John Cowie
Page updated 19-Apr-2011

John Cowie regularly rode for Gus Kuhn from 1973 to 1977 on Nortons, BMWs and the Suzuki at short circuit and endurance races as well as the TT.

John Cowie on the Gus Kuhn BMW at the
1976 Hutchinson 100 at Brands Hatch

His family moved south from Banffshire in Scotland when he was young. He started racing after being banned from the road. Racing a 650cc Norton for the first time alongside his good friend Ron Mellor in 1969 he had moderate club success and was offered rides by Dave Degens on the Dresda. Then he bought a Seeley Norton, on which many of John's memorable rides came. At the 1973 post TT Mallory Park race, after crashing and smashing his fairing, he led the works Nortons for a while and earned the BP Man of the Meeting award.

Later that year came the Gus Kuhn tie-up and rides on the green Kuhn Nortons. “They were very good to me but the bikes became uncompetitive and when Dave Potter drifted to Willy Ryan I got the Yamahas” John recalls.

By 1975, he was still racing for GK on the BMW as well as Premier Motors' Yamahas, with considerable success.

Later he rode the Peckett & McNabb Kawasaki and recalls the time at Silverstone when he was dicing with his hero, Mike Hailwood, on the Ducati, and Tom Herron on the Mocheck Honda. “The top speed of Tom's and my bike proved too much for Mike's Ducati and I managed to pip Tom on the line for victory by 200th of a second. I shall never forget being on the podium with Tom Herron, who I had great respect for, and Mike Hailwood who was the best rider I have ever seen”.

After clinching the Formula 1 title for P&M, “A superb pair of engineers and great guys”, he retired in 1978 as he damaged his elbow at the season closer at Brands Hatch and now cannot bend it.

He emigrated to Australia in 2000, where his son has started racing with some success.

[Thanks to John Nutting in Motor Cycle 25 April 1975]

Lida at Phase One Endurance Racing sent us this article from Motorcycle Mechanics in August 1978 [Click Here]. The article covers Spa that year and features pictures of both John Cowie and Bernie Toleman finishing 4th in the Liege 24 hours on the bike that Phase One Endurance Racing used at the Classic Bol in 2010. Chubbie (one of their team members) adds the following details:

Some of the pictures here went into the book "Endurance Racing" by John Robinson, published by Haynes in 1978.

At that time, Motorcycle Mechanics (previously known by the somewhat clumsier title of Motorcycle, scooter and three wheeler mechanics) was an East Midlands Allied Press publication,(EMAP) which went on to become today's Performance Bikes Magazine (now owned by Bauer Media). John Robinson wrote for all of these titles, until his death in, about '98 ish.

Remember this: 4th place at the Spa 24hr was only the bikes second or third serious outing from new and it had previously finished 3rd at Le Mans 24hr. It would go on to suffer a crash and a mechanical failure in its next outings at Nurburgring and Barcelona, but come back strongly again after that; winning the 1978 British F1 Title for John Cowie at Brands Hatch a couple of months later.

Cowie would subsequently retire after a crash in which he suffered a badly injured shoulder and eventually emigrated to Australia. Toleman continued racing with some success in Britain and in World Endurance, in a successful partnership with Mick Hemmings, lasting several years, on the Moto of Catford P&M GS1000 and the Mick Hemmings Racing P&M GS1000 (with a couple of other riders joining that pairing on and off, including, Peter Clifford, Editor of Motocourse, Gary Green, Daryl Pendlebury and Alistair Copeland for example). Today, Bernie Toleman is the man behind Jentin Racing in British Superbikes.

Also interesting to see the Dholda Honda pictured; Stephane Mertens rode this bike with Didier de Radigues at this year's Classic Spa. (Dholda were the Belgian Honda Importers at the time and used Honda RCB motors, sometimes in frames of their own design).