I first went to the Isle Of Man in 1955, and witnessed the great Geoff Duke attain the first 100 mile an hour lap on his Gilera, he held the record for a whole 40 minutes, until it was decided, that according to re-calculations, he had only managed 99.97 m.p.h. I was there again in 1957, for the Golden Jubilee, when Bob McIntyre raised it to over 101 m.p.h.
I have just returned again from the centenary race in the I.O.M. where I was privileged to see the record lifted to 130, and have found it interesting to compare the two races.
In 50 years the speed has risen by 30 m.p.h, from 22 minutes for the 37.75 mile lap down to 17 minutes. The main reason of course has to be the machines, 1000cc as against 500cc, tyres and suspension in particular. Speeds have risen dramatically; one man was clocked at over 205 m.p.h through one speed trap, and as in places they pass within 6 feet of you it is most spectacular. They seemed like missiles going down Bray Hill at over 180. There have been improvements to the roads also. Having competed there personally in 58-60 in the Manx Grad Prix, I can see that the course has been straightened out in several places, corners eased and widened where possible. The road surface is far better now, but surprisingly is still quite bumpy in places. However, there are still places that are still exactly the same, through the towns and villages for example, where the stone walls and buildings tend to sober you up, and there are still the pavements to contend with.
One little point I found interesting was that in 1957 at the end of practice week a definite racing line had appeared on the road all around the course. It wasnít apparent this year. Obviously modern tyres allowed them more leeway in the choice of lines.
Looking back I felt that the 57 races were more interesting, having more diversity of machines. This year all the machines sounded the same and apart from the paint jobs, looked the same. You had to see the number to see who was riding it. Whereas back then there was the big Matchless and Norton singles, the Guzzi V8, BMW twins, Gilera and MV fours, plus the odd Triumph and Gold Star. You had a good idea who was coming before you saw them. Then, the senior race was 8 laps instead of the normal 7 with only one pit stop. This year it was 6 laps with two pit stops.
Having said all that, the atmosphere this year was fantastic, the island was heaving with spectators and bikes, over 17000 was one report I heard and 5000 didnít get there because of ferry problems. The whole promenade in Douglas was one mass of machinery, with hardly a Harley in sight Ė bliss!
The Manx Government really put on a top show with entertainment for everyone, from pop concerts, air displays, beach motocross, even a vintage tractor display. Part of the promenade was closed off every evening for stunt riders and drivers to perform. There was even an enlarged quad bike fitted with a jet engine. Imagine the noise that made and how would the residents of Scarborough have liked it.
The Manx Vintage Motorcycle Club put on two very good shows and rides with some magnificent vintage and veteran bikes on display. There was a contingent from the Italian branch of the Moto Guzzi association of about 20 machines, most with the external flywheels, all in identical red colour schemes with the riders in red and black riding gear. They had gone to a great deal of trouble and looked very impressive.
The Manx people go out of their way to make you feel welcome considering the disruption to their normal lives during this fortnight what with the noise and road closures for up to 6 hours every day. Mind you, those that donít like it take their annual holiday at this time. The police, including the couple of Italian motorcycle police that I saw, were very tolerant and joined in the party. Talking to people and asking nicely to stop whatever they were doing wrong sorted out most problems. This usually worked and everyone parted the best of friends, and not a weapon in sight.
Having been privileged to attend this special week I have to say that we as a club should continue to preserve all our old machines as these have character that modern machines donít have as yet. One of my highlights was examining the Norton that won the very first TT race, which actually participated in the re-enactment of that 1907 race that unfortunately I didnít get to see.
Brian Betts # 705
Geoff Duke on the Gilera
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