27.3.09

It's an ill wind that blows nobody's mind


From Cyril's memoirs dated 15 February 2006

Fat, long and exceedingly slippery. Suzuki’s Hayabusa really is a marvel of aerodynamics and I remember thinking when it was launched in 1999 that the designers were brave not to be led by aesthetics, but by physics. Handing over large amounts of cash for a greased rhino with a jet pack up its chuff didn’t deter the punters, bent, as we all are, on speed.

A key tool in the development of fine aerodynamics is the wind tunnel and I first encountered one in 1968 while Global Sales Director at Triumph. We were involved in an exciting project aimed at increasing road bike top speeds by standard fitment of a highly aerodynamic fairing. It should have reaped great rewards, but while you can factor in all manner of known characteristics for raw materials, the same is not so easily done when one is dealing with a human mind. In particular, that of our new aerodynamics engineer, George Hardle. Such a tragic waste.

Over the years a friendship had been forged between Triumph and the Moto Guzzi factory and I'm proud to say that I’d had much to do with that process, going right back to the 1957 TT when, while working for Ariel, I’d got chatting to a couple of Guzzi mechanics looking after Bill Lomas’s race bikes. They spoke no English, but it’s amazing what sign language can achieve (including, unfortunately, gross misunderstandings. To this day I’m baffled as to how ‘Let’s go for a pint’ came across as ‘Your mother's breasts need milking’, but the Italians seem to have a sign for everything and an insult to match. Giuseppe and I can now laugh about it, but whenever we meet up I insist on showing him him the scar. Those Neapolitans are jolly quick with a blade). So, when Triumph wanted to use Guzzi’s famous wind tunnel at the Mandello del Lario factory to develop their new fairing, I managed to secure its use for the whole of March 1968.

George Hardle became a problem on our eighth day in the tunnel. He’d struck me as a curious character on joining the firm a month previously. He stood about 5ft 5in, was in his early 50s and carried a large paunch, gained, I imagine, from over eating as he was teetotal. He was bald except for a curtain of grizzled, mousy hair and had a bushier version of Hitler’s contribution to facial grooming. None of this was especially remarkable, but when one tried to look into his eyes they’d dart around and never meet your gaze. Basically, he seemed a little demented.

That day, our famous test rider, Les Colcroft, was on the bike and moving around to get the best aerodynamic position with the gale blowing full tilt. But the instruments showed a lot of drag still evident, despite (actually, because of, though no one dared say it) huge amounts of plasticine that Hardle had added to almost every surface of the fairing, remodelling it continually and with ever increasing fervour. By 3pm Hardle, beside us in the control room, was visibly distressed, pink face glistening with a sheen of sweat. He began banging on the thick glass of the control room window, cursing Colcroft for an inability to streamline himself effectively. This was nonsense and had more to do with Les being perched behind a fairing which, loaded with pounds and pounds of plasticine, looked like a five-year-old’s rendition of the head of a triceratops.

Suddenly, Hardle left the control room and entered the tunnel, the huge propeller still sucking air through full blast. Struggling to keep his feet, he pushed Les off the bike and jumped in the saddle, briefly assuming a racing crouch as his tie whipped behind him and his flapping trousers rode up to his knees. But within seconds he was off the bike and began punching and kicking the plasticine-laden fairing. Les stood by helpless, bracing himself against the wind blast, while Hardle pulled off huge chunks of plasticine, throwing them first at Les, then at the control room window. He really was in quite a state – if only it had ended there.

Leaving his tie in place, Hardle tore off his shirt, which stuck high against the wire mesh ahead of the propeller. He then dropped to his knees and pulled more plasticine from the fairing flanks and began stuffing it into his mouth. It was clear that he was having awful trouble chewing it, but he remained hunched and determined in the roaring wind.

I’m afraid my final memory of George Hardle is of him utterly naked except for brown brogues and a tie, pressing his waxy, hirsute body against the control room window, his genitalia distorted hideously against the glass. His teeth, revealed by a deranged grin, were covered in gobs of brown plasticine.

So next time you’re slipping through the air with 150 on the clock and more to come, spare a thought for George Hardle, well-endowed aerodynamics pioneer and long term resident of The Verniers, a rest home in Tipton for bewildered former engineers.

1 comment:

chris said...

Nice one Cyril - made me laugh out loud. Lets go for a pint!