Short Stories from "Yesteryear", scroll down for your fill - longer, faster & braver!
And further down a feature of the Archer family in motor cycle sport, with photos & stories dating back many years. Includes photos of 1956 World 500cc MX Champion Les Archer with his equally famouse Norton Special as well as EMC & Velocette road racers.
"A day in the life of ...". In those days, the OE (Overseas Experience) was full of them!
As dedicated racers, we all spent time in the UK and Europe trying to eek out a living, just enough for petrol & food for the next weeks event, but who would want to change it? That is & was what we wanted in life at that time, so despite the many challenges, we made it happen!
A lot of similar stories many other MX & road race riders from the antipodes will know, as we all coped with similar problems & challenges.
Travelling behind the former "Iron Curtain" in Russian Communist Zones was not always easy.
Travelling behind the former "Iron Curtain" in Russian Communist Zones was not always easy.
Step outside the "party line" & watch out!
Step outside the "party line" & watch out!
<< Here are a few of those experiences >>
<< Here are a few of those experiences >>
From a very young lad living in Australia, education, family, farming, riding in the outback, enjoying the first tastes of motorcycle competition, when motorcycle bug bit, so on to a ship for the "BIG OE" (Overseas Experience), to England then Europe, USA, Japan & the world.
But the stories & challenges were the fun bits, but often quite serious challenges that could have ended in the wrong place!
Some friends of mine , Coral & Mark MacDonald are currently touring this area in 2015. The region was formerly called Yugoslavia, but is now divided into Bosnia, Croatia & Herzegovina, & obviously very impressed with everything they see & do. How things change in 54 years!
Here's an account of a trip that Ken Cleghorn, a friend we called "Freddy" & I did after having ridden the Czechoslavakian 500 World Championship MX GP in Eastern Slovakia, then headed South to Imola in Italy for the next weekend, the schedule was too tight to go the long way round as we were supposed to by our Visas & others riders did. Our van was slow & unreliable, so a shortcut was an inevitable advantage - yeah, right!
Story : This was 1961 - The "Cold War" was still very much alive, we were in unfriendly territory.
Taking photos in Russian controlled territories & satellite countries was forbidden & cameras could be confiscated, so actual photos of these exploits are rare.
“Shortcut from Eastern Czechoslovakia to mid Italy”
At the Czechoslovakian MX GP they paid us in local the local Zlotje currency, which was useless anywhere else in the world, so we decided to stay on a couple of days and use the money for food, rather than chuck the money in a bin somewhere.
We were in a crowded restaurant after the GP in Czechoslovakia, when it nearly went wrong when I was trying to explain to a local Czech person how we travelled through many countries for MX, and I showed our local friends with whom we were dining my passport with all the stamps from different countries. A bit brainless as in this Russian Communist controlled society passports were big business for people trying to get out. The whole restaurant went quiet and everyone looked menacingly at me and the passport. Hastily I hid it again and we beat a retreat!
We had found in London, a pre WW2 map that showed a road heading almost due South to out next destination, Imola in Italy, so that was enough to inspire us to try to follow that route, rather than go on our prescribed “by the authorities” route back to Austria, then South to Italy – an additional 1,000 miles (1,600 Kms), which when we were travelling at a maximum speed of 40 mph just wasn’t possible to get to our next race in Central Italy by the following weekend.
So with the old pre-war map on the dashboard and wishful thinking, we headed towards the Hungarian border, reaching close to there about midnight. We asked a couple of people the way to the border in our best multi-lingual tongue, and they more or less pointed along the road we were on. We assumed the road to the border would be the best of the several roads we found, assuming that at least some traffic was still crossing from Czechoslovakia to Hungary.
Looking through my Passport stamps the journey was from Presov or Prerov, Eastern Slovakia, (venue of the last MX) to Reicka near the Hungarian border, to Budapest, to arrange for Visas to pass through this way to Italy.
We arrived near the Czech/Hungarian border about midnight so asked a local which way to the Hungarian border. He said in his own language and hand signals to follow the road we were on, which we did, until we were signalled to stop by a uniformed man, which we assumed was the border.
We stopped to show our passports, as we had done many hundreds of times all over Europe. Turned the lights to park and I was fairly casual about all this until Ken nudged me and said we were surrounded by soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder all holding machine guns, not very visible in the dark of the night and only park lights.
We were actually in an Army camp, and our presence was not at all welcome. I changed from my casual way and then dutifully showed the guard our carnets for bikes, trailer and vehicle and “Green Card”. They may not have understood we shouldn’t have been in that area at all, but a long way West to the Austrian border.
Only a few weeks before we’d heard of an English female tourist who stopped outside an army camp on a main tourist highway in the same region, possibly Yugoslavia, and asked the sentry directions. He did and said nothing, so she walked past him towards the office for better communication. The sentry shot her dead!
Having this in the back of our mind, we felt caution was important and after a long discussion with the Army officer, obviously showing him our MX bikes and talking about sport, he told us to turn around and take a smaller road to the border with Hungary. “Freddie” was on the left side of the van, a position normally occupied by the driver in Europe, dropped down below seat level in case the machine guns let fire, and Ken thought that a good idea too!
We eventually got through the border into Hungary, but it was late, so we decided to park on the side of the road to sleep in our camper van. Before daybreak we were awoken again, this time by Hungarian soldiers, and told it’s not permitted to park or sleep on the side of roads in their country (common law throughout Eastern Europe in those days) so after examining all our papers again, we moved on to Budapest to get Visas to travel on through to Yugoslavia and on to Italy.
After a while we got our passports updated, and did a bit of a tour around the capital. It had only been a short while since there had been an anti Russian Communist uprising in Hungary. The Russians put an end to that quite quickly by rolling in thousands of military personnel and tanks, shot everyone in sight, burnt all the local vehicles, buses, trucks, etc. They don’t clean up after these episodes, just leave all the bodies and burnt shells on the road, so the locals can remember who’s in charge!
Stopped at one kerbside and the wall along side the footpath was riddled with bullets up to head height, blood splattering the whole area, typical of many similar types of occupation attacks these violent Russian soldiers occupying so called “friendly satellite countries” committed during this “Cold War” period.
We headed South again through Hungary, towards Yugoslavia then Italy for the next weekend’s event at Imola, & the Italian GP. The adventure dramatised from here as we only had a “Green Card” Insurance to return via Austria then to Italy, which would have added another 1,300 Kms to the trip. Being a day late starting we decided to try to find our way directly South through Hungary and Yugoslavia. Up to date maps of the Eastern Zone didn’t exist due to the Russian army occupation, but our “past used by dated pre-war map” although not much use, was better than nothing.
Eventually we arrived back at the train crossing on the bridge at Letenye not far from Muraratka in Hungary to Goncan, West of Kotoriba in Yugoslavia following extremely rough roads that would get to Trieste then into Italy and South to the Italian GP circuit at Imola. Most of the farms had hundreds of geese who dominated the roads so progress was slow, especially with the damaged trailer wheel.
Travelling on to the Hungarian/Yugoslav border (Letenye – Murakata) all was not well. The roads were getting rougher, the diesel fuel poor quality, so repairs to our “modern Perkins high speed diesel engine” became more frequent.
In the town of Letenye, a stork had made its nest on top of a house chimney, which the locals told us was good luck for any babies born in that house!
The village of Letenye is at the South West corner of Hungary, the region has its own Coat of Arms (the blue one) & the red Coat of Arms is that of Hungary. No doubt in those days of Russian occupation they would have had a hammer & sickle through them. Centre map is Hungary & we travelled from the top right hand side through the centre, to exit about in the middle at the bottom.
Hungarian side of the border Railway Station as it is now & probably was then & the station at the “other end” of the 15 minute trip. But they weren’t clean & tidy like this under Russian rule.
At the border we were told there was no longer a road bridge over the River Murak between the 2 countries as “our Russian friends had blown it up”, so the locals told us! So we had to load our camper van and trailer on to a rail goods truck, which in it self was a major effort as the rail van was only made for parcels, not vehicles! The train trip was only about 15 minutes but cost the earth before we started in Hungary, but on arrival at the other side of the border in Yugoslavia we had to pay even more to arrive in their country. Ken, normally a fairly docile guy, got a bit mad about this and tipped the officers table piled high with papers over on to the ground!
Here’s a bit of the history of the connecting lines between the 2 countries, not always friendly!
Bridges over the Mura
The first railway bridge was finished in 1860. It was 153 m long, with the metal construction lying on six concrete supports. However, it proved soon to be to narrow and to weak to confront the river. In 1905, it was replaced with a new bridge of the same length and on the same bases. This bridge was blown up on 1941/04/06 by Yugoslav army to prevent German invasion heading from Hungary. It was provisionally repaired by Hungarians during the war, but torn down immediately after the war. The third railway bridge was built in 1945 as a temporary solution by Yugoslav army. It was 152.10 m long and laid on 12 supports. In 1975, it was replaced by the present bridge. This is the firmest one, made of steel. Its overall length amounts 170 m, and it is built over 4 concrete posts. It was financed both by Hungary and Croatia. The solemn opening of the bridge took place on 1975/04/08.
The roads in this region were really rough, and after a while one of our trailer wheels collapsed, probably weakened by an episode in Czechoslovakia, related earlier when I swerved to miss 2 trucks side by side coming straight at us. The violent swerve tipped the trailer and contents over, but that’s yet another story! The wheels were spoked type from what looked to be from a 1936 Morris car. We carried spare spokes for our MX bikes, so after a fair amount of grafting, plus finding an old plough disc to weld rim to hub, we carried on to Italy, arriving “battle weary” but just in time for practice for the Italian 500 MX GP.
Too close for comfort with the KGB :
Tim was always resourceful & living his transient lifestyle knew that a little money was good enough to buy another meal, which at times were not frequent.
Bear in mind that people from the colonies as they were called in those days, enjoyed freedom of speech, travel & life that few other countries enjoyed. Behind the Iron Curtain there was no freedom, just Big Brother itching to use his trigger finger.
On arriving at the borders from the West, the procedure was much like, but more tense, than we see in the movies. No photos permitted, long delays, barriers arranged in such a way that no drive thrus could possibly happen, sniffer dogs clambering up ladders to examine everything in every vehicle passing through, which were few, incessant questioning, & even our English motor cycle papers were confiscated.
Then when at last on the road again, a leather coated escort would accompany each vehicle, sometimes inside it, sometimes on a motorcycle, all the time, until it left the country again.
At the ISDT a couple of days into the event, a local rider had taken a liking to my English made Mk. 8 Biggles goggles that I rode with. He wanted to buy a set from me & I was happy to oblige. Being rather too innocent of the protocol of the local politics I foolishly handed them to him in the foyer of the hotel, where we were staying, & of course accepted his money.
The Stadium Mk. 8 Goggles that nearly cost Tim a trip to Siberia!
Off I went to have a meal with our Aussie Team in the dining room.
We had an excellent waiter, John, who although a local, had been to Australia for a few years, so knew our language, tricks & nonsense well. He was compelled to return to Czecho by the Government, under the threat of his family still in the country being harmed in a big way. John returned being a good family person.
John came to our table in a very serious manner, his face white & worried. He advised me carefully not to smile, make any jokes, & follow him.
He took me to a dimly lit room, where there were 2 KGB policemen, both with revolvers very obvious near to them, their way of showing authority. Through John as an interpreter, they told me I had made a very serious breach of the laws of their country by selling these goggles to the local rider. It was the worst sort of black market I could do, & the penalties were serious. I could see by now they were very serious.
I could also make out in the darkness behind one of the KGB men, the local rider, sitting on the cold floor, his face as white as a sheet.
The interview took a couple of hours, with John helping me make a good reason for my obvious mistake.
Eventually we conjured up a story that I was selling the goggles to have some spare money at the end of the ISDT to have a party, buying some local food & drink, & shout the local boys who were helping us, to the party.
Slowly, but unwillingly, one of the KGB men, eased off, the other didnt want to, but eventually they agreed to release me, but I would have a KGB escort for the rest of my stay we had them most of the time any way, so that wasnt new.
The real Biggles of aircraft fame with his famous goggles
Not a pleasant experience, & every time I visited any Communist country after that, I was shadowed by these long leather coated KGB men with a red arm band!
Regrettably & I didnt know till later, the local rider who bought the goggles was sent off to the Salt Mines in Siberia. His family had no idea where he had gone.
A couple of years later, when I was back in the country, riding another event, I spotted the local rider behind a crowd of people, but I knew better than to recognise or wave to him.
Sure enough a few minutes later, a piece of paper was pushed into my hand with the inevitable handshake, by a stranger. I knew not to open my hand until well clear of any prying eyes.
It was from my poor friend, the local rider who purchased the goggles. The note said words to the effect that he had been imprisoned on the spot & sent to Siberia for 2 years. His family had no idea where he was just vanished! He was now back, but please dont try to see him, as the consequences from the dreaded KGB would be very serious!
How much do we appreciate our freedom?
Picnic with the Russian police the dreaded KGB :
At the same Czech Grand Prix event, related on Those were the days under Elastic Bands & Iron Curtains of VMX magazine Kens mother, father & sister Joan (later to become Tim Gibbes wife) were there. They or I should say we all - a whole horde of Aussies & Kiwis, decided to go for a picnic out a little from the capital city Prague, in the picturesque rolling hills.
The Colonial atmosphere of boiling a billy over a fire was something we all missed. Mr. Cleghorn set-up his little gas stove & put the whistling kettle on, ready for that cup of tea or coffee we all cherished from our homelands. Kens father had just lit the little stove thing to boil the water, & we all felt that good feeling of a real Ocker cup of tea
The kettle was just starting to whistle indicating the water boiling, when a KGB secret policeman arrived on a Jawa motorbike, to find all the dreaded Westerners.
At this time Czechoslavakia was behind the Iron Curtain in the Russian Zone & the cold war was still very much alive. People were not allowed to go where they wanted to.
More cops arrived thinking we were sending secrets to the dreaded West or even worse, the Yanks. They upended the little stove, looked down the spout of the boiling kettle, searched the car and questioned everybody, because NO ONE went in the countryside to have a picnic in those Iron Curtain Communist days!
We were all lead off to the police station, still trying to find what we were doing, but eventually released, but not really a pleasant time for the older Cleghorn parents, who hadnt come across this sort behaviour before.
The Colonial riders from down under have all been able to form friendships, especially in England where most of us landed after 4 week boat trip from our respective homes in Australia & New Zealand.
These were the days between mid 50s and 60s before aeroplanes became the standard transport. Of course the trips on these ships could fill a book with stories by themselves!
For this almost nomadic group of racers, a base to work from, somewhere as an address for people to post our mail, somewhere to find a kind & friendly face, & some where to a drop in and tell stories of our most recent travels was a godsend in our life.
One such family lived at Swanley in Kent, UK. Sunny Knowles & her family enjoyed us calling, hearing the stories, and writing letters to promoters of MX, mainly in France to arrange starts for races during the season.
Sunny is still living in Kent, not far from Brands Hatch, & of course still very active.
Several Aussie & Kiwi MX riders are eternally grateful to her & her family for the enormous amount of help they freely gave.
Hoppy Hopkins a real character American MX rider!
L'Isle sur Sorgue Circuit is not far from one of the current French MX GP Circuits, & located fairly well South of France.
Isle sur Sorgue meaning an island in the River Sorgue, was an Extra National where only 4 International of foreign rider may compete. This time it was Ken Cleghorn (New Zealand) me as an Australian, Bob Walpole who could have changed his nationality temporarily for the event, & American Hoppy Hopkins.
Bob & Hoppy turned up fairly late, just before practice started, in an Austin 3 way, an iconic British made van more commonly used for postal deliveries around London, but big enough to carry 2 bikes, spares & sleep uncomfortably.
The event was held very early in the season, as it was well South, so the warmer weather came earlier. It had been too cold & wet to stop on their trip from UK, even to pull of the bitumen road, so they slept & drove throwing any rubbish into the back of the van from the front.
When they arrived at the circuit & opened the back doors, it all fell out in a big heap - much to the amusement of the locals. They also had a 3 legged table, probably picked up from a tip, so when they ate meals they had to twist their legs around what was left of the table, to stabilise the whole thing!
Hoppy was so late getting out to practice he asked me which way the circuit went. I told him down the straight slight turn right then a jump that swung left as you took off, so take it easy till you work it out. Hoppy took off with a roar & of course fell off hard on that jump - needed medical attention. When I asked why he did not listen to what I said about the jump, he drawled - You did not impress me about it, so I gave it all.
Bob got the holeshot in one of the races on his TRIBSA (Triumph engine BSA frame), & was so keen to stay there he went all over the track to block us all. As well, he picked up the trackside marking ropes & dragged them along, so all the following riders had quite a challenge of Bob leading with 100 metres of rope dragging behind!
Just another part of the day - It was that circuit but not sure if it was the same year that I was racing with local ace Jean Cros (a really good guy & clean rider) for the lead. Then another local decided to try to block me as we lapped him, so I hooked him over the top of a haybale in a big way!
After the race he came over to Kens and my van looking for the bastard in the black pullover - fortunately Ken & I both had black pullovers, but he held up Ken's, so I pointed out Ken who was in the middle of the river cooling off. So he approached Ken at 100mph waving a 24" crescent. Ken soon dealt to him as well!
One of many outstanding memories!
Non stop drive from Llandrindod Wells in Wales to Imola in Italy, June 1958.
Distance 1,123 miles = 1,800 Kms time taken = 33 hours including overnight ferry Dover to Dunkerque. Average speed = 34 mph or 55kph.
Reason To qualify to ride in the British Trophy Team for the ISDT 1958, I had to ride in the Welsh 3 Day Trial, based at Llandrindod Wells in Wales. This was on the Wednesday, Thursday & Friday.
To fulfil a commitment to ride the World Championship 500cc Moto-cross Grand Prix Series, I had to ride the Italian round which was held that year near Imola, about the middle of Italy. Quite a run.
The race transporter then was an ex-Royal Air Force Standard Vanguard pick-up, that I had bought at an auction in the Midlands of England, probably for less than 100 pounds, as that was about the limit of my financial ability in those days. In fact this was one of several of the same model vehicle I had. Plenty of room in the back for at least 2 MX bikes, a bench seat in the drivers cabin on which to sleep a real luxury at a flat out speed of about 85mph (135kph), very poor drum brakes, but after a while mastered the chuck it into the corner sideways to scrub off speed to make up for the poor brakes.
This trip started off with new tyres. By the time I returned to UK about 5,000 miles (8,000 Kms) later they were bald! It was a fairly hurried trip!
Geoff Ward, one of the 1950s greatest, toughest & competitive British scrambles/MX riders wrestles with his AJS 500. At least his throttle is still fully open! The jampot rear shocks are bending under the strain!
The British scrambles bikes made after WW2, when the British motorcycle industry ruled the off road race scene, were not made for the faint hearted. General specification of the rider was very big, immensely strong & willing to put the whole body at risk to achieve.
While the exterior of the bikes looked like the production version available to the public, the works bikes had many modifications inside to overcome inherent design problems.
Geoff Ward always gave 110% when he rode & his legendary races are still talked about! It wasn't unusual for Geoff's bikes to arrive back at the AMC Comp Shop in 3 pieces - broken frame, forks, wheels!
Battle of the Yesteryear Giants - Brian Stonebridge & Geoff Ward in battle during a "Sunbeam Point to Point" Scramble. No holds barred!
Short Story uploaded March 23rd, 2007 -
Bill & wife Annie Brokaw had a motorcycle dealership near Los Angeles when Tim Gibbes visited that country to race during the European winters from about 1958 to 1961.
Bill was like all motorcyclists a very affable guy with loads of enthusiasm for motorcyclesport. His main thing was trials, and we shared his 350cc Matchless trials bike for the Southern Californian Trials Championship.
Not being well mannered Tim beat Bill in the Championship to first place! But its good to know that Bill & wife Annie are still about, now living in Colorado, & have just completed a 2,000 Km trip through outback Mexico - a fair effort for a couple in their 70s riding Suzuki DR650 & DL650's.
On the left is Bill Brokaw & on the right Tim Gibbes on Bills 350 Trials Matchless - So Cal Trials Champion of the time! The no front fender was typical of the region, it never rains, so why have one?
Bill & Annie Brokaw now in their 70s, still keen motorcyclists. They've just returned from a 2,000 Km trip to outback & the wildest Mexico often sleeping on the ground & sharing food & beds with the local animals.
Short Story from Bill Brokaw (USA) about his father's racing days, about the early days of American dirt tracking >> uploaded 8 Aug., 07
These pictures are of a couple guys from my childhood. Kelly, the guy in the dust is the young guy. He came out of WW2 a Major. Jim is the fellow in the story. The story is a chapter of my writings about my dad. I thought you might enjoy it.
BB Competition - Any dealer worth their salt was involved in competition. Hill climbing was bigger than track racing, but even cross-country was an occasional affair.
Paul figured out how to best hop up the Indians and had a cam grinding machine, offering his own grind of cams. These and detailed instructions for speed modifications were sold internationally.
The cam grinding machine later was sold during the depression.
His mods were largely used for hill climbing, which was plentiful around Iowa. Paul became a professional hill climber with his Indian, notching many top awards. In fact his Indian was so good he used it for two years after becoming a Harley dealer. Such was his personal competitiveness.
By the time I was old enough to be aware, the head mechanic was Jim Lusk. Jim was a Canuk having lived and raced in Canada for many years. Jims art was half mile racing, having been the Canadian champion for several years. Jim was by then old, as motorcycle riders go, and his carved face with his perpetual stogie crammed in his mouth, looked even older.
His racing days were behind him, or so he thought. Paul was putting on a half-mile race and his advertising for spectators seemed to be getting good attention, but his lineup of riders was a worry. So he went to Jim, putting the proposition to him of quickly converting a shop owned hill climber to a flat tracker. Then for Jim to enter it in the race to help fill out the program; no flashy results expected. Jim took the bait and went to work on the Harley. A knee hook was built and drop handlebars of Jims liking were fabricated.
Gearing was lined up and they were ready to go. None had seen Jim ride a track before, they only knew he had been good. Jim, sometimes called Jimmy, dug out his old racing boots which had the heel of the left boot removed and then double soled.
Paul learned that the boots were his original and so was the double sole. Strange, no steel shoe! So old Jimmy went out there just to fill in the program, but instead taught the boys how to ride half miles. He took the feature and did it feet up with his old boot tucked in next to the sliding bike and out of the way, but ready in case.
Suddenly Jimmy was reliving his youth and the shop had the hottest half miler in the region. Finally, after a few short years, dont know how many, Jim came up against Indian mounted Johnny Spiegelhoff, one of the nations top riders.
It was a heck of a battle with Johnny laying on his steel shoe and Jimmy right with him with his boot off the track and his bike much more vertical in its slide. Jim won and guys who were following the national level riders could not believe what they had seen. Spiegelhoff was beaten by some old man on an old Harley who was a nobody. The difference, as Paul explained, was that they almost had to lift Jim off the bike after the finish while Spiegelhoff was raring to go for another race. Jim called it a career right there. He had beat the best and all the locals knew it. Paul Brokaw Motorcycles had a hero wrenching in the back room and everyone knew that. Old Jimmy, what a man, and a heck of a mechanic to boot.
Short Stories from Tim Gibbes : uploaded 5th October, 2006 :
The MX Circuits during the 50s were not FIM homolgated, just a series of backyards of houses & small farms connected, plus a few paddocks, streets in the small villages that hosted these annual events, & usually very hairy, spectacular tracks, that had little to do with safety, but spectacle for the local spectators!
The Italian Cingoli MX Circuit nowadays sometimes hosts the Italian MX Grand Prix. The village of Cingoli is high up in the mountain range on the Eastern side of central Italy.
To get to the MX Circuit, it was a climb to even greater heights well into the clouds.
Naturally the circuit was steep & hilly with wide & narrow sections, possibly part of a ski area in the winter.
The very parochial Italian spectators love a good close race, but always want their own to be the vanquer (winner).
At one event of several when I rode there, I was racing the local ace - Angelini I think on an Italian made Aer Macchi or Benelli by memory. It was not uncommon for spectators, especially in Italy & France, to get very excited about who won, so if you were a foreigner leading their local ace, you could expect a few stones or sticks to be thrown at you as you raced. We got used to that, & as it was before body armour, full face helmets, & other modern day protection became available, a few bruises & cuts from the onslaughts were part of the deal!
As we raced down a steep hill where the track narrowed I was leading the local Italian racer. The spectators pushed the spectator snow fencing on the side of the track up tight so neither of us could get through, so we both crashed!
They picked up the Italian rider put him back on his bike & sent him on his way. They grabbed my bike, chucked it over the fence so I couldn't find it behind the spectators, so I had a little bit of sorting out to do, before recovering my bike & getting on the way again!
The organisers gave me a gold watch made of fools gold for fastest lap, possibly as a peace offering! Was that the weekend? The watch never did work!
The very strange thing about all these trackside attacks, was that after the racing was over & we would be licking our wounds, loading our bikes, etc. the spectators would come & sit down with us, drink some of their local vino, then start apologising for throwing the stones & sticks, making it very clear that their partisan & excitable nature was their problem, so please understand. A smile of sportsmanship was all that they needed!
Bob Walpole & I travelled together to & from that event. On the way back we both got diarrhoea in the biggest way & could only run 2 or 3 paces before squirting out more - in fact I think we had to stay at the same camp spot for a couple of days to recover? A souvenir of some food picked from somewhere along the way!
About 60 years later this photo of Tim was found in Marcel’s collection, taken at the 1991 FIM Congress held in Christchurch hosted by the then ACU of NZ, now Motorcycling NZ, by the French delegation
The Kangaroo MX Circuit in France.
The Moto-cross Commissioner for the FFM (French Federation of Motorcycling) was a very typical Frenchman - big, round, loved his food, drank lots of wine, loud voice, drove a Citroen 2CV & spoke some English with a very French accent. He lived in mid France not far from the famous Le Mans Road Race Circuit, in a very small village called Torce-en-Vallee.
The village had a rugby football oval which was also the recreation area for any sports or functions in the area.
Marcel Seery was a notable person in that village & a good guy to know if you wanted rides in MX events in France, especially around that region.
Several MX riders who had success at an MX event somewhere in Europe, would make a point of making a detour past his home, to give the winners laurel of flowers to his wife, making sure that Marcel knew of the victory, which paid dividends in him getting more events for us to ride in France during a season.
Unashamedly, I was one of them! He used to get me 6 or 8 good events with good starting money per season,
Circuit de Kangaroo at Torce-en-Vallee
The flip side of this was he wanted us to ride in his own event in Torce-en Valle. Not really a problem, as it was held on a public holiday, so didn't affect the major International events that I competed in, but he didn't pay a great deal of starting or prizemoney. Again not a problem, as it had longer term benefits.
The perimeter of the football oval was man made into an MX Circuit, & of course we were only to happy to help him make it when we had a bit of time to kill.
The track had a very deep bomb-hole, then several man made hills taken from the excavation, with plenty of short grass straights. A fun circuit, & unlike many French MX Circuits at that time, not stupidly dangerous.
I was one of the drifting Moto-cross riding Australians (hence the circuit's name) who helped design & construct it, & would have done some digger & dozer driving there as well, having been in earthmoving & construction machinery before I left Australia.
Nearly 40 years later, when Motorcycling New Zealand, when A.C.U. of NZ (now Motorcycling New Zealand) hosted the World FIM Congress in Christchurch in 1991, the French Federation asked me to go out for an evening with them. Happy to practice my French speaking again, I accepted.
To my surprise they presented me with an FFM Sportsman Trophy for being a great helper preparing & cleaning up at many MX events around France, plus giving my best effort in all the MX races I rode in France. A pleasurable gift!
FFM Plaque A surprise presentation to Tim Gibbes by the French Federation Motocycliste, FFM The occasion was when the FIM Annual Congress was held at Christchurch, New Zealand about 1991. I knew quite a few of the delegates attending the Congress from my time riding MX & Enduros in Europe, in fact in many parts of the world, so was able to welcome them to NZ & help where possible. With a smattering of French & German language that few other Kiwis had, it was easier for them too. The French delegation was quite big, but they needed help to arrange rental cars, look about the area, & generally get themselves organised. I was happy to help, that is what I was there for, as a member of the N.Z. Auto Cycle Union (later named Motorcycling NZ) Executive. Then the President of FFM started a speech that I could not understand fully, so got help from their medic rep. who spoke a little English. The presentation was especially for me, not for my help at this Congress but for all the help, good sportsmanship & hard work I had done while competing in French events, some 30 years earlier! I had not ridden in France since 1963, so must have left a good impression. Thinking back over various reasons, it became more obvious. Being a bit of a transient type in those days, & in earlier times always alone, I would arrive at a MX Circuit a few days ahead of time & without any other place to stay, would camp at the venue. Park whatever vehicle I had, sleep in it if it was raining, or on the ground outside if it was not. As the Clubs were preparing the circuit I would help them knock in pegs, erect banners, chip out stones, publicity & generally occupy myself best I could as well as gaining local knowledge & improve my French language. Quite often these venues were in very small villages isolated from the rest of France & the world, so the MX was part of an annual re-union for the region, market day, gala & school competitions, etc. - entertainment for everyone. The circuits could only be described as amateurish & in some cases quite dangerous to ride, as the organisers really had no idea what a motorcycle could or could not do, but they utilised what ever features were available, such as the main street made with cobble stones for a start area around a corner through the village square, into a quarry, where the descents were so steep they were very dangerous, so the job was to jump off the ledge & hope to land before the bottom. The ascents were just as difficult so a trials technique was very helpful, as a failure meant crashing backwards down the slope into whatever peril was at the bottom. Then through a few backyards where the fences had been dropped for the event, through an area set aside for night soil (sewerage) as there were no sewer depots in those days, so the smell was horrific, past a couple of beer gardens to entertain the heavy drinkers, through an orchard, etc. The whole exercise was to entertain & attract as many spectators as possible. None of the circuits in those days were FIM or FFM homologated, so practicality & safety were not on the agenda! Then on race day the big presentation of riders, National Anthems, marching girls, dignitaries, the whole 10 yards. These events could have up to 4 International riders from outside of France for what was called an "Extra-National" event, plus all the locals who had varied ability with an MX bike. Usually the International class riders (usually from European countries) would disappear into the lead & not put up a show at all, but I found it more fun & indeed more profitable to race with the locals, trading places all the time. Of course the very temperamental & parochial locals would get very excited about one of their locals challenging an International calibre rider & apart from all the yelling, would also throw stones & sticks at the foreigner (me) to show local support! These were before the days of body armour, so by the end of the day, I would be showing the signs of a bullfight with blood & bruises, but it went down well with the promoters & the spectators. To cap it all off at the end of the event, the locals who had been throwing all the debris would come to the pits & celebrate the day with me, apologising for their bad parochial habits, & sit around talking about the day, while I swallowed hard trying not to throw something back at them! Next day was clean up day for the circuit when I would hop in & help with the clean up before moving on to the next MX event, wherever that may be. I mentioned about my racing with the locals being quite profitable. At one event the then current 250cc World Champion Torsten Hallman from Sweden (founder of Hallman Racing & THOR Torsten Hallman Offroad Racing well known riding apparel manufacturers) appeared & o Of course was paid quite big starting money for his reputation. At the prize-giving that night when we picked up out prix de deplacement (starting money), he was very irate & performed considerably when he found that I had been paid considerably more than he had as a World Champion! I tried to explain that entertainment was the name of the game & not disappearing into the distance to make no race of it was not. He is probably still protesting!! So behind the FFM Plaque there is more than just a story! Tim Gibbes.
FFM Plaque A surprise presentation to Tim Gibbes by the French Federation Motocycliste, FFM
The occasion was when the FIM Annual Congress was held at Christchurch, New Zealand about 1991.
I knew quite a few of the delegates attending the Congress from my time riding MX & Enduros in Europe, in fact in many parts of the world, so was able to welcome them to NZ & help where possible. With a smattering of French & German language that few other Kiwis had, it was easier for them too.
The French delegation was quite big, but they needed help to arrange rental cars, look about the area, & generally get themselves organised. I was happy to help, that is what I was there for, as a member of the N.Z. Auto Cycle Union (later named Motorcycling NZ) Executive.
Then the President of FFM started a speech that I could not understand fully, so got help from their medic rep. who spoke a little English. The presentation was especially for me, not for my help at this Congress but for all the help, good sportsmanship & hard work I had done while competing in French events, some 30 years earlier! I had not ridden in France since 1963, so must have left a good impression.
Thinking back over various reasons, it became more obvious. Being a bit of a transient type in those days, & in earlier times always alone, I would arrive at a MX Circuit a few days ahead of time & without any other place to stay, would camp at the venue. Park whatever vehicle I had, sleep in it if it was raining, or on the ground outside if it was not.
As the Clubs were preparing the circuit I would help them knock in pegs, erect banners, chip out stones, publicity & generally occupy myself best I could as well as gaining local knowledge & improve my French language. Quite often these venues were in very small villages isolated from the rest of France & the world, so the MX was part of an annual re-union for the region, market day, gala & school competitions, etc. - entertainment for everyone.
The circuits could only be described as amateurish & in some cases quite dangerous to ride, as the organisers really had no idea what a motorcycle could or could not do, but they utilised what ever features were available, such as the main street made with cobble stones for a start area around a corner through the village square, into a quarry, where the descents were so steep they were very dangerous, so the job was to jump off the ledge & hope to land before the bottom. The ascents were just as difficult so a trials technique was very helpful, as a failure meant crashing backwards down the slope into whatever peril was at the bottom. Then through a few backyards where the fences had been dropped for the event, through an area set aside for night soil (sewerage) as there were no sewer depots in those days, so the smell was horrific, past a couple of beer gardens to entertain the heavy drinkers, through an orchard, etc. The whole exercise was to entertain & attract as many spectators as possible.
None of the circuits in those days were FIM or FFM homologated, so practicality & safety were not on the agenda!
Then on race day the big presentation of riders, National Anthems, marching girls, dignitaries, the whole 10 yards. These events could have up to 4 International riders from outside of France for what was called an "Extra-National" event, plus all the locals who had varied ability with an MX bike.
Usually the International class riders (usually from European countries) would disappear into the lead & not put up a show at all, but I found it more fun & indeed more profitable to race with the locals, trading places all the time. Of course the very temperamental & parochial locals would get very excited about one of their locals challenging an International calibre rider & apart from all the yelling, would also throw stones & sticks at the foreigner (me) to show local support!
These were before the days of body armour, so by the end of the day, I would be showing the signs of a bullfight with blood & bruises, but it went down well with the promoters & the spectators. To cap it all off at the end of the event, the locals who had been throwing all the debris would come to the pits & celebrate the day with me, apologising for their bad parochial habits, & sit around talking about the day, while I swallowed hard trying not to throw something back at them!
Next day was clean up day for the circuit when I would hop in & help with the clean up before moving on to the next MX event, wherever that may be.
I mentioned about my racing with the locals being quite profitable. At one event the then current 250cc World Champion Torsten Hallman from Sweden (founder of Hallman Racing & THOR Torsten Hallman Offroad Racing well known riding apparel manufacturers) appeared & o
Of course was paid quite big starting money for his reputation. At the prize-giving that night when we picked up out prix de deplacement (starting money), he was very irate & performed considerably when he found that I had been paid considerably more than he had as a World Champion! I tried to explain that entertainment was the name of the game & not disappearing into the distance to make no race of it was not. He is probably still protesting!!
So behind the FFM Plaque there is more than just a story! Tim Gibbes.
Transport problems to get to the ISDT 1957 4 men in a tub Austin A40 cab.
The Austin A40 with 4 men in a tub - Roy East, John Rock, Les Fisher & the photographer Tim Gibbes arrive at the Austrian - Czechoslavakian, ready to enter the Iron Curtain.
Not long after this, the local Czech fuel of about 80 octane, caused more than a hiccup to the engine, as described in this short story.
Before we arrived at the event, we had a slight transport problem. All 4 of us travelled all the way from England in my 1949 Austin A40 pickup, a distance of nearly 2,000 Kms. As the front seat was really only wide enough to fit 2 people, the 4 adults across was a bit of a squeeze, necessitating a revised driving format driver #1 pushing the accelerator & foot brake, plus some of the time steering, driver # 2 the clutch operation & shared steering duties, driver #3 or #4 who sat on # 3s knees, the gear change & general observation.
When the rain stopped sometimes, one would sit in the back of the pickup, where I also had my Matchless 500cc scrambles/MX bike, as I would have inevitably arranged a race for that in Europe somewhere along the trip.
We knew of the poor quality petrol behind the Iron Curtain, so filled up as much as we could in the West, but when we eventually filled up with the local brew of about 75 to 80 Octane instead of 95, the A40 engine, being well worn, could not burn the petrol well enough, so a lot went past the piston rings into the oil sump.
It wasnt long before the death rattle became more than audible. The petrol diluted oil couldnt lubricate the big end bearings enough, so by driving either on or off, the rattle & high wear factor was minimised.
On arrival at the ISDT we put the A40 up on blocks, to worry about that 6 days later!
After the ISDT was over, we went back to the 1949 Austin A40 Ute to repair the big end bearings. We had tried to contact friends in England to get more big end shells sent to us, but to no avail. Getting anything through the Iron Curtain was about impossible.
So we set about running solder into the shells with the hope that with careful assembly & even more careful driving, we would get back to UK.
It wasnt to be, the solder ran out within a kilometre or so.
Our next move was one we had heard of from the Aussie Outback but never tried.
Shoe tongues. Between the 4 of us we had enough shoe tongues to shape into big end shells, fitted them in with many prayers. Amazing, we drove all the way back to England with the leather big end shells. In fact I used the same treatment for other old dungers I bought to travel around various countries several times!
----------------- Short story from Bob Walpole -----------------------
One of the strongest, fittest & toughest riders I ever came across was a French man called Paul Godey, who had a little shop at Pernes-les Fontaine in south of France (where the French MX GP is held occasionally to this day). At a Moto-Cross he would ride 3 of 250 heats of 30 minutes then ride 3 heats of 40 minutes motos. He would win the three 250 races and be on the podium for the 500cc races. At the time he was in his 40s.
I heard a number of stories about him. During the war he was a member of the French Resistance, was part of the underground to smuggle allied flyers shot down over France down to Spain to get back to Britain. He had no second thoughts about cutting a Germans throat to achieve it, which he did.
At a French Moto G P in the first moto, he was in the first three on the track. He had a hard job getting past a lapped rider which cost him a place on the podium. When the riders lined up for the second moto, Paul walked along the line of riders, helmet in hand, walked up to the offending rider who was waiting patiently on the start line, gave him a BIG BUNCH of fives, knocking him flying head over heels off the bike. This was in front of all the FIM officials & dignitaries. Nothing was ever said or done of it! Most everyone knew what it was for. After that Paul calmly walked over to his bike put on his helmet, ready for the start - not a person to tangle with!
----------------------Another short story from Bob Walpole -----------------
I just recalled another story, do you remember the time a pommy MX rider took a shoe box too all the riders in the pits and have them ShXXX in it then very fully wrap it up in a nice parcel, place it under the seat of one of the riders transport vans? When they came to the English customs and was asked if they had anything to declare and they said NO, the customs man found this box under the seat whats this. The customs man said? Nothing the rider said would convince the uniformed man just some Shit Obviously the Customs man not very pleased when he took it into his office and opened up the box! I dont know how you are going to put this word Sh in print!
"The Mint 400" off road race, Las Vegas, USA.
"The Mint 400" off road race, Las Vegas, USA.
Unearthed from Paul Hunt's library. 1970 Mint 400 cross country race held near Las Vegas, USA.
Tim Gibbes with the "$ynthetic Yank" shirt, Joan Gibbes in the days of Mini skirts & Paul Hunt
Bikes one day, cars the next. Dust 3 feet deep, rocks embedded in the dust, rough as ... about 45 miles around each lap to get to 400 miles. Paul & I rode a Bud Ekins loaned 650cc Triumph engined Metisse. Last leg I had half of the front wheel spokes break after one broke & put strain on the others. I rebuilt the wheel in the moonlight with the remaining spokes to limp to the finish late at night.
Something different - rally cars Tim Gibbes Ford Escort Mark 1 ex works rally car.
This particular car was actually built by the Boreham, U.K. based Ford works rally workshop for the 1974 World Championship Rally season, and was driven by Finnish ace Hannu Mikkola in the English RAC event.
Subsequently the car was sent to Ford Australia & driven by Bob Watson & co-driver Jeff Beaumont, before being purchased by Tim Gibbes in 1975, when we prepared it for the 1976 New Zealand Rally season.
Specifications of the Yamaha - as we called it as Tim Gibbes Yamaha sponsored it - BDA 2 litre Rally car
Engine 2 litre alloy block with chrome plated cylinders. 90.4mm bore. Developed by Brian Hart Ltd., Essex, England Crankshaft Nitrided steel, stroke 77.62mm
Connecting Rods Cosworth Steel . Pistons German Mahle forged racing type. Cylinder Head 16 valve modified Ford BDA Belt Drive Arrangement
Compression Ratio 11.6 to 1 (quite low for this type of engine, but built for Safari. Camshafts Twin Overhead with belt drive. Ignition Lucas Opus Electronic
Carburettors Twin Weber 45mm DCOE side draught. Minimum Horsepower 230 bhp at 7,500 rpm. Minimum Torque 168 lbs/foot at 6,000 rpm
Engine rev limits 8,000 maximum continuous. Quite slow revving for this engine type. Lubrication System Dry Sump with scavenge pump. Oil tank in boot.
Clutch Triple dry plate Borg & Beck unit. Gearbox German built ZF 5 speed wide ratio. Brakes Four wheel disc, Front ventilated type.
Rear Axle German made ZF limited slip locker diff with Ford Atlas axle. Electrical System 12 Volt with 24 Volt starting arrangement.
Premium Service Crew were Garry Price, Graham Miller, Don Lowe, Russell Harris
29 August, 2006 --- 3 World MX Champions meet again - Les Archer (England) - 1956 , Sten Lundin (Sweden) - 1959 & 1961 & Jeff Smith (England) - 1964 & 1965. At the annual "Bonanza" 2006 meeting in England, & exactly 50 years after Les Archer won his World 500 cc Title, the bikes & greats were reunited.
When Les won the Championship, Archers of Aldershot employed Ron Hankins to build 4 long stroke Manx Norton engined MX bikes. It seems only one has survived & was found in Canada. The British National Motorcycle Museum paid 20,000 pounds for it then completed a very expensive but comprehensive rebuild just in time for this years Bonanza.
At that time Les had the great but late Eric Cheney as his race team partner. Eric was also a very good engineer.
Les said "It was just wonderful to see the old bike again, as it was 50 years ago when I won the Championship." Les & wife Claire pose with A1.
A1 - the only one known existing long stroke Manx engined Norton Special Les rode to victory. 4 were built, plus later a short stroke double knocker which has been beautifully restored in USA by Fred Mork & is now on display/loan to a museum.
On the right of the picture is one of Jeff Smiths BSA Victor that he used to win 2 world championships, 1965 & 1965. Those who rode at the recent World Veterans MX Championships in Western Australia will know that Jeff Smith is still awfully quick on a bike at over 70 years of age! And in the background of the picture is a Rickman Metisse frame kit & clothing - the great ambition of many in the 60s, & probably one of prettiest looking MX bikes of all time!
A real oldie photo of a very youthful Les Archer road racing on a 500cc Velocette, at the British Eppynt Circuit. At that time he was following in the his father & grandfathers footsteps with road racing.
Uploaded 24 Nov., 08 - Archers of Aldershot,
Most recently represented by Les Archer who won the World 500cc MX Championship in 1956 riding especially built Nortons, comes from a very famous heritage.
Here we see LJ Archer, Grandfather of Les on a New Imperial on the right, LJ, Les's father, on the left, again on a New Imperial, flanking Grandmother Archer & their twin daughters, Thelma & Joan, all mounted on Ariels, with the the then mod motorcycle clothing!
Both Joan & Thelma were racers & theres a photo of Thelma on our front page during a record breaking ride at Brooklands in 1932. Joan recently died aged 92, not long before the recent Centenerary celebrations of the now defunct but well remembered Brookland race track, after which so many legendary cars, motorcycles, mufflers, models, & people have been named.
Very few will remember Brooklands, but modern motorists & motorcyclist should acknowledge those who loved the challenge of speed on this very early machinery which was in no way perfect, but a hotbed for technical development of the earlier cars & motorcycles.
Our modern generation take for granted when they buy off the floor nowadays, but would you ride one of these bikes at over 100mph (160kph)?
Les Archer - The trophy is the Brooklands famous Hutchison 100 Trophy which Dad won there in 1932 and Les won in 1947 at Dunholme on Joe Erhlichs EMC
------------------ BROOKLANDS RACE TRACK IN ENGLAND - PRE WW2. --------------------
For many years after WW2, there was not much access to Brooklands, but in the 1970s the old Club House and surrounding sheds were restored to original, and a Museum created. On one of the shed doors, in old style script, it reads: Archers of Aldershot - Velocette Agent. The photo of Les and Claire Archer standing alongside, taken at the 100th Anniversary...in 2008. Today, it's a truly evocative place for cars, bikes, and aircraft, and it's continuing to expand. Last week's bash was an Ace Cafe Ton Up day, and this afternoon was for a gathering of the Norton Owners Club. It's borna again in a different way!
Les Junior Archer & wife Claire in front of the Brooklands restoration project, where his father & grandfather raced.
Flashback to memories of yesteryear at the famous British pre-war race track - Brooklands. The brand New Imperial was one of the many famous makes of motorcycles raced successfully at Brooklands, but all these brands have not survived.