Suzuki v The Great Train Race
It all began as a prank. I have always been interested in the efforts of mankind to go faster and about three years ago I came across a small paperback about steam train records.
It made fascinating reading; Mallard's 126mph will stand forever, her world record representing the zenith of British steam achievements. Lesser known but perhaps even more sensational in their day were the 1895 train races, not least because the contestants had terrified passengers in tow. The records that they
The race was the outcome of aggro between Euston and Kings Cross which had previously erupted into a race in 1888 to see who could reach Edinburgh first. In 1895 the target was Aberdeen. Both trains left at 8.00pm every night and whichever was first to ring the signalman's bell at Kinnabar Junction near Montrose (where the rival routes converged) gained the final stretch of track to Aberdeen certain of victory.
Timetables were leapfrogged, trains shortened to almost nothing and speed restrictions ignored as the rival companies competed for the fastest time. The record finally fell to Euston with an average 63.3mph but remember these engines only had a range of about 200 miles between top-ups.
Since the book suggested that the 8 hours 32 minute train time of 1895 remained the land speed record between the two cities, a look at the maps could not be resisted. Sure enough, the trail that was blazed up the West Coast route by the 1895 Euston train could be duplicated almost exactly by road, never deviating from the railway by more than 12 miles and crossing it no less than 31 times along its 540 mile journey. The road journey would be six miles shorter. Furthermore there was the M1 and M6 all the way to Scotland followed by unbroken A74 dual carriageway and further stretches of motorway to beyond Sterling, leaving less than 120 miles of ordinary road to Aberdeen. There must be a chance, I thought.
Interest was eventually shown in the venture by BBC's Nationwide programme and Suzuki's Maurice Knight who volunteered a GS750 for the job. There were however, two problems; the persistent 50 and 60mph speed limits which made an average 63mph legally impossible. The other was the BBC who would be unable to film the event until some time in 1978.
In April 1977 the government announced at last that the speed limits would be raised as from 1st June.
RGF 876 P
The machine I was loaned was the first GS750 to come into the country. It started blue and was road tested by the majority of the motorcycle papers to around 12000 well thrashed miles. It was quite reliable and had recorded 123mph through the speed traps. Ray Battersby (Suzuki Service Controller) set to to adapt the machine to carry the extra fuel required.
I went to collect the machine from Beddington Lane. In Suzuki racing colours all it needed was a number seven, but the modifications under the skin were extensive. For instance the dual seat wasn't - the rear half was completely hollowed out with a thin fibreglass shell to preserve the contour. The rear mudguard and some frame members had been removed and a metal fuel tank fitted from behind the rider's seat right back into the tail fairing. What looked like a top box opened to reveal another fuel tank with its own filler which drained vertically downwards into the underseat tank through the tail fairing by two large transparent hoses. Once the engine was running all three tanks were in continuity. This gave a few problems, but more of that later.
Apart from this the machine was basically standard, untouched mechanically but with a second front disc and a Dunstall half fairing with lowered bars.
Then came the photographs, handshakes, keys handed over and would I mind doing a gentle fly past for the cameras? The weight with all the juice on board was formidable for my small stature, saved only by the relatively low seat height of the GS750. Nevertheless, I was keen to make it look easy. I was only turning round slowly in the Suzuki forecourt when suddenly the machine made a lurch to the right and, feeling its great weight going, I jumped clear. The whole plot crashed on its side and lay there leaking from every orifice. I was mortified. Photographers and mechanics rushed to its rescue. I felt as though my face had egg all over it, but fortunately there was a reason: The bracket fitted to restrict the steering lock had bent. This allowed the right ball-ended lever to enter the fairing on full lock. The moment I began to straighten up, on came the double front disc on a very nearly full lock and off I went.
My reputation as a 'works rider' had taken the worst knock however as the machine luckily suffered little damage. Peter Agg insisted I should wear flameproof clothing on the run though.
Next issue .... Getting used to the bike and breaking down.
P.R. Motorcycle Sport Dec 1977
The story about Richard Parkhouse racing a Suzuki GS750 against a train certainly takes me back a few years. He did more loony things with Suzuki too like how many counties he could ride through within 24 hours. Richard was an orthodontist from North Wales and an exceedingly nice guy.
- Ray Battersby
It was Ray who found a copy of the full original story a year later and you can now read it on LPMCC.net.
It was a colourful story. Yes the bike did win and the event itself and all its TV coverage earned me a new free bike from Suzuki! What days.....
- Richard Parkhouse
Five Stars 'cos it's all about me!