Thursday, December 21, 2006


Fay Taylour was the most famous woman motorcyclist in the late 1920's, and a champion speedway competitor. Born 1904 in Ireland, by the age of 21 she was traveling the world, racing on the incredibly popular speedway tracks in England, Australia, and New Zealand. The popularity of this sport in the late 20's is difficult to imagine, as it caught the public imagination like wildfire, after the sport arrived from Australia. Races which were expected to attract 1,000 spectators were suddenly swamped with 20,000 people, causing great difficulties with crowd and traffic control, but making promoters (and ultimately riders) a lot of money in the day.

Fay was quoted in an Australian newspaper in 1930, "
“All my life I have enjoyed sports of all kinds, and when I chanced to come upon motor cycling I took to it at once, and loved going at speed. And I’ve always loved mechanical things – anything
with wheels. When I was quite a tiny tot I would prefer playing with toy engines rather than dolls.

“Whilst I think that dirt-track racing is essentially for men, because they are stronger and better fitted to meet the strain, I do not think it should be taboo for women who can prove themselves capable.

“If a woman is strong enough and enjoys the thrills, if she can take the sport as the men do, she is in for a good time. But she has to exercise greater care, for it is easier for her to overdo things. Nevertheless, she need not lose her femininity over the job. I know there are people who think that there is something abominable about a woman on the dirt-track. But it merely shows her adaptability. She can be just as normal in the leather gear of a speed merchant as she is in a billowy evening frock.

“When, three years ago, I got my first motorbike, I was told I should break my neck. But I didn’t! In fact, I entered for the Southern Scots Scramble at Camberley in that same year. It was a gruelling test for both
machine and rider, but more especially for the rider.

“Think of it! Forty-eight miles of rough going over hills, up and down. Much against his will, and after a great deal of persuasion, an uncle had financed me for this event. I had sworn to win it! He didn’t believe it possible. But, I felt it was, because I wanted it to be the means of making a new career. So I kept on saying to myself: ‘Girl, you must win!’ And win I did! From that date my career as a racing motorcyclist began.

But it costs money to become a recognised racing motorcyclist, and, what is more, a woman has to face a great deal of opposition before anyone will take her seriously. I approached the manufacturers. But at that time they felt that my riding was too wild. Apparently they could get no advertisement out of my exhibitions because my stuff would not appeal to women riders.

“And then I had a road accident, injuring my knee. A specialist advised an operation, which was successful. I then got work with a firm of motorcycle manufacturers in their showrooms at Birmingham.

“But I wanted speed. I had won a score or so of cups, but you can’t live on cups! When, in the early part of last year, I saw the dirt track speeding, I made up my mind to go in for these new thrills. I was refused admission to three speedway tracks, one after the other.

“Then, whilst the officials were in the Isle of Man last year for the T.T. races, I took advantage of their absence to test myself on the dirt track at Crystal Palace. The result was that, by the time they returned, I was able to show them efficiency in the new sport.

“I was established, and, as is generally known, I made the most of my opportunities there during the summer of last year. Even a woman can get what she wants, when her want is strong

“Then came my Australian tour. I was repeatedly told that the Australians would not allow a woman to ride on their tracks. But I was given my chance, and put up the fastest time of the
meetings at several States when I defeated well-known champions.

Our tracks are much smaller than the Australian dirt tracks, which, I think, makes racing here more of a nerve test. The smaller the track, the more bends in a given distance, and the more thrills.”

In the top photos, she's sitting on a racing Douglas DT5, a 500cc ohv flat-twin, with an extremely low center of gravity, which suited the leg-trailing riding style on the cinder tracks at that time. It was THE unbeatable machine of the 1927/'28/'29 seasons, later challenged by Rudge, and JAP specialist machines.

Women were banned from ALL speedway tracks in England in 1930, so Fay switched to racing cars, and became, naturally, very successful at that sport as well. She always carried a pair of satin pajamas in a suitcase to her racing venues, in case she had an accident - early in her career she had been hospitalized briefly, and hated the rough hospital gown she was forced to wear!

The fourth pic shows her ready to compete in the 1929 International Six Day's Trial, on a 500cc ohv Panther! Nor was she the only woman at the Trial in '29; there was a British Ladie's Vase Team, made up of Marjorie Cottle (348cc Raleigh), Edyth Foley (346cc Triumph), and Louie McLean (Douglas).
The ISDT that year went through 5 Countries (! - Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France!) and was considered an organizational disaster - strange for any Germanic competition (it started in Munich), but the organizer's great ambition exceeded their grasp. The mountain passes were incredibly rough on the machines and riders, but Fay Taylor stuck the course to win a Silver Medal (as did Marjorie Cottle, Betty Lermite (Royal Enfield), and Louie MacLean).

During WW2, she was interned on the Isle of Man from 1940-43, for her pro-fascist views (! - she was friends with Sir Oswald Mosley, notorious founder of the British Union of Fascists in 1932), then released on condition she live in Ireland (which was neutral) for the duration of the war. Lesson #1; be careful having heroes, you never know what they're really thinking!

Amazingly, after WW2, she came to the US and took up midget car racing, then returned in '53 to England, where she raced a 500cc Formula Cooper car (see last pic), until finally retiring from racing around 1959. She died in 1983.

Below is a video from around 1929 of Fay riding a Douglas DT5 - talk about rare footage! This is a sample from the British Pathe catalog; if you need the real film, you can pay them a fee for downloading a higher quality wmv or qt5 file.


Kenzo Tada was the first Asian to compete in the Isle of Man TT, in 1930; he was the Velocette agent for Japan, in Tokyo, and was the Japanese national racing champion in the 30's.

Invited to race at the 1930 TT by Veloce management as thanks for his efforts in Japan, it's believed he was loaned Alec Bennett's 1929 third-place winning machine. This was quite a leap of faith for the company, for although he was an expert racer in Japan (which used mainly dirt tracks until the 1960's), he had never set eyes on the complex and demanding 37.5-mile Island circuit. He acquitted himself well, gaining 15th place, and the nickname 'the India Rubber Man', as he took numerous minor spills during the course of the race, yet always remounted, and completed the Junior TT in fine time.

Top photo shows Tada astride the 350cc ohc KTT Velo, with Percy Goodman, Managing Director of Veloce Ltd, directly behind him.

Second photo shows Tada back in Japan, in traditional kimono, with (presumably) his own Tokyo-registerd KTT (identifiable by the strutted Webb forks, used only on the 1929-36 KTTs). I don't know the year, and in fact, information on Tada is very difficult to find. I had a conversation recently with a fellow seeking information on a Japanese dealer who had imported a Series A Vincent to race, pre-war. He found some locals who knew something of the story, but were basically unwilling to discuss the past, saying it was 'bad history'. This attitude of the older generation makes for a hard time writing about someone like Tada.

Last photo shows the different nationalities racing Velocettes in the 1930 TT - there must have been an effort by Veloce management to invite foreign riders for the TT that year (a tempting offer for any racer, as Velo had won the '29 Junior TT easily). Tada stands behind the rear wheel of the KTT. How it would all change in a few years...


Excelsior! Fastest arse in the world! This is the 'Silver Comet', prepared by Claude Temple to take the world speed record in 1931, with a supercharged 1000cc ohv JAP engine. Fast as it looked, it wouldn't break 170mph, so was retired... but what a looker.

For the tech-minded, the engine put out 100hp at 15psi blower pressure, at which point the blower was absorbing 15hp. It drove thru a 2 speed Burman gearbox built to withstand 120hp. Fuel consumption estimated at 5mpg, oil at 50mpg, using four oil pumps to liberally coat the machine for greater speed (oh all right). Paxon flexible saddle! All that power was controlled by a single lever on the handlebar, not a twistgrip throttle. One little finger controlling 100hp.

You'll note the gentleman on the Paxon flexible saddle has simply taken off his suit coat, and is still wearing the vest from his 3-piece and shiny street shoes. Avoirdupois over shiny aluminum.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


This is the grandaddy Sartorialist sportsman of all motorcycling, George Brough, on his own creation, the famous Brough-Superior 'Spit and Polish', so called because of the always-immaculate finish he kept. This used a highly modified JAP engine (see post below), 980cc sidevalve, with the internals lightened to nearly nothing. He was famous not only as a manufacturer of fine motorcycles, but as a competition rider second to none in his day. He only retired from racing competition when his sprinter 'Old Bill' crossed the finish line ahead of its rider, and George spent 8 months in the hospital receiving skin grafts! Pre-penicillin.
What is George wearing? The classic collegiate racer getup of the day, in what I think is an Oxford sweater, with shirt and tie (with tiebar) of course, wool jodhpurs, and proper calf-high boots, which were rare at the time for racers. Gloves too were rare apparently, but George sports some lightweight leather items with what looks like the fingertips cut off. As all the controls on the motorcycle were levers (no twistgrip throttles until the 30's), fingertip control might have been important to George. He certainly wouldn't have been caught dead with worn-out gloves. He's also wearing a fur-lined aviator's 'helmet', which would have done nothing but keep his head warm. Useful helmets, made of layered fabric held together with varnish ('dope'), and lined with cork and leather, had begun to appear by this date, so George has made a choice of headgear.
I'll post more pix of George in the future, as his outfits are always inspiring.


Here is 'Vivian' Prestwich on a 250cc Diamond with his family product, a side-valve JAP engine (Jos.A.Prestwich&Co). This photograph was taken Nov 23, 1920, and his little machine made 62.39mph, an impressive figure for a little flathead engine of the day, and a new record. If you click on the photo, you might make out the lovely cursive script on the tank, and the fact that EVERYTHING is drilled to swiss cheese standards on the machine.
Notes on the man; I love that sweater! Hand-knit with the family firm's logo and decorative bands, striped tie, jodhpurs, and WHITE buck shoes! His right shoe is a little soiled (oiled!), and he's wearing a wristwatch, which was rare for racers at the time. Moustache of a type to become very unpopular twenty years later.
Safety gear for racing had yet to become standardized, and helmets, leather jackets, and boots were not universally adopted until the later 1920's.


This photograph deserves some scrutiny, not only for the dashing Kaye Don, but the details in the background as well. Note a 'barrel-back' Morgan 3-wheeler behind Kaye's back, several open touring cars, the white horizontal strip at the far distance which is the Byfleet Banking, ie the banked part of the Brooklands racing circuit (almost vertical at the top, very difficult to climb!). Also, a fantastic sporting combination with an alloy-body sidecar, clearly used for racing with those giant dropped handlebars and a painted number roundel on the nose of the 'chair'. Can't discern the make of the bike, but it looks like a big v-twin, possibly a Zenith.
The date of the photo is April 16, 1921. Kaye Don, later to become famous as a GP star for Bugatti and Sunbeam cars, sits on his pretty little Diamond 250cc ohv machine - a very early example of valves 'up top'. I would assume Mr. Don was a wealthy man, as money was a prerequisite for top-flight auto racing in the 20's and 30's, basically a gentleman's sport, as there were few sponsors and prize money would never finance travel and racing expenses, and certainly not the price of a racing Bugatti! On this day Kaye set a flying kilometer speed record of 69.62mph, which was amazingly fast for such a small machine at this early date.
Notes on his outfit; detachable-collar shirt, necktie with tiebar at the collar, wool sweater, jodhpurs, high wool socks, and street shoes. With exposed everything on his Diamond (chains, valves, etc), no mudguards, and evidence of considerable oil on the engine, its a wonder how his sweater remains clean! Such a dashing portrait, eh?