Isle of Man Excitement
Speedway Express, January 1977
No more thrilling and instructive Isle of Man TT Races had ever taken place than those of 1922. They were a triumph of organisation for the Auto-Cycle Union, and the results were certainly a triumph for British manufacturers and riders. The races were fought out with remarkable keenness; all previous records were broken both for individual laps and for the full duration of the course.
In the Lightweight Race (188¾ miles) in which Gus Kuhn took part, only 14 of the 31 starters finished the gruelling course of 37¾ miles round. It was won by Geoff Davidson on a Levis who averaged a shade under 50 mph, and this was a reduction of 25 minutes over his previous year's predecessor. The Sun-Vitesse (British) works Team was W H Lord, M Bishop and, of course, Gus Kuhn, all of whom rode machines of 225cc.
As the stands filled up on Tuesday morning May 30, the sun was oppressively hot; Snaefell was sharply silhouetted against a glowing sky, and the roads were dusty. Crowds were not quite as large as usual, but the summer attire of the ladies added bright notes of colour to a gay panorama.
As the National Anthem announced the arrival of the Lieut. Governor, a silent phalanx of riders in yellow and green and red racing colours appeared wheeling their machines to the starting line from the official storage tent. D G Prentice last year's Lightweight winner, moved up to the timekeeper's box, and as he received the word "Go" at 10am., maroons signalled to the whole Island that another famous TT Race had begun. Gus was the third rider to start; his little Sun-Vitesse machine of 226 pounds, carrying the second-heaviest rider in the contest, for Gus was 12 stone 2 pounds.
Soon out in the countryside and heading towards Creg-ny-Baa Gus Kuhn's model was purring smoothly along. The roadside onlookers began craning forward, for another TT was under way, over the 37¾ miles of humdrum highway that every year became transformed by a kind of magic into the most exciting road-race-circuit of them all.
This Lightweight (250cc Class) was this year having a race of its own, and not being incorporated in another category. At the motorcycle factories, the pace of technical progress had been stepped up. Already the belt-drive had disappeared from the racing scene; there was now an emphasis on light-alloy cylinders with cast-in liners of cast iron or steel. The Sun-Vitesse team (Gus, Lord and Bishop) was rather a novelty for the members' machines were two-strokes with a disc rotary-valve in the crankcase.
But Gus could do no better than finish in 12th place at an average of 35.56 mph, although he made the best performance of the Team. He was however followed in by team-made W H Lord. His other team-mate M Bishop failed to complete a single lap! To finish the tortuous TT course was an achievement in itself.
Although Gus Kuhn was one of the heaviest competitive riders on Lightweight machines in reliability trials, the Rev. John Maxwell Philpott, a 35-year-old Vicar of Stockingford, Nuneaton, claimed to be the heaviest! Gus and John were the best of friends and rode in many trials together which provided them both with an immense amount of fun. John was really "up to his eyes" in the various sports for he was the local consul of the ACU; Chaplain of the Coventry and Warwickshire MC Club; Vice-President of the Nuneaton and District MC Club, and he was on the Board of the Midland Centre ACU.
John Philpott's best competitive performances were the winning of Gold Medals in the Scottish Six Days Trial and the English Six Days. Another of his outstanding achievements was his climb of Applecross and Tornapress - two famous Scottish Hills - on a 220cc machine. But his present mount was a 249cc Velocette, his favourite type of machine being a 250cc solo. His hobbies were: Lawn tennis, chess and "riding a motorcycle where no one else had done so".
John was also an exceptionally talented journalist who wrote for the weekly magazine "The Motor Cycle" for a considerable number of years under the nom-de-plume of "Ixion". Included in his superb work were many Speedway articles which proved of great interest. Alas, John and Gus are no longer with us as they have since passed on. And more's the pity. They were certainly two of the greatest sportsmen of all time.
As early 1923 came round we find Gus Kuhn a Works Manager in a London firm and the present mount of this Birmingham-born fellow of 25 years old, was a Douglas combination. It was not surprising that his favourite type was really any fast machine, and his hobby ... experimenting with motorcycles.
One of the great classics of the year came at the end of June, when the Motorcycling Club held its annual Land's End to John O'Groats Trial and, when I tell you it consisted of a total of 876 miles, you'll have an idea of what an arduous nature it was.
It was, of course, not possible for every sporting enthusiast to enter for the super-long-distance event and even some of the toughest perhaps did not feel so inclined to be equal to the task. Henceforth there were only 68 entrants, 58 finished and 6 retired. And Gus Kuhn was amongst the award winners; he rode a 249cc Calthorpe.
The competitors were started at half-minute intervals from the Land's End Hotel at 5pm on the Wednesday. Weather conditions were really perfect. One solo rider was wearing a "boater" straw hat, while others affected Tam O'Shanters of vivid plaid, or tassel monkey caps, which lent quite a touch of colour. But Gus was a little different; he was equipped with his usual soft felt trilby!
Exeter was reached before 11pm and supper was provided for the riders at Motor Macs Garage. Great local interest was evinced in the trial, and a very large crowd, including many of the fair sex, were present to witness the competitors' arrival. The majority remained until the last man had timed away which was nearly 12.30.
Stanley Glanfield - who would be promoting Dirt-Track racing in this country five years' hence - rode a tiny 175cc McKenzie, the smallest -engined machine in the whole trial and was accorded a good reception, his little mount coming in for a great deal of attention. It was asking a lot to take the miniature machine through so strenuous a trial. Nevertheless, Stan won a Silver Medal.
The initial stage of the journey lay through Bridgwater, Bristol, Gloucester, Worcester, Kidderminster, Warrington, Preston to Carlisle, a distance of 466 miles. The arrangements at Carlisle were excellent, and after a good night's rest everyone felt fit for anything.
Once again the morning proved fine and the roads were in good condition. An unofficial stop near Stirling was safely enjoyed without getting outside the time limit at a "secret check" which, incidentally, was being run with the assistance of a policeman! Then came dinner at the "Duke of Gordon", Kingussie.
The following run however, was through scenery made romantic by half light. Lamps were almost unnecessary, and the sunset became sunrise without anyone knowing when the change took place. Gus Kuhn - his Calthorpe motoring beautifully - along with the others eagerly consumed coffee and sandwiches at Golspie at 3am in rather cold conditions. Berriedale was a surprise to many and S.G.Smith, driving a Morgan took it so fast that, on reaching the final hairpin, he completely turned turtle, sustaining a severely sprained ankle.
E O Spence - destined to be the Belle Vue Speedway Chief - was driving a Harley-Davidson combination with its lusty 989cc motor, but unfortunately he was forced to retire. F V Edwards and "Pa" Applebee reported that a deer had jumped across their front wheels in the night.
After Golspie, the rough going was responsible for many minor losses of equipment, such as back lamps, generators, route-card holders, etc., whilst one competitor had the whole of his luggage picked up and returned by following riders. A patch of unrolled stones near Tain caused at least two spills, but this was the only obstruction" on the whole journey of which no warning was given.
A number of riders, which included Gus Kuhn, discovered a man at a Scottish distillery so interested in motorcycling that he, in turn, explained the intricacies of whisky distilling and supplied generous samples of the results. The time lost on this practical demonstration was more than made good by the extra mph turned out by the recipients!
Several riders were however, sadly disappointed at Wick. After getting ahead for well-earned refreshment, they found that Wick had gone "dry".
Of the 62 competitors who left Land's End, only four riders failed to complete the exceedingly strenuous two days trial. And, it was early on the Friday morning when 58 survivors of the super-long, tiring run arrived at the famous John O'Groats Hotel. It had been certainly a strenuous event so far as distance was concerned, but nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable for everyone concerned, including, of course, the valiant Gus Kuhn who, on his Calthorpe gained a Silver Trophy. L Heller and A J Smth riding similar machines also won a similar award.
Details regarding Gus's 2½ hp, or 249cc, Calthorpe are interesting. This was one of the firm's single-cylinder two-stroke models installed with the company's own motor. Another important feature included mechanical lubrication of Calthorpe design; internal expanding brakes, drawbolt adjustment for the gear-box and an extension of the "run" over the rear chain to shield it from mud thrown off the tyre. This particular model had a 3-speed gear-box with clutch and kick-starter; it was chain-driven and had 24x2¼ inch tyres.
And the price of this beautiful roadster? Just £43, brand new!
It had not only been a truly successful year for Gus Kuhn but for Stanley Greening too, an employee at the JAP engine factory, who later designed the illustrious Speedway-JAP, for Stan held the record of securing 41 firsts at one meeting, winning Gold Medals in the English and Scottish Six Days Trial; the London-Edinburgh and London-Holyhead. And he had gained an incredible 109 firsts in Hill-Climbs and Trials in the previous year!