Pride was his Secret
Speedway Express, August 1977 (Thanks to Steve Wilkes)
Gus Kuhn took a great pride in competing in some of the tremendous motorcycling classics of the year and in mid 1927 we find him riding in the London to Edinburgh reliability trial. Demonstrating his versatility he drove a big 990cc Matchless.
For this super long-distance Whitsuntide event there was a smaller entry than usual. The reason for this it was thought that many trial riders considered its usual easy nature and therefore did not give it their support. Had they known how stiff it actually proved they would doubtless have been among those present at the start at Wrotham Park, Barnet.
Probably the most interesting machine in the trial was the 1902 Dreadnought ridden by Harold Karslake. This machine which appeared in much the same trim as it was 25 years ago [written in 1977], lost a Gold Medal through stopping on Askrigg; otherwise it ran excellently throughout.
The first of the 184 competitors in this twentieth event began the 416-mile journey to the North on Good Friday evening at 7 pm. There were 106 solo riders, 63 sidecars and 15 three-wheelers, all the latter being Morgans with JAP, Blackburne or Vulpine engines.
After the 106 solo riders had been dispatched at short intervals, there came the sidecars and Gus Kuhn (number 130) was the 24th of these to be sent off on the long and arduous journey. After a further 16 had been started there came Vic Anstice (later to become an ACU Speedway timekeeper) on a 596cc Douglas
No sooner had every competitor got underway than a sharp shower of rain fell, making the Great North Road a little treacherous. At every village and town on the route there were crowds watching the great "race". Stamford Market Place, where the local Club provided some excellent coffee, was so full that many competitors found it almost impossible to drive onwards even at a snail's pace.
There was an hour's break at Grantham after the first man had arrived at midnight; then came Doncaster and Ilkley (202 miles) after which some winding roads led on to Threshfield and Buckden; then over Fleet Moss, a very long pull and over dusty roads to Askrigg, the first observed hill of 1 in 6. But Askrigg was a hill to be treated with respect, since it was covered with loose stones and dotted with knobbly protruding rocks. There was a reek of burning clutch linings as G W Smith (980 Brough Superior s/c) ambled up slowly with his engine rotating at speed. Gus Kuhn tried a fast ascent, his Matchless sidecar wheel going high into the air after hitting a bump on the left-hand side. But things like this didn't worry the intrepid Gus - he just enjoyed every minute!
After Askrigg Hill there came half-a-dozen miles of rough winding tracks deep in loose stones to Feetham and on through Gunnerside to West Stonesdale, the second and final observed Hill. Next came Tan Hill which was not observed, and after a few miles competitors were again on good main roads. At Carlisle (310 miles completed) was the luncheon stop, and the run to here was uneventful, except for a few who lost themselves at Appleby and then had a hair-raising "blind" in order to be on time at Penrith. Stinging rain made the afternoon journey far from pleasant, and many riders made up time between the various towns in order to snatch a brief rest, in some cases forty-winks, in the lee of a hedge!
Since according to the regulations there might be a secret check at any town or village named on the route card, competitors had plenty of stops at which it was possible to rest, and before each place there were little bunches at the roadside some of them dozing sure in the knowledge that some kindly soul would awake them when it was time to proceed.
Shortly before Moffat (350 miles covered) A E Webb (990cc Matchless s/c) had chain trouble. Gus was riding a similar machine and typical of his sportsmanship he dashed into the town for spares, and after returning with them only reached the check just in time.
Moffat was the tea stop, and then the St. Mary's Lock section was tackled, which was included in order to prevent competitors falling asleep in the saddle! And it proved successful.
The first portion to Cappercleuch was exhilarating in spite of the rain, and consisted of an excellent twisting switchback road running at the foot of bleak mountains. The road along the valley of the Megget, however, was a nightmare; all twists and turns, and being dammed and their beds dotted with rocks by some people who were probably more thoughtless than heartless. Words failed the sturdy competitors who landed on the rocks or stopped with soaked plugs and magnetos. Next year it was hoped that those responsible for the trouble would remember that it was not in the best interest of the sport to bait men who were tired out as the result of covering 370 miles practically non-stop.
Several riders had their silencers knocked off, and had to do a little paddling to find them, and a number were seriously delayed with ignition trouble. However, after a few more heartbreaking miles, the main Moffat to Edinburgh Road was regained, and it was comparatively easy going to Waverley Market Place, the finishing point where massive crowds looked on.
Only 18 of the 169 motorcycle competitors who started, failed to reach the final check, and this year's 416-mile London to Edinburgh Trial was a thoroughly enjoyable event, exceptionally well-organised by the Motorcycling Club although it proved much more difficult than any of its predecessors. The extremely high number of award winners bore striking testimony to the efficiency of the motorcycle when tested over super-long distances. There were 311 entrants, 26 retirements and 262 finishers.
In winning a Gold Medal, Gus was obviously delighted, as was Bill Bragg (344 Coventry-Eagle), Stanley Glanfield (499 Rudge-Whitworth s/c) and Arthur Franklyn (700 NUT s/c) with similar awards.
In less than a year ahead the late Bill Bragg would be shifting the cinders at Stamford Bridge Speedway and become the first Captain of that illustrious 1929 Team. Arthur Frankly would be one of the Northern stars, and Stan Glanfield would produce a Dirt-Track bike called the "Glanfield Special" which housed a Rudge engine. He afterwards became a Speedway promoter.
London, with a crowd of over ten thousand, saw its first road race meeting in May (1927), held in the delightful Crystal Palace grounds. The circuit was one mile round. Staged by the London Motor Sports Company, Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith were in charge and the same set-up promoted Speedway Racing at the same venue the following year - the first of a total of a six-season era.
Gus Kuhn, as versatile as ever, took part in this inaugural road race event, but success eluded him until the second meeting several weeks ahead. In the 500cc 5-lap event there were 12 starters and TT men, Gus and Len Parker (Douglas) were paired together. Len's "Duggie" oiled its plugs early in the race and Gus, obviously new to the tricky circuit, was going far too carefully to get amongst the leaders, but success would come on August 6.
On June 6, in Australia, the King's Birthday Meeting took place at Penwith Speedway, NSW. Much wrenching off of tyres and the double "fracture" of the 350cc, 5-mile track record were the highlights of the meeting. Tommy Benstead (Harley-Davidson) smashed the "350" record in heat one of the "Flying Three-Fifty". The Final of the "Flying Five-Hundred" promised to be a tremendous race between "Sprouts" Elder (Indian) and Benstead, but "Sprouts", after leading for the greater part of the race, suddenly dropped behind, and retired.
A front tyre bursting in Race Two of the All Powers Handicap caused J Grieg (Rudge-Whitworth) to crash. His machine careered through the wooden rails, coming to a standstill outside the track, while Grieg, after somersaulting, was thrown on to the wire which ran through the fencing, where he hung for a little while before disengaging himself, and calmly walked from the track, to the intense relief of the enthusiastic spectators.
The name of Gus Kuhn has a connection with Crystal Palace from the beginning to the end.
Gus competed at the first meeting in 1927, was a lap record holder and frequent winner at many of the path racing meetings in the late 20's.
Then in the 70's the Gus Kuhn race team regularly competed at the Palace, which was their local circuit, and took part in the final meeting in August 1972. Vincent Davey, Gus's son-in-law and MD of Gus Kuhn Motors, took part in the closing ceremony for the circuit, completing the circle.
Click here to read more of Crystal Palace history 1927 - 1972
Sixteen thousand spectators turned out to watch the second Crystal Palace road race meeting on Saturday afternoon, August 6. The racing was so crammed with excitement and good sportsmanship that it had to be seen to be believed. More than one sidecar outfit turned turtle but no one was hurt. Gus Kuhn by now had the circuit certainly weighed up for, on his traditional Velocette of 348cc, he made the fastest lap time of the day in 1m 56s which constituted a very fine achievement. Riding as number 97 and in his shirt sleeves too, his daring riding at Maze Hairpin caused many a gasp. But he could have kicked himself, for, after qualifying for the Final of the Crystal Palace Solo Championship, and immediately jumping into the lead in this important race, and sustaining it for two laps, he suddenly rode straight into the paddock - he had been under the impression that it was only a two-lap race!
Some of the heats of the Championship event were not entirely devoid of amusing incidents. In race three W W Fuller's brakes failed on his Coventry-Eagle at the beginning of the Lake Stretch and with his machine he went headlong into the lake at a terrifying speed. He swam ashore!
After the Championship Race, won by L O Bellamy (Coventry-Eagle) came the Kempton Trophy race of 5 laps for 350cc machines won by Gus. The race degenerated into a mere procession with Gus (Velo) in the lead. On lap 4 his cigarette went out, but he waited until the race was over before relighting it!
Versatility! Certainly Gus had it, for he took part in the Epsom Trophy Race, a sidecar event, won by Gordon Norchi. From the start of the race Gus's passenger was in danger of losing his braces - the last button went as they entered their fifth lap!