An article from Clyde Cardy

April 21st, 2020


My very first wheels were on a solid – tyred tricycle, many more times than second – hand. It had a rod operated front brake, a saddle and not much else but how I loved that little bike. I spent hours racing up and down the footpath out the front of the farm where we lived  in Rettendon Common. I remember watching in awe the huge (to me) Foden single cab articulated tankers taking a run to get up the Bell hill. That must have been around 1947 when I was four years old. Little did I know then that many years later three wheels would play such a seriously interesting part in my life.

My first real recollection of motorcycles was when, at around the age of ten I heard this amazing sound coming from behind one of the farm’s tied cottages. It was coming from a strange looking machine with large diameter knobbly tyres, a skinny frame with a small seat and not much else. This turned out to be the first Grass track solo machine that  I had ever seen. The owner was revving it up and making adjustments and I was totally hooked on the sound and the smell. The Sunday after this lots of people turned up at the playing field opposite with more of these machines on trailers or in vans, and also some ordinary road machines that were ridden there and stripped down to bare essentials for racing. They then rode in a number of races on a track marked out with straw bales – I had just witnessed my first ever Grass track race meeting. Little did I know (once again) that many years later Grass track racing would play a major part in my life.

The first motorcycle that I ever rode was a Norton 16H at the age of eleven – only on the fields of course. In those days there were so many old ex- WD bikes around that nobody wanted them. My school friends and I were lucky enough to be gifted  various machines including Ex wd Norton 16H’s and Big 4’s, BSA M20’s and M21’s. Also machines such as Royal Enfield’s and Panthers, even a New Imperial with a triangulated frame and J.A.P. engine complete with a horizontal slide carb – that  went really well !.

Some of them had a sidecar chassis on so four or five of us would clamber on and roar around the meadows – living on a farm had it’s advantages. We used to ride them till they expired and then get another one – there were usually a few to chose from. With our growing knowledge we used to bodge and mend as best we could and I will never forget one such occasion. The throttle cable broke at the twist grip end on a 350cc Royal Enfield and I had the brainwave of  tying the inner cable end to the rear brake foot pedal ( with the brake slackened off). This proved tricky to use at first but we got used to it. There was a lad who had been pestering us to let him have a go for ages so we let him ride it. At first we were impressed as he was going round faster and faster but in the end he straightened up and rode straight into a hedge, took off, cleared the road beyond and landed in the hedge on the other side of the road, still intact on the bike. He then told us he had never ridden before and was pressing on the “brake” trying to slow down !!.

Our paper rounds supplied the funds for petrol for the ‘gifted’ bikes but when I was around fourteen years old I had actually saved enough  to pay for a machine – I paid ten pounds for a square – framed Dot scrambler with a 197cc Villiers engine, which, with a short stubby flat megaphone exhaust was very noisy but great fun to ride around the farm. Some nights after dark I even used to ride it on the road for about a mile to see my mates in Chalk Street – wouldn’t get away with that now !. Back then there  were very few vehicles on the road ( we hadn’t heard of traffic jams) and we all knew the local Bobbies timetable ! .

Approaching my sixteenth birthday I had applied for my provisional licence so that it started on my  birthday. I had previously purchased my first road bike – a 1948 350cc Triumph 3T, so on the magic day I was officially on the road – what a very special day that was for me. I had also applied for my motorcycle driving test and just a week later I passed that in Chelmsford so I was in heaven.

A friend of mine, Lenny Tremain, had a 50cc Itom Sports and we used to ride around together having great fun. After a few months of doing this, and after an evening’s riding, we used to sit in my home and drool over a 1960 Triumph sales brochure as we had both decided to save up for a brand new Tiger Cub each. On the opposite page to the Cub was a 650cc Bonneville and Lenny used to keep ribbing me and say “ I bet you end up with one of those instead !” . A year later he bought a brand new Greeves 250cc Sports Twin and I bought a second hand 1960 Bonneville !.

I purchased it by post and it was delivered by train . In 1959 and 1960 when the Bonneville was first produced nearly all of them were exported to the States because of a big export push and the Queens Award for exports, so that model was very difficult to find here. I wrote to Kings of Oxford requesting to buy a second hand Bonneville and luckily for me, a few weeks later, they had one come in from an R.A.F. officer who was being posted overseas. It was a 1960 model with chopped Monobloc carbs and remote float – the top spec. I duly sent off the deposit with the signed ‘never never’ papers and a week later the bike was delivered, by train in the guard’s van, to Wickford Railway Station arriving at 10 pm one evening !.

Lenny ran me down to Wickford Station and there on the platform, with a sheet of cardboard tied over it, was what was to become my pride and joy. We quickly removed the wrapping, pushed it out onto the road and I kicked it into life as it even had fuel in. I will never forget the feelings of excitement and joy that I had that night. We both rode up to the Hanningfield reservoir and I did my first ‘ton’ on the long straight – in doing so passing a mate of ours on his Bantam and nearly giving him a heart attack – he hadn’t heard me coming. How I loved that bike – and when we got back to mine for a coffee I couldn’t help keep putting the outside light on and just looking at it.

Three days later I was in Chelmsford Hospital with a broken collarbone !. Coming down North Woodham hill I was going too fast to make the left hander at the bottom, went across the road onto the wide grass verge and was looking good to recover the situation when the front wheel went into a rain gully. I had my old mate Richard Turpin ( from field bike days) on the pillion and we both took off, landing in the bottom of the ditch just as we had been sitting on the bike with the bike laying on top of us revving it’s heart out. I managed to reach up and press the cut – out button to kill the engine and we both crawled out.

Dick, luckily, was unscathed, but my right shoulder was not connected as it should have been. Lenny, who had left before us, eventually realised that something was wrong and came back to find us., He then took me to hospital on his pillion. I was out of action for six weeks – about the same period of time that it took for the only damage on the Bonny to be repaired – a new pair of forks.

I had a marvellous life on that bike, I just loved the acceleration and speed of it, and it’s looks. My main haunt was the Blinking Owl café on the Southend arterial road, but also used to visit the Long Bar in Chelmsford and later on the Four Aces café near South Woodham. I also sometimes used to bunk off work on Wednesdays to join my old pal, Reg Everett, at Brands Hatch practice days. At that time he had converted a Greeves Scrambler into what was the very first Greeves Roadracer  – later to be almost  ‘poached’ by Bert Greeves to become the ‘Silverstone Racer’. At those practice days we were mixing with a lot of up and coming road racers such as Mike Hailwood, Bill Ivy and Phil Read.

Mike was quite reserved in those days because he used to get a lot of resentment from lesser riders who said his success came from his father’s wallet – not true.

Mike Hailwood was a great rider and a great bloke.

Bill Ivy was a great rider and a great bloke.

Phil Read was a great rider.

After the Greeves Reg was sponsored by Ilford Yamaha dealer Ted Broad on his 250cc and 350cc TD1 Yamaha’s, and at the end of the 1966 season I bought the 250 off of Ted with the intention of starting Road racing the following year. By this time my Bonneville had made way for a car. One of my workmates, Phil Lenoir, raced a solo Grass track machine and through him I started to go to a few Grass track meetings and also to his club nights with the Eastern Sporting Sidecar Association.

It was there that I first met Tony Saych who passengered an ex- Derek Yorke sidecar outfit which he co – owned with a mate. Unfortunately his mate had been involved in a serious car accident and was to be hospitalised for several months. Somehow Tony managed to persuade me to try riding the outfit on a field in Pleshey . I was absolutely hopeless at first and had a job to even ride in a straight line, let alone turn. However, before I knew it Tony had entered us for a race meeting !.

In those days the Essex County Show was a big annual affair. Held at the Show-ground in Great Leighs and on the Saturday evening the horse showing ring was cleared and marked out for motorcycle Grass Track racing, organised by the Eastern Sporting Sidecar Association. The grass in the ring was always heavily watered to keep the going soft for the horse jumping so made the going very slippery. With this in mind my plan was to keep the revs low, just trickle off the line and let the other outfits go – I could then ride my own race and see how it went. What actually happened was that we were almost round the first corner before the others had left the line as they all just sat there with high revs spinning their rear wheels . We won our first ever race together so after that there was no going back – I was now a Grass track sidecar Driver !.

I sold the Yamaha TD250, now surplus to requirements, to someone in Ireland, but before doing so I trailered it over to where Tony lived in Sandon where we both tried it out on the back road between his house and Danbury Park. What an animal – the acceleration was phenomenal and when I applied the front brake for the first time it stood on it’s nose !.

I was very lucky to have Tony racing with me as he was a brilliant passenger – I was a do or die merchant in those early days, we either used to do well or come off but Tony saved the day on many occasions with his skills. Tony and I raced together, with a modicum of success, until around 1971 when he went Road race passengering whilst I carried on until 1973, by which time I was designing and building outfits for myself and a few others. This was, however, a very dark period in my life, having had an acrimonious  split from my first wife, and for a while I was a bit of a lost soul. Luckily for me my saviour was in the wings and I met Grace. She helped me through a very hard time and has been my rock ever since. Little did I now, when racing at the Essex Show, that Grace had been competing in the same ring on horses before our event – small world !.

In 1977 I was involved with the late Eric “Dusty” Miller in lobbying the ACU to start up a 500cc sidecar class so that this country’s competitors could race against those in Europe, and we were successful – racing commenced in 1978.

I built the first completed 500cc outfit in this country and from 1978 until I retired from racing in 1985 had a modicum of success both here and abroad, mostly with Allan (Jock) Morrison as my passenger, another brilliant partner. I built around twenty – five outfits in total ( both 500cc and 1000cc versions) for customers and myself, exporting some to Holland, France and Australia with some customers winning domestic and National Championships both here and in Australia.

 When I stopped racing Grace and I bought a Moto – Guzzi  Spada and we used this to ride to Northern Holland to support Nick Radley who was racing on one of my outfits in a European Championship round. We had never been on something so uncomfortable in our lives and Grace ended up travelling back home in Nick’s van. We sold the Guzzi  the next week !.

A couple of years later I bought a Kawasaki GPZ 900 – what a rocket !. The acceleration was phenomenal but after a couple of months I got rid of it before it got rid of me !!. In 2002 we moved to our current home with the intention of doing it up then selling it and emigrating to France but that all changed when Grace went to help a neighbour with dog training in 2003. She ended up buying me a surprise sixtieth birthday present from them in the shape of a Limited edition Royal Wedding Bonneville ( only 250 were produced) – not to be confused with the “Silver Jubilee” model. that the chap had had from new.

Being a rare model he had stopped using it for night work for fear of theft so was low mileage.

Grace came out on the pillion with me and decided that I was still a Nutter (her words) so decided to train for her own motorcycle licence and purchased her own bike. For a while we also had a BMW Boxer twin with a Watsonian Palma sidecar so we could take our two dogs out with us. On our first test run I turned left at a roundabout and on the exit nearly took the wing mirror of a Mercedes coming the other way. When Grace drilled me about  it afterwards she was surprised ( to say the least) when I owned up to have never ridden an outfit on the road before.

Since those days we have both enjoyed riding on many VMCC events on a variety of bikes but that’s another tale to tell at a later date. We both have modern bikes too, and hope we have got a few more enjoyable riding years ahead.

Clyde Cardy

The Aussie Drifter