We all know that the actual 2021 Scottish Six Days Trial has had to be cancelled due to the worldwide pandemic, BUT… just for SSDT fans –
Nevis Radio will be transmitting from Monday 3rd May to Friday 7th May a special two hour daily show about the SSDT. Live from the Outdoor Capital of the UK, Fort William!
Supported by Trial Magazine and Michelin Competition Tyres, Simon Abberley and John Weller, in association with Trials Guru‘s John Moffat will jointly host a star-studdied line up of guests for the week.
Trial Magazine UK’s John Hulme will also be on hand to talk about the annual event.
You don’t need to live in Fort William to listen either, its available on your device: HERE
We kick off at 09:00 GMT on Monday 3rd May until 11:00 GMT daily until Friday 7th May.
Go on! Set your reminders now, so that you don’t miss the SSDT action and chat!
AJS, the brand purchased by Associated Motor Cycles in 1931, were known for their long-stroke single cylinder trials machines, which partly dominated the competition scene in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
This culminated in Gordon Jackson’s historic Scottish Six Days win on one solitary mark in 1961, achieved with a factory-prepared 16C with a special short-stroke motor.
Associated Motor Cycles (AMC), the group which also owned the Matchless, James and Francis Barnett brands, hit financial difficulties around this time and the writing was firmly on the wall; all these brands had a competition history.
The root of the problem lay with the directors at AMC having taken offence at a critical report published on a road test on one of their machines.
Their response was to refuse permission for the motorcycle press to test their machines and their advertising campaigns in the weekly papers ceased, so not surprisingly they lost valuable sales, year on year, through lack of exposure to the buying public.
It was a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Words: John Moffat (Trials Guru) – Tony Davis – Norman Edgar – Colin Dommett – John Pye.
Two-strokes had been gaining popularity and in late 1964 Sammy Miller announced that he was moving to Bultaco from Ariel, which in itself was to become a game changer for the trials scene and heralded the Spanish invasion by Bultaco, followed by Montesa in 1967 and eventually Ossa. Two-strokes were here to stay.
The AJS brand, along with the others in AMC, had been taken over in 1964 by Manganese Bronze Holdings which had already bought Villiers Engineering.
After the AMC Plumstead factory closed in 1966 with the creation of Norton Villiers, this involved restructuring of the group and AJS moved to Wolverhampton.
The plan was to continue in the competition market, producing only off-road AJS machines at a new purpose-built factory at Andover, but due to planning permission delays the new factory only became operational in mid-1969.
They signed Chris Horsfield, Malcolm Davis, Andy Roberton, Sweden’s Bengt Arne-Bonn and Scotsman Jim Aird to field a strong motocross contingent.
They also had an eye on the trials machine market which was buoyant, and they had access to the Villiers two-stroke motors, being under the same group of companies.
Malcolm Davis was not only an excellent motocross rider but also an exceptionally talented trials rider.
The Villiers ‘Starmaker’ engine was to be the basis for the new motocross machine. It was developed from Peter Inchley’s 1966 ‘Villiers Starmaker Special’ TT racing machine which came home third in that year’s Lightweight race. Inchley’s prototype for AJS was based on a Bultaco racing chassis.
The Starmaker had previously been developed by Cotton in their Cobra motocross model and subsequently installed in the factory prototype AJS motocross model first raced by Andy Roberton.
Further developed, it carried Malcolm Davis to victory in the 1968 British MX Championship and from this the Y4 ‘Stormer’ was born. The 250cc Y4, launched in 1969, was followed by big-bore Starmakers, the Y5 Stormer at 360cc in 1970 and eventually the ‘410’ Stormer of 410cc in 1972.
Inchley was a former BSA employee who moved to work at Ariel on two-stroke development followed by a move to work with Dr Joe Ehrlich at EMC, joining AMC in 1963.
Reynolds Tubes constructed the new road race frame, constructed by ace welder Ken Sprayson. An AJS was entered for the 1967 TT but while in fifth position his bike was filled with neat petrol instead of two-stroke mixture and Inchley was forced to retire with a seized engine.
A year later AJS commissioned Cottons of Gloucester to make a frame for trials use loosely based on the existing Cotton trials frame but incorporating the large diameter top tube of the Y4 motocross design. For trials they had access to the proven ‘37A’ trials motor.
Cotton had used the trials version of the Starmaker as early as 1964 – more on this later.
John Pye was After-Sales Manager at Malcolm Davis Motorcycles in Gloucester: “I remember Malcolm Davis, ‘Fluff’ Brown of AJS and me travelling to a local farm to test a new AJS trials machine that the factory was experimenting with. It was basically a Cotton but the main difference was the top tube, which made its way into production by late 1968”.
Tony Davis, Malcolm’s brother was an accomplished trials and motocross rider who had ridden the factory BSA B40 and for Greeves, and he was enlisted to ride an AJS supplied by the factory. Issued with a standard 37A-T registered TFH22G it came equipped with Metal Profile telescopic front forks, British Hub Company ‘MotoLoy’ six-inch alloy full-width hubs and, of course, the 37A 246cc Villiers engine with an iron cylinder barrel. It is surprising that AJS did not incorporate an aluminium barrel and cylinder head combination as Greeves had done many years previously, and the now well established Bultaco Sherpa and upcoming Montesa Cota both used all-aluminium engines.
Tony Davis: “I rode exactly what the AJS factory supplied us with in 1968. AJS boss Peter Inchley was a stickler for using only factory products, no other components were allowed”.
John Pye: “I remember when Malcolm was in the shop when Peter Inchley arrived and Malcolm hid from him for quite a while. It transpired that Malcolm had bolted a set of Spanish Betor front forks on his motocross AJS. Inchley took one look at the AJS and asked what all this was about. Malcolm explained that he found the Betors helped the front end, but Inchley would have none of it; he insisted that the AJS forks were re-fitted immediately!”
Heralded as the ‘AJS 37A-T – Britain’s latest trials model’ Malcolm Davis was to be credited with the development work for the new machine, as highlighted in the company sales literature, and it was launched in time for the 1969 trials season.
The Edinburgh Connection:
Up in Scotland the appointed agents for AJS were Edgar Brothers in Leith Walk, Edinburgh. They were already sponsoring Jimmy McRae for the 1969 Scottish Championship season on the new Y4 Stormer.
McRae later went on to become five times British Open Car Rally Champion and, of course, the father of 1995 World Rally Champion, Colin McRae MBE.
Dealer principal Mr Norman Edgar was keen to sell as many AJS models as he could, and both his sons were accomplished trials riders. His son Norman FW Edgar was at that time twice Scottish Trials Champion and had entered the 1969 ISDT to be supplied with a works-prepared AJS Y4 ISDT machine for the event at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He had been campaigning a 37A-T in Scottish and national trials.
It was registered NFS21G in the October 1968 and competed with it into the spring of 1969.
He and his younger brother Derek J Edgar were also experienced SSDT competitors, and both had entered for the event to be held in early May.
Scottish Six Days 1969:
AJS were keen to push their new trials model 37A-T in the Scottish Six Days, and to field a team of three riders comprising the Edgars plus one other competitor.
Mr Edgar noticed that Yorkshireman Ray Sayer had entered on his four-stroke 500cc Triumph so an approach was made to enlist him on a 37A-T to make up the three-man team.
Sayer saw the sense of riding a lighter two-stroke and agreed. AJS were to pay for the three team member entries but as for the machines themselves, that was a different part of the story.
Edgar contacted the AJS factory and enquired what would be available for the SSDT to be informed that, due to workload, they could not guarantee to build three suitable machines in time. Could the Edgar Brothers build bikes from parts supplied? Mr Edgar agreed to the offer, and boxes of components were despatched to Edinburgh from Wolverhampton and three AJS 37A-T machines were assembled by Derek Edgar in the dealership’s workshop.
Norman FW Edgar: “It is over 50 years since I rode the AJS in the Scottish, so apologies if I can’t remember full details or the sequence of events, but somehow we decided to change the specification. We obtained new front forks and front and rear wheel hubs from the scrambles Y4, which not only looked much more purposeful but were also lighter than the standard full-width items fitted to the production models. We also fitted longer than standard aluminium side panels to protect the air cleaner. As was always the case, if we could get something to work better, we did it. When I rode the ISDT later that year, I changed the motocross piston for a trials component before the event and the machine’s power delivery was much more suited to the ISDT. Derek built the three SSDT machines, and these were registered in Edinburgh and tested just immediately prior to the Scottish”.
SSDT ‘Team AJS’
The Edgar-built 37A-Ts were registered OWS 11, 12 and 13G. Derek rode 11G, Norman was given 13G and Ray Sayer rode 12G.
Another AJS, OWS14G, seemed to be registered at the same time, but this was probably a standard 37A-T machine for a customer.
One of the three SSDT machines ended up with the Kingston & District club in Surrey as a loan motorcycle for those wishing to sample the sport, the machine having been traded in to Comerfords at Thames Ditton and failing to sell through the shop around 1974.
Looking at close-ups of Derek Edgar’s SSDT AJS, which he used again in 1970, it would appear that he had fitted a German-made ‘Bing’ carburettor for his attempt at the Scottish for the second time on the 37A-T.
Derek Edgar was an innovator and had also ridden Puch machines in trials and the ISDT for a period prior to building the AJS. He later went to work for Puch in Austria as a development rider and technician.
Norman continued: “I do remember Ray Sayer mentioned something about the steering lock being restricted and, indeed, he took a hacksaw to the front end at Gorgie Market during the SSDT weigh-in on the Sunday. Both Derek and I did not really notice anything untoward, so we just rode the machines as they were built”.
At a wheelbase of 51.5 inches, by utilising the Y4 forks and alloy yokes with the leading axle it would stretch the AJS 37A-T to around 52.5 inches – more in keeping with the Bultaco Sherpa – and assisting stability on straightforward rocky sections, which was a feature of the Scottish Six Days. Fortunately the Y4-style fork sliders were not ‘handed’ and had sufficient lugs to accommodate front mudguard fixtures.
And so AJS fielded a team in the SSDT, the first time since 1965. Too late to be printed in the official programme, and Ray Sayer shown as riding the 500cc Triumph, it was not to be a ‘dream team’ situation, with Sayer dropping out of the trial on the Wednesday with gear selector problems. His machine was repaired post trial and retained by the Edgars and used again in 1970, this time piloted by American Bob Ewing who flew over from California. Derek Edgar took up employment with Ewing after he left Puch and before he went to work for Montesa USA.
Modifications and Improvements
Having informed Tony Davis that the Edgar brothers and Sayer had ridden heavily modified 37A-Ts in the Scottish, he commented: “I find this surprising in that Peter Inchley was such a stickler for us riding what we were given, and yet the Edgars changed the machine materially. Perhaps because they used AJS components and the fact the factory could not supply prepared machines meant it was acceptable”.
Photographic evidence confirms that Malcolm Davis used the Y4 alloy conical front hub on his AJS, SFH96G, in the Cotswold Cup Trial in 1969 but retained the standard Metal Profile forks with the axle at the bottom of the slider.
It would also appear that he went against Peter Inchley’s instructions by fitting a Greeves aluminium barrel and cylinder head to his 37A-T!
Even though the Edgars changed the geometry of the 37A-T they were not in a position to change the most obvious component, the cylinder barrel; this was still the iron unit.
Greeves achieved it, why not the AJS factory? After all, the owners of AJS, Norton Villiers, intimated in 1969 to Greeves that supply of Villiers power units would cease, which inevitably forced the Thundersley firm to source engines from Puch in Austria.
Why the 37A?
AJS had all the development work done on the all-alloy Starmaker unit, could they not have further developed the trials version of that power plant?
Bultaco for example developed their Sherpa trials and the Pursang motocross motor from older applications, the motocross having different porting and gear clusters, but benefitted from common components and were all-alloy construction.
As already mentioned, the Starmaker trials version had been used in the factory Cottons with one issued to their supported rider, Colin Dommett, in 1964.
Colin Dommett: “I didn’t like the Starmaker engine, for example the gear ratios were too wide, and it was eventually sent back to Villiers as I think they owned the engines. It was replaced by a 37A engine. They tried all sorts of exhausts, but everything they did just made things worse, not better. I think they even tried a 37A crank in a Starmaker and that was a slight improvement”.
Cottons also fielded a team in that year’s SSDT fitted with Starmaker motors, comprising Arthur and Alan Lampkin and Blackie Holden. All three riders finished with special first-class awards.
The belief was that the 37A, although using appreciably heavier components, was the better engine for trials use even though it looked old fashioned compared to the compact-looking Bultaco and Montesa power plants.
As well as being second best Edinburgh & District club member, receiving the Henderson Challenge Trophy at the SSDT, Norman Edgar Jnr won the 1969 Scottish Trials Championship outright on his 37A-T, making him a three times champion in the process.
It’s all well and good having factory machines entered for major events like the SSDT and British Experts, you still need sales to private owners to make it financially worthwhile.
There were six private entrants on AJS 37A-T who rode the 1969 SSDT: M.K. Fulcher, North London; R.E Chapman, North East London; Jack Young, Edinburgh; Roger Davy entered by Comerfords (WPD4G); and Chris Watts of the C.S.M.A. (TAE411G) who also had fitted a Y4 front hub on his 37A-T.
There was one other AJS entered that year, but it was a 350cc four-stroke 16C ridden by JL Smith from Edinburgh, a nephew of Scottish born AJS director Bill Smith.
American Bob Ewing had entered in 1969 but was classed as a non-starter so the best guess is that he would have ridden OWS14G, either that or Jack Young could have obtained it just prior to the event.
The following year there were four AJS mounted riders in the 1970 SSDT: Eddie Henderson from Bangor and member of the Knock MCC Ireland; Bob Ewing, who flew over from California to ride the OWS12G supplied by the Edgar Brothers; Jack Young, from Edinburgh; and Derek Edgar, back on OWS11G. But most of the entry by now consisted of Bultaco and Montesa with a couple of Ossas.
Tony Davis Talks AJS:
“It was Malcolm who talked me into riding the AJS trials machine; ‘fly the flag’ he said. So I agreed to ride it for a year. We spent many hours practising in the quarry and woods up the hill near the Air Balloon. We both found it ‘gutless’ from plonking in a section, and the carburetion was unreliable. After many hours’ tuning we got the carburetion more exact. Malcolm did a lot of work on the engine and got it to respond better and rev out more, which suited his style of riding. Peter Inchley wanted my machine to stay as standard as possible. It handled reasonably well; it was better in mud than on rocks but was never going to be a world beater, especially against the Spanish armada. I won some centre trials and the Western Centre Championship was mine once again. The AJS was far too late to win any National trials, and the ‘powers that be’ knew that. Now the Y4 Stormer motocross model was exceptionally good, as Malcolm proved”.
Studying old national trials results, it is evident that Tony Davis’s overall performance improved when he switched to Bultaco in 1970. It was by then a tried and tested product, which had benefited from not only Sammy Miller’s input but that of riders across the globe who enjoyed support from the Barcelona manufacturer. Bultaco and Montesa were taking trials very seriously, and with Mick Andrews developing the Ossa they too were ready to capitalise on the success of their prototype.
Sales of the production AJS 37A-T were disappointing; trials riders are consistent followers of fashion and the AJS just did not inspire them.
The tank was quite bulbous and was the bright orange – the factory called it ‘Bushfire Red’ – fibreglass unit taken from the Y4 model. The frame was superbly finished in metallic silver but had an unusual plate which joined the large-diameter top tube to the footrest tubes, and it had a full cradle, single down-tube frame.
Chain adjustment was not made at the back wheel but at the swinging arm pivot, with an eccentric cam arrangement that was an attempt to keep the chain line as straight as possible.
It was used on the AJS motocross model and also used by Rickman on their motocross Metisse frames, but it was unusual for a trials machine. Carburetion was taken care of with a Villiers S.25, which is the type of carburettor that would become popular with the Pre-65 brigade in the 1990s.
Again this was a departure from the trend, which was to use the modern AMAL MK1 concentric which was fitted by both Bultaco and Montesa at this time, the instrument made in Spain under licence from the UK company.
Remember, the AJS was competing for sales against these two Spanish brands which had already gained a foothold in the UK, North American and European trials markets.
The engine, as stated, was the iron-barrelled Villiers 37A model which had a bore of 66mm and stroke of 72mm, giving a displacement of 246.33cc and a claimed 12.4 BHP at 5,000 RPM. Compression ratio was quoted as 7.9:1.
In comparison, the 1964 trials version of the Starmaker pumped out 15 BHP at 5,000 RPM. Utilising a 58-tooth rear wheel sprocket, the 37A-T gave a 29:1 bottom gear, with a four-speed gearbox giving ratios as 3.6; 2.4; 1.56 and 1.00.
The wheels were built using Dunlop chrome steel rims whereas the Spanish competition were using Akront alloy components at this time. Mudguards were plain polished aluminium alloy, with front mudguard bracketry fabricated from sheet alloy and an alloy chainguard, standard fit for trials machines of the era.
A heel/toe gear lever, chrome plated ‘Peco’ style exhaust and Girling rear dampers finished the package off. List price in 1969 was £228 and ten shillings, in kit form thus avoiding Purchase Tax.
John Moffat of Trials Guru makes comment:
“Information on the 37A-T is very scarce on the internet, purely because of the short production run and the low numbers produced and sold. However, the model is featured in Gregor Grant’s ‘AJS – The History of a Great Motorcycle’ published in 1969, revised in 1974 by Patrick Stevens Ltd, Cambridge (ISBN 0 85059 186 4). It gives a potted history of the marque from its creation and covers the Y4 Stormer and 37A-T models. It does lack, however, any detail of the trials model’s development, undertaken by the late Malcolm Davis, his brother Tony and of course the Edgar brothers in Scotland. Perhaps this article has covered the gaps left by a fellow Scot; his book is well written and researched as he was a professional journalist, but perhaps he did not have the connections to fully research the trials model or perhaps in 1969 thought it wasn’t important enough to save information on the new model for posterity! You simply cannot cram too much information into a book though! On a personal note, when I was 10 years old I started saving up my hard-earned pocket money with the intention to buy an AJS 37A-T. This was probably an idea cultured by my environment, because my Father had ridden an AJS four-stroke twice in the SSDT and then owned an ex-factory Matchless. I saved up the princely sum of £1:10s:6d by the September of 1969. However, my Father bought me a Dalesman Puch in the October, so the money went towards buying fuel! I was quite taken by the AJS which looked different from the selection of trials machines on sale, but it was not to be. I did come across OWS11G in November 2019 when I enquired if it was for sale, the owner lived in Carlisle. The owner, realising its history, wanted several thousand pounds as it stood. I found this over-priced; having been laid up for many years it was in poor condition. To its credit, it did look quite complete and still had the Y4 front end, but the cost to restore it would have been excessive. There was no question that it was Derek Edgar’s 1969/70 SSDT machine. I turned the deal down at the time as I felt it was a pointless exercise for me, but deep down I wanted to own the motorcycle, given its SSDT and Edinburgh history. I knew Derek Edgar very well and had a lot of respect for him. I have also subsequently heard that restored versions are being advertised more than that figure, due primarily to their rarity! With the BSA trials competition effort now defunct and Greeves already losing its way, I often wondered what AJS could have achieved had they invested more into the trials project and even recruited Sammy Miller, letting him have the trials version of the Starmaker engine, a clean sheet of paper and a free hand? Even as late as 1970 when Sam was just about over his riding peak, we can only speculate how the brand could have fared. The question must be asked, did the AJS management really take the trials market seriously, as they did not seem to act on the improvements made by the Edgar and the Davis brothers? The Spanish manufacturers were always taking serious note of what their supported riders told them and would make improvements for the next edition of their production models.“
Production of the 37A-T AJS ceased and the model was discontinued in 1970.
Today, the AJS name and famous monogram lives on with the company ‘AJS Motorcycles Ltd’, run by Nick Brown and his family. Nick is the son of ‘Fluff’ (real name David) Brown; they manufacture homologated 125cc road-going scooters and motorcycles primarily aimed at the learner rider market. They operate from Upper Clatford, Andover, and still carry spare parts for the old Stormer motocross models, but not the ill-fated 37A-T.
Maybe the AJS 37A-T was, as Tony Davis said, ‘far too late’?
This article first appeared in Classic Trial magazine, Issue 34. For more information on Classic Trial Magazine, click HERE
George Turner, a former Chief Inspector of E Division in Lothians & Borders Police Force, who also was a committee member of the Scottish Six Days Trial and then Chairman of the SSDT and Edinburgh & District Motor Club Ltd, has died following a period of illness, aged 90 years on March 16th 2021 at Forth Valley Royal Hospital.
George was in charge of the Police car fleet, based at Police HQ at Fettes in the City of Edinburgh.
Originally from Stockton, Warwickshire, George was a keen supporter of the Scottish Six Days Trial and Pre’65 Scottish Trial. His late wife, May who died in 2000, was a member of the SSDT results team in the 1970s through to the 1990s.
His funeral service took place at Stirling Crematorium on Thursday 25th March, 2021. Fittingly, the song ‘Streets of Edinburgh’ by The Proclaimers was played during the service.
Sincere condolences are extended to the Turner family at this sad time.
Specially written for CLASSIC TRIAL MAGAZINE Issue 34:
TROPHIES, TIGERS, LEOPARDS AND JAGUARS– The RAY SAYER Story
For many months Richmond trials enthusiast Barry Watson nagged Trials Guru mercilessly to pen an article on an unassuming gentleman who is well known in the Yorkshire trials world. And so, eventually, we thought it only right and proper to oblige. This would not be a straightforward task as we had met the gentleman on quite a few occasions. We knew full well that this is a very modest, reserved individual who would much rather talk about his contemporaries than himself! Our first approach to write about his motorcycle riding career was met with the reply: “I wish you wouldn’t”. Perseverance is a useful attribute though, and finally we wore him down. This feature spotlights the most respected of trials riders, who has lived in the village of Bellerby, near Leyburn, North Yorkshire most of his life, even though he avoids spotlights like the plague! Son of a farmer, John Raymond ‘Ray’ Sayer was born in November 1935 and was to make a name for himself on the national trials scene in a riding career that spanned three decades, starting in the early 1950s.
Words: John Moffat – Bill Wilkinson – J.R. Sayer
Photos: Alan Vines – Malcolm Carling – Yoomee Archive
The eldest of three children, Ray Sayer effectively put the Richmond area on the trials map by his name regularly featuring in the motorcycle press, which followed his career in the sport of trials. Pick up an old copy of the ‘Motor Cycle’ yearbook and the name J.R. Sayer appears regularly. Sayer, who was a national trials winner and ISDT team rider, rode factory Triumph motorcycles for most of his riding career which spanned almost three decades. His many Triumph contemporaries of the era included John Giles, Roy Peplow, Gordon Blakeway, Gordon Farley, Ken Heanes, and Malcolm Rathmell. Giles, Heanes and Peplow were selected many times for the Great Britain International Six Days Trial World Trophy team, an event which Sayer would eventually compete in three times on Meriden-prepared factory Triumphs. Although his name will be forever linked with the Coventry marque, Ray Sayer was not always Triumph mounted, as we shall learn later.
A ‘local’ Yorkshire event:
Sayer’s first trial was the Scott, on a 197cc DOT which had been purchased from a local businessman called Sylvester ‘Syl’ Palmer from nearby Leyburn. Palmer had ridden the machine in previous Scott Trials, he had also been the event clerk of the course and received support from Francis Barnett.
“My first Scott Trial was on 14th November 1953. It was also my first ever trial, and there was a very good reason for that. At the time I worked for my father, who was a farmer and a Methodist. In those days Sundays were for attending church and definitely not for having fun on a motorcycle! As the Scott was run on a Saturday, this allowed me to enter and compete in my very first event. Needless to say, I did not do too well on the DOT. The course back then consisted of two laps plus one leg out and one back in, and I had to retire after the first lap. The following year was very wet and what had been a stream became a large torrent at ‘Dicky Edge’. This wasn’t a problem for the more experienced or factory supported riders but I tried to jump it, and ended up in the middle with a drowned machine!”
“The 1955 Scott was a much better year for me, having bought a 1951 500cc Triumph Trophy by trading the DOT in to Duplex in Darlington; this became my all-time favourite motorcycle. I was fortunate to secure some valuable help with spare parts from Allan Jefferies and this time I had a really good ride. The Trophy was eventually converted to swinging-arm rear suspension using a McCandless conversion, which increased the ground clearance to nine inches and steepened the steering. It became a beautifully handling machine after that. My best performance in the Scott was third place in 1964 but I did win the 200cc cup and Best Yorkshireman awards on quite a few occasions. In the years that I rode the Scott, when it was held in the November, it was invariably cold and wet; conditions which really suited me. There was always the possibility of some snow though, and the trial was eventually brought forward to the October. I also had support from Pete ‘Eddy’ Edmondson on the Puch engined Dalesman which was a 125cc six-speeder and was a quick machine on the rough. I rode the Dalesman in the 1970 Scott Trial.”
Sayer achieved his first Scott Trial finisher’s certificate in 1955 and amassed a total of 13 coveted ‘Scott Spoons’ from 1956 onwards which effectively placed him in the higher echelons of this famous event’s records.
Wedding Bells and Trials – 1960:
Ray married Carole in 1960, when they advanced their betrothal plans due to her father being a high-ranking officer in the Royal Air Force with an imminent posting to Hong Kong. They tied the knot a couple of years earlier than originally intended. Carole always refers to her husband as ‘Raymond’ and they will soon celebrate their Diamond wedding anniversary. She attended most of the events Ray took part in and has a good knowledge of the sport and the riders of the era. The Sayers had two children, daughter Alexandra and son Gavin. Alexandra has three children, making the Sayers grandparents. 1960 was a good year for Ray: Carole accompanied him to most events, he was Best Up To 250cc class winner in the Alan Trophy Trial and was a member of the Club Team Award for Ripon & District with Tom Ellis and Stan Holmes. A fortnight later he was second in the lightweight class and part of the Triumph manufacturers’ team award winners with Artie Ratcliffe and John Giles in the Belgian Lamborelle Trial.
The Travers Trial held in the April saw Ray again as part of the Triumph manufacturers’ team award winners, with Artie Ratcliffe and Roy Peplow, and club team for Bradford & District MCC with Stan Holmes and Ratcliffe. In the May Sayer collected a Special First Class and the Jimmy Beck Trophy at the SSDT, but the icing on the cake came in the July that year when Ray won the Allan Jefferies Trial outright, beating the legendary Sammy Miller (Ariel) by 13 marks. He rounded off the year by coming fifth in the British Experts on the 199cc Triumph Cub. Sayer was the 1964 winner of the national Victory Trial and he attended the Victory Trial reunion dinner organised by Tony Davis at the Manor Hotel, Meriden in 2007 as the Guest of Honour.
Sayer Talks Triumph:
“I rode as a works-supported rider for Triumphs for 11 years, and my final few seasons was as a privateer on a 250cc Ossa Mick Andrews Replica purchased from Norman Crooks at Northallerton for £270.00 in 1972, which I rode in that year’s Scott Trial and again in 1973. I had gone back to riding on my 500cc Triumph in 1969, registered GNR923, which I built myself and is now owned by Bill Hutchinson.
The registration number is now on his motor car and the Triumph has been restored to a high standard. I had first used this registration number on a 1961 Triumph Trophy and I transferred the registration number to my self-built Triumph. All my factory supplied Triumphs are still in circulation, which is nice to know. I enjoyed and appreciated the support that I received from Triumph, especially Henry Vale for having confidence in me.”
The Scottish Six Days has always been an important event for British trials riders and Ray Sayer was also keen to ride in Scotland.
“In 1957 I rode in my first Scottish; it was all new to me and we covered almost 1,000 miles during the week! It would be my most enjoyable as I had a really good time and a clean sheet on the Tuesday, losing no marks at all.”
This sparkling performance caught the attention of Triumph’s Henry Vale, the Competition Manager.
“Mr Vale offered me a factory machine after the SSDT, the Tiger Cub, which I rode for nine years. It was registered UNX51 and I believe it is still owned by the Crosswaite family. This was a competitive machine and one on which I rode in all the national events. But I have to say the Trophy would remain my favourite Triumph, I had a soft spot for that machine.”
Ray’s factory Triumph Cub UNX51 registered in May 1956 had been on loan from Henry Vale during the 1957 SSDT to 17-year-old Mike Hailwood, who went on to become a highly successful GP road racer and multiple TT winner, entering the Scottish as his first big competitive event. Factory Triumphs were regularly stripped down, checked, refurbished and rebuilt by the competition department at Meriden, under the watchful eye of Henry Vale, so this necessitated transport between Darlington and Coventry by train in the Guard’s van.
“I would get a phone call from either Dick Fiddler or Henry Vale at Triumph to say my machine was ready. Carole and I would go over to Darlington railway station to collect it in time for the next trial. I also rode the Highland Two-Day Trial at Inverness in Scotland a few times, and when I was on my own Triumph the secretary of the Highland club, Bob Mackenzie, was so impressed with my machine that he kept pestering me to sell it to him!”
History records that Ray was third in the 1963 ‘Scottish’ on the 199cc Tiger Cub, beaten only by Mick Andrews (AJS) and the eventual winner, Arthur Lampkin (BSA). This was to be Ray’s best performance in the annual Highland event. For the 1968 Scottish the British Suzuki concessionaires had entered Ray with his close friend Blackie Holden along with Peter Gaunt as a manufacturer’s team on the 128cc machines with Gaunt taking home the 150cc capacity class award. However, Ray’s little Suzuki did not stand up to the rigours of the SSDT that year and he was forced to retire from the event. The machine went back to Suzuki GB headquarters in the Midlands transported by Dennis Jones, who later worked for the company. The following year Ray was back on another two-stroke at the Scottish; this time it was the Villiers powered 37A-T model AJS for 1969. The AJS was courtesy of Norman Edgar of Edgar Brothers in Edinburgh who had close ties with the AJS factory, being Scottish agents for the marque.
“Mr Edgar contacted me after learning that I had entered on my 500cc Triumph and suggested that I might have an easier time riding the lighter two-stroke AJS. They seemed keen to push the AJS trials machine. However, the AJS did not have sufficient steering lock and to be honest I really was more a four-stroke man so unfortunately it didn’t suit me too well at all.”
These particular AJS machines were not built at the Andover factory but their components were transported to Edinburgh in early 1969 in crates, and they were assembled in the workshop of Edgar Brothers under the supervision of Frank Edgar and further developed by Norman’s son, Derek Edgar. The batch of the 246cc bikes were consecutively registered OWS 11–14G, Edinburgh registration marks which are dated to May 1969, just prior to the SSDT. Derek rode OWS11G with his elder brother Norman Edgar Jnr on OWS13G. Ray was issued with OWS12G for the SSDT, riding under number 93. Having been supplied with an early model production 37A-T machine (NFS21G), Norman Edgar Jnr decided to improve the batch of Edgar-built machines for the SSDT by fitting the motocross AJS Y4 ‘Stormer’ front forks and alloy conical hub, and also the conical alloy rear hub from the motocross machine. These were lighter than the British Hub Company components that the production models had been fitted with. This was a radical departure from both the production 37A-T AJS and those supplied by Peter Inchley to the other supported riders, Malcolm and Tony Davis. Ray now thinks the fork assembly from the motocross model could have explained the restricted steering lock on his machine. It was not plain sailing for Sayer however, the gearchange pawl broke on his AJS on the Wednesday resulting in a mid-week DNF for 1969. So it was back to the old love, his own 500cc Triumph Twin for the 1970 Scottish, finishing in 58th position. His last Scottish was in 1972 on the outdated GNR923, which had been treated to a more modern set of MP telescopic front forks and an alloy conical front wheel. Unfortunately, history records that he did not finish his SSDT swansong but he switched to the Ossa later that year and continued to ride trials for a few more seasons, which included two more Scott Trials.
In a plan to make some more money, Ray sat and passed his PSV driver test and started earning more income by driving a bus in Wensleydale for a local coach hirer. When the coach operator decided to retire, Ray formed a partnership with his younger brother Ken to operate ‘Sayers Coaches’ in their hometown of Bellerby, utilising a variety of purpose-built coaches. This included popular models such as a Leyland Leopard and Bedford YMT, retaining local school runs as part of their business.
Sayer rode in three International Six Days Trials. His first was the 1964 event at Erfurt, East Germany on the factory 490cc Triumph ‘Tiger 100’ (106CWD) and of course the movie actor, Steve McQueen, also rode a Triumph at the same event. Being English spoken, McQueen socialised with the British teamsters attending that year.
“Steve McQueen was quite taken by our factory Triumphs as they were much lighter and sported alloy fuel tanks, whereas McQueen’s was a fairly standard road model conversion, much of it undertaken by Reg May at Comerfords. I think he would have finished on gold medal standard if he had not spent so much time playing to the gallery, he was a typical show-off! He would keep pulling wheelies all over the place and crashed out quite a few times. He was very much an American style of rider, but quite a pleasant individual and very enthusiastic.”
Ray gained the first of his three gold medals at the Erfurt ISDT with 609 awarded points and ninth place in the 500cc class. The following year he rode the works 350cc ‘Tiger 90’ model Triumph (105CWD) in the Isle of Man in the GB Silver Vase team, having a clean sheet and gaining another gold medal as part of the best British manufacturers’ team – Triumph (Great Britain) with Ken Heanes and Roy Peplow. This was a difficult event held in atrocious conditions, and Ray’s experience of harsh North Yorkshire going gave him a distinct advantage, securing a gold – one of the few awarded that year. A truly gritty performance. In 1966 the event took place in Sweden at Villingsberg, managed by Jack Stocker. Ray was back on a factory 350cc Triumph, this time the ‘Tiger 90’ registered HUE252D in the GB Trophy team consisting of Ken Heanes, Roy Peplow, Sammy Miller and John Giles all on Triumphs, and Arthur Lampkin on a TriBSA. The team lost no marks and were credited with second place in the World Trophy competition, with East Germany taking top honours. Ray gained his third gold medal, having attained 600.04 bonus points. All the ex-factory ISDT Triumphs Ray rode are now in the custodianship of Triumph super-enthusiast Dick Shepherd in Essex.
Bill Wilkinson on Sayer:
“Ray Sayer must be one of Britain’s most underrated trials riders. I travelled many thousands of miles with him over the years when we rode in trials and the ISDT, so I got to know him very well. He never pushed himself forward, he is not that type of bloke; but make no mistake, he was a determined competitor and earned the respect of all the top riders of his era. My nickname for him is ‘Swing’ – not a lot of people know that! Ray was a very capable rider and was capable of much more. When you look back at results of national and international trials, you do not have to look far to see the name of J.R. Sayer. He won the Victory, the Allan Jefferies nationals at a time when any 20 of the top riders of the day could have won. His rivals were all very capable riders in their day. Ray was simply brilliant, I think we hooked up around 1961 and we hit it off really well. I have a lot of time for him.”
Having owned a succession of Austin and Wolseley motor vehicles Ray had a soft spot for Jaguar cars. He claims never to have bought a brand new one but he has owned several XJ series ‘Big Cats’ over the years. Ray Sayer never lost his interest in trials and has been a regular spectator at many Richmond Motor Club events over the years, his dark blue Jaguar XJ6 being noticeable parked at Reeth for the Three Day and at Richmond for the Scott. For the uninitiated, the slim, Barbour jacketed, silver-haired gentleman quietly watching the performances of riders usually goes un-noticed. Only those who know their British trials history can spot Ray Sayer in a crowd. And only those who know their history would have the thought, “…now there is a man who can ride a trials motorcycle!”
This article on J. Ray Sayer was written for publication in Classic Trial Magazine, which appeared in Issue 34.
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Popular TV commentator, Grahame Murray Walker OBE, has died aged 97 years.
Born on 10th October 1923, he was known throughout his life as Murray Walker, he was the son of racing motorcyclist Graham Walker who was also a motorcycle journalist and early radio commentator. Graham also won the Lightweight TT in 1931 on a Rudge.
Murray’s first experience of motorsport was actually motorcycling and he took up trials riding and competed in the 1949 Scottish Six Days in which he finished on 182 marks riding his privately entered 490cc Norton and took home a first class award. He also competed in an ISDT in which he won a gold medal.
Known as the ‘voice of Formula 1’, Walker was a well respected character in the Grand Prix movement and was well-known amongst drivers, constructors and the Formula 1 management.
He also commentated on many scrambles events in the 1960s for the BBC Grandstand Winter Scrambles series.
Although he was known world-wide for being a motorsport commentator, his main employment was in advertising.
On Wednesday 10th March, the Richmond Motor Club held the Scott Trial 2021 AGM via Zoom. They are very pleased to announced that subject to all permissions and the COVID roadmap allowing, they will be holding this year’s Scott Trial on Saturday 16th October 2021.
It will be 30 years since Richmond Motor Club (Yorkshire) Ltd, took over the running of the Scott Trial.
Plans are already underway to run this iconic event once again, especially following last year’s cancellation due to COVID.
Regulations and Entries will be launched in late July, so plenty of time to get the training regime in place.
Ken Wallis, Scott Trial Secretary said: “This will be great news for Scott Trial riders, supporters and the local community, please save the date and I hope to see you all at the Start Field in October.”
Packed with articles, Issue 36 of the Classic Trial Magazine is a cracker!
With Part One of ‘Look for Comerfords!’ it charts the success of the Thames Ditton motorcycle business that still exists in different forms to the present day. Part Two will be in Issue 37 due out in early Summer 2021.
An article on the late Chris Milner; the 1971 Scottish Six Days; the first Yamahas to take part in the SSDT, plus much, much more.