'I’ve blown the arse out of the bollocking budget'

From Cyril's memoirs dated 12 April, 2005

Honda's RC211V MotoGP bike is a wondrous machine and Simon Hargreaves’ report in February's Bike magazine showed how HRC has made a racing weapon feel so like its road cousin. But I had to smile, because more than 40 years ago BSA had great plans for a V5 grand prix racer with road-based spin-off.

In the late Fifties the BSA race shop boasted some fine engineers, not least Peter Cartwright. Peter had a fierce intelligence but an explosive temper, a combination that did his career no favours. I recall one meeting when Peter clashed with chief accountant Bob Crowley about race team investment. Bob should have known not to goad Peter in an afternoon meeting as Peter was ever primed by a liquid lunch in the Pen & Wig pub. Despite a vicious assault Bob recovered quickly, with the aid of an inflatable rubber ring, although the disturbing nature of Peter’s undeniably innovative attack meant chocolate finger biscuits were never again served in meetings.

I digress. In late 1958 Peter was asked to develop a racing engine with a vee formation, something the Japanese factories and indeed Ducati would later adopt with great success. Guzzi’s marvellous V8 had been retired before reaching full potential when the firm withdrew from racing that year and BSA saw the chance to pounce. Although Peter later achieved great things with Suzuki’s grand prix V4 of the Nineties, even in the Fifties he felt that a V5 was the way forward. He fought hard to get his ideas approved – literally at times. He was a small man but I often saw him stripped to the waist (or indeed from the waist, which was far more disconcerting), blue eyes blazing, ‘offering out’ all comers in his broad Brummie twang. Despite these antics he was given the go-ahead in spring of 1959. I’m afraid what followed is a dark chapter in both BSA’s and Peter Cartwright’s history.

Working in overseas sales I had no direct link with the project but was a good friend of Peter’s, perhaps his only friend. One day he called me to his secluded workshop. ‘Cyril,’ he implored, ‘you’ve gotta help me, mate. I’ve blown the arse out of the bollocking budget and I’ve done bugger-all testing.’ By his beery breath I suspected that, by contrast, the Pen & Wig’s budget was looking pretty healthy. He begged me to meet him at the firm’s test track that Sunday. Rather rashly, I agreed.

I arrived at the deserted track on a chilly April morning. The works Austin van was parked at the head of the straight and as I approached I heard what sounded like a very loud electric shaver. I knocked on the rear doors, but there was no reply. Walking round to the far side of the van I was shocked by what I saw. Wedged into the frame of one our road models was a monstrous engine. Yes, it was a vee set transversely like the Guzzi’s, but it was a sprawling mess of fins, tubes and brackets. I stepped closer and bent down. On part of the hideously cobbled-together crankcase was a section of the word ‘Qualcast’ and I could see dried grass cuttings wedged between the fins on the barrels. It was clearly cobbled together from a lawnmower. Perhaps most strangely of all, a pair of stabilizers from a child’s bicycle were attached to the back of the machine.

Then there was a terrible yelping, barking and shouts of panic. The van doors burst open and Peter’s border collie, Hailwood, bounded out. The dog was clean shaven from the tip of its nose to its midriff and the rest of its coat was clipped close and covered in shaving soap. It stopped momentarily on seeing me, then took off into the distance. I found Peter sitting in the van on an upturned beer keg, balding head in hands, electric shears and a razor at his feet. He was wearing nothing but a pair of brogues and his underpants and was covered in lather, dog fur and some nasty nips from Hailwood.

As I dressed his wounds, a sobbing Peter explained all. The development money had long since been ‘pissed up the wall’ on strong ale and a rather accommodating ‘professional lady’ from the Pen & Wig. Peter had then carried out a spate of garden-shed burglaries for the raw material for his racer. With no budget left for track time or riders he’d planned to performance test by guiding the bike using a rudimentary radio control system. For ‘added realism’ – and those were his exact words – he’d intended to strap the shaven Hailwood to the bike dressed in a tightly-fitting woollen bodysuit knitted by his mother. At this point, it must be said, Peter was a very confused man.

And so, many years later, I was extremely happy to see Peter gain the success he deserved as one of the engineers behind Kevin Schwantz’s 1993 World Championship win with Suzuki. However, it can be no coincidence that Schwantz was never once seen at a race meeting with a be-pelted pet of any description. Kevin always did his homework.


That CD Guy said...

This is just the sort of drivel I thought had ceased to exist when Olly Duke stopped writing for MCN. More plea ... good lord, Margaret, was that a '57 Throgmorton sideslung valvesmasher on the bypass just then .... ? What? A Ducati you say? Must be my hearing ... I used to be able to tell a Honda CB250 from a good helping of lettuce at 50 paces; with my eyes shut!

Gary Inman and Ben Part said...

Excellent stuff MP.
Next installment please.