The Classic Motorcycle Rally


By Coen Deetlefs

From the July 1987 SAVVA Automobilist magazine, volume 13 number 2

From the moment we entered the parking garage at the Holiday Inns, the old atmosphere of excitement, missing in recent years, was back again. This venue lends itself to a proper display of all the machines entered with plenty of room to move around the groups of competitors standing around admiring the assembled motorcycles and talking to friends seen only perhaps once a year.

There was also a suppressed excitement evident as rumours were rife that a new route was to be followed out of Durban. Little did we know that practically the whole route was to be along new roads as far as this rally was concerned. In addition the route schedules would only he handed out to competitors one hour before their individual starting times, leaving little time for additional calculations, not required for most of us as the route schedule had been precalculated, but the "experts" always add their own additional data to help them keep on time.

I limit myself to marking arrows for the left and right turns, whilst I was still capable of distinguishing right from left, for once on the move I need all my concentration to pick up change speed points.

Documentation and scrutineering went off without a hitch, and another innovation was that Holiday Inns provided restaurant facilities in the garage where food at reasonable prices was provided, a very thoughtful service by Mike Jordan of the Durban Holiday Inn.

The competitors' meeting went off well, with Keith Michler, chairman of the organising committee confirming that the start would be from the Holiday Inn and that the route would take us along the North Coast road, turning off to Tongaat and then via Dalton and Greytown to lunch at Weenen and from there to Colenso and Ladysmith.

It was also announced that the Ladysmith-Newcastle section would be an open section but, for those that wanted to, a timed competition would be held taking the form of being set a target time not to be done in less than 1hr. 6min. 43sec. for the A group of machines, in other words all speed limits were to be observed and if the competitor came in one second early he would be disqualified. Ralph Lange won this by checking in just 2 seconds outside the minimum time.

Outside assistance would be allowed only from the AA patrolmen who accompanied the event in their Chevrolet panel van and a BSA motorcycle which did not last the distance (cause unknown), which added a bit more atmosphere to the run.

For the first time a breakdown of costs was given and with the Holiday Inns giving some sponsorship, the organising committee found that a refund amounting to R50,00 per competitor could be made, most welcome to all of us in these hard times.

At the competitors' meeting Gunther Russel of the Durban Holiday Inn, who is busy restoring a 1916 Indian, was presented with an Indian mascot for his motorcycle; in thanking Keith Michler for this gift, Gunther recalled that many years ago when he was at the Newcastle Inn he was amazed when on a Friday afternoon his hotel was invaded by a horde of motorcyclists and that they sparked his interest in old motorcycles.

Fred Aulfes who had turned 80 in the week before the D-J was presented with a birthday card signed by all the competitors as a memento of this milestone in his life.

Day One - Friday 24th April 1987.

Friday dawned with a heavily overcast sky, but no rain, and the general opinion was that the skies would clear in the next hour or so, little did we know what lay ahead of us. Fred Aulfes with granddaughter Helen was the first off at 7.01 a.m. It was very convenient having the start of the event from the entrance to the hotel and from there finding our way to the North Coast road and then branching off to Tongaat on a very scenic winding road.

Shortly after leaving Tongaat where the first refuelling stop had been and on entering the Valley of a Thousand Hills, wisps of mist appeared and the further we went the denser the mist became until I could see only three or four metres ahead. I always wear an open face helmet with a visor and soon both the inside and outside of the visor were wet forcing me to use one gloved finger as a windscreen wiper.

One could not see the side of the road as there was no white line there and only when I rode in the middle of the road could I see the white line to see where the road went. It took me all my time to see where I was going never mind trying to see milestones and change speed points and yet the top riders assured me they could see them.

It was on this section that two accidents occurred, Andries Kruger with his wife in the sidecar of his Sunbeam put the wheel of the sidecar off the edge of the road and as there was a drop of about eighteen inches the outfit somersaulted with the result that Andries broke his collarbone with his wife suffering a fractured arm and other injuries.

Fortunately the incident was seen by one of the local inhabitants who was driving by and this black gentleman and his wife attended to the Krugers and took them to a nearby Mission Hospital from where they were later taken to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

Derek McLean on his Panther also came adrift on this section when he swerved to avoid a pot-hole suddenly looming up, put the front wheel off the road and found himself careering off into the veld when suddenly a telephone pole came into sight and thinking discretion the better part of valour, Derek laid the Panther down, suffering an injured shoulder and some damage to his motorcycle in the process.

Tony Lyons-Lewis also went off the road on his Norton but managed to regain the road and carry on.

Now and again the mist lifted and one could catch glimpses of the magnificent scenery of the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

I soldiered on in the mist as best as I could and eventually the mist started clearing just before Dalton where our next refuelling stop was. Here the Jackson family, who normally take part in the D-J. provided coffee at their own expense, and our heartfelt thanks go to them for this most thoughtful service to the frozen competitors.

From here on we could at least see where we were going and the route eventually led down a magnificent pass to Greytown where the Aulfes family had enlisted assistance to provide a magnificent spread of snacks and tea and coffee, with the Mayor of Greytown in attendance and handing out "Greytown is Great" stickers.

Being the last of the C speed group I found myself at the tail end of the field. Just before Greytown my Rudge had started misfiring and I changed the plug before refuelling and being push started to get away. The trouble persisted and I had difficulty in maintaining the set speeds arriving at Weenen ten minutes late for lunch. After a quick lunch (very nice too) provided by ladies from the local church organisations. I checked the tappet clearances and the points but found nothing wrong and after another push start set off for Colenso and Ladysmith. With the engine sounding rough 1 took it easy, with the sweep vehicles on my tail, I reached Ladysmith and after refuelling set off for Newcastle.

The engine would run well on small throttle but as soon as I wanted more power it would sputter and hesitate and in this fashion I proceeded to Newcastle, using second and third gear where I would normally fly out in top gear, peering over the brow of each hill only to find another looming in the distance.

Arriving at BJ Ford in Newcastle I was thankful for the most welcome coffee and biscuits provided by the Old Hooters Club members and their ladies.

After dinner we went back to the garage at BJ Ford, (the D-J would not be the same without their facilities) went over the carburettor. magneto and valve timing, there was good enough compression to start using the valve lifter, but when the throttle was blipped the engine sputtered and refused to rev. I went to bed early after having had one of the most tiring rides to Newcastle in all the 16 years I have ridden in it.

Saturday, 25 April 1987

Another surprise awaited us on the Saturday morning, the skies were clear and we could look forward to a nice ride, but again not along the usual route.

When the route schedules were issued we saw that the route went to Memel, Vrede and then Standerton and that the lunch stop would be at Greylingstad.

The Rudge started readily enough, would idle reasonably well but when the throttle was opened spluttered and coughed worse than on the Friday. I nevertheless decided to start and see how far I could get. About four or five kilometres after leaving Newcastle the first long hill appeared and I decided that I had had enough of trying to coax a sick machine any further and parked at the side of the road. It did not take long for the tail-end of the field to pass me and about ten minutes after I had stopped the first of the sweep vehicles appeared and the Rudge was soon on the back of a bakkie. The kind Samaritan who picked me up was named Peter (never did get round to asking his surname) who was driving the vehicle for his friend Joe Visser from Durban, who was mounted on a 1934 Ariel.

The new route seemed to be very interesting with plenty of hills none very severe and a minimum of traffic. We bypassed the fuel stop at Memel and headed for Vrede where we hoped to find some refreshments. We found most of the competitors at Delta Motors the Total service station at Vrede enjoying a break and free Cokes.

I had my time cut out to persuade Peter that it would be alright for us to be in the field, in that, as I was no longer competing, I could revert to my role as reporter photographer without there being any danger of Joe Visser being disqualified, we proceeded to Standerton stopping once or twice on the way to take some photographs and from there to Greylingstad for the lunch provided in the municipal hall by ladies of the local church groups.

I persuaded Peter to push on so that we could arrive at the finish at the market in Johannesburg before the first competitors arrived. We duly arrived well in time to see John Fletterman arrive on his ABC. This was the first time that I had been a spectator at the finish and quite exciting it was too.

Thus ended the 17th D-J for me, a memorable event, with the new route finding favour with everyone.
By Coen Deetlefs

Thanks to the Holiday Inns for their sponsorship, the event was not as expensive as first contemplated and apart from supplying the bibs and numbers they also made a venue available for the prize-giving, which took place at the Sandton Holiday Inn. It was an informal affair with a minimum of speeches. The organisers expressed their thanks to the following members of the Inns organisation: Gavin Laing and Jenni Evans from Head Office, Mike Jordan and Gunther Russel, Durban and Tony Rubin Newcastle. Jenni Evans in replying to thanks from Keith Michler expressed the hope that they would again be associated with the event next year.

As previously mentioned, the new route found general approval, and we were told that the first day’s route was Len Bassets idea and that Jock Meldrum suggested the second days route. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that it should be done again in the future but perhaps every alternate year.

The commentary at the start was given by Piet Naude of the St. Regis Tobacco Corporation, for the last time under the Ransom banner. Mr. van Breda of Nickord assured me that they would continue to support the vintage movement but with another brand name being promoted. Various other clubs and companies deserve thanks, including the following: the VCC of Natal for the party on the Wednesday evening, First National Bank for assisting with printing costs, Mr. Hugh Cordell from Metropolitan Oils for Forte oil products provided, and then a special thanks again to B-J Ford at Newcastle without whose workshop facilities many competitors would not in the past have been able to finish the run.

Castrol Oils donated the balance of the D-J funds accumulated over the years to the organisers of this year’s run, we missed their well-known personalities this year and hope to see them again in the future.

The results of the timed run from Ladysmith to Newcastle were as follows:

1st Ralph Lange, 1hr 6min 45 sec, two seconds longer than the target time;
2nd Tom Lintley 1hr 8min 43sec, two minutes off target.

Tanya van Dongen was the "fastest" lady with a time of 1hr 21min 9sec.

The new route and other innovations have, in my estimation, breathed new life into this enjoyable annual event.

I did my usual statistical survey of the entrants and came up with the following: the highest number of a single make entered was again BSA with 15 entries (14 starters), 12 Velocettes, 12 Sunbeams, 10 Triumphs, 7 AJS and 5 Nortons, with the balance made up of ones and twos of numerous other makes. There were 23 non-finishers, a much higher proportion than in the last few years, the route was not that much more difficult or longer, perhaps some of the machines were due for a rebuild after many years of competing.

At the monthly meeting of the Vintage Motorcycle Club the usual discussion took place on the running of the D-J with the question of allowing support vehicles in the field causing some heated discussion. It was generally felt that they should be allowed in the field at specified distances, say one for every twenty competitors, keeping a safe distance from the motorcycle in front of them. The other point raised was the question of the pantechnicon. The general feeling was that its services should be dispensed with and that competitors should hire trailers on a shared basis to transport their machines.

Reverting to the support vehicles I am all in favour of them being in the field, my reasons being as follows. If you happen to be an early starter and you break down soon after the start you are likely to have to wait at least two hours before the first sweep vehicle arrives. Not too bad if it is early in the morning, but if you are in the middle of the field and you break down some time before the lunch stop, you might find, as I did many years ago near Nottingham Road, with no shade available, that you soon become very thirsty.

In my case, very dehydrated, after nearly three hours in the blazing sun. As a result of that experience, I have fitted my rally bikes with the water bottles one sees on racing bicycles, and I fill the bottles with Game or some other health drink, never again will I allow myself to suffer from thirst as I did on that day many years ago.

This year, being at the tail end of the field I waited less than twenty minutes to be picked up.

I never seem to get any feed-back from competitors on the D-J, but they are very vociferous at the post D-J meetings, so come on and put pen to paper and lets have your views.

1. Trevor Jones on his 1926 O.K. Supreme leaving Durban on his way to the North Coast route on this year’s D-J.
2. Harold Hall on his 1934 Levis being sent on his way by Keith Michler.
3. Saturdays lunch stop was at Greylingstad. John Fletterman who was the first to arrive at the finish at Johannesburg Market is in the centre foreground.
4. Fred Aulfes with granddaughter Helen on his 1920 Matchless, Fred had celebrated his 80th birthday the day before.
5. Discussing a point on the route schedule, Michael Aid worth on his 1936 Sunbeam with Peter Aneck-Hahn looking on.
Photographs by Andre Deetlefs.
Layout by Futura Offset.
6. The most welcome refuelling stop at Dalton after the ordeal through the mist, with hot drinks supplied by the Jacksons being enjoyed by the riders.
7. Refuelling stop at Tongaat with eventual sidecar winners, Don McJannet and Tom Jones on their B.M.W. outfit.
8. Oliver Barrett on his 1932 Sunbeam on the tree-lined road to Tongaat.