The Classic Motorcycle Rally

By Coen Deetlefs

From the June 1988 SAVVA Automobilist magazine, volume 14 number 2

It was just as well that the date for this event was postponed by one week, as the weather turned out to be perfect instead of the very wet weather experienced over the previous week end.

There was not the same hustle and bustle as on previous years due mainly to the smallest ever entry for this event, namely 99 of which only 93 competitors actually started. What the reason for this small entry is I do not know except that about six, including yours truly, did not compete for health reasons.

The standard of restoration and preparation is getting better every year and there was only one major rebuild taking place, that being the Sunbeam of Peter Theodorou. The gearbox of the Sunbeam suffered a broken gear, which was repaired by welding, broke again, after which Peter decided to discard the sidecar, leave only top gear operative in the box and drive the single speed 600 cc Sunbeam to the finish in Johannesburg.

Many of us, knowing some of the severe hills that lay ahead doubted whether he would manage it. But manage it he did. By retarding the ignition and applying a bit of choke on the hills he actually managed to finish 53rd overall on his first attempt at the D.J.

The route followed was mostly the same as last year, with the big difference being that there was no rain or mist and one could appreciate the beauty of the Valley of a Thousand Hills and the rolling cane fields stretching to the horizon.

A pleasant surprise awaited competitors at the first refuelling point at Tongaat where the owners of the Maidstone Service Station (SHELL) did not charge for filling the tanks of the motorcycles. To my knowledge the first time this has happened on the D.J., a most welcome contribution.

I think this route with its many long hills is a more severe test of rider and machine than the other D.J. route. Most riders of the smaller machines battled up some of those hills, and then there was the long descent of one of the passes that tested the brakes and nerves of those riding bikes with primitive rim brakes.

At various places, road repairs because of the devastating floods were taking place. At one place, repairs were being made to a bridge of which a portion had been washed away, requiring very low speeds before tackling the long hill leading out of the valley.

Tea was taken at Greytown where our friend Fred Aulfes, also a non-starter due as he said to "suspension problems", with his artificial hip-bone, greeted us and where the mayor of Greytown was also present to talk to competitors. A very pleasant tea was provided by ladies of the agricultural society.

From Greytown to the lunch stop at Weenen, the road again went up and down the hills with a 7km long pass to negotiate. Lunch at Weenen was provided in the town hall, with plenty of trees under which to park in the shade. It was a very hot day and some of the riders had foolishly discarded their jackets and were riding in their shirt sleeves. There is always a chance of hitting a pothole or for some other reason coming off the bike with very serious injuries if protective clothing is not worn.

Up to this stage, very little traffic had been encountered, but after lunch, on joining the main road at Colenso, the road started getting busier with many trucks on the way to Ladysmith where the last refuelling point was before tackling the long stretch to Newcastle.

This stretch was again, as last year, an open section with prizes for each class for the rider completing the 102,27 km in the shortest time without breaking any speed limits.

There were a number of sections of the road being retarred which made it difficult to maintain speeds, just as well it was an open section.

On arrival at Newcastle I found confusion reigning, a number of competitors were complaining that they could not see where the final open control was located and thus did not stop. It appeared that there were some gentlemen sitting on the grass, with no marshal board, and the rider was to assume that they were the marshals and not members of the public, and that that was the final control, a most unsatisfactory arrangement to say the least of it. (This control was eventually scrubbed).
For a change a scenic picture from the D-J showing Jon Field on his 1936 DKW cresting a long climb from a valley where the road had been damaged during the floods. Picture by Coen Deetlefs.
As usual B.J. Ford motors at Newcastle made everyone welcome and ladies of the Old Hooters Club provided most welcome refreshments for the riders. Very little work was done to machines that night, about 16 having fallen out during the day's run, but Dick Harris managed to get his Indian running again and finished the run on Saturday.

The same new route as in 1987 was followed through Memel, Vrede and Standerton to the lunch stop at Greylingstad where an excellent lunch was served.

This last part of the route to the finish is not only the second longest on the run, but also the most nerve-wracking, for one sits there hoping that nothing will go wrong before the finish, the least little variation in the beat of the engine is worrying and when one moves one's legs to ease them the increased noise causes more concern and the tank is again firmly clamped between the knees.

The finish at the market buildings in Johannesburg also caused some confusion as again there was no official visible at the finish, although a start-finish banner was displayed everybody had got used to being stopped and welcomed by at least one official in previous years.

In retrospect, this was a good rally, run in superb weather conditions, on fairly traffic free roads, with clever placing of controls. The majority of them being "hidden" although some of them were visible, not many riders taking advantage of the fact that a hidden control could be approached without any penalty for stopping in sight of the control.

The driver's briefing meeting was fairly lively with competitors wanting the organisers to revert to the issuing of route schedules on the afternoon prior to the start of the rally. It was agreed that a referendum would be held to decide this matter.

It does not seem to matter whether competitors do a route survey when they receive their route schedules the day before or whether computers may be used on the run, banned this year for safety reasons, the same ten or so riders always seem to head the list.
Frank Hayward, second overall, with on the left Mr Gavin Lang, manager of the sports section of Holiday Inns and Mike Bosman Clerk of the Course.
Robin Eliovson, third overall.
Betty Richmond, best performance by a lady driver.
Val Hollis, youngest to finish the DJ.
Kevin Robertson of Newcastle, fourth overall.
Two riders passing the much disputed final control at Newcastle without stopping.
Gunther Russek, Manager of Durban Holiday Inn, being presented with a D.J. tie by Mike Bosman.
Peter Theodorous watching Richard Lewis working on Peter's Sunbeam, which completed the run with only top-gear working.
There were some notable performances by a few riders, Bill Dalton on a 146 cc New Imperial had to "paddle" up some of the hills but managed to finish 43rd overall, there should be a trophy for the smallest capacity machine to complete the rally. John Field on a 1936 200 cc, DKW did very well to finish in 33rd position - the other notable performance amongst the small-fry was Kevin Robertson's fourth overall on a 1936 250 cc Velocette G.T.P., one of the more desirable machines when I was a youngster, they cost only 72 pounds (R144.00) in 1936.

Of the 93 starters there were 19 nonfinishers, a fairly high proportion, as in previous years BSAs dominated the entry with 13 entries, 9 Triumphs, 8 each of Sunbeam and Velocette, 7 each of Nortons and Ariels and 6 Scotts.

This was the first time since 1971 that I had not started in this event, but driving along and observing the riders gave me a good insight into the difficulties and enjoyment of this event.

A rally usually consists of three parts, the organisers, the competitors and the sponsors (if any). The organisers are usually limited in the amount of funds available and this year to keep costs to a minimum no transport was provided for machines to Durban with the competitors seeing to it themselves. Partly as a result of this it was decided to allow sweep vehicles in the field at intervals of about 20 riders, this worked very well and no-one who broke down had to wait more than a few minutes before being picked up. We also saw no irresponsible driving by sweep vehicle drivers, this was in my opinion a success. Apart from the misunderstandings of the two open controls, mentioned earlier on, I cannot fault the organisation, the venue for the prize giving party was good and the atmosphere enjoyable.

The second element in a rally is the competitor, the reason for there being less than 100 entrants is not easily apparent, perhaps financial reasons, I don't know whether last year's weather conditions put some off. I hope next year's entries will be better again. For me the charm of the D.J. was always in those sections of the original D.J. route we rode, from Durban to Howick and on to Mooi River seeing in one's mind a similar machine to the one you are riding being driven at full speed along the various dirt roads and wishing one could emulate their achievements. This year's run was a very good motorcycle rally, but no D.J.

The third element in a rally is the sponsor's and this is where the organisers can show their mettle. Knowing whom to approach and in what manner is the great secret. This year Holiday Inns were again the main sponsors, Info net doing the computing of the score sheets, first National Bank helping with the vast amount of printing required, Satin Leaf cigarettes providing the public address system and cigarettes and the BMW Motorcycle club providing a courier service from controls to rally headquarters.
Ken Sink watching John Allison repair the oiling system on his Moto Guzzi.
Irving Leibbrandt on his 1922 Royal Enfield combination first away from the start.
Dick Harris on his 1924 Indian waiting for Guz Heinze to send him off, with Reg Loney looking on.
The very rare 1929 345 c.c. Harley Davidson of Graeme Wells of Cape Town. This is believed to be the only survivor of a 1929 Model B Harley Davidson.
The only two lady riders sharing a joke at the start. Betty Richmond on the left and Val Hollis on her 1928 BSA.
The mayor of Greytown welcoming Viv Lyons at the tea stop at Greytown.
A happy Robin Eliovson on his 1928 Scott, he ended up third overall.
Line-up of early vintage machines, No 2, Ben Gildenhuys, 1923 Triumph, No 3, Brian Lagrange 1926 BSA and No 4 Martin Kleve 1928 Royal Enfield.
Free petrol was provided by the BP, Maidstone service station at Tongaat, a very generous gesture on the part of the owners.
Hugh and Betty Jones descending one of the long passes on the way to Greytown.
Welcome refreshments provided by the ladies of the Old Hooters Club at Newcastle, with Dick Thompson and Jim Williamson enjoying it.
Terry Town send changing plugs on "Emily" his 1936 BMW.
Gunter Russek, one of the managers of the Durban Holiday Inn, enjoyed his run on the Harley Davidson.
A happy group before the start at Newcastle with, on the left, Fritz Blaeser, Gunter Russek, Alan Crookes, Hew Hollard and Cyril Richmond.
Lunch stop at Greylingstad with the Editor chatting to Tony Woodley.
Mr Gavin Lang, Marketing Manager of Holiday Inns, Mark Corlett, the overall winner, for the second time, and Mike Bosman, Clerk of the Course.