The Classic Motorcycle Rally


Article from The Saturday Star newspaper 25 January 1992

In 1933 a young motorcyclist became the first rider to finish the gruelling annual Johannesburg to Durban motorbike race in less than seven hours. Now aged 80, Burton Kinsey looks back at the race of a lifetime.
He reminisces with DOUGLAS ALEXANDER.

This is a heart-warming story of a man's passion for fast motorbikes and the only girl he ever courted.

Burton Kinsey, once the unassuming boyish hero of thousands of South African schoolkids, declared on his 80th birthday recently that his two proudest achievements were being the first man to beat seven hours on a motorbike between Durban and Johannesburg and "my wonderful marriage of 55 years".

Mr Kinsey, who lives in contented retirement with wife Kay in leafy Munster, on the Natal Lower South Coast, is one of three surviving winners of the gruelling D-J, or "Durban-Jo'burg" (the others are twice winner Baby Scott (84), and fellow Transvaal octogenarian Cran Jarman).

The D-J was the annual 403 mile (645 km) motorcycle race between the two cities, which were linked then not so much by a main road as a bruising obstacle course of level crossings, farm gates, steep gradients, blind corners, corrugations, potholes and choking dust - which was almost as treacherous dry as after rain, hail or snow. The only tar was between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and a stretch near the finish at City Deep in Johannesburg.

Yet in a brief history from 1913 to 1936, the two-day handicap race was the most exciting event on the South African sporting calendar, attracting accomplished motorcycle aces, hopeful amateurs and adventurous youngsters alike each May 30 and 31.

One such was youthful Durban apprentice motor mechanic Burton Douglas Bentley Kinsey, who rode his first motor bike at eight, and drove a side-valve, beltdriven Bradbury, capable of 55 mph, to school at Warner Beach when he was 14.
The DJ Always required much pre race preparation. S. and W. Killerbys garage in Durban.
Those in the picture are from let: Len Cohen, an unnamed mechanic, Will Killerby, Burton Kinsey.
Seated are Ernie Brickhill and Noel Horsfield.
Source: SA Motor Cyclist, January, 1970

Rand Motor Cycling Club 1933 DJ Race
official programme.
Note the serial number 642 at the top.
Click image for larger view

Kinsey, who had raced successfully in hill climbs and grass track events, was entered in the 1930 D-J by his employers, the then Durban motorcycle dealers S & W Killerby, who put him on a standard 250 ohv BSA. "I had no money, but they saw I was keen and had potential," relates Burton.

"The Lad", as he was known at Killerbys, started 15th out of 81, and finished fourth. Great stuff for an 18-year-old, whom one motoring critic described before the start "as a trifle young for such a tough race".

Top cartoonist and motoring writer Jock Leyden wrote years later: "Young he certainly was, but those who knew Kinsey well could see he was a 'natural' - well-balanced in every way, and with an ice cool brain in every situation.

"Pencil slim in build, he rode the rough roads with a grace that was almost uncanny."

In 1931, again mounted on a 250 ohv BSA, Kinsey took a tumble when forced off a blind corner by a car near Ladysmith, but pluckily rode the final 43 miles to the compulsory night stop at Newcastle with a broken arm. The officials refused to allow him to re-start next day. "I cried. I was just a boy," he recalls.

Next year, once more riding a 250 ohv BSA, he finished seventh. Finally in 1933 he realised his ambition when, aged only 21, he sped to victory, on 500 ohv twin-port BSA, in 6 hours 54 minutes 50 seconds - the first rider in the D-J to beat seven hours.

It was a fine performance against such doughty rivals as Len Cohen, Charlie Young, Baby Scott, Chick Harris and Dick Wolfe. There was a heart-stopping moment at Cato Ridge when an extra shock absorber fitted to his front forks for the rough roads turned inside out, caught his tank and nearly made him crash. He eased it off, tossed it to the crowd and sped on.

At the Newcastle nightstop, where he was sixth, Kinsey was alarmed to find his tyres almost worn through. Riders could only use the spares they took with them; and Kinsey carried only a spare tube, chain connecting links, spark plugs and extra throttle wire.

But the tyres lasted next day as Kinsey, "sitting on the tail pad, stomach flat on the tank, sped in hot pursuit", to quote Leyden. He took the lead near Heidelberg, 28 miles from the finish, and rode to victory through an avenue of cheering spectators, with a low flying Tiger Moth escorting him overhead.

His breezy victory speech prompted the Johannesburg Star to quip: "He is as good on the mike as he is on the bike."
ROAD WARRIOR: Burton Kinsey in the heyday of his DJ career.
LOVING COUPLE: Burton and Kay Kinsey show off Burton's trophies at their Munster home.
Physical fitness, through regular skipping exercises and practice rides to build up stamina, including at least one ride to Johannesburg and back before each D-J, played a big part in his success. "You had to be fit, and strong in the arms, otherwise you'd never hold your bike over the corrugations and yard-wide potholes camouflaged by dust." Thanks to his strength Kinsey could ride for miles standing on the footrest rather than endure jarring on the saddle.

On a trial ride to the Rand with fellow racer Noel Horsfield, they stopped in remote hill country near Colenso to fix Horsfield's magneto. "Burton, be quick, this is where the Loskop Killer operates," urged Noel, referring to the notorious highwayman who stole shotguns from farmers to ambush motorists on the lonely main road.

In 1936, Burton, aged 24, and Kath were married and he quit racing. "The D-J was finished and I now had other responsibilities."

After World War 2, in which he served in the mechanical wing of SAAF, Kinsey founded his own garage business in Durban. In 1965 he retired to Munster, where his sons Rodney (46), a former president of Margate Chamber of Commerce, and David (42) now run a flourishing firm, and fly their own aircraft on business trips. David has run the Comrades Marathon 15 times. Two other children are Wendy Rae of Kloof, and Margaret Finlayson of Durban, both trained nursing sisters.

The worthy Kinsey clan, who migrated from England 105 years ago, made their mark in other ways. Burton's grandfather William Barnes Kinsey built Port Shepstone harbour, while his civil engineer father Francis oversaw the relief workers who constructed Snell Parade in Durban in the Depression, unearthing ancient shore batteries in the process. Kinsey and wife Kath (Kay to him) have 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. "I've had the most wonderful married life imaginable, a wonderful romance of 55 years, and I'm proud of it," he says.

"They still adore each other," says daughter Margaret, who describes her father as "caring and giving, and who taught us that the word of a Kinsey should be gilt-edge security."

Kinsey took up bowls 11 years ago; and, at 75, was in the winning fours of the Lower South Coast championships in 1986. Despite near blindness now, he still plays regularly, helped by a long-handled torch contraption, which enables his skip to beam to him the position of the jack, and then describe by small walkie-talkie where Burton's bowls end up. The eyesight is impaired but the Kinsey grit is undimmed.

Burton passed away in February 2002.
Back home in Natal news of his great win reached his 17-year-old girlfriend, Kathleen Deeks, in unexpected way. That Union Day (May 31) public holiday, she and her matric class at St John's High School in Pietermaritzburg had been on a botanical outing. In Commercial Road, on the double decker tram taking them home to the school residence in Scottsville, the girls spotted the D-J result chalked on a board in a motor store: "1st Burton Kinsey, 2nd Len Cohen."

"My boyfriend has won", yelled a jubilant Kath, and the upper deck rocked as her classmates hugged her and shook her hand with wild delight.

Next day a homeward-bound Kinsey, still wearing his black leather racing suit (the first he ever owned; previously he always raced in a leather coat, corduroy trousers and leggings), rode up the school driveway to visit Kath.

The good teaching sisters of St John's forbade visits by boyfriends, but tricked by a parent's note into believing they were cousins, allowed Burton and Kath a brief tryst on a rustic seat in the grounds. The pair were barely conscious of admiring girls peering rom every window.

In 1934, when his hero Don Hall won on a 350 ohc Norton (the first rider to average 60 mph for the full distance) and a hailstorm blanketed the Natal Midlands white, Kinsey finished sixth on a BSA. Next year he came fourth on a 500 sv Norton and in 1936, when an oiled plug cost him 15 minutes on the Drakensberg escarpment, he finished 10th.

That proved to be the last D-J. The dashing Jock Leishman was killed near Ladysmith; and, with bikes becoming too fast for the gravel route and private traffic growing, the great race was finally scrapped. Kinsey emerged as one of its best performers: 4th, retired, 7th, 1st, 6th, 4th and 10th in seven starts.

"The D-J was my race", explains Kinsey, who seldom rode other events, for lack of money. In his only South African TT in East London he was leading when his engine seized.
SPEEDING TO VICTORY: Burton Kinsey, with a spare tube around his shoulders, on his way to winning the 1933 DJ.