Peter ‘Jock’ Wilson … a great friend … a great man ~ By Renee Bennett.
When I think of Jock Wilson, it reminds me of the fantastic Thames Ditton motorcycle dealers, Comerfords, AJS trials machines, Bultaco, the Scottish Six Days and a top Home Counties based trials rider who went on to take charge of the British International Six Days Trial Trophy Team for nearly 20 years.
Peter Cameron ‘Jock’ Wilson was born in Scotland on 12th January 1934 at Oakbank, Bridge of Balgie, Glen Lyon, Perthshire. The Scottish Six Days was practically on his doorstep as the ‘Meall Glas’ section was only ¾ mile from his front door.
There is the main reason he was such a good trials rider ~ with all that practice ground, he just had to be good!
‘Jock’ as I’ve always known him, started his working life as a lumberjack, then a spell in the British Army doing his national service at Aldershot, then marrying his wife Pat and moving to London to live permanently.
At Aldershot, Jock was in the Royal Army Service Corps or RASC for short, his commanding officer was Captain Eddie Dow, but he also met many of the factory trials and scrambles stars of the era who were also doing their national service. Riders such as Roy Peplow, John Giles and many more.
He took up employment at Arthur Cook Motors in Kingston-Upon-Thames and then the well-known motorcycle dealership, Comerfords based in Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey which he joined in 1957.
Jock started at Comerfords as a motorcycle mechanic in the workshops, soon progressing to workshop manager. When he became bored with that, he moved into sales under Sales Director, Bert Thorn.
Jock’s specialty was modifying AJS trials bikes, cleverly making them lighter and more powerful. Gordon Jackson, Gordon Blakeway and Gordon McLaughlan rode AJS machines as a team in those days and Jock even named one of his sons after the trio.
Gordon Jackson of course won the 1961 SSDT on his factory AJS (187 BLF) with just one ‘dab’ ~ Amazing!
Jock went on to manage the British International Six Days Junior Trophy and Trophy teams. His knowledge gained by riding in the ISDT many times himself on AJS and Triumph machinery gave him a valuable insight into this part of off-road sport and was a very highly thought of manager by the riders and the ACU. He actually cut his teeth initially by managing the Scottish ACU squad in Sweden in 1978.
When Comerfords eventually took over the importership from Rickman Brothers of the Bultaco brand, Jock was soon in charge … supplying dealers and operating a first class spares service.
When Jock left Comerfords, some many years later, he started his own business importing the Italian SWM trials and enduro macinery in partnership with Mick ‘Bonkey’ Bowers, which became equally as good as the Bultaco brand and very popular.
Jock and Bonkey set up a countrywide dealer network which included former World Trials Champion, Martin Lampkin.
After SWM stopped producing motorcycles, Jock went self-employed working from his home in Tolworth, fixing and tuning bikes and repairing damaged wheels, as he is an ace wheel-builder.
Nowadays, Jock is retired but still works a little on classic bikes in his spare time. I speak to him regularly and it’s always a pleasure.
Jock has always been a friend to me, to my late father Wag Bennett, and to my children Charles (who runs a busy London motorcycle shop) and my daughter, Julie.
I owe Jock a debt of gratitude for the support and help he gave me over twenty five years of trials riding.
Thank you Jock Wilson … Renee Bennett, Plaistow, East London.
Trials Guru: Jock Wilson, so named because this was common place for a Scotsman living and working in Southern England at the time, became one of off-road motorcycle sports’ most respected characters. Jock was a very competent mechanic and a serious trials competitor. When he was with Bultaco UK, he was responsible for setting up the contracts with the Comerfords supported riders in both motocross and trials. Wilson was mentor to Greeves rider and fellow Scotsman, Vic Allan when he moved from Aberdeenshire to Thames Ditton to ride for Comerfords in 1967. Allan then went on to ride for BSA briefly, during which time he crashed heavily at the Italian GP on his factory BSA breaking his hip and was sidelined for several months, during which time BSA closed the Small Heath competitions department. Allan then reverted to race for Comerfords on the Spanish Bultaco and became British 250cc and 500 cc Motocross champion in 1974, riding the Pursang models in both classes.
Words: John Hulme and Pictures: John Hulme + Iain Lawrie.
In 1996 Sammy Miller MBE took over the run-down premises of an old farm and converted the barns into a modern, prestigious building with picturesque surroundings. It is now accepted as housing one of the finest collections of fully restored motorcycles in the world, including factory racers and exotic prototypes. At the end of 2004 permission was granted for an extension to the museum which now allows it to house over 400 exhibits.
In autumn 2010 Trial Magazine called in to view this tribute to one man’s love of motorcycles.
Welcomed by the warm hand of Sammy Miller himself the moment you walk inside the fabulous buildings, he immediately breaks into a documented history of the museum and its contents, the enthusiasm bouncing out from this motorcycle legend. Sammy’s life has always been dedicated to motorcycles. As a boy he followed motorcycle racing in Ulster and then went on to compete and win his first race in 1953. After a well documented period on the Road Racing Grand Prix circuits he moved into trials and went on to develop the world famous Ariel trials machine GOV 132 before moving on to Bultaco and creating the modern trials scene in 1965, and then on to Honda in 1970 to design the world championship winning trials machine. He is still active today and still competes when possible as well as demonstrating some of his prize collection.
Unlike most other museums this is more than a static collection to be dusted and polished at regular intervals and displayed like butterflies with pins through them. This is a live museum, for whenever the opportunity presents itself these machines are run in classic bike events of one kind or another. Many of the racing machines are still fully competitive and capable of giving a good account of themselves in high-speed parades. Like any good museum the contents are changing constantly. Virtually every new acquisition represents a full-scale renovation with the attendant difficulty in finding missing parts or replacements to exchange for those that are badly worn. Apart from the motorcycles on display you will also see many interesting artefacts, all of which represent a link with motorcycling of a bygone era.
The Off-Road section, for me, was incredible as one of the machines in the collection was something that has been on my mind many times in the past. George Sartin of Talon products’ fame many years ago started to develop his own trials machine; he made a prototype which then just disappeared off the face of the earth and there it was, immaculately restored in the museum. There are the awesome Jawa ISDT machines from the mid-seventies, and another particular machine which caught my eye was the long track championship winning machine of the late Simon Wigg, current trials star Alexz Wigg’s uncle.
Always one to bring something new to the museum, Sammy had just acquired the famous 1961 SSDT-winning AJS ridden by Gordon Jackson when he recorded the famous single mark victory.
The machine was in a sad state of affairs but Miller restored it, quite rightly, to its original condition.
The museum houses the finest collection of fully restored motorcycles in Europe, including factory racers and exotic prototypes, plus memorabilia spanning seven decades of motorcycling for sport and for pleasure. There are over 400 rare and classic motorcycles on display in four galleries.
During all this he has still found the time to restore many rare and exotic machines to concourse condition and perfect working order. These he kept as a private collection until 1980 when he opened up a museum so that the public could have a chance to see and hear them. He even took some abroad to many locations, including Australia and New Zealand, so that they could be seen by as many people as possible.
He has now placed the entire collection into a Trust to enable it to be kept together for future generations to experience and admire. There is no one more dedicated to motorcycling than Sam. He spends ten hours a day seven days a week working, promoting or restoring motorcycles and still finds time to compete (and win) races today.
Sammy Miller was awarded an MBE for Services to Motorcycle Heritage in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List. The museum is open pretty much all year round and for me is a must to visit if you have not done so already. For more information please visit: Tel: 01425 620 777 – Web: www.sammymiller.co.uk – Mail: email@example.com
Sammy Miller MBE – Achievements
11 times successive British Champion.
Twice European Trials Champion – the forerunner to the World Championship.
13 times successive Hurst Cup winner.
18 times successive Walter Rusk Trial winner.
5 times winner of the famous Scottish Six Day Trial.
7 times winner of the World’s most arduous trial the Scott Trial on the harsh and unforgiving Yorkshire moors.
Winner of over 1482 Trials events.
9 Gold medals at International Six Day Trials.
Irish Motocross Champion.
Irish Sand Racing Champion.
Winner of most Irish Road races, including winning the North West 200 and the Leinster 200 three years in succession.
Third in the World Grand Prix Championships on a works Mondial
Sponsor of the British Classic Trial Championships.
Still rides today at retirement age and wins Trials and competes in classic road race events throughout Europe and as far away as New Zealand.
Ron Thomson originally from St Andrews, Fife moved to Fort William in the late 1950’s. Ron was a dispatch rider during national service in Egypt and a member of the services club, the Bar-None MCC. On being de-mobbed, Ron joined the local Kirkcaldy & District club. Ron takes up the story: “In my day trials bikes were measured by the hundredweight, not by the cubic capacity! I had a Gold Star, which was dubbed the ‘Stone-Crusher’. So called because no section was ever the same after we had gone through. As for the Scottish Six Days, we used to gear the bikes up, my Trophy Triumph was good for 90 plus mph on the road, the reason for the hurry was that we used to be more interested in the ‘Seven Nights’ than the Six Days!” says Ron.
That particular Goldie, as Ron had one or two, registered PFS 916 had a neat conversion, featured in the first 1958 SSDT report in The Motor Cycle. In an attempt to reduce weight, Thomson used the gearbox as an oil reservoir for the motor thus obviating the need for an oil tank. The very machine on which Ron won the over 350 award at the 1969 Scottish which was to be his last ride in the Highland classic. That Gold Star was sold via Ernie Page’s shop in Polwarth Terrace and was passed through many ‘hands’ eventually ending up with Billy Maxwell in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Ron loved riding the Scottish Six Days which was in effect a local event for him as he lived in Inverlochy at that time. Ron said: “…well it was more the seven nights I was most interested in to be truthful, we used to get up to all sorts of fun”.
Ron knew an observer called Tommy Millar from Airdrie, a man who never had a complaint registered against him in over 25 years of observing- what was the reason? “I just gie a’ the laddies a clean”, he told Ron.
Ron said: “I’ve no doubt that the kids today on their water cooled pogo sticks in their go faster trendy bin liner suits will enjoy themselves just as much as we did, but still I think had greater fun in the golden years”.
Ron had a reputation as the man to approach if you wanted your bike fettled for the Scottish. He worked for a spell at the Brechin dealership, Duncan’s.
At one stage Ron, when still an active rider, prepared about a dozen Lochaber members bikes for the Highland classic.
“I couldn’t concentrate on my own ride for this one or that one coming up and saying, here! Listen to this – do you think it’s all right – will it last the week with this rattle or that rattle?”
John Moffat has a vivid personal recollection of the 1967 Scottish Experts held at Achallader Farm, Bridge of Orchy: “Ron Thomson was on his Gold Star, having ridden down from Fort William, a distance of some 35 miles in company with the late Ali McDonald on a 500cc Ariel. Post-trial, Ron stopped for a blether with a group of his old chums, I happened to be an interested bystander, listening in to the “banter”. Ali McDonald had decided to get home before dark and left immediately after signing off at the finish. The bold Ron then decided after quarter of an hour had elapsed to set off in pursuit of his pal, McDonald. Ron set sail from the farm, which, is about a mile from the main A82 trunk road. Within a few moments the assembled gathering could see Ron and the Goldie passing over the steel bridge which spans the River Orchy and up the “Black Mount”, overhauling several cars during his ascent, the big Goldie on full song. The exhaust note ever fading, disappearing from view as he crested the summit and onward to the Fort. What a great sight to behold.”
Known as a ‘big bike’ man, Ron also rode the “tiddlers” as well. In 1959 he chose the brand new C15T BSA 250cc unit construction single for the Scottish Six Days. In fact, out of eight C15’s entered, Ron was the only one to get to the finish and that included factory bikes as well!
Back in 1955 he rode a Villiers powered 197cc DMW and a year later rode a similarly powered Welsh built 197cc H.J.H.
In the 1953 Scottish, Ron rode a self-built ex-WD 343cc Triumph, the following year he rode a 347cc Matchless G3LC.
Ron S. Thomson passed away on 20th January 2007, never being a regular church attender, there was a humanist service held for him in the Crematorium at Inverness. Ron left the trials community of the Lochaber Club and the towns-people of Fort William with great memories of a true character of the sport of trials.
Trials Guru on Ron Thomson: Ron Thomson was a well liked individual who moved from his native St. Andrews to work at the British Aluminium works at Fort William. The reason was simple, so that he would live in God’s trials country! He set up business initially in a shed in his back garden fixing motorcycles and lawn-mowers for local people.
His business grew and he obtained premises at the Industrial Estate at Caol a few miles from Fort William on the A830. Many of the younger riders in the town benefited from Ron’s knowledge, which included Hugh and Alister McDonald, Alastair Macgillivray. Gary MacLennan and Rodger Mount.
His business was called R.S. Thomson (Inverlochy) Ltd. He ran a repair shop and MOT test centre for motorcycles. He was agent for chain-saws and garden equipment and employed Cameron ‘Cammy’ Kennedy for many years.
It was quite usual to swing in past Ron’s workshop for a great natter about the old days. But as sure as guns you were never there long until another enthusiast also had the same idea! How Ron got any work done heaven knows. He was a good builder of wheels, which itself is a bit of a ‘black-art’.
When Ron passed away after a short illness the business folded and Cammy took up employment with The Hire Centre in Fort William. Ron’s friends were not only Scots riders of his era like Jack Williamson; Arnott Moffat; Tommy Robertson; Johnny Clarkson and Bob Paterson, he also enjoyed the friendship of Gordon Blakeway; Ralph Venables; Peter Stirland and some of the best known riders of his era.
They all knew Ron Thomson!
This article was put together from notes John Moffat made during an interview he had with Ron at his workshops at Caol some years ago and personal recollections by Moffat himself of Ron Thomson pieced together over many years knowing Ron Thomson.
Ron Thomson in the Scottish Six Days Trial
Year Riding Number Club Make & CC of machine
1953 179 Kirkcaldy Triumph 343
1954 148 Kirkcaldy Matchless 500
1955 20 Kirkcaldy DMW 197
1956 24 Kirkcaldy DMW 197
1957 12 Kirkcaldy DMW 197 (could be HJH)
1958 140 Kirkcaldy Triumph 498 (Twin)
1959 74 Edinburgh & Dist BSA 250
1961 171 Lochaber BSA 350
1962 191 Lochaber BSA 348
1964 177 Lochaber BSA 500
1969 195 (not in prog.) BSA 500
Post Script: Added 01/02/2015:This story was spotted by Ron Thomson’s Grand-nephew, Ron Fisher who lives in Canada. It brought back happy memories of a visit to Scotland back in 1997 and indeed Trials Guru has been able to put Ron Fisher and Mrs. Helen Thomson in contact as a result of the article you see above.
Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing / John Moffat – 2014
With special thanks to Mrs. Helen Thomson of Inverlochy, Fort William for the photographs which accompany this article.
Post script to Ron Thomson’s story…
We have been contacted by former Scottish Speedway professional, John Wilson who now lives in Spain. John owned the ex-Ali McDonald Ariel MDB590 and he has kindly let us see photos of the restored machine. He sold it shortly before emigrating to Spain some years ago.
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