The Classic Motorcycle Rally

DJ Run from 1979 The Automobilist

Story and Photos by Stan Wesselink

The clean, spit-and-polished motor cycles before the start of the D-J are always a pleasing sight. The glinting of shining brightwork and excellent paint jobs in the early morning sunlight are a credit to the vintage motor cycle movement. The long shadows cast by the strange two wheeled motorised conveyances are a sinister reminder of the past 7 decades.

This year's oldest bike, a 1910 Bradbury, was first away with Stuart Halsall in tackies and plus-fours looking a little light footed. One minute later the next belt-driven wonder, with Doug Berry astride, went off to the start of a two day test of man and machine.

The bikes seemed better prepared than they were last year and the riders more determined - some like Tony Lyons-Lewis even had agony written all over their faces. The camaraderie amongst entrants, always in evidence, and that friendly "do or die" spirit makes this event the happiest and most adventurous on our entire vintage calendar. This is not an event for the faint-hearted. According to the experts the route schedule was a nightmare, with speed changes at points where mileages were not given. However, with computer- like minds, the riders achieved fewer errors than ever recorded on a D-J.

The anxious moments of the inexperienced riders trying to gauge the 10km run on the freeway out of Durban are very amusing - firstly they try to catch up with the bike in front but do not succeed. Then they slow down for the bike behind them which does not appear. They are quite sure they are lost but cannot turn back. At last the turn-off comes up and with 17km to go to the start of the first rally section they happily stop at a route marker which is actually only 5km away. It is only when a kindly competitor like Chris Lyons-Lewis on his 1928 OK Supreme rides past and shouts back to tell them they are waiting at the wrong marker that they frantically get going only to arrive behind schedule!

Even an experienced, but stationary, rider like Cyril Richmond was awakened this way when an "ass-in-the-air" prone Chris Lyons-Lewis flashed by at 70kph.

Up those first few hills and through those nice twisty bits the first casualties were recorded. Coen Deetlefs' 1913 Rudge Multi sheared a magneto drive, Mike van der Linde's 1928 B.S.A. Sloper shattered a clutch, Allen Wolmarans' Norton lost its ignition, Peter Berry on a 1927 Douglas had a rear wheel removed to fix a puncture, Sonny James' 1936 Royal Enfield came to a halt, Pinkie van Rensburg, last year's winner, siezed his gearbox, his father had a flat tyre on the 1935 BMW, while Rhoda van Rensburg's Ariel had bits of magneto in the chain case and Walter Duxberry on a 1934 Triumph was being plagued with a faulty ignition. Jock Meldrum on a 350cc Sunbeam had a sticky exhaust valve and was well down on power going up hill. However unlike the first D-J in 1970 (when I was Clerk of the Course), riders were carrying out repairs in an orderly manner, and the rebuilding of machinery on the side of the road did not look like the old basement in Rube's Motorcycle shop.

The route through Cowies Hill, Drummond and Umlaas Road into Pietermaritzburg was a well spread-out procession of vintage motor cycles, the riders of those early veterans looked more determined than ever as they "put-putted" along. Riding of old motor cycles requires a particular skill over this section, and as Dick Osborne would say, "There are motorcyclists and others who ride motorcycles".

At Pietermaritzburg the Thompson's garage provided a welcome stop for refreshments and fuel and Town Hill provided the usual entertainment. Jock Meldrum went up in first gear all the way while a bitterly disappointed Harry Shutler, on a 600cc Panther, could not quite make it in top gear. A feat he had managed the year before. We now saw why Stuart Halsall needed the running shoes, but it was quite evident that he would never finish a Comrades Marathon!

Doug Berry provided the greatest excitement. About halfway up the hill he lay his bike down and fell down flat with only his toes visible, Bill van Dongen, with a Hippocratic oath and expecting the worst, stopped to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but was waved away with a rubbery limb from Doug who claimed he was O.K. Once he had caught his breath and pulse rate had slowed to only double its normal beat, Doug continued on his way until his next stop was necessary (beyond the railway line). There Doug would have stayed, Precision and all, had it not been for someone stopping the traffic while Doug got going again, and managed to keep firing until he reached the top of the hill. Stuart Halsall, having pedalled to the top of the hill, denies that he said "Go on, I'm finished" and insists that his remark was "Go on, I will finish".

This is the second year that I have witnessed the total disregard, on behalf of the organisers, of the incredible strain and destruction of man and machine on this particular stretch. In an event of this nature something should be done to assist the older machines up Town Hill. The vintage movement purports to preserve machinery, not to encourage breaking it. How horrifying it would be if a rider suffered a heart attack as a result of the tremendous strain of negotiating Town Hill. For the record, the first race in 1913 was run from JOHANNESBURG to DURBAN over three days. In 1914 no changes were made and when the race restarted after the war in 1919, it became a two day event from Johannesburg to Durban. 1920 was the year of the epic snow storm, and two races were run - one from Johannesburg to Durban and the other, a sidecar event, was run from Durban to Johannesburg for the very first time. It is apparent that the organisers of these pre-1919 events took one look at Town Hill and overcame this obstacle by descent!

The route to Mooi River encompasses the most wonderful motor cycling country. The steady beat of vintage bikes echo up and down the valleys and hills, as the riders traverse those fast sweeps and tight turns.

The road surface is rough in places and quite a few riders bounce roughly in and out of the saddle. Ron Scott, on that beautiful 348cc International Norton, seemed no better off despite the independent rear suspension, while the Harley Davidsons of Jannie van der Mescht and Cyril Richmond, the Indians of Deon Dixon and Eric Grimbeek and the 1500cc Ace of Apie Venter all allowed their riders a gentle up and down movement in the saddle. It was obvious that Bill Averre, Godfrey Williams, Italo Benetti, etc., mounted on thoroughbreds, were having their vertebrae shaken into place.

Mooi River provided a short stop for fuel and a smoke, with Harold Freeman on a 1928 Sunbeam complaining that he did not see a soul en route. A short run to Estcourt for lunch where the confident were seen partaking of spiced liquid refreshment.

After lunch the riders were anxious to get going - no doubt looking forward to that hot bath. Tony Taschner had split the petrol tank on his Clyno, but was very subdued. The friendly traffic cop at the turn-off to Ladysmith gave chase to someone, I won't mention names, who had headed for Harrismith in his haste to get home.

The fuel stop in Ladysmith was a conglomeration of riders and their bikes, with the local population adding colour all round. The Castrol Oil reps, were doing their job and oil in various grades was being poured into oil tanks to ensure good lubrication for that endless stretch to Newcastle.

John Simpson on a 1933 B.S.A. broke an oil pipe between Ladysmith and Newcastle and lost valuable time carrying out repairs. A plug broke in half on Henry Bessinger's 1914 498cc Triumph when he had only 30 km to go. The riders were tired and eager to finish the day's travelling, and many - including some side-car combinations - were caught going too fast. The joy and relief of those who made it to Newcastle was spelt all over their faces as they wheeled their bikes into the garage for the overnight stop.

The organisers were hard at work by the time contestants arrived at the Holiday Inns, and early results were being posted in the foyer of the hotel. With results changing hourly, the final positions at the halfway mark saw Doug Brodie, Ralph Lange, Frank Hay ward and Jim Mahaffey only seconds apart. The combination of Bill and Jill van Dongen was leading the side-car contingent and Amanda Nettleton was the best among the girls. David Folb, on a 1935 250cc Triumph, was trying hard to get in on the act by claiming he had used only 5 litres of petrol from Durban to Newcastle. Rhoda van Rensburg kept as many party poopers awake as possible until after midnight to celebrate her 21st birthday, while others partook of tranquilisers dispensed in the bar.

In the early hours of Saturday, March 31st, the misty sun presented no gloom for the early starters at 7 a.m. The more unfortunate riders were struggling to push start their machines, and despite the chill in the air there was plenty of "sweat and tears". Lenore Meldrum on a 1934 350cc Triumph had "shellacitis" and gave up her hopes of being the youngest rider to complete the course. Jock Meldrum had less of his exhaust valve and was so down on power that he could not manage top gear. He finally came to a halt outside Standerton.

The road over Majuba has improved considerably and the hill was alive with the steady beat of thumping machines. The first stop for fuel and tea at Volksrust was right slapbang in the middle of the town and local yokels on their bicycles and with their dogs were adding to the confusion. Hugh Jones on a 1933 Rudge Whitworth combination was looking rather glum, but Betty gave the crowd a smile as they got underway. The overnight leaders were looking slightly over confident. Jim Stead changed schedules and remarked that the run was uneventful with everything going according to plan. Bill and Jill van Dongen looked as though they had lost none of their skills of the previous day.

Sonia Grobelaar became the first contestant on a D-J Run to be involved in a motor accident with a member of the public. She was badly shaken and suffered a broken arm. Errol Herbert was first on the scene and stopped to assist. Sonia was awarded the "Hard Luck" Trophy.

From Volksrus to Standerton the road is fairly flat and calls for consistently accurate navigating and riding. The overnight leaders were calculating in fractions of seconds while the more lighthearted were hoping for Finishers' Awards. Willie Grobelaar is one of those chaps who rides by the seat of his pants without worrying about calculations and does very well. For the majority, however, it is hard work and they do not possess that rare skill of not making errors. These are the backbone of the contest, and they enjoy the camaraderie and spirit of the event to the full.

Shortly before Standerton, Coen Deetlefs was seen replacing a valve from his mobile workshop he had taken along. Walter Duxberry had taken the carb off his bike and replaced the points, but his efforts were in vain and the bike became yet another entry on the Non-Finishers board.

Round Table provided the competitors with a braai-lunch and bottled sandwiches at Standerton. With the final run home so close, there was a tense atmosphere among the riders and many were in a hurry to get on their way. Tony Taschner did not even finish his beer! At steady intervals the riders set off on the last leg of the route to City Deep in Johannesburg.

The previous night's leader, Doug Brodie, unfortunately ripped a tube beyond repair just outside Balfour. Frank Hayward, assuming it was over, misjudged a control near Heidelburg and lost all chances of winning the event. Jim Mahaffey was close but not close enough and Jim Stead did his best, but somehow his timing was out.

Jill and Bill van Dongen were not eligible for the General Classification but try as they might, a moral victory was not granted them. Ralph Lange was fantastic and finished the winner for a second time.

Out of 120 starters, 108 qualified for the Finisher's Award by completing the run in the stipulated time and without outside assistance.
Len Bassett of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper, the Mayor of Durban and Keith Michler at the start.
Intense concentration right from the start.
Ralph Lange 1979 winner.
Bill van Dongen with his wife in the sidecar came home in 3rd position. Note the intercom.
Frank Hayward and Betty Richmond
Planning strategy.
Max Hertz on his 1914 Triumph "floating" along the highway.
Stuart Halsall first away on his Bradbury, the oldest machine on the Run and the best-dressed rider.
Where is that *;$!&!* woman driver now?
Mrs. Sonia Grobelaar
You can see who the winner is by the smile on his face, Ralph Lange (left) and Nick Kruger (right) with N. McEwan in the centre.
The winner, Ralph Lange receiving his trophies from Mrs. Allison Spence with Clerk of the Course Mike Bosman standing by.

Overall winners in General Classification
1. Ralph Lange - 1936 A.J.S.
2. Frank Hayward - 1925 Excelsior Super X
3. J. Stead - 1928 B.S.A.

Best performance by a Side-car Combination
Bill & Jill van Dongen - 1929 B.S.A. Combination

Best performance by a machine manufactured between 1926 and 1936
Class A. Willie Grobelaar up to 250cc - 1935 Rudge
Class B. Gus Heinze 250 to 350cc - 1927 Sunbeam
Class C. Jim Mahaffey 350 to 500cc - 1928 A.J.S.
Class D. Betty Richmond 500 & over - 1934 Triumph
Class E. Bill & Jill van Dongen - 1929 B.S.A. Side-car combination

Best performance by a machine manufactured up to 31st December 1925
Class A. Ian Shepherd - 1923 Excelsior
Class B. Bob Maddern - 1925 Royal Enfield
Class C. Kobus v.d. Merwe - 1924 Triumph
Class D. Deon Dixon - 1917 Indian
Class E. Fred Aulfes and R. Aulfes - 1920 Matchless Combination.

Best performance by a machine manufactured between 1.1.1926 and 31.12.1930
Up to 350 cc - Ray Heinze - 1928 A.J.S.
Above 350 cc - John Badger - 1930 B.S.A.

Best Lady Rider
Betty Richmond - 1934 Triumph

Best Belt-driven Motorcycle
Doug Berry - 1911 Precision

Oldest Motorcycle to finish
Stuart Halsall - 1910 Bradbury

Oldest Rider to finish
Roy Whiteford

Youngest Rider to finish
Colette Heinze
Report: Neil Smith

Article appeared in the S.A. MOTORCYCLE NEWS, May 1979

Another year has passed, and another "Deejay" Commemorative Trial is over — once again I rode down from Salisbury to Durban on my 1928 Scott Super — 500 to take part in the event, but, this time it was a bit of a gamble. Entries had been over-subscribed and my name was down as the LAST reserve! My good luck held (someone was less fortunate) and at the last minute I was told I'd be allowed to ride as another rider had to scratch out.

My journey to the border was uneventful, though complicated this year by the need to carry six pounds of weight of carbine and ammunition around my neck in order to improve my chances of safe arrival! I guess this is the ONLY place in the world where a Vintage Motorcyclist goes around armed like a Mexican Bandit.

It's wise for me to carry a weapon because I have to travel out of convoy . . . 50 or more high-speed Rhodesian drivers with their caravans in tow are a greater menace to a rider with "vintage" brakes and steering than any "Ter" might be. I usually manage to set off a short time ahead and try to stay in front of the convoy. They belt past when I refuel (every 100 miles or so) and then I follow them for the next section. That way I have a nice, deserted road. (But I have to admit that I keep my eyes lookin' around — and I certainly find the extra concentration makes me tired.) I made a big mistake this year and stopped at Beit Bridge for refreshment. While I was supping my tea, both convoys arrived and as a result I didn't get through the border 'til after 5 p.m. Too late, really, to push on as it would begin to get dark within half an hour and my Carbide head-lamp is nowadays only used in an emergency. Stopped off at the Messina Motel where I was greeted by Johnny Erasmus. Had not seen him for more than two-score years, when we were both involved in the very early stages of anti-terrorist warfare training (and shared a prison cell for one memorable night!). Major Erasmus is one of many South Africans who "know the score". Although he has been resident and fully employed in the Republic for many years, he comes to Rhodesia on a regular basis to help guard our borders. A really GREAT effort and something that ALL Rhodesians appreciate. But good sense too because, after all, if Rhodesia goes a back door is wide open into South Africa.

Pushing onwards next morning I was interested to see the large amount of wild-life lying squashed at the roadside. In England I'd have been looking at defunct rabbits or hedgehogs but here was something more exotic. (I do not know if they're worse this year than usual, because I've never noticed this before.) In the Northern Transvaal it was puff adders! Some of them quite big fat ones too. I suppose they'd come on to the warm road-surface to sleep, and got well and truly clobbered by passing traffic. One thing is sure. I am no longer quite so keen on camping. Four feet of pussy-cat on my bed is bad enough . . . I quite refuse to share my blankets with 2 or 3 feet of snake!

The Scott droned on and on — and the saddle got harder and harder — down past Tzaneen and Lydenberg. Truly "Rhino" country . . . which will soon re-echo to the tune of many a motorcycle exhaust . . . and always sheer delight, with swervery and curvery to satisfy the most demanding. Ran out of sunshine soon after and had to light the lamps to reach Machadodorp (Bambi Motel, actually). By now I had clocked 650 miles since leaving home and that Scott was beginning to get in her stride. With nothing to stop us, the next morning saw us heading east to North Natal and another "easy" day's run of 300 miles took us to Mtubatuba with only a morning's ride left to reach Durban.

Before reporting for scrutineering it was found that both clutch and throttle cables were "kaput", so I called upon Charlie Young for help. Nor was this denied. The workshop was put at my disposal and new wires were fitted in a twink — without a sou to pay. THANK YOU — Charlie Young, the "Motorcyclist's friend".

The usual glistening array of machines awaited the Scrutineer, so I had to hurriedly wipe off some of the travel stains. .In spite of my efforts the ageing Scott looked rather like a poor relation. (But I didn't have to get out the bag of tools like some of the unnamed "concours" types. Not even a need to adjust chains.)

A good rainstorm overnight cleared the Durban air and, not too hurriedly I trickled down to the start. At the first traffic light I watched some of the really early riders on their beltdriven Veterans. Their ten-tenths effort, re-starting on their clutchless, gearless machines would have discouraged many less worthy riders… just the thought of two days' HELL ahead? Not these lads. They had an appointment to keep in Jo'burg and were not to be deviated.

The Scott is never completely happy down near sea-level and, as I climbed up towards Mayhill, she coughed, then spat. (And spat out a "Transfer Port" gasket.) That wiped the silly smirk off my face as I hurriedly sacrificed my reserve toilet-paper to fill the gap. Only just reached the beginning of the first timed section without a penalty. Thereafter she ran faultlessly and any mistakes were all my own!

After the night's rain the section of route through "Thousand Hills” was really wonderful. The air was crystal clear and the country looked just like the travel brochures. Truly — this is the ONLY way to go! Practically all of the way to Pietermaritzburg we are able to use the original course — but not quite the same road (. . . WE had tar instead of mud and gravel) with only a few short stretches of freeway and modern traffic.

After a quick refuel, plus a most welcome cup of coffee, we turned onto the old road again and headed for Howick up the precipice of Town Hill. Or so it seemed to those clutchless veterans, running alongside their struggling machines until ALL collapsed together. Only ONE was unable to arise and with a final supreme effort, achieve the crest. Only another 370 miles to go.

For those of us on later bikes the only problem was in avoiding the humps and bumps as we set off on another cross-country jaunt in the sunshine, leapin' across the Lions River from time to time and pulling steadily up towards Nottingham Road. Another refuel at Mooi River, then a bit of freeway cruising to the top of Griffins Hill. Alas, we must hold a pedestrian pace down that grand swoop whereas in the days of the race it was only the rutted, stony surface and the riders courage that set the limits. (Such is progress?)

Lunch-stop at Estcourt, no time to fiddle with the machines, and on once more to Ladysmith and the long, long climb under the hot afternoon sun to reach Newcastle. (Halfway point and the traditional overnight stop.) Firstclass organisation had - us into our rooms without delay, to find our luggage awaiting, a good bath and then another tradition (started only recently by the good Doctor — Mayor of Newcastle) a champagne sundowner for all the competitors! A few had work to do on their machines, but the workshop was made freely available and there was plenty of covered parking. B.J. Ford Motors deserve a really big "hand" for their patience and understanding.

The second day's run, without Durban traffic in competition, is rather more pleasant . . . the sun is higher, too . . . and the chill was well out of the air by the time I was flagged off. The route speeds seemed to have been chosen to suit the Scott. (First day I had to go slow when the bike wanted fast and vice versa.) Up hill and down dale — and there are plenty of them — the bike just purrs along with only a very occasional sight of another rider until we climb Laings Nek and stop for petrol in Volksrust.

It's mid-morning and the place is full of Saturday shoppers. One of them just drives right over Sonia Grobler and puts her out of the event. Fortunately, I was told later, it was a case of bruises and lacerations rather than broken bones. But the bike was bent too much to continue. The broken bones wouldn't have stopped her, I'm sure — caught in the rain the night before the start Lyons-Lewis crashed and his fractured leg was encased in plaster. He was just about to set off when the hospital hurriedly called him back. There had been a mistake and his leg wasn't broken after all! So they cut off the plaster to make him look a better "ad" for vintage motorcycling. (The organisers were so impressed by his determination, they gave a special award for Sportsmanship.)

From Volksrust to Standerton one crosses vast expanses of Transvaal veld. A clear view for mile after mile — yet somehow one keeps running across a Dayglo marker signalling a tricky as the kilo, stones in the Transvaal are titchy little white ones, lots are missing and most of the rest are hidden by grass and cosmos. So! We all made our mistakes, but what a lovely day for a ride! An early lunch at Standerton, followed by a highspeed run to Heidelberg, Alberton and City Deep. (But the finish is now at the new Market — more room for the spectators and their cars.) No longer are the riders dogged by dozens of traffic lights — by carefully-planned deviations we are taken through only a couple, or so it seemed to me ... some of the "Vets" may have counted a few more. Though by then they were mostly too exhausted to do much counting! Such, however, is the power  of recovery of the dedicated motorcyclist that, only a couple of hours later, they were at the Prizegiving Party — jitterbugging and putting the youngsters to shame!

All in all, once again the "Best Ever" — and the competition even stronger.

Only a handful dropped out completely — with restricted entry of 120 and 109 crossing the finish line the machine preparation can ONLY have been good.

I believe the sponsorship by Rand Daily Mail and Castrol gets a good return. THEY must think so too as they both say, "Come again next year" But we'll have to put in our entries in good time. Mustn't take a chance of missing out on my tenth Deejay!

Top award went to R. Lange, '36 A.J.S., with only 112 seconds error over the two days, 400 miles' riding. F. Hayward, 1925 American Excelsior Super X big twin, was right on his tail with 131 seconds! And so it went on, Jimmy Stead, Bill van Dongen (discounted because he had a sidecar passenger to help the navigation), Jim Mahaffey, Woodley on the Douglas, then Peter Aneck-Hahn in 6th position with only 186 seconds error.

Even Stuart Halsall. who collected the award for oldest machine on his 1910 Bradbury, was well up in the results list despite the difficulties he'd had to face and my own error of just over ten minutes placed me No. 50, whereas a few years ago it would have put me right alongside the winner's platform!

Admittedly, our task was greatly eased by the organisers. This year we were given a computed "read out" for the complete event which we merely had to transpose onto the twelve pages of route sheets (!) and do about two hours of arithmetic beforehand instead of twelve. Be that as it may — there's no doubt that every year more effort is put into the Deejay. But not by the riders alone — the Organisers, the Marshals and Timekeepers, the backroom secretaries and handicappers. The "logistics" people who keep us fed and well bedded down at night.

Yes, indeed — even the Highway Patrol! All these good people operate at maximum effort to keep this very special South African event right on the Top Line — Worldwise — and a feast of historical nostalgia that will continue, I hope, for many years to come.