point too.
Current owner is Colin Clifford, who acquired it in 1992, when it sported a pushrod Panther engine; the cammy engine came too, but disassembled in a suitcase…
Colin returned the sprinter to the track in ohv form in 1994 and went on to enjoy if for a good many seasons, making a best time of 13.8 at North Weald, before a catastrophic blow up five years ago – the head came off the exhaust valve and exited through the exhaust pipe. Damage was substantial, wrecking the pushrod engine; Colin has been advised the head is unsalvageable. As there was only ever one bottom end (which, reports Colin, is not too modified, save the flywheels which are much lightened), Colin has now taken to building it up with the overhead cam top half, but time (he also sprints a pre-WWII 500cc ohv BSA and a 380cc Greeves-Hagon) has meant he hasn’t run it yet, but hopes to return to the strip, with the cammy engine, at the Festival of 1000 Bikes. He also plans to rebuild the push-rod engine too and confesses of the panther; “I miss it terribly at the moment.”
Incidentally, the reason there’s no accompanying picture of Colin is he wasn’t at the show; friend Chris Illman brought the Panther along, after requesting its loan. Says Colin; “I had to bolt it back together and give it a quick polish when Chris asked to borrow it.”
Post Panther, Chinn, Messenger and Butler initially campaigned a Vincent-powered Pegasus machine before switching to Norton power, culminating in the ultimate incarnation of Pegasus, a twin engined supercharged Norton, which now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum. It ran the standing quarter in 8.30s, at 175mph, in 1978.