NEED FOR SPEED 4 : Ted Woodrow and his replica
Ted Woodrow has been a keen motorcyclist most of his life and had an unbroken attendance at TT week on the Isle of Man for 37years, which takes quite some devotion. He had been a very able machinist during his working life so the remanufacture of the necessary parts for restoration projects was never really a problem, especially as he had already built or restored five cammy fours.Then in 1991 he decided to build a replica of the Ben Bickell supercharged version. This machine was used by Bickell for his unsuccessful attempt at the Motor Cycle Cup for the first 500 cc multi cylindered machine to cover 100 miles in one hour. Ted was very fortunate to be given some high quality close-up photos of the original machine so that he could even scale off to make parts to the precise correct size, he was even given the original Ariel works records for the carburetion and an old WNG frame was kindly donated by Tony Pegler. The frame had to have its vertical down tube removed to make space for the ‘blower’ but the frame’s structural integrity was duly returned with the fabrication and installation of large gear box/blower mounting plates, the gear box in turn was very much a special as it only had three gears (not much time for gear changing when on a sprint). The front wheel was from a side car and had no brakes while the rear wheel was standard with a rather crude but effective lever arrangement to operate the brake. With the luck of the Irish (not that he is Irish), Ted had found an Arnott supercharger on an MG parts stall at Beaulieu; the original Bickell machine had been fitted with a Powerplus version but as Arnott had taken over Powerplus it was considered authentic enough (let us not get too purist about this!).
The petrol tank is a work of art and was fabricated from scratch on the basis of a polystyrene pattern that was made up by Ted. The handlebars were a bit of a problem as it was no easy task to get the correct shape and have them symmetrical, during use Ted experienced his hands slipping off the handlebar ends with a resultant undesirable effect on the steering so he made up some end plugs to halt the downward slide. Although you couldn’t tell from the outside, the machine was actually fitted with a 600cc barrel rather than the 500c version fitted to Bickell’s machine, Ted complains that he couldn’t find the correct 500cc pistons at the time.
The machine was completed in 1993 and then did the rounds of shows and museums receiving over twenty awards in the process including ‘Most Desirable Machine’ (you can’t argue with that) at the Louis Vuitton Classic.It was then sold to a Dutch gentleman at auction in about 2001, later it moved on to Germany and we understand that it has since been purchased by the National Motorcycle Museum so will be returning to its homeland.
Rick Parkington wrote:
Hi Kees, I spoke to my old (94 to be precise) friend, Denis Loveday, who used to race at Brooklands. He knew Ben Bickell and in his words 'had a fair bit to do with that’ blown four'. He says that “We had the hell’s own trouble getting it going but the biggest problem was tyres.” The Motor Cycle offered a prize of fifty pounds to the first multi cylinder that would cover 100miles in an hour. Only single cylinder bikes had achieved it at that time. Bickell's bike was well capable of that speed but to maintain it for that length of time was a different matter. Denis says the first attempt failed due to tyre trouble. Dunlop were having problems sometime around 1934, the tread just flew off in strips. Denis say the bike was a bit of a bodge up – they had to use worn out chains to drive the blower because they couldn’t get the right pitch for the sprockets – and to get the wheel out would have been too long a job to do within the hour, the tyre didn’t burst it just ran on the canvas – I have heard other stories about this. Brooklands bikes had no mudguards and a few riders got a severely bruised backside from the tyre tread slapping them as it flew off!After the failure, Dunlop supplied Bickell with a tyre made for a Austin Seven sprint car which of course had a flat tread, so they altered the profile to suit a bike. They booked the track for a Wednesday afternoon and arranged for the timekeepers to turn up. Arriving at the track at about 12.30, they found Ginger Wood busy taking the record on the big twin New Imperial, having heard they were going to make a second attempt he had got in first so that was that. Straight from the horse’s mouth, you might say.
Answering to my question about what happened to Ben’s bike, Rick Parkington answered me, after another visit to Denis Loveday :
Ah...funny you mention that, Kees. I went to see old Denis the Brooklands rider. I didn't get as long with him as I hoped (will hopefully see him again in April) but I did show him a picture of Ben's Four. He squinted at the picture, tapped the massive chromed petrol tank and said. "That tank's buried out in the back garden."!
Turns out that Denis went round to the brothers' garage late 1938 or so, after Ben had been killed, and as he says there were bits of the broken up four lying about the workshop and he took the tank to save a fuel stop on his Red Hunter for that year's Brooklands Hutchinson 100. War intervened, the event never happened and Denis sold the bike. He used the tank to store petrol in the rafters of his shed for the rationing years and then sometime later chucked the tank into a hole in the ground he was filling.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust........
A proud Ted Woodrow on his Square Four Supercharger replica. Every reason to be proud I'd say.....
The following article I found in a Telegraph article,from May 2008, commemorating 100 years of Brooklands. Rather interesting story I thought, where Denis Loveday tells a bit more about how he started his motorcycling career, and life on Brooklands in the Old Days :
Brooklands Motorcycle Centenary: Ride around memory lane
Frank Melling takes to the hallowed banked track at Brooklands during its Motorcycle Centenary meeting
It was difficult not to be moved by the Brooklands Motorcycle Centenary meeting a fortnight ago, which celebrated 100 years since the first motorcycle race was held on the huge, concrete oval. Tucked away in the far corner are just enough of the old buildings, the test hill and - critically - the concrete banking, for riders of today to reach out and touch Brooklands' past.
The bikes helped to bridge the 69 years since Brooklands last hosted a motorcycle race. There was the lean, purposeful JAP-powered Grindlay Peerless (Motoring, March 29), gleaming beneath its coat of nickel alongside mighty Brough V-twins and cammy Nortons. A screaming Honda "Four" - a real one, not one of the increasingly common and anodyne replicas - rent the air with its tearing-calico crescendo. To the great credit of its owner, Lord Montagu, and the bike's guardian, Bernie Andrews, pilot Steve Parrish was allowed to really let fly with the tiny, 250cc jewel, much to the delight of the crowd.
Everywhere there was the sweet, heady scent of methanol fuel and Castrol R - the very essence of pre-war racing. With only a little effort, it was possible to stand on the balcony of the Members' Bar - Brooklands was very much a private gentlemen's club - and imagine the halcyon days of the 1930s. Look out to the grey banking, breathe in the "braaah, braaah, braaah" of racing singles being warmed up in the collecting box, inhale the perfume of methanol and mineral oil and you were there.
On my Seeley Suzuki, a bike which doesn't run cleanly until 7,000rpm, an ascent of the test hill - a strip of concrete 352 feet long with an average gradient of one in 5.027 and a gradient of one in four near the top - was rather a fraught exercise but nothing could detract from riding on the famous banking alongside the ghosts of those wonderful Brooklands racers. No one with an interest in bike racing could fail to be moved by the experience.
The unquestioned star of the meeting, however, wasn't the track, or even the bikes, but Denis Loveday - one of the leading Brooklands racers, who first competed there in 1933 while he was an apprentice, thanks to the dual sponsorship of his mother and his future wife, Marie. I was privileged to have the historic circuit brought to life not by a keen historian but by someone with first-hand knowledge of what the Brooklands experience meant to bike racers of the day. Meeting this articulate, witty and smiling 94-year-old was one of the highlights of my motorcycling life.
"My dad was a real Victorian and thought that if I wanted to go racing I should have to work for the privilege," says Denis. "I brought home 15 shillings and 6 pence [77½p] and he took 10 bob [50p] off me for my board and keep. My mum used to slip the 10 bob note back to me, under my sandwiches, on a Monday morning and not tell him.
"I used to get my spares from L Stevens, the Velocette dealer in the Goldhawk Road [Shepherd's Bush, London]. I sent my gorgeous girlfriend Marie to get them, but I never gave her any money. She always brought them back somehow and we later had 65 wonderful years of marriage.
"I had to work on Saturday mornings, so I could only ride in the afternoon races at Brooklands. There were no Sunday races because of the Lord's Day Observance Society. At 10 bob it was very expensive to enter, when you think that a skilled tradesman was only earning £2 1s [£2.10] a week. The bikes were always poor relations of the cars - we were never really considered to be proper gentlemen.
"Marie loved Brooklands because the ladies' toilets had silver-backed hairbrushes in them and she always liked brushing her hair when we went racing. She was a messenger girl and Brooklands allowed her to become a lady for the afternoon.
"The track was rough and bumpy, much rougher than you can imagine. The concrete was badly laid from the start and the cars caused a lot of damage. You had John Cobb in a two-and-a-half-ton car pounding around and this dug holes in the concrete, which they patched in the winter. The patches were done badly and this produced a very rough track, particularly for bikes.
"It wasn't dangerous racing at Brooklands. I did 103mph laps in the wet and it wasn't too bad. You just kept the bike flat-out all the time. Where accidents happened, it was usually because riders got frightened. When you hit a bump or pothole flat-out it was really important not to shut off. If you did, the bike would go into a speed wobble, which was really dangerous. If you just kept it flat-out it would shake a bit and then carry on.
"The big danger was in the rain. When there was a lot of spray, you couldn't really see anything at all. In the 1938 Hutchison 100, I had the Ariel flat-out [probably 120mph] and came on a much slower 250 rider in a cloud of spray. I was certain that we were both dead but I threw the Ariel sideways, missed him, and carried on without shutting off.
"Then this bloke Hitler came along and started a war, which was a bit of nuisance because it stopped me racing. But they were wonderful times at Brooklands and I still remember them as clearly today as I did 60 years ago."
- Thanks to the Brooklands Museum's John Bottomley and his team of volunteers for a memorable Centenary experience. Further information at www.brooklandsmuseum.com.