When Ivan Wicksteed powered his supercharged Speed Twin over the line at Brooklands in 1938 “like a bullet from a gun”, onlookers nodded their heads in agreement at how smooth and sweet the machine sounded.
The warm-up lap over, and with strong winds buffeting him down the rain-soaked Railway Straight, he crossed the line seconds later with a new record lap speed of 118.02mph in the bag.
The 1938 feat was all the sweeter for Wicksteed and his childhood friend and mechanic Marius Winslow, who had been sent packing by Triumph Managing Director Edward Turner at the launch of the 500cc bike the previous year when the pair had asked for a discounted model to modify for a shot at the record. They believed that Triumph’s new twin-cylinder bike could be modified and supercharged so effectively it could break the Brooklands record, but were dismissed with a wave of the hand as design icon Turner turned on his heel and walked away. Winslow then bought the bike and financed the project himself.
Author and photographer Phillip Tooth has been given privileged access to the pair’s diary entries, which form the basis of this story.
Legend lives on
Eighty years later, the history-making bike that holds the Surrey track’s record in perpetuity was back on the notoriously bumpy banking with its current owner, Triumph collector Dick Shepherd: “We didn’t get anywhere near top gear or the record, but the sound! When I wound on the throttle, the cans gave a rasp that left the hair standing on the back of my neck all these years on,” he says.
Decades earlier, Wicksteed’s scrapbook diary concluded: “I can assure you I was the most surprised person when it was announced [that I had broken the record],” while his partner Marius’s post-lap entry was understated: “Do one warming and one flat-out lap. Raise 500cc record to 118.02mph.”
Acclaim for the modified Speed Twin bike was instant, and Turner placed full-page adverts congratulating the friends in the motoring press before inviting them to a “fine lunch”. Apologies made, he invited them to the factory and offered any help they needed to win the elusive Double Gold Star, awarded for lapping in a race at 120mph plus. Marius asked for a 1939 Tiger 100 frame to be modified to take the Arnott Concentric supercharger, a set of forks and a new T100 eight-stud engine with a bronze head.
By then the victorious bike had been loaned back to the man who sold it to them in 1937, while the friends started work on their new project. But the head and studs didn’t make as much difference as they’d hoped. There were so many problems it was like starting from scratch, and frustrated, Marius closed his diary in June 1939.
The last race took place at Brooklands on 7 August. The record-holding bike would never run again – until Dick’s return this year.
Rebuilding the original
Dick Shepherd, many of whose bikes appear in Triumph’s Factory Visitor Experience, had bought the replica of the supercharged Speed Twin, which had an eight-stud motor, the original handlebars – a gift from Ivan – and the Bowden carb, which Ivan’s son Michael recalls seeing hanging on a piece of wire in the greenhouse. With the replica came copies of Winslow’s diaries.
Dick later bought a bronze-head T100 motor from a collector. It didn’t have an engine number, but there were three numbers stamped on the bottom of the crankcase to identify the matched halves. He recalled that Winslow’s notebook states that his T100 didn’t have an engine number, and referred to the three numbers – the same numbers on Dick’s engine.
When he contacted the collector, Dick found he also had the major components of the Brooklands’ lap record holder. He bought the engine and frame, forks, wheels and tanks – including the small wedge-shaped plenum chamber filled with baffle plates.
Besides the handlebars and carb, the Brooklands cans and Arnott supercharger were taken off the replica and added to the original bike. Back at Brooklands, he says ruefully: “If Ivan had ridden Marius’s bike in glorious sunshine like today, he’d have cracked the 120mph lap. If only the war hadn’t intervened, Turner might have supported them in future bids.”
Instead the track at Brooklands was partly dismantled to make room for a weed covered runway. But listen carefully and you can still hear the record breaker’s roar.
The Speed Twin’s name is set to make an incredible return. Described as modern classic in looks with roadster performance, it’s going to be something special.