AN INTERESTING LETTER FROM AUB MELROSE in JULY 1927
|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
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
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
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 re-passing 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
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
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.
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
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
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 alley-way 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
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, 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.
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.
Information kindly provided by Terry Walker
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.
All content remains the Copyright of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of Western Australia Inc.