Recommended reads


Although some of us may be able to start getting out and about for a few rides, there’s no likelihood of big congregations or events anytime soon. To keep you entertained, here’s a bit more suggested reading.

Whatever happened to the British Motorcycle industry?

To my shame, I realised I’d never read Bert Hopwood’s oft-discussed, seminal work, so decided to rectify the situation. I admit, I wasn’t much relishing the prospect, anticipating a dry old text, but actually it’s nothing of the sort.

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Hopwood is a colourful narrator and is forthright in his opinions. Edward Turner was ‘quite definitely, the most egotistical man I ever met’ while he also acknowledges that their working relationship (flamboyant, extrovert Turner/ dour, pragmatic Hopwood) was a good one, their personal one not so much; Norton’s racing first policy was ‘commercial suicide’ while some of his insight into BSA, especially in the early 1970s, has to be read to be believed.

It can occasionally come across as ‘everyone was wrong but me’ though in discussion with our contributor Steve Wilson (who wrote the foreword for the edition published after Hopwood’s 1996 death, and who corresponded at length with him, as well as interviewing him several times). Steve opines: “I found his version of events closest to the available facts.”

Which is considerably worrying. During the period Hopwood is involved in the industry (he started at Ariel, aged 18, in 1926), rather than making progress, it seems to go backwards; by the 1970s, the whole thing a huge, ghastly mess – though the signs had been there from 20 years before, when the British industry was enjoying almost-unrivalled worldwide dominance.

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But the catastrophic mismanagement, the constantly poor decisions, the crazy ideas… It does lead the reader to think ‘what if’ on many occasions, but, of course, this is clearly one side of the story. And it’s always easy to be wise after the event.

But then again, some things are blatantly bad ideas from the start (hello Ariel three…) while the never-ending catalogue of missed opportunity almost makes one weep, as, you feel, it almost did Bert Hopwood. An eye-opening read. Out of print, around £40 seems to secure an internet purchase.

James Robinson.

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Read more Letters, Opinion, News and Features at and in the November 2020 issue of The Classic Motorcycle – on sale now!

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