The Classic Motorcycle Rally

1989 Hoskens D-J Commemorative Run
by Coen Deetlefs
photographs by Coen Deetlefs

From the June 1989 SAVVA Automobilist magazine, volume 15 number 2

Hooray for the D-J! It is alive and well, long may it remain so.

When it was announced that Jock Meldrum would be Clerk of the Course for this year's D-J, it was apparent from the reaction of competitors on previous runs, that they were very enthusiastic to compete again. Jock made provision for 120 entries but ended up with having to accommodate 131.

As was to be expected, the organisation was first class with much attention to detail even extending to booklets for refuelling with the lunch vouchers handed out at the right places.

Hoskens Insurance Brokers sponsored the event, their sponsorship was obtained by Bill Cunningham and proved to be very comprehensive, including free petrol for the whole run. This sponsorship also made it possible to run the event at an affordable price for competitors. Mr Graham Walker MD of Hoskens has intimated that they will continue sponsorship for at least next year if not longer.

At the prize-giving Mr Walker mentioned that his father-in-law had ridden in the original D-Js and that was one of the reasons he had sponsored this year's event. Both Graham and Jim Love the general manager of Hoskens took part in this year's event on machines lent to them by Ian Brodie and Irving Leibbrandt respectively.

Gunther Russek of Durban Holiday Inns again provided bar and lunch facilities in the garage where the bikes were parked, a much appreciated gesture. The accommodation was again arranged by Joan Moonie who, efficient as ever, even saw to it that competitors' luggage was delivered to their rooms at Newcastle.

Thanks to modern technology and the BMW Club members who stood by the lady marshals and then when the control closed rushed the timesheets via portable fax machines to rally headquarters, where chief scorer Nick Holmgren processed them, results were available at the lunch stop at Estcourt and amended results at Ladysmith. The computer programme that made this possible was drawn up by Harvey Lambie.

But, enough of the organisation, what of the rally itself? Of the 131 entrants, 129 started and 100 finished, among the casualties were Cyril and Betty Richmond, both with engine failure on their usually reliable machines, as also Harry Shutler's Panther which failed to complete the run after 8 successive D-Js.

When Melanie Yap expressed an interest in taking part in the D-J I invited her to navigate for me in the side car of my 1923 Zenith combination. Doug McLaren offered us the use of his motorcycle intercom set and after an exploratory run the Sunday before the D-J, we were very happy to find that we could communicate with each other perfectly clearly.

The start took place on an open parking area site on the Marine Parade where there was plenty of room for competitors and spectators alike. The mayor of Durban flagged us off and the adventure was on.

There was a long open section to the start at Botha's Hill from where the route led via the Valley of a Thousand Hills to Pietermaritzburg, still as scenic as the first time I travelled it more than 60 years ago, only it was dirt roads in those days.

Disaster nearly struck us as the engine of the Zenith started sputtering as we entered Pietermaritzburg. Thinking it was fuel I asked Melanie to switch on the reserve fuel tank we had fitted on the rear mudguard of the Zenith, but no, the engine stopped. After a quick check to see if one of the valves had not broken, I checked for spark and found none at the plugs.

Quickly showing my passenger how to operate the valve lifter and use the kick-starter to turn the engine over, I removed the one magneto pick-up, made very difficult as two screws had to be removed with very little space to work in, lying flat on my back on the ground: At my signal Melanie operated the kick-start while I held a cloth against the magneto slip-ring, sure enough the cloth showed oil on the slip-ring after two more kick-throughs the pick-up was re-attached and the engine started first kick.

It was only afterwards that I realised what a nearly impossible task I had set my navigator to turn over 1000cc of V-twin JAP engine and afterwards Paul Vink, who had stopped at the sight of us, said to me that he wondered who the small person was trying to kick-start the large motorcycle. Pity there was no photographer to record the sight.

We had now lost the best part of half an hour and after a quick refuel at Pietermaritzburg we set off with little hope of making up time on the formidable Town Hill that lay ahead. The engine was not running as it should, but we conquered Town Hill and started to make up time. But halfway to Nottingham Road the engine again cut-out and the magneto cleaning procedure had to be repeated, but this time I remembered that I had a tin of Duckham's Q20 in the tool box and sprayed the slip ring with that and had no more trouble.

The lunch stop at Estcourt was reached 40 minutes late and after a quick bite of lunch we set off, once more on time.

With the Zenith on full song again we enjoyed the run to Ladysmith and Newcastle. The section between Ladysmith and Newcastle was again to be travelled at a speed of one's own choosing up to the first marshal, after which this speed was to be maintained for the rest of the distance. Not a very popular idea but nobody really complained about it. Due to the low speed we set ourselves, I had to use the headlight on the Zenith by the time we reached Newcastle.

Results for the day's run were soon posted and Eric Grimbeek had already established a healthy lead. The machines were again accommodated at BJ Ford's showrooms and the workshops were available for those who had to make repairs.

After a good night's sleep we woke to heavy overcast skies with occasional spits of rain. Suitably attired in rain suits we set off from Newcastle on the last leg to Johannesburg.

There was a fresh breeze blowing which increased in strength as we progressed towards Majuba and Laings Nek and by the time we reached the pass, the wind was blowing at nearly gale force causing me to have to use third gear on occasions to be able to maintain our set speeds. On the other hand, the wind blew the rainclouds away and patches of blue sky started appearing.

With the intercom working well we rallied to the best of our ability and it certainly made life much easier for the driver.

Lunch at Greylingstad was very good, typical "boerekos" with the mayor and mayoress there to greet each arrival with a handshake.

For me the stretch from Greylingstad to the finish always seems interminable, continually listening to the engine beat and hoping that nothing will happen to prevent a finish. Everything went well except for the very last sections where the time allowed was very limited and if we had had any of the traffic lights not in our favour, we would not have made it to the final control without penalty, as it was we clocked in with 6 seconds to spare.

So ended what could arguably have been the most enjoyable of all D-Js and if it had not been for our spot of mechanical bothers we would have enjoyed it more.

Our thanks go to Jock and Joan Meldrum for the detailed planning that went into this most enjoyable event.

That left only the prize-giving held on Sunday morning at the Sandton Holiday Inn, also well organised and enjoyable.
Julia Hulberts, Hoskens PRO, in the Holiday Inn Garage.
Plenty of warning required when you are on the road on a rally, Peter Gregory's 1936 Indian with three tail lights and a warning triangle.
Jim Mahaffey won the newly instituted Ralph Lange Memorial Trophy, presented by the Vintage Motorcycle Club in memory of that great D-J Rider.
FROM A SIDECAR SEAT: A first timer's view of the D-J
by Melanie Yap

The world looks quite different when you're wedged in a sidecar, just a few centimetres above the ground. Not only does an ordinary truck assume gigantic proportions, but pavements and potholes also suddenly seem much too close for comfort.

When Coen Deetlefs asked me to navigate for him on the D-J run, from the sidecar of his unique 1923 Zenith, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to take part in the renowned "D-J", to travel in the relative comfort of a sidecar and be "driven" by a rider who knew the way to Johannesburg.

Motorbike riders seem to have stories covering every eventuality on the road and sidecars aren't an exception. Never having concerned myself much with the strength of things mechanical, I developed an intense and abiding interest in the couple of nuts and bolts attaching the sidecar to the Zenith. My only "technical" responsibility as navigator (apart from not getting us lost) was to switch on the reserve fuel tank when instructed.

Despite the run's dedication to pre-1936 technology, we took full advantage of the modern intercom to ensure we could at least exchange comments on the scenery and the weather should the rally prove too taxing. But the route schedule was a pleasure, the organisation impeccable and I discovered why D-J fever is contagious.

Stop-watches at the ready, we set off from Durban and thoroughly enjoyed chugging through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. We waved gaily to spectators and marshals en route, passed rude remarks about motorists and truck drivers overtaking too closely and were delighted when road signs appeared at their stipulated times. Then "disaster" struck... the magneto played up, and after two lengthy stops, we realised we could not compete for any "place" in the results.

That didn't detract at all from the pleasure of being on the road and swopping stories with fellow competitors and organisers at fuel stops and meals. And what stories they were! From total roadside rebuilds to unscheduled detours down dirt tracks... the serious rallyists were bemoaning their five second errors, while the rest of us were quite happy to have machines which were still mobile.

Within striking distance of Johannesburg, all the riders' excitement became tangible. As we pulled into the final control with seconds to spare, I realised that reaching the finish made the long ride and the minor upsets all worthwhile. Not only was it a tribute to the sturdy bikes of yesteryear, but a fitting reward for those who endure all the discomfort of keeping those machines on the road.

My first D-J finisher's medal is a special memento of an event which was fun, friendly and well worth trying again.
The Editor with Melanie Yap before the start from Durban. Photo: Paul Vink