Too much monkey business

From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 September 2007

Speed, to me, will always mean Bonneville Salt Flats. And prison food. The other evening Francesca and I were rooting away in the store room at the back of my office, getting up a good old sweat humping and humping box after box of old papers and documents from years back. I managed to drop one and amongst the spillage I noticed a notebook from a trip to Bonneville during my days at Suzuki. I've reprinted some of that notebook here, and hope that, should this memoir ever see the light of day, I'm not sued by any of those still in a position to do so.

15 June 1980: Finally, after some outrageous bribery, the warders have given me back my notebook. How do I describe the catastrophic events of the past five days? From the beginning, I suppose. So...

10 June 1980:
We fly into Salt Lake City and collect the hire car. There's immediately an argument as to who will drive, with Barry [Sheene] insisting that it's him. I tell him I'd heard enough stories of what he and Stavros [Steve Parrish] had got up to with hire cars and hand the keys to our chief technician, Don Prior. Barry goes into a sulk in the back of the car and all the way to Bonneville lets go of silent but utterly nauseating farts, chuckling each time we’re forced to wind down the Chevrolet's windows in panic.

Check into the hotel and meet with the rest of the crew. The bike and spares are here, having been shipped over ahead of us. I remind everyone of Suzuki's desire to keep this under wraps, hence the unliveried bike and choosing a relatively quiet time at the salt flats. We're not here to break records, but we do want to push this bike to the limit. Early night, big day tomorrow. Passing through the bar I wish Barry goodnight. He calls me a c***. Light heartedly, I'm sure.

11 June 1980: This morning Barry puts in some very high speed runs before complaining of a loss of power. Don Prior begins to take a look, but even under the awning the sun’s heat is intense and he's clearly flustered. With uncharacteristic clumsiness he pulls the bike on top of himself, taking a heavy blow to the head. He insists all is okay, but it was a mighty knock and he has a cut that might need stitches, so I send him with one of the mechanics to get a check up with a doctor in town. He returns two hours later with a bemused mechanic and a chimpanzee ventriloquist’s dummy which is dressed in a Stetson hat, fringed leather chaps and blue waistcoat, complete with sheriff's badge. Don assures me that he's feeling fine. Or rather, Mr Kenny Roberts the Chimp assures me.

12 June 1980: Don comes down to breakfast with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm and speaks only through the dummy throughout. This sets the pattern for the day, with the chimp advising Don on carb settings and revised ignition timing. Don clearly finds it awkward working with a dummy on his left hand, but when Barry suggests he 'put the fackin' monkey down' Don becomes agitated and we let him get on with it.

After lunch, Barry threatens to refuse to ride unless 'that bloody lunatic puts down the fackin' chimp and gets on with his bleedin' job'. In the event, Barry relents, but the afternoon session comes to a premature halt when salt crystals are sucked into the engine, damaging the bore and a valve seat on number one pot. A heated row develops between Don Prior and Mr Kenny Roberts, Don castigating the puppet-chimp for advising they run without air filters.

It's now late in the evening and Barry and I are enjoying a few drinks in the hotel bar. Then Don appears, having worked on the motor all evening, and still with Mr Kenny Roberts on his arm, its synthetic fur matted with grease and looking rather worse for wear. As does Don.

Barry, choosing the diplomatic route as ever, says: 'Don, I've had enough of this. You've bleedin' cracked. Give me the fackin' monkey, I'll fackin' put an end to this bollocks.' With which he lunges at the dummy and a bitter struggle ensues, during which tables are knocked over, with glasses crashing to the floor. Finally, Barry bursts free from Don, triumphantly holding aloft the head of Mr Kenny Roberts.

'That's it. It's fackin' over, you nutter,' he shouts, throwing the head across the bar with some force. Unfortunately, it ricochets off the jukebox and bounces onto a table, knocking a drink into the lap of the local chief of police, who’s been watching the whole sordid performance.

So, there you have it. We were all eventually released after paying substantial fines and while at least some of the work we carried out at Bonneville did find its way, many years later, onto the Hayabusa, Don Prior was never quite the same again, though he did complete a successful 1981 summer season with a refurbished Mr Kenny Roberts as Kenny and Don on Blackpool’s north pier.


Morag McCuddie

From Cyril's memoirs dated 19 August 2007

I recently read an article about haggis stalking in the Scottish Highlands, and it took me right back to the late 1990s, a tuned Yamaha V-Max and Morag McCuddie, fearsome Queen of the Lathe.

Morag is an engineering legend within the industry yet all but unknown outside it. This could be down to her outright strangeness, but I'd say that makes her interesting. She’s certainly always interested me – but not in the way you might think. She stands six feet four and even now, in her 70s, has the physique of a Clydeside riveter, complete with ham-sized, hirsute forearms. She always wears a kilt, exposing mighty legs, and I certainly wouldn’t like to see those broad, calloused hands tossing anything less substantial than a caber.

We first met in 1958 when I was working for Ariel and we immediately got along well. I’d been sent to her workshops in Oban on Scotland's rugged west coast to convince her to try to iron out problems with the new Ariel Leader that had flummoxed the chaps at the factory. Morag was either idiosyncratic, an imaginative liar or plainly mad, depending on your view. During that first meeting she told me that she’d built the great Bob McIntyre entirely from spares and insisted that he only managed to pull off the previous year’s first ever 100mph TT lap thanks to last-minute tweaks she’d made to his pelvic oil galleries.

It was a lovely day in that summer of ’58 and she invited me to join her for a jaunt into the hills on scramblers. We rode for a couple of hours then stopped on a hilltop to admire the view, our bikes pinging in the background as they cooled. Morag turned to me with a wink and I watched as she reached down and opened the flaps of her knapsack. She reached in and pulled out a couple of mighty smoked salmon sandwiches and, more importantly, a large bottle of Glenfelch single malt whisky (label motto, “Ye'll sup more wi' a straw!”).

Well, my hazy memories of the rest of that afternoon come to me only in brief and seemingly unconnected episodes, like clicking aimlessly through YouTube. I know we wrestled, and I know that at least part of that wrestling took place naked. I know that we also rode the bikes in the buff and that for some of the time I wore a slice of smoked salmon both as a wig and a loincloth. The next morning, I could hardly move for midge bites, my skin a Square Four workshop manual in Braille. And to this day I have a scar on my right buttock in the shape of the exhaust heatshield on Morag’s B33. It has become a ritual that every time I see her I have to show this brand (I’m convinced she did it on purpose when I was comatose), at which point she roars with gravelly laughter and slaps me on the back with the force of a dockside crane.

So, jump forward to 1998 and my arrival in Oban to bring details of work Morag was to take on for Yamaha (my then employers). As usual, she mulled over the proposal for no more than ten minutes before suggesting a drink. She went to the courtyard at the back of the house and appeared from one of the outbuildings on her tuned V-Max. At Morag’s insistence I foolishly left my R1 at the house and climbed on the back.

By the time we reached the Beaver and Merkin I was in need of a drink and the first few pints of Grainger’s Disgraced Ghillie slipped down with unseemly haste. Before I knew it, we were deep in our cups and Morag was demanding I bear my buttock to show the heatshield scar. Despite the crowded tap room I did just that. But even after all those years I wasn’t prepared for the hearty slap on the back and, leather jeans like shackles around my ankles, I stumbled forwards, hit my head on the bar and was knocked out cold.

Apparently, Morag McCuddie collected me up like a rag doll, and without even bothering to pull up my trousers threw me over the back of the V-max, cowboy style, and rode home through the town. What happened between then and the next morning I have no idea, but I can tell you that the long ride back down south on the R1 involved a rather ridiculous number of comfort breaks.