What a headline! ’83-year-old wins at Goodwood’. That’s quite a line, indeed. And I was quite disappointed not to see it more widely used after last month’s Goodwood Revival Meeting as motor-cycling duo Charlie Williams and Mike Farrall rodeo-rode their 83-year old 1933 Rudge TTR home to win the rain-swept first part of the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy race. On the Sunday they then finished third overall in the dry to end up third overall in the aggregate results, against much, much more modern postwar opposition…
OCT 19th 2016
Doug Nye: Rudge – you're only as old as you feel
Now I am certainly no motorcyclist, but I am a considerable fan of two-wheeled road racing both motorised and otherwise, and when Wiliams and Farrall simply stood the form book on its head on Revival Saturday even our hugely experienced full-time professional commentators – Barry Nutley and Toby Moody – could scarcely believe their eyes.
In particular the sight of the spidery Rudge – complete with its primitive girder forks at the front and solid rear end, on narrow tyres - not that much fatter than those on my grandson’s junior push-bike - juddering and chattering its way round Madgwick with the fearless (and immensely accomplished) Williams or Farrall on board – was a genuine jaw dropper. The machine’s straight-line speed was also extraordinary, no doubt helped by its initial exit-speed from the second apex at Lavant Corner, out onto the Lavant Straight… and again out of the chicane… and from Madgwick.
Watching them might not exactly have been poetry in motion – not quite like watching the smooth John Surtees or Giacomo Agostini in their pomp astride a works MV or Yamaha – but amidst the relentless rain and drizzle, surf and spray that Saturday motor-cycle race at the Revival was just something to behold.
Charlie Williams and Mike Farrall averaged 75.23mph for their 10 laps, and added a fastest lap of 1-minute 47 seconds, against a best of 1:50 for the second-placed duo, Duncan Fitchett/Sam Clews on their 1951 Manx Norton, while Steve Brogan/Iain Bain on their 1953 Norton in third place had clocked a 1:45 before losing time.
As I watched that soggy Saturday’s events unfold, completely open mouthed, one line kept running through my head which I remembered from childhood, drummed into me by my cycling big brother: “Ride a Raleigh, ride a wreck – ride a Rudge, and break your neck!” The Birmingham manufacturer’s own salers promotion line in period line was only slightly more positive – reading simply “Rudge it, do not trudge it”. Yes, well, perhaps some advertising writers in those days were a little too… buttoned-up?
The 1933 Rudge TT Replica or ‘TTR’ was produced in 350cc and 500cc forms as a single-cylinder with radially-disposed four-valve head – and very impressive it proved to be, when new, not just 83 years after initial manufacture. Through 1933 the Rudge’s leading riders included Tyrrell Smith, Ernie Nott and Graham Walker, perhaps better recognised today as the late ‘father of Murray’ but himself a great British motor-cycling celebrity of the period, and subsequently as he commentated on the Isle of Man TTs each year.
Another senior runner featuring at the sharp end of a Revival race has - for many years now - been American past winner of the Glover Trophy Formula 1 feature, James King. The tall, softly-spoken American has been in his 50th year of racing this season, and has certainly been driving as well as ever. He actually entered his first race in the USA aged 21, the minimum for Sports Car Club of America competition, in 1966, “…beginning in the spring semester of my senior year at university,” he recalls. He then adds: “Exactly one year later, I was driving a ‘Deuce-and-a-half’ Army truck – and plenty of Jeeps and 3/4-ton trucks as well – as a Spec/4 combat engineer in Vietnam”.
James had had a pretty bad Saturday in September ’66 when his draft (conscription) notice landed at his front door the same day that the engine of his 1960 Porsche 356B roadster seized-up at a National SCCA race.
This was during LBJ's crushingly unpopular build-up to achieve the 500,000-man Vietnam force that General Westmoreland – the head boy in that theatre – had requested. For James King his 12-month tour of duty ran from early April '67 through to the end of March ’68. The really bad news was that it included the watershed Tet offensive, of January 30 '68, that changed many things – the Viet Cong launching multiple attacks throughout the country. “Though our intelligence knew the VC and NVA were planning multiple operations, we vastly underestimated their strength and number. Around 0300, our compound was attacked first with Chinese 122 rockets one of which landed just outside our hooch killing the man in front of me as we headed to the bunkers and then a ground assault which was repelled. Numerous Huey helicopters and elements of the 11th Armored Cavalry turned the tide in our favour by mid-day.
“I returned home in the US just in time to watch LBJ issue his TV speech that he would not seek nor accept the nomination to run again for President – and about ten days before we lost Jim Clark at Hockenheim. For me the latter event was by far the more profound…”
James was indeed an avid motor racing fan. On a trip to Europe in 1964 he’d attended the French Grand Prix at Rouen-les-Essarts, seeing his lifelong hero, the tall, black-helmeted fellow-American Dan Gurney, win in his works-entered Brabham-Climax BT7. Years later James was able to buy that very same car. It has always been exquisitely presented, and very competitive, in his hands and when he won the Goodwood Revival Glover Trophy race in it, it meant a tremendous amount not just to him… but also to Dan back home in California.
In this year’s Glover Trophy James felt that both he and the BT7 were on sufficiently good form to compete seriously with Martin Stretton’s Lotus 24 and Nick Fennell’s Lotus 25. Prospects looked pretty good during the opening stages as he closed on the leading trio and found he had the track speed to match Martin and Nick, and third place man Miles Griffiths in his Lotus 24, “…as the leaders were carving each other up. Miles and I were only a few seconds behind when I managed to cut inside him on the entry to Lavant, then lead him away down the Straight after the exit.
“I so wanted to have a go at another Glover win for my hero Dan who is now well into his 85th year but remains mentally as sharp as ever. But a couple of laps later I tried to carry just a fraction too much speed into Madgwick, put two wheels on the grass, and I spun – fortunately without hitting anything. I rejoined eighth and drove back up to fifth.
"In the locker room chatting later with David Brabham he said: ‘You just ran out of talent. I did that at Mosport and wrecked the Panos in T1…’ If only I hadn’t spun at Madgwick. One never knows how the end would have turned out, which is, of course, why we love our sport…”
Age really just doesn’t matter, you see. All these ageing racers are still under 30 inside, at most, and when it comes to that 83-year-old Rudge – yeah, well, it too will only be as old as it feels… especially when conditions are favourable, those narrow tyres are nice and warm, and the rain keeps hissing down.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library.
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