Part Eight of the Gus Kuhn Story by Cyril May
Gus goes into Europe
Speedway Express, June 1977 (Thanks to Steve Wilkes)

In the Temple of Fame there was conserved a special niche for the Belgian Grand Prix, as each year brought some new sensation in connection with that which was regarded as one of the chief motor-cycling events in Europe. And Gus Kuhn was having his first go at continental Road Racing in this the 1925 meeting.

August 1 saw the town of Spa in a state of pleasurable excitement and thousands of motorcyclists looked forward to the big event the next day. The nine British riders were housed at the Hotel de Portugal, and after weighing in each received the sum allotted to them by the FMB to cover expenses.

Gus Kuhn had made the journey to Belgium with Len Parker and Alex Jackson, and the trio's picture came out in the following issue of "Motor Cycling." These three rode in the 500cc event with Gus and Len on Douglases and Alec on his Sunbeam. At half time the race was being led by Jimmy Simpson, with Jackson in ninth position, Parker in tenth and Gus in fourteenth. The winner for the second time was Alec Bennett riding a Norton who completed 20 laps at over 66 mph. average.


British machines highlighted every race class, and with one exception every machine which gained a place was either British-made throughout or was fitted with a Blackburne engine and British components.

Those enthusiastic motorcyclists who competed in events run by the renowned Camberley Club, had come to expect a certain standard of severity in the courses chosen, and to the credit of the Camberley "Boys" it may be said that they had never yet been disappointed in this respect. True, the admirable country surrounding Camberley was a veritable happy hunting ground for rough-riders, but, even so, the Club was to be congratulated on the resourcefulness of its officials in ferreting out new features for every trial and the Thompson Cup Trial at the end of November was no exception. The organisation left nothing to be desired, and many competitors were loud in their praises of the manner in which the event was run.

Gus Kuhn - the winner of the Premier Award - who knew something about trials' organisation, gave it as his opinion that it was impossible for anyone to mistake the route, although a few competitors, through their own carelessness, managed to do so, and forfeited their chances of winning an award.

E O Spence journeyed all the way from Manchester on his Scott combination to act as an official and he and Wakelin entertained spectators on White's Hill with some exhibition ascents during the intervals between the arrival of competitors. Spence was unable to conquer the Hill with a passenger in his sidecar, but made a very spectacular climb with an empty sidecar which was in the air most of the time. Mr Spence was destined to be the "Chief" at Belle Vue Speedway for a considerable number of years.

Seemed essential

Camberley Heath in winter garb most faithfully reproduced that familiar type of North American country which seemed essential to the production of films of the open air, sharp-shooting, rough-riding, bronco-busting, sheriff-and-villain, hero-and-heroine type. And for the Thompson Cup Trial or Scramble as it also could be appropriately described, the stage was set for the "shooting" of just such a picture. All around were snow-covered peaks, on which one half-expected to see the hero and heroine on horseback, silhouetted against a poached egg of a setting sun; yawning ravines carpeted with virgin snow; great white "rides" between prim pines; and above the feathery tops of these same pines a sky of that painted blue which, called "The State of Filmland", never seemed to cloud.

This artistic touch prevailed throughout the South Midland Centre's delightful Thompson Trophy Trial or "Scramble" as some reported the fixture, finding no other word to describe a real Camberley Trial and whenever any one of the sixty odd riders was thrown (as almost everyone was who rode a solo machine) or grounded on a hummock (as every sidecar driver surely did) it was himself and not Nature he addressed in fluent language befitting his plight. It was impossible not to realise that in that bewitchingly beautiful Surrey heathland of rare snows "only man was vile."

Every competitor and official wore a black armlet - unique in motorcycling history - out of respect for the Royal interment taking place at Windsor.

For the second year in succession Gus Kuhn, one of the Big Five among the Camberley Rough-riders, carried off the Premier Award on his 348 Velocette. He rode throughout in a soft felt trilby - conspicuous headgear in a crowd of leather helmets and tweed caps. Riding as number 27, his machine was fully equipped with acetylene lights! And his picture came out later in "The Motor Cycle" and also "Motor Cycling",

But the Thompson Trophy was not Gus's only award for the Team Prize was won by Camberley Number 1 (Gus Kuhn, A B Sparks and L E Chirney). This trio won a Medal each and as a Team, the White Challenge Cup.

Apart from Gus's outstanding performance, another outstanding ride was that of B M Buxton (499 Rudge-Whitworth) who broke his collar-bone through a fall; rode the last fifteen miles with one hand over typical Camberley country; finished, asked what his time error was, and then, in answer to an enquiry as to whether he was feeling all right (he was deathly pale by then) replied: "Well, I think I must have broken my collar-bone!" He then lay down while a doctor attended his injuries.

Great Favourite

Later, Buxton went back to London in Lionel Wills's Sidecar. Lionel, now [1977] sadly passed on, was acknowledged as Britain 's first-ever Dirt Track rider. Riding a Rudge-Whitworth on which he was touring Australia, he had a go in 1926 on Johnnie Hoskins' Sydney Speedway. In 1928, sportsman Lionel was a great favourite at the Crystal Palace Speedway and, it was partly due to his efforts that Dirt Track Racing was brought into this part of London.

But back to the Scramble. The Centre decided to award the injured G M Buxton a Courage Cup, in addition to his twice-earned Silver Medal. Incidentally, Lionel Wills was riding a massive 1,208cc Harley Davidson and unfortunately he was in the retirement list; but what a sportsman!

This super-interesting event started from Barossa, near Camberley and the course consisted of two circuits of 20 miles of a sporting but not freakish nature. Competitors, who were sent off at minute intervals, were required to maintain an average speed of 20 mph throughout and watches and speedometers were allowed.

It was, however, anticipated that the snow which fell on the day preceding the event would have stiffened up the course considerably, as indeed would have been the case but for the hard frost which set in afterwards. As it was, most of the muddy sections were frozen solid, and therefore were more rideable than they would otherwise have been. Those hardy souls who braved the treacherous ice-bound roads to participate found that the weather conditions had done them a good turn so far as the course was concerned.

Right at the start the riders were faced with quite a stiff ascent, and some had to make vigorous use of their feet in order to get to the top without stopping. From here the course led through the Canyon Splash to Twin Rise, a climb which troubled not a few, and thence via an awkward right-hand hair-pin bend on to Star Post (an old Roman encampment), Snail Hill, Lone Cabin, where there was a stretch of very rough going, and Channel Hill to Bagshot.

Finishing point

The next point of interest was White's Hill, after which the main Camberley road was followed to Barossa, the finishing point, and starting point. Quite a number failed on Barossa at the very start. All through the trial big-tyred machines scored heavily in controllability over frozen ruts and glacier-like morasses, and unfortunate riders of small machine with 2¼ in or 65mm tyres - unless they were Barnwells on BSA's, Budds on AJS's or Kuhns on Velocettes - had all their work cut out to keep their pitching, shuddering machines upright to a 20 mph schedule. The soloists' bugbear was the pothole glace, which, with its counterpane of snow, looked just like hard ground, but subsided with a sickening crunch of splintered ice when an unwary front wheel ventured over it. The resultant mixture of ice, snow and muddy water provided the most unstable wheelgrip imaginable.

Frozen ruts wrenched the combinations about in a most unmerciful manner, and hardly an outfit finished without either a chassis fracture or a badly damaged alignment! The going was sufficiently heavy to demand a great deal of running on the indirect gears, and, in spite of the lack of mud, most of the drivers or passengers machines had, at one time or another, to requisition the services of the crew to help them heave the outfit back on to negotiable ground.

Previous Year

White's Hill was the scene of much trouble, although it was much easier than in its muddy state the previous year. Ruts and small stones abounded on the short, narrow, steep track, and many riders wandered or were forced into the rough at the sides. A group of spectators, mostly schoolboys, gathered at the top to watch, amid foot-stamping and arm-swinging to counteract the icy breath of frost-laden wind, the antics and struggles of the stout-hearted competitors. A sharp right-hand corner some yards before the hill started seemed to worry many riders to an unusual extent. On the hill itself there was a good deal of very wild riding. R Bowen (346 New Hudson) severely skidded in a rut and fell near the top, but H Lewis (349 BSA) didn't wait to reach the top before tumbling off, while in between them W Beach (490 Norton) riding fast, scrambled up quite wildly. J Middleton (492 Sunbeam) charged into the undergrowth, the wily Gus Kuhn with the light of battle in his eyes, and his OH camshaft Velocette uttering its shrill war cry, bored his way at great speed through struggling re-starters scattered round his path.

Bernie Hieatt (490 Norton) really rocketed up the hill. His brother Ron was, of course, a prominent member of the Wembley Speedway Team in 1929.

Taken all round, the Camberley Club's event was a huge success. Gus Kuhn had enjoyed every minute, and even more pleasing was the fact that he was the outright winner of an exceptionally strenuous "Scramble", in which the leading exponents of the day competed. Seventeen months later (on May 8, 1927) the Camberley Club would be promoting Dirt Track Racing on Camberley Heath.

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