1924 - The Best Year
Speedway Express, February 1977
My historical records show that for Gus Kuhn 1924 was his best competitive motorcycling year so far as regards success. This round-faced 25-year-old enthusiast had now been married for quite a time and was the proud father of two lovely girls, one aged about two years and the other six months. But two more girls were to arrive .. later on, which made Gus a truly family man. Their names were Doreen, Marian, Pat and Marjorie: a happier family one could not wish to meet.
Photo from the Kuhn family archive
Still riding the 249cc Calthorpe, Gus gained a Gold Medal in the London to Exeter Trial held at the tail end of 1923; his companions L Heller and A J Smith did less well but they gained a Bronze Medal each.
The first Open Trial of 1924 was the Colmore, run over a difficult course which was won by George Rowley on an AJS, but the Calthorpe once again performed remarkable well and a Silver Medal was added to Gus's ever-growing collection: his colleague, A J Smith, riding a more powerful model of 349cc, won a Gold-Centre Medal.
In March came the Victory Cup Trial - one of Gus's Favourites - and by winning the Trophy in this, the Birmingham Club's event, Alan Watson driving a 599cc Sunbeam sidecar outfit, succeeded in breaking the long chain of successes by 350cc solo machines. Alan also won the Midland Cup for the best passenger machine performance. Lionel Wills, the fellow who was instrumental in bringing Dirt-Track Racing to this country after a tour of Australia in 1927, was riding a 346cc Rudge-Whitworth and with several others won a "Gold".
As for Gus, he immensely enjoyed the big event in which 160 competitors took part and his faithful Calthorpe once again gained him an honour in winning a Silver Medal. After descending Liveridge and for the second time crossing a watersplash, the now greasy slope of High Oak Hill had to be tackled, the severe gradient being as bad as 1-in-4 in places. Gus was reported as making an almost perfect climb as was Geoff Povey (249 Velocette), and Len Crisp (349 Humber).
Mill Lane Hill was an extraordinary hill, and extraordinary things happened on it. In the previous year it had caused a lot of trouble, but this year it looked easy with its surface barely damp on one side and bone dry on the other. Nevertheless, it caused many well-known and experienced riders to foot to keep their balance, and footing lost marks. Gus Kuhn, however, made a star solo climb as also did George Dance (Sunbeam) and Harry Langman (Scott-Squirrel).
At the end of the same month came the first South Country Scott Trial run by the notable Camberley Club whose Secretary was E O Spence - the man who was destined to become the chief of Belle Vue Speedway in 1942 or thereabouts.
The ACU would not permit the affair to be called a trial, and so it was re-named the Camberley Scramble run almost entirely on Crown land. It proved to be a day of concentrated thrills and spills, bumps and jumps, and crazy motion for the large crowd and also for the over 80 competitors. Footrests and silencers and even frames and forks were easily doctored items; and it was a sure thing that not a single entrant who survived the first two miles regretted his temerity when the whole 50 mile, or as many of the 50 as he could manage, had been completed.
The idea underlying the event was to provide a south country duplicate of Yorkshire's famous Scott Trial, and incidentally to settle whether Southerners were so much at home on rough going terrain as the Northerners. The objective was satisfactorily attained. A Southerner (A.B.Sparks 486 Scott) won the premier award, the Burnett Trophy and Castrol Prize, and his kinfolk the bulk of the other special awards, while the lone dozen Northerners scored a much better percentage of finishes and a better average aggregate time as well. And there it rested. There was little to choose between the best North-country and the best South-country riders.
Gus Kuhn was giving his Calthorpe a well-earned rest and was riding a Velocette of 249cc. On the Wild and Woolly section on the first lap he made an outstandingly good performance and made a wonderfully steady climb of Red Road Hill, a thoroughly difficult climb, although not so formidable in appearance as wild and woolly.
The course was a pure test of riding ability, but it wasn't a freak Scramble. There were some difficult hills, and bogs and water-splashes that were usually included in serious reliability trials which by reason respectively of their slimy surface, glutinous nature, or depth, only a lucky rider would negotiate successfully. The obstacles at the Camberley Scramble, although they included hills of 1-in-2 and unchartered tracks across moorland heather and ditches, were all of a type that a fearless rider, capable of quickly deciding on a plan of campaign, could overcome without assistance.
Lionel Wills did better than Gus. He was on a big 989cc Harley-Davidson, finishing in ninth position, 25 minutes after the winner. This was a tremendously tough course for Gus's little Velo and he finished the gruelling 50-mile circuit in 169 minutes, in twenty-first position, 48 minutes after the winner! This wasn't a bad performance though; in fact it was quite a good one, all things considered. Many fell by the wayside and retired, and J V Hayes on a Grigg proved the fortieth finisher and the last. He had taken four minutes under the four hours! So Gus Kuhn's 2 hours 49 minutes was not a bad effort, in fact at the prize presentation held in the evening, he won the award for the competitor "showing the most spirit". Lionel Wills received the Trophy for the best performance over 600cc, while of the "comic prize" winners, W Julian (247 Levis) received a bottle of Stickplast for the rider who fell off the most times.
Lionel Wills, who was to be closely associated with Dirt-Track Racing since its inception in this country and also as a rider, only became a motorcyclist four years previously, but had quickly earned the right to an opinion on Scrambles. He thought the Camberley Scramble, or the Southern Scott Scramble as it was also called, was the most difficult event and also the most pleasurable, "because" he said, "the organisers were out purely to provide a day's fun for competitors; to find the best rider, not the best machine. This particular Scramble with a magnificent entry was the ideal trial; no rules, and first man home won."
Apparently, Gus Kuhn gave the London to Land's End Trial (221 entries) a miss for once. Then in April came one of the country's biggest motorcycle events - the ACU 1,000 miles Stock Machine Trials. Gus, not surprisingly, became an entrant; you wanted to be a super-enthusiast for an event like this and certainly Gus did not fail in this respect. W H (Billy) Wells, who in a few years time would be the Secretary of the Meetings and Clerk of the course at Stamford Bridge Speedway, was on of the vast number of officials responsible for the organisation of this big event.
All things considered, this Stock Machine Trial - held in Yorkshire - proved a severe test, for the adverse weather rendered the natural difficulties of the course more pronounced. For brand new machines to average nearly 20 mph, 200 miles a day for five days was no mean achievement. The super long-distance test served to demonstrate that ordinary "catalogue" motorcycles, chosen at random from stocks available for public use, could be relied upon to achieve extraordinary results.
It is well to convey to my readers that this particular event took place no less than 52¾ years ago [written in Feb 1977], which makes it all the more remarkable. At the termination of the Trial a complete and exhaustive examination was made of the condition of the machines and marks deducted as necessary under the heading of "Condition". Many marks were lost under this heading. It was one thing to survive a 1,000 miles Test over a hilly and exceptionally tortuous route demanding hundreds of gear changes and brake applications on every circuit; it was quite another matter to complete the Test with a machine in first-class order and for it to continue indefinitely without overhaul or attention of any kind.
Examining the analysed results, I find that Gus on a 249 Velocette, although he completed the course, lost 17 marks for time schedule on the Monday and 12 on Tuesday with 5 marks lost on Limber Hill on the Wednesday. A total of 34. On the Saturday examination he lost one mark on silencing and 20 in the final examination. But to even finish the gruelling course was an achievement in itself, and Gus gained a Certificate.
Stanley Greening- destined to be the Speedway JAP designer - put up a miraculous performance on a 346 Royal Enfield, only losing 6 marks in the final examination; he gained a Gold Medal. Eric Spencer - one of the top Dirt-Track riders of 1929 - rode a 348 Douglas and gained a certificate. There were no less than 20 retirements of 99 starters. Others riding a similar machine to Gus Kuhn's were Geoff Povey and Billy Tiffin; both won a Gold Medal.
In June, for the fourth time, Gus competed in the Isle-of-Man TT races. This was in the Ultra-Lightweight Race for machines up to 175cc, over 3 laps (113 miles) on an Omega-Norman, but his luck was completely out, even though initially he had worked right through the field from the back line. The first "R" to go up on the scoreboard was under Gus's number for on the very first lap he had come off at the Hawthorn Inn, breaking his induction pipe and causing his immediate retirement. The winner was J A Porter on a New Gerrard who averaged 51.2 mph.
But prior to his journey to the Island, Gus featured in the results of the London-to-Edinburgh Trial. The three Calthorpe riders (Gus, L Heller and A J Smith) all won a Gold Medal as also did Oliver Langton (destined for fame at Belle Vue Speedway), who rode a 499 Triumph; E O Spence, Stanley Greening and Stanley Glanfield.
This renowned Whitsuntide event attracted 205 competitors with no less than 55 different makes of machines, all British except three. Here they are: ABC, AJS, Ariel, B&H, Beardmore-Precision, Brough Superior, Brough, BSA, Burney, Chater-Lea, Calthorpe, Carfield, Cedos, Connaught, Cotton, Coventry-Eagle, Dot-Bradshaw, Douglas, Dunelt, Excelsior, Federation, FN, Francis-Barnett, Grindlay-Peerless, Harley-Davidson, Hawker, Henderson, Indian, James, Kenilworth, LSD, Lea-Francis, Levis, Matchless, Montgomery, Morgan, New Scale-Bradshaw, New Gerrard, Norton, NUT, OK Supreme, P&M, Raleigh, Ray, Rex-Acme, Royal Enfield, Rudge-Whitworth, Scott, Scott Sociable, Sunbeam, Triumph, Velocette, Wardill, Wooler and Zenith.
No wonder they called it the golden era of motorcycling!