White Horse Rally
I only ever did one White Horse rally. I had set off to do one in '74 but had to give up after a fault with my outfit… not a good ride and it maybe should have told me that the White Horse was not for me!
I only had one bike in those days, a 650cc Norton Mercury. As reliable and boring a bike as you could find. I was living in Stratford on Avon and Paul Mullis came round on Friday night so we could ride down to the site together, which was down near Tunbridge way. I seem to remember the place was something to do with someone connected with Roger Halfyard, so it was going to be good. We set off down the Oxford road, heading south east.
Paul was riding his old BMW R51/3 1951 500cc and Steib outfit. Coincidently the sidecar chassis of that outfit is the one on our 'Beetroot', it's a small world where sidecars are concerned!
I tucked in behind him, along that road which was so familiar then, no motorways in those days, the two bikes running well. Until about High Wycombe. My Norton spluttered to a stop and no amount of kicking could coax anything out of it. It was dark of course and somehow we managed to get it to a pub car park where some investigative work found the points had given up. Great.
We were stuck. In those days we had no breakdown cover and we didn't know what to do. By that time the Norton, though it was a relatively new bike at 8 years old, had never been a common model and spares were already a bit hard to come by. We sat in the pub weighing up our options.
We had to get through the centre of London on a Friday night. I could have left the Norton somewhere and continued in the outfit but where would be safe? It had to be fixed whatever. I can't remember who had the bright idea - me I guess - of towing it there!
Towing has never worried me. The first time I did it was very early on in my motorcycling career when my BSA C11G decided to split its flywheel in two coming out of Bristol on the A4 and I was towed the nearly 30 miles back to Melksham. Easy peasy and think of the petrol I saved. In the following years it happened now and again as the bikes we were running were all on their last legs and various escapades spring to mind involving bungees, Belstaff belts and bits of string.
The most memorable tow was undertaken by one of the lads when I had abandoned a Triumph outfit in Naseby. For reasons I won't go into, the engine had been taken out and by the time Dave returned to collect it the front brake lever had been stolen. All well and good, not, but the final suicidal element was the towing vehicle. A Marcos sports car driven by Malcolm Newall, the designer and builder of the Quasar - a nutcase of the highest degree. Dave knew there was a high risk of death in this undertaking but, bless him, he did it and lived to tell the tale. He said by the time they got onto the Lacock bypass and were overtaking cars at ridiculous speeds he was almost enjoying grinning at the terrified car drivers.
Anyway, with that sort of background how could I fail? We waited until the pub shut and set off. I'm not sure how the Norton's lights managed but it was a relatively straightforward tow. Right through the middle of London (no M25 then) round Hyde Park and dodging the amazed drunks. Once or twice we had cars trying to get in between us and several times we jumped traffic lights as there was no way the 'plot' could stop quickly even if we had wanted to - we had a rally to go to and we were on a roll! The only mistake made was when we reached the rally Paul overshot the entrance to the field and did a quick U turn - he had completely forgotten about me and I couldn't let go in time and we were down!
All the usual suspects were there, a cracking rally but I had the Norton's points to replace and that took precedence. There might be somewhere in Tunbridge Wells to buy some so in the morning we got ready to ride out and find some.
The BM wouldn't start. It really really wouldn't start. If anyone has ever tried kickstarting an old BM it's a hopeless task. Add a sidecar to the equation and it becomes impossible. Paul's fuse was always pretty short and he became crosser and crosser. With me, with the Norton and most definitely with the BM. I did the only thing I could and walked off.
Now I had not only no idea where I was, I had no idea where I wanted to go or how to get there. I stuck my thumb out - you could do that in those days - and somehow got to Tunbridge Wells. I found the shop and I got some points!!! Getting back to the site was a piece of cake after all that.
I found Paul still glowering in the tent. He must have fixed the BM but the guys said they hadn't dared to even walk near our tent all day as he had been in such a foul mood. Hey ho, the Norton was fixed, the BM was fixed and we got home alright but I'm sorry, I don't remember anything about the rally at all!
- Heather MacGregor