Chapter Five Part Six

The Stevens brothers were not so quick to adopt the new saddle tanks as some makers, however whilst no doubt some riders did not care for the bulbous saddle tanks it would seem the majority did. At A.J.S. some hectic work had been undertaken to get the new designs out and the result was a very attractive range of machines. The new tanks were finished in black with purple panes, and the redesigned frames had a single top tube. Centre spring forks were adopted and the engine was cleaned up with two port heads. A couple of interesting machines were under development, a straight four and a transverse 'V' twin.
Returning to the competition side of motorcycling we can report that A.J.S. continued to do very well and captured many speed records. For the 1929 Junior T.T. on the Isle of Man A.J.S. obtained the services of the great Walter Handley. Frank Longman returned to the Graiseley team and with George Rowley they made a formidable trio. Sunbeam also had a fine team consisting of Charlie Dodson, Arthur Simcock, Francisco Franconi, and Gilbert Emery, who had done so well in the Amateur T.T.

Whilst many experts favoured a Sunbeam victory, no one could discount the ohc Velocettes, and with riders of the calibre of Freddie Hicks and Alec Bennett they were in with a very good chance. The race took place in excellent weather conditions and the Velocettes dominated proceedings with Handley giving them some stiff opposition.

Sunbeam was also very competitive, but the race fell to Freddie Hicks who completed the race on his Velocette in 3 hours 47 minutes 23 seconds at an average speed of 69.11m.p.h. He also set the fastest lap at 70.95m.p.h., in both cases Junior records. 2nd place went to Wal Handley who brought his A.J.S. home just l minute 22 seconds behind the winner. 3rd spot was filled by Alec Bennett with Charlie Dodson finishing 4th on his Sunbeam. Other Sunbeams took 12th and 14th places, and an A.J.S finished 15th.

Excellent conditions also attended the Senior race and some good racing was looked forward to by the large crowds around the course. Sunbeams were very much the favourites to do it again, though the Rudges were known to be very strong challengers and in no way could Norton be forgotten with jockeys Stanley Woods and Tim Hunt. The enthusiasts could see it would be a very open race and awaited the outcome with some excitement. Tyrell Smith took an early lead on the Rudge with Tim Hunt and Charlie Dodson in 2nd and 3rd places. This continued and by lap 4 Tyrell Smith had an advantage of more than 3 minutes over Hunt with Dodson a strong 3rd. Things soon changed when the Rudge teamster crashed heavily at Glen Helen to put Hunt on the Norton into the lead. Alec Bennett who had returned to the Marston fold was also going very well and catching up on Dodson in 3rd place. Problems began with the Norton and little Charlie went into first place with team mate Bennett second. Much interest now focussed on Tyrell Smith for he had got home again after his crash and was now really motoring.

Charlie Dodson went on to win his 2nd Senior T.T. with team mate Alec Bennett in 2nd place, over 4 minutes down. The gallant Tyrell Smith brought his Rudge into 3rd place, only 50 seconds behind Bennett.

When Tyrell Smith was examined at the finish it was found that as well as extensive leg injuries he had also suffered three cracked ribs in his accident at Glen Helen, so his was a really wonderful performance, riders were really tough in those days.

Whilst no doubt for his crash, the Rudge man could well have won the Coventry concerns first Senior since 1914, however it was the Sunbeam that won.

Dodson's time for the race was 3 hours 39 minutes 59 seconds, an average speed of 72.05m.p.h., a record, as was his fastest lap in 30 minutes 47seconds. An average speed of 73. 55m.p.h.

With Dodson winning and Alec Bennett 2nd the 3rd member of the team Arthur Simcock's took 7th place and this brought Sunbeam the Manufacturers Team Prize for the third year in succession. Another Sunbeam finished in 11th place and the only A.J.S. to complete the race, ridden by Frank Longman came 16th.

There was much rejoicing in Wolverhampton at the great Sunbeam victory and the Express & Star devoted three full columns of the then large format paper with a whole eight column headline.

The Secretary of the John Marston Company let it be known how these racing successes helped sales of machines and rightly pointed out how prestige was brought to the country, and also to the town when the winning machine was made in Wolverhampton.

Later a testimonial dinner was given to Charlie Dodson with managing director, A.S. Bowers presiding. The 1929 Senior T.T. had been great for Sunbeam. All enthusiasts hoped they would continue to do well and that A.J.S. would soon return to their T.T. winning ways.

Before the T.T. races, which were held in June, A.J.S. had attracted a lot of attention when they went in for a spot of record breaking at Brooklands. Many records were taken by riders Bert Denley and Leo Davenport including seven 350c.c. sidecar world records ranging from the 4 hours at 66.08m.p.h. to the 8 hours at 65.65m.p.h. All told at this time A.J.S. held no less than 117 world speed records, most of them gained by Bert Denley or Charlie Hough. Of course both Davenport and Hough were well known A.J.S. men, but Denley had been a very successful Norton rider of Nigel Spring's machines. Spring had now decided to change to A.J.S. and so Bert Denley was seen astride the Wolverhampton machines. This combination would gain many successes on the track.

As we have mentioned above, enthusiasts were looking for A.J.S. success in the Isle of Man but we must not loose sight of the fact that although the T.T. was the most famous of races many classic races also took place on the continent. It was here that A.J.S. as well as Sunbeam excelled. George Rowley won the Austrian Grand Prix on his A.J.S. and Arthur Simcock, now riding the rival Wolverhampton marque won the 500c.c. race.

The Spanish 350c.c. Grand Prix was won by Leo Davenport on an A.J.S. while the 500c.c. class in the French and Belgian Grand Prix were won at an average speed of over 80m.p.h. by Charlie Dodson riding Sunbeams. During the year Sunbeams in the hands of local riders also won the 1,000c.c. Grand Prix in Germany and also the Hungarian Grand Prix. In Italy at the famous Monza track Achillie Varzi won the 500c.c. Grand Prix des Nations on a Sunbeam at an average speed of 85.49m.p.h. also setting the fastest lap at 94.49m.p.h. This was a fine effort, as due to the small tank fitted to his machine, he had needed to stop for fuel five times. Achillie Varzi would of course become famous as a great car driver and at the same time as his success mentioned above, he also won the Monza Grand Prix for cars, driving an Alfa Romeo at an average speed of 116m.p.h.
Now to return nearer home and the Ulster Grand Prix. The 500c.c. race was dominated by Rudge and Norton riders which resulted in a win for Graham Walker on a Rudge with the Nortons of Tim Hunt and Stanley Woods 2nd and 3rd. The 350 race had been extended by one lap to a distance of 225.5 miles. From the start Joe Craig set a cracking pace on his Norton, setting a new lap record in the process. He was soon sidelined however with mechanical trouble, and this proved to be his last race. Joe of course went on to become racing chief at Nortons and in the 1950s was architect of their very many victories around the world.

To return to the race, Leo Davenport riding very fast took the lead and went through
to win on his A.J.S. with a time of 2 hours 57 minutes 29 seconds, an average of 76.23m.p.h. Team mate George Rowley took 2nd place, 3 minutes 46seconds behind the winner.
A.J.S. had won their first Ulster Grand Prix and for the second time were runners up.

We now return to the Isle of Man for the 1929 Amateur T.T. and to a by no means pleasing atmosphere. During the period since the previous year's race there had been a lot of ill feeling caused by certain riders being thought to have accepted unauthorised financial and material help. Despite the unpleasant undercurrent, obvious to many, two very good races seemed to be in prospect with an excellent entry for both.

Of the 34 entries for the Junior race, 4 would be riding Sunbeams and 3 A.J.S. Favourite to win was W. Meageen on his Rex Acme, although many also favoured a win by a Velocette rider. It seemed from the start that the later was correct for J. Hanson went off at a cracking pace aboard his Velo and took 1.5 minutes off the lap record from a standing start. Other Hall Green machines filled the next 4 places with Meageen down in 6th spot. On lap 5 the Manxman really turn the wick up on the Rex putting in a lap at 67.8m.p.h., which would prove to be the days' fastest. He now dead heated for 2nd place with A.S. Sikes and now came the drama. The leader Hanson had engine trouble and Meageen took the lead, then on the last lap the Rex's throttle cable came adrift, Meageen kept going, but at the very tricky Govenors Bridge, and almost within sight of the chequered flag the Manxman stalled the engine. Try as he would he could not restart it and started to push in. Such was his lead that he crossed the line to win by 12 seconds from E.N. Lea's Velocette with D.Z. de Ferranti of the famous electrical manufacturing concern in 3rd place, riding a New Henley. Now came a sensational decision. A protest against Meageen was laid saying that he had received outside assistance at Govenors Bridge and he was disqualified. This put Lea into first place and Ferranti second.

Charlie Dodson on a Sunbeam.

Riders of Wolverhampton machines had not really figured in the race, however R. Allen finished 6th on a Sunbeam while W.G. Bevan and G.H. Lennie were 8th and 9th on AJs. One rider of an A.J.S. retired as did one who had chosen Sunbeam. Two second Sunbeam riders were disqualified. To sum up, the 1929 Junior Amateur T.T. had been a fast and exciting race but marred by protests leading to disqualifications.

Happily the Senior would not suffer these problems, well not immediately, though events would follow that would bring the Amateur T.T. to an end.

Briefly, J.D. Potts riding a Grindlay Peerles won at an average speed of 66.25m.p.h. with E.N. Lea second on a Norton. The fastest lap fell to H.J. Bacon who took his Sunbeam round in 32 minutes 21 seconds, just short of the first Junior over 70 lap at 69.99m.p.h. whilst S. Lees and G. Rea were 6th and 7th on their Sunbeams. Two other Sunbeam riders were disqualified and none of the A.J.S. riders completed the course.

Whilst there had been no official protests there had been murmurings and a later an ACU enquiry which led to the disqualification of the winner J .D. Potts. This of course made Lea the winner, so he had won both Junior and Senior Amateur T.T.s but on each occasion after a protest, a far from happy situation. Lea however was in no way to blame for he had not lodged the protest. The enquiry also recommended the suspension of 21 riders and excluded them from any awards won in the 1929 Amateur races, although the results of the Junior were not effected. All this took many months and it was at the end of 1929 before the matter was cleared up. This was to bring the Amateur T.T. races to an end, however a new race would take its place and happily has continued to the present time.

It has been mentioned earlier that reliability trials played a big part in most manufacturer's competition programmes. Whilst lacking the glamour of racing trials, the reliability trials greatly helped to prove the product and success in that field brought a boost to sales.

Important as trials were it would be quite impossible to do them justice in this present story and we have been able to only take very brief notice of them. Before closing the present chapter though a look at the 1929 Scottish Six Days Trial which had been held in May and would be the only six days event held in Britain that year. There were a good number of riders astride A.J.S. and Sunbeams including a works team from each factory, and they did well. A.J.S. won the 350c.c. Manufacturer's Team Prize and Sunbeam the Unlimited Manufacturer's Team Prize. The trial, which started from Edinburgh had some very tough sections, and riders had to cover a total distance of 1,006 miles with 195 miles being the longest distance covered on a single day. The A.J.S. team consisted of George Rowley, Leo Davenport and Clarrie Wise, all of whom won silver cups. Private entry A. Downie won a bronze medal after failing some sections and suffering from tyre troubles. Each member of the Sunbeam team consisting of Vic Brittain, D.Q. Archer Bates, and Drew McQueen won a silver cup. Sunbeam riders J. Grout and James Beck Jnr on 347c.c. machines also gained silver cups as did Stan Higson and sidecar expert N.P.O. Bradley. This was a very fine result for the two Wolverhampton concerns.
It is interesting to read comments on the individual riders that were published in "MotorCycling" magazine. The remarks on George Rowley included "magnificent rider, probably the most spectacular man in the trial and certainly the most popular with the spectators".

As we have seen George was a great all rounder, being a very good road racing man who excelled at trials as well as motorcycle football, a very popular sport at one time.

The remarks on the two other AJ men included Clarrie Wise, "sometimes rather wild but always able to get there". Leo Davenport is described as "a steady and determined rider, unruffled by emergencies and not afraid to foot when necessary". Leo of course was also an excellent road racer and his father Tom Davenport held a managerial post at the Graiseley Works.

Of the Sunbeam team the best known rider must be Vic Brittain, one of the all time greats of the trials world. In the 1950s his son John would become a leading trials ace.

The "MotorCycling" report said that "Vic never went wrong, and as usual kept his feet up throughout"
Drew McQueen who was also a dirt track rider received the comment that "feet up and flat out were his watchwords" and Archer Bates was described as "fast, steady and feet up". There was much praise for the performance of private rider, schoolboy, James Beck Jnr. The report mentioned his outstanding ability and suggested that he would rank with the star men.

And so we bring to an end to this chapter. We have seen many successes for the Wolverhampton motor firms and also failures. Unfortunately the following chapter will have to record more bad times than good.

Return to
Part 5
  Return to
the beginning