Category Archives: Isle of Man

AN INTERESTING LETTER FROM AUB MELROSE IN JULY 1927 – TT RACES:

I thought you would like to hear first-hand how
Len Stewart and I got on at the T.T. Races. Len had very bad
luck in the Senior, in which he rode a Works CS1 Norton, and
as you know, having had the misfortune to buckle his back
wheel at Governor’s Bridge on the first lap, which caused his
early retirement. When I look back on it all now it’s simply a
wonderful experience. Even with our knowledge of the T.T.
course which we had beforehand, we were not able to
appreciate it until the day of the race. There is no doubt
about it; it’s quite unlike anything in the way of riding which
may be experienced in any part of the world. It is not a
reliability trial, nor a road race, nor a track race, singly, but a
combination of the three, It is a severe test of nerve and skill
on the part of the rider, and physical endurance, and also it
is the severest test; a motor cycle which performs splendidly
under all sorts of strenuous conditions in preparation for the
T.T., fails hopelessly on the actual day of the race from
troubles absolutely unheard of before. In the 350cc Junior
Race, 20 out of 46 finished, and in the Senior 18 out of 57. To
finish alone, you will see, is an achievement to be proud of
from the manufacturers’ point of view, because it requires
the best of material and workmanship to produce a motor
cycle which will stand up to 264 miles over seven laps of such
a course.

There is no road in Western Australia that I can liken to the
T.T. course, excepting perhaps the bit through Claremont
and Karrakatta via West Subiaco to King’s Park road on the
Fremantle to Perth route. Taking those twelve miles as an
example, it would be rather tame to compare it to any
twelve miles of the T.T. course, as the bends are neither as
many nor as bad on any part, and certainly the road surface
is not much better. I always thought the T.T. course was a
billiard table and that the roads were perfect for the job,
but never let it be said. I have watched fellows in front of me
riding at 85 and 90 miles per hour, and carefully noted the
antics of the machine they rode. They simply bounced along
all the time, never on the ground any more than a few yards
at a time. In some places the wheels, especially
the back one, sometimes over a foot in the air. The course is
thirty seven and three quarters miles, two hundred yards
round, and as I have said, every twelve miles is worse for
bends and surfaces than the Perth to Fremantle road. Not
only that, there is a mountain to climb out of Ramsey, 1400
feet in seven miles, and second gear most of the way.
We were timed over this stretch one morning by “Motor
Cycling” and all our speeds worked out, in the Sunbeam
camp, from 58 to 61 miles per hour, an average which means
over half the way in second gear through heavy mist from
Ramsey to the Bungalow. Of course we only struck the mist
on practice mornings as we leave the start at 5.OOAM. It is
quite light and we are able to see quite all right excepting on
the mountain, and I am not exaggerating or telling an
untruth when I state that it is only possible to see sometimes
not more than five yards ahead in some places, and never
more than ten yards for distances of three to four miles…
Len and I learnt the course so well that we were able to
average 60 miles an hour in the foggiest of mornings, passing
competitor after competitor up and down the mountain. It
is said that the mountain is very fast, and down to Craig-ny-Baa
a 350cc Sunbeam all out will be doing 85 to 88 miles per
hour, and from Craig-ny- Baa to Brandish Corner, around the
region of 90 miles per hour. A 500cc Sunbeam will do from
90 to 95 down the mountain, and from Craig-ny-Baa to
Brandish Corner round the region of 100 miles per hour.
Between the corners of Craig-ny-Baa and Brandish there is a
bend to take, sharp enough for one to be unable to see
around it when coming down the straight, yet we take it all
out, and I can hardly hesitate to say we need the whole of
the road to do it. They say that Hillberry is the fastest corner.
It is a corner, a real one, and how on earth we scrape round
at the speeds we do is quite beyond me. Perhaps it has
something to do with the camber of the road, but if you
make one mistake, it is crash and no bones about it, as many
have done this year. The practise laps have been more
thrilling than the racing in my opinion. We have had twelve
days of it, and every day we do two to three laps and easily
average over 60 miles per hour. Len and I did over 50 laps
before and at practice. Len had five wallops before the actual
practise commenced, nothing serious, but severely bent the
o.h.v Norton spare he was riding. He hit a cow at Ramsey,
which was the last episode, and had to go to Court over it,
but was lucky enough to melt the Judge into tears with
sympathy, and got away with it. In practise he hit a fowl at
Glen Helen, and there was fowl (also egg) all over his bike
when he finished his practise lap. In practise itself, Len had
no spills at all on his T.T. bike, but one very nearly, one
morning when Willmott Evans on a Triumph cut him off at a
corner unknowingly, at over 85 miles per hour. Len made
straight for a brick wall, and his broadside skid measured 70
yards, on the macadam. Talking to me about it afterwards,
he said that was one of the nearest squeaks he has ever had
in his life. Len’s practise laps were splendid, as they were
around about 34 and 35 minutes, and one morning he did
33.12. Imagine how he felt when he walked up to me at the
pits where I was filling up for Dick Burch on a Sunbeam
during the Senior race, and told me what happened to him
and his back wheel in the first lap. Of course you know I felt
very sorry for him, as it is a long way to come and then have
such bad luck.

He was Number 2 and Mainwaring on a Scott was Number 1.
After the start of the race Len passed Mainwaring round the
course, they duelled with one another, passing and repassing
all the way from Ramsey up and over the mountain.

At Governor’s Bridge, the worst place of all, Len tried to beat
him on the corner, which he did quite successfully and would
have got away with it, only Mainwaring unknowingly took
the whole road in the gully after Governor’s, upsetting Len
for his corner, causing him to right about face and
scrape the curb with his back wheel, tearing some spokes
out. I was in the pits when Len passed, after it happened, and
there he came full bore for the straight at over 90 miles per
hour, riding one hand and looking behind his back wheel,
which wobbled every turn as it passed the grandstand. He
told me afterwards that bits of rubber flew in all directions
about Crosby and it was impossible for him to carry on as the
wheel had simply jammed in the forks. The other Australian,
Arthur Simcock, a great friend of ours, had very bad luck also.
In the first lap of the Junior, he crashed at Sulby, and was
unable to proceed. In the Senior, he rode well, but packed
up with engine trouble early in the race Cohen the South
African, who rode a consistently splendid race, slow but sure,
in the Junior, was awarded a replica, and in the Senior fell
out in the sixth lap with engine trouble. As for myself. I had
rather bad luck, but have this fact to be consoled with, that I
am the first and only West Australian to have actually
finished in the T.T.

In the practise I had two very unpleasant experiences, the
first being connected with the late Archie Birkin, son of Lord
and Lady Birkin, who was killed practising whilst riding a
McEvoy 500cc Senior machine. I was the last to speak to him
at practise at the start one morning, and a little over fifteen
minutes later I was horrified to find him lying dead on the
road, as I was only one minute behind him on my
Sunbeam. A car had crept on to the course unknown to
anyone, on its way to Peel, and poor Archie was the
first man round the course. He swerved to save himself from
hitting it, and as the roads are very narrow indeed, he
bounced from one edge to the other at a speed of over 85
miles per hour. His crash helmet was torn from his head, and
I have never seen such fearful injuries before. I thought it
was my pal Graham Walker, at first, and it was only when I
saw the nickel tank of the machine that I knew it was
someone else. George Patchett and I did not know what to
do, we were so shocked. I dashed away to tell the Marshals
and Doctor at Ballaugh, and George stayed to do what he
could for him, his friend.

Archie Birkin

The next unpleasantness took place on the following
morning, when I came full bore round a blind bend at about
80 to 85 miles per hour, and fifty yards away was a stray
horse broad side in my path, with a high wall on either side.
I thought it easier to hit the horse than the wall, so I made
for his hind quarters as it was useless to trying to pull up. Just
as I reached it, the horse swerved and galloped down the
course towards the on riders behind me. I missed it by a
fraction of an inch, and Burney on a Royal Enfield following
behind, also had a very narrow escape.
The day of the Junior race arrived, and I was not a bit excited
as I thought I would be in the tent where all the machines
had been sealed and kept in control over the week-end. All
the chaps were very decent, and wished me the best of luck,
which I returned to them, of course. There were a few
preliminaries to go through in adjusting the machine, and to
the strains of music from a very fine band we all marched out
numerically to the start in front of the stand in Glencrutchery
Road. In front of the stand each man had a pit and attendant.
All you are allowed in the pits are the tools from the tool-kit,
a puncture outfit and a pump, and the marshals watch you
like hawks. There is a sealed petrol container with a hose
attached, and oil cans for quick filling in the pits. We were
sent out at half minute intervals, each to the National
Anthem of his country. Graham Walker and George Dance
bribed the bandmaster to play for me “Tell me the old, old
story” which they played as I pushed away.. My bike started
beautifully, and I went quietly, with three-quarter throttle
down Bray Hill to give the engine a chance to warm up a bit,
and mindful that Walter Handley, number 32 was half a
minute behind me. Wal told me he would catch me at
Crosby, and to look out. I gave him a run for his money and
he did not catch me until on the straight before Ballacraine.
His speed was simply marvellous and I made no attempt to
try and catch up as I knew it was useless, so I remembered
instructions, and rode with seven-eighths throttle safely and
rode my own race. It seemed funny, but I seemed to be
passing chaps, so I eased down a bit more. After the first lap,
as I came past the pits, they gave me my blue flag, which
meant that as per instructions I was lapping at 36 minutes.
They had been keen about the instructions and they never
liked to be disobeyed. 36 minutes I was told to lap at and 36
minutes it had to be. I know I can lap at 34-35, but that speed
is simply an engine breaker. Some of them stand up to it, but
most of them don’t – and as it was my first race I thought I
would like to finish at least. All went well until the Sixth lap.
I pulled into my Pit at the end of the Fifth Lap, and was told I
was only lapping at 38 minutes, which turned out to be
wrong, as I hardly ever varied from 36 minutes or 62 miles
per hour. I was lying 10th and if I had kept on as I was going
would have finished 4th or 5th, but luck would not have it
so. I tried to go faster; I skidded at Braddon Bridge on my
front wheel, corrected it, but was out of my line to take a
corner into the bridge. I ran along a two feet gutter for about
ten yards, took a complete somersault, and landed on my
back in the middle of the road. Spectators dragged me and
my bike out of the way of oncoming riders, and then I
proceeded to make adjustments and straighten things a bit.
Having done my best in this direction I was well on my way
to finish the last two laps. In order to make up for the time I
had already lost in the crash, for the first time gave the bike
full bore and rode wide open everywhere. At Kirkmichael
whilst running through the village at about 85 miles per hour,
the brake pedal, which was resting on the clutch spring,
caused the clutch adjusting nut to un-spin itself, and clutch
parts became spewed over a quarter mile of the road before
I could pull up. In Kirkmichael the streets are only about
fifteen feet wide, so you can imagine the fun I had trying to
find the bits, with chaps coming down this alleyway at
speeds anything from 75 to 90 miles per hour. I gave the job
up at first, as I realised it was impossible to carry on, but a
small boy came running down with my clutch spring, which
gave me a little hope. I robbed one of the nuts from the
countershaft spindle to take the place of the one I had lost,
but was stuck for the spring retaining plate, so decided to
have a look for it. About two or three hundred yards up the
road, with the help of some kindly villagers, I managed to
find it. As a matter of fact a young lady found it for me. So I
rushed back to the machine with my hopes high in the air in
spite of the fact that I had lost valuable time. Try as I might I
could not get the clutch spring compressed far enough to fit
it on the shaft. Some of the crowd even took off their laces
from their boots and we tried to tie the spring down with
them without success.
A small boy suggested that I should go up to his father’s
blacksmith shop half a mile or more away up the road, so I
set off in the broiling hot sun at a run to see what I could do.
Found the shop eventually and tried to compress the spring
with a rickety old vice. At the first attempt the spring
flew out, hit the roof, and lost itself amongst paint tins, carts
and pieces of old iron. The air was full of dust and blue
language, but the errant clutch spring was found, and after a
few more wild attempts, and remembering that more haste
makes less speed, I managed to get the spring
compressed and tied with copper wire. Thought I would
never be able to run that half mile back again as I was almost
boiled inside my leathers. However I got the clutch spring
fitted, but the copper wire jammed itself against the boss of
the outside clutch plates, so all I had was a fixed engine to
finish my lap and a half with till the finish. I lost no time in
getting under way. When approaching Sulby Bridge, which is
a direct right hand turn over a bridge with a wall on either
side, I started to tread on my brakes without the use of
second gear to pull me up, which is usually used. All out
along the Sulby straight, the machines certainly fly along,
and to pull up for this bend the first thing we do is to change
straight through to second from all out, then use the brakes
also to pull the bike up. I didn’t like to risk my gears so used
the brakes only and learnt a sound lesson i.e. that you cannot
pull up as fast without the engine as a brake as with it,
because the back wheel leaps into the air. Sulby Bridge can
be taken at 30 to 40 miles per hour, and as my speed was
over fifty I knew I was in for it good and splendid, so put right
boot on the ground, laid the machine as flat as I could and
skated face about, and hit the bridge wall, instead of with my
left shoulder, with my right one, going backwards,
frontwards, up in the air I went and crash once more on my
back in a cloud of dust. I was a good way from the spectators
and in a dangerous spot, so no one came near me, but I
managed, although very dizzy and shaken, to turn the bike
around and get it out of the way of the chaps coming behind.
I stopped up the road and examined the damage. Found I
had bent footrests, brakes, twisted handlebars and frame,
bashed exhaust pipes, mudguards and controls. In for a
penny, in for a pound, was what I thought, so once more I
proceeded on my way and rode like a madman until the
finish, using just top gear and foot slogging around slow
corners in order to keep the motor going. How it was I didn’t
crash again is beyond me, as the speed wobbles and skids I
got were most alarming, but I finished a very sorry spectacle,
with my leathers half torn off me, and the bike almost
ruined. Still it was a great experience and one I shall never
forget, and I am very thankful for having at least finished in
one piece.

If I stay in England, or if I go home before Christmas, I shall
certainly come again next year, and will ride in all three
races. But to ride again in the T.T. I will, as it’s made me
keener than ever to ride and do some good if I can. Len
Stewart feels the same way about things and I am sure, but
for his rotten luck also, would have finished well up. His first
lap of 34 minutes 53 seconds, with a fall included, was simply
splendid, and I am proud to think that an Aussie can hold his
own with the best of them. Sunbeams won the team prize in
the Senior after an excellent performance. I should have
ridden, but was in very bad shape and I could not do so. I was
supposed to ride in place of Jock Porter, who crashed early
in the practise, and could not ride. Dick Burch took my place.
I will be riding, officially representing Australia, in the
Scottish Six Days Trial and International Six
Days Trial, on a Sunbeam. I will also compete in the Ulster
Grand Prix with a bit of luck. Roy Charman was over to see
the Senior race in company with George Wallis, the designer
of the famous Wallis machine. Roy is coming home shortly,
so he will be able to give you first-hand news. He expects to
be home sometime about September.

Kind regards to all the chaps. Aub

AUBREY George Melrose was born on 12 November 1900, just eight weeks before the foundation of the  Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. Aub’s long, adventurous life was so rich and varied that it is difficult to know what to leave out, He was a boxer, a gymnast and an athlete; at the age of 15 he went to the opening of the Panama Canal to speak on behalf of the YAL; and his motorcycle and car racing careers spanned more than forty years. He turned to motorcycle competition when barely out of his teens, and he made such a name for himself as a talented, daredevil motorcyclist that he finished up in the UK in 1926, riding for the Sunbeam motorcycle firm. He was the first Australian to ride at the Isle of Man in the famous TT, and in the Ulster Grand Prix. Back in Australia Aub was instrumental in setting up the now-famous Harley Scramble, and was so good that he promptly won three out of the first four! A bad-racing accident in the late 1920s nearly severed his foot, and he faced the onset of the depression unemployed and on crutches, but overcame both of these obstacles and established his successful garage business.

Aub Melrose was also keenly interested in cars, in particular the ubiquitous Austin 7, and in 1922 he was one of the prime movers in the foundation of the W A Car Club, which catered for those motor enthusiasts who wanted a milder, on-road form of motor sport rather than the all-out racing offered by the WASCC. This led him into car trials. In 1936 he and his wife Gwyn scored a major triumph when they drove their tiny 1921 Austin 7 across the Nullarbor, won the South Australian Centenary Trial against all comers, and then drove home again. This was not the first of his Nullarbor crossings – eventually; he crossed the desert no fewer than 52 times, including the first lone crossing by motorcycle.

He was so convinced of the need for a proper road that in 1935 he led a delegation to Canberra to petition the Government on the matter. It wasn’t until 1942 that the first actual road linked the East and the West (before then it had been a route rather than a road) and he was the first civilian to use it. Constructed by the army, it was known as the Military Road until later renamed the Eyre Highway. His damaged foot (and possibly his age – he was almost 40) kept him out of the Army when War broke out, so he served in a civilian capacity by instructing army dispatch riders in the techniques of rough riding.

Aub actually started car racing in the 1930s, and from about 1937 entered most of the round-the-houses races – including the famous Patriotic Grand Prix – invariably in the valiant little Austin 7. The WASCC pretty well dissolved during the War years, but Aub was one of the enthusiasts instrumental in getting the Club going again and, in particular, staging the massively successful Victory Grand Prix at Caversham in 1946. The inevitable Austin 7 gave way to a variety of cars in the post-war years. He bought a damaged MG TD and built it up for the 1951 Australian Grand Prix; raced an Austin Healey 100M to second place in the 1956 six hour Race; competed in Round- Australia Trials in Austin A40, an Austin A70 and then an Austin A95; and in 1960 drove a Porsche to fourth outright in the Touring Car Championship and sixth outright in the Six Hour Race, at an age when most men are content merely to talk about such things.

Over the years Aub Melrose occupied just about every position in both the WA Car Club and the WA Sporting Car Club, became Life Member of both, and was held in the greatest of esteem by all who knew him. In the early 1970s he suffered a series of strokes, which left him partly paralysed, and he could only move about, and talk with the greatest of difficulty. In his last years he was in and out of hospital, and he died on 18 November 1978, six days after his 78th birthday, but lives on in the memories of the many friends who will never forget him.

Charles Archibald Cecil “Archie” BIRKIN (30 March 1905 – 7 June 1927) was a British motorcycle racer, brother of Tim Birkin, one of the “Bentley Boys” of the 1920s. He was born into a wealthy Nottingham family in 1896. He was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley Birkin, 2nd Bt. and Hon. Margaret Diana Hopetoun Chetwynd. During an early morning practice session for the 1927 Isle of Man TT, Archie Birkin swerved to avoid a fish-van travelling to Peel and collided with a wall at Rhencullen and was killed instantly. The corner in Kirk Michael on the A3 primary road where the accident occurred was renamed ‘Birkin’s Bend.’ From 1928 practice sessions for the Isle of Man TT Races and Manx Grand Prix were held on closed-roads. A regrettably short-lived marque, McEvoy built motorcycles from 1924 to 1929, its most famous creations being the fearsome Anzani and JAP-powered V-twin racers. In the hands of ace-rider George Patchett, McEvoys, in both solo and sidecar trim, stormed to notable successes on the steeply banked Brooklands Circuit at Weybridge.  Old Etonian Michael A McEvoy ran his motorcycle operation from the tiny village of Duffield on the busy A6 road just North of Derby. His full time employment was at the nearby Rolls-Royce Derby factory where he honed his engineering skills.

The first eponymously named motorcycle appeared in 1924 and McEvoy made its Motorcycle Show debut at the Olympia Exhibition the following year. On show there, and reviewed to much acclaim, were 350cc Blackburne and 500cc JAP-powered singles and a show-stealing 1,000cc Anzani V-twin. 1926 was a landmark year for young Michael McEvoy, his business now being well established and he himself having quit his employment at Rolls-Royce to devote his energies to his fledgling business. He relocated that year to larger premises in Leaper Street, Derby, and George Patchett moved from Brough Superior to join McEvoy as Competition Manager.

That same year substantial financial backing came from Cecil Allerhead (‘Archie’) Birkin, brother of Sir Henry (‘Tim’) Birkin, one of the famous ‘Bentley Boys’ and backer also of Bentley Motors Ltd. With McEvoy’s Rolls-Royce background, Patchett’s experience at Broughs and Birkin’s financial clout, here was a potentially winning formula.  That same year McEvoy’s range expanded to include a JAP-engined 8/45hp, overhead valve, V-twin, a state-of-the-art super-sports model guaranteed capable of 100mph. Contemporary McEvoy advertising boasted ‘The Fastest All-British Big Twin’ and that their machine ‘holds all high speed British records worth holding in its class’. The fearless Patchett broke nine World Records and won the Championship of Southport on the sands there in 1926 at 116 1/2mph.

It had been McEvoy’s intention to build bespoke motorcycles for the wealthy and discerning, much in the manner of George Brough at nearby Nottingham, however financial necessity saw McEvoy adding models to cover almost every capacity class, even down to a 172cc Villiers-powered lightweight. Despite business pressures Michael McEvoy still found time for exciting development projects on the drawing board and an all-new four-cylinder prototype, along with a range of overhead-cam singles, was exhibited at Olympia in 1928.

Sadly none of these models reached series production. The death of ‘Archie’ Birkin while practicing for the TT in 1928 lost McEvoy his major financial backer and this was a blow which was to prove not just crippling but fatal.

The Britten 1000

John Kenton Britten (1 August 1950 – 5 September 1995) was a New Zealand mechanical engineer who designed a world-record-setting motorcycle with innovative features and materials. 

Britten worked on motorcycle design for some years, developing innovative methods using composite materials and performance engine designs. He created the Britten Motorcycle Company in 1992 to produce revolutionary machines to his own design made of light materials and using engines he built himself, which became famous around the world.

His Britten motorcycles won races and set numerous speed records on the international circuits, and astounded the motorcycle world in 1991 when they came a remarkable second and third against the factory machines in the Battle of the Twins at Daytona.

Diagnosed with an inoperable skin cancer related illness, John sadly died on 5 September 1995 just over a month after his forty-fifth birthday.

Laverda V-6