Shuttleworth Snaps

It’s been another busy couple of weekends, this one just past saw us at the second Shuttleworth Sprint, so here are some ‘snaps’ from the day.

The Shuttleworth Collection, just off the A1M in Bedfordshire is A Good Thing. Richard Shuttleworth was a racing driver and pilot who having enjoyed a very substantial inheritance in his early twenties, did the right thing with it. Throughout the 1930s he indulged his passions of motor racing and flying while amassing a collection of old vehicles and planes. What made him particularly special was that, being of an engineering mind,  and enjoyed restoring these early machines to full working (or flying) order. Richard joined the RAF but in August 1940, tragically died in a crash, while piloting a Fairey Battle – a light bomber with a poor reputation for pilot lifespan – during a night-time exercise.

Among he planes he restored at his workshop at Old Warden was an early Bleriot, which he restored to flying condition and used for displays and it is now the oldest still-flying aircraft in the world.

After his untimely demise, Richard’s mother set up a trust in his memory for the collection and this is the Shuttleworth Collection, still in its original home of Old Warden, where there is a grass airstrip, a restaurant and several hangers containing a wide range of exhibits from engines, to uniforms, to planes, cars, motorcycles and horse drawn carriages – no horses, though so I guess they’re not completely working…

Forget VW engined choppers, this is the kind of Trike that sorts the men from the boys.

From dangerous pioneer three wheelers to vintage, pre and post-war…

A Scott engine that has never been near a motor cycle…

Right up to this splendid Bond Minibyke, which is next on the list to be resuscitated; mind you, a bit like ‘The Mummy’, perhaps some things are best left sleeping…

The museum enjoys a high reputation in aviation circles because of this ethos of keeping the exhibits in working order – Richard Shuttleworth’s philosophy – which is enthusiastically upheld by the volunteers and staff who preserve and maintain the collection.

Close up of a roatary engine crankdshaft assembly displayed in a case

Ever wondered how a rotary engine big end works? I’m still wondering…

There is however one problem with a museum that prides itself in active displays of its exhibits: the British weather. It is a national stereotype that we Britons always talk about the weather but let’s face it, we do have an interesting and unpredictable climate to talk about. The early planes are only able to fly in calm conditions and so there is always a danger for somewhere like Shuttleworth that on the day of one of your displays, it won’t be possible to take anything up. This may be one reason why the decision was taken to broaden the appeal by running vehicles on the grass strip.

Douglas-mounted Chris Illman checks out the opposition

Last  year the ‘Sprint’ was expanded to include motorcycles, drawing some inspiration from the highly successful Kop Hill Climb. Only four non-museum bikes were here for that first event but this year, forty entered and despite dire weather predictions, all bar four turned up on the day.

I have to admit, squinting into the damp dark through the bedroom curtains at 5.45am on Sunday morning didn’t really inspire us to spring out of bed and reach for the van keys but I feel that having entered an event you need to do your best to attend. Uncooperative weather is a big worry for promoters with an inevitably reduced amount of paying public, but if there are no exhibitors either it’s a kiss of death. One advantage of our unpredictable climate is that you can never guarantee a dreary forecast will actually come to pass anyway. Two things stood out on the rider briefing, the first was a sincere vote of thanks from the team to all of us – motorcyclists especially – who had made the effort and the second was a generally light hearted attitude, exemplified by the advice that ‘if you break down on the strip we’ll tow you away, if you roll end over end we’ll phone for an ambulance!’, which was very refreshing. It was made clear, as it is at Kop, that this is not a race but it is a display for the public so have fun, show off, make noise – just don’t get carried away beyond your ability (metaphorically or literally!) The strip was available for about an hour and a half before being required for the planes and in that time you could run as many times as space allowed.

I had entered the Martinsyde but it is not at all well at present (more on that another time) and so took the Rex Acme to do the runs, while Judy took her 1928 500cc Scott.

Judy discussing tactics with Alex Curtis.

The grass airstrip was pretty bumpy and of course, after the rain early on, quite wet although I was advised that being laid on sand it drains fairly rapidly and dries out fast on a sunny day. Well the sun never did appear but neither did the 2pm torrential rain and we were halfway home before I had to switch on the windscreen wipers.

Riding the strip was bloody good fun and took me back to being a kid, tearing about in fields. It was necessary to ride short stirrup if you were cracking on (backside hovering over the seat, knees gripping the tank, calf muscles and forearms taking the weight) that kept the bike much straighter than sitting there like a sack o’ spuds.

Initially my friend Richard Bott looked a bit glum, he it was that recommended we come but he and a few others were now told that they may not be able to ride. It seems the original plan had been to set riders off four abreast but this had been deemed a little, ah, provocative – Judy recalls riding in a ‘parade’ of sprint bikes on a circuit where all the riders were set off at once. Any motorcyclist from the last 100 or so years would be able to predict how that turned out…

So instead it was deemed wiser to set us off one at time, but of course that would take up much more of the time slot suggesting the number of entrants might need to be reduced. In the event it all went smoothly enough that everyone got their ride and hopefully the team will be able to straighten this out for the future, it’s early days yet and if you are going to enjoy an event with relaxed organisation, you have to accept that there are occasional glitches.

On the grass, overtaking was discouraged rather than forbidden and the only other stricture was a request not to spin the wheels and tear up the strip, wheel marks showed that at least one car had disobeyed but that said, veterans like this mighty chain-driven ‘Mors’ are not famous for progressive clutch take up.

Is it me getting older or are car drivers getting younger?

Riders were set off with just a few seconds gap between and nobody seemed to mind when the faster bikes started overtaking, I can reveal that Judy was first to do it – so naturally I had to chase her to tell her off… The gap between starts got narrower too which added to the fun as well as keeping things moving speedily and hopefully providing a better display for the crowd.

I ended up having a right burn up with Richard Bott whose 1927 500cc TT Triumph is a quick machine, as I recall from the fabulous VMCC Mallory 1000 Bikes weekends. We were leaving the line closer and closer and on our last run I was only about twenty feet behind him. Flat out in first and second, neither gaining nor losing ground, I had time to appreciate a huge grin on the face of the mid-course marshall before slamming into top but suddenly the engine cut dead… Suspecting a pushrod had jumped out I freewheeled on, peering at the engine, nothing missing there… Checking the other side though, the plug lead was hanging in mid air, dammit! The furrule had vibrated off, doh!! Still rolling I managed to hang it back on the plug, hook into gear and bump back into life, so at least I crossed the line under my own power.

My rider’s eye view of Richard Bott’s TT Triumph on the strip…

Of course Richard viewed this as an elaborate excuse – but he was good enough to give me a rather fine knurled brass plug ferrule!

The riding over, it was time to put the bikes back on display and enjoy the rest of the day, which included a few flypasts and a fantastic display of aerobatics that made our amateur grass track look a bit feeble. The food from the catering vans was excellent too, local butchers having provided the sausages and bacon for rolls at prices no greater than the slaughterhouse sweepings we get fobbed off with at so many other events.

The Shuttleworth Snap at Shuttleworth

Of course, this post’s title, ‘Shuttleworth Snaps’, alludes to George Formby’s No Limit TT film and the living reincarnation of ‘George Shuttleworth’ (no relation to Richard) was present at this weekend’s event. You will have seen ace impersonator Graham Hardy at all sorts of venues either in the guise of George or Stan Laurel. Until I met Graham I was never sure whether he was into bikes or if the ‘Snap’  was just a theatrical prop for an actor who had found his perfect niche but Graham is definitely an enthusiast – and he’s not an actor either, he’s a professional welder. Graham used to indulge his motorcycling passions racing two-stroke twins – particularly Suzuki T500s – when he retired from that, he started developing an interest in older bikes. The characterisations came about by chance after discovering an unexpected talent as a result of a fancy dress party. His most recent addition came about when he  was too late putting in an entry for Montlehry. “I decided to go as a spectator instead and they told me they encouraged period dress, so I thought I go as Nuvolari.” Graham’s magic touch worked again and he was in demand  there all weekend!

All in all a fantastic day which we will be on our next year’s calendar. Talking of period dress, I noticed incidentally that several Shuttleworth spectators had made the effort, which always adds to the atmosphere and seems a very successful model as evidenced by the Goodwood events. ‘Dressing up’ is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea but for those of us who have always preferred vintage style to current fashions it’s an opportunity to enjoy another aspect of the day. More particularly, and Goodwood has really proven this, it makes visitors feel more connected – part of the show instead of just paying spectators – making their day more fulfilling and encouraging them to make it a regular event rather than a one off; clever, eh…

Now coming back to Graham Hardy, last time we saw him was a Kop Hill a couple of weeks ago.

Usually seen there pootling around with a portly chum in his Model T Ford, doing his Laurel and Hardy skit, this year Graham decided just to come and enjoy the event, riding his Big Port Ajay. I took the Rex Acme up the hill twice on Saturday but it just didn’t feel 100% on the second run on the second run so on Sunday I swapped over to my Rudge, which flew up in fine style. Coming back along the return road, my pal Richard Duffin and I happened upon Graham who had inadvertently reverted into character as hapless George Shuttleworth by dejectedly pushing a broken – down AJS along the side of the road. I anchored up sharpish to see if I could help but he explained his clutch had burned out on the last climb. It was a stiff push back – up a long hill in leathers – and I never like leaving a wounded comrade. Fishing about in my toolbag I pulled out a shortish lock and chain. “You up for a tow?” I asked Graham. A perfect George Shuttleworth thumbs up indicated he was game, so I locked the padlock to the Ulster’s carrier – hoping my (‘I made it me-self!’) welding would be up to pulling professional welder and his stranded motor cycle. Extended with a bungee (which took out some of the transmission snatch) we set off and, with Duffin doing outrider duties to get us cleanly across the two roundabouts, returned to base in safety and comfort.

Tow truck with payment on the seat, very nice too…

The weather was unusually dour at Kop too this year but again we were spared a predicted downpour. I have spoken about Kop before, suffice to say it is another terrific weekend event with tons to see including some very interesting and exotic 4 wheelers, vintage fairground, kids go kart race (aaaaaah!) and a Spitfire and Hurricane flypast. (Ooer, as I typed the word ‘Spitfire’ just then, a familiar roar announced one going overhead…

, maybe if I type ‘OEC Blackburne 700cc OHV twin’ one of them will appear in the shed…


Oh well, looks like the Spitfire was coincidence, not magic then.

One person who has realised an ambition is Tony Heyworth. I spoke to Tony at Kop a couple of years back. He was very smitten with the Rex Acme and keen to buy one. We kept in touch and last year he picked up this beauty, another 1927, like mine , but in standard trim. It was good to see it here, being the place where the story started for Tony.

Better still he rode it to the event on both days 30 miles each way and took it up the hill and got home, well done Tony!

Cheers Rick

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