The Classic Motorcycle Rally

by Irving Leibbrandt (V.V.C.)

From the Second Quarter 1991 SAVVA Automobilist magazine, volume 19 number 2

Paul Vink asked me to write about my personal experiences of this year's DJ both as one of the organisers and also as a participant.

For the non-motorcyclists, this event is for motorcycles built prior to 31-12-36 and covers some 650 kilometres on the old Durban/Johannesburg route with an overnight stop at Newcastle. Brought into being by Dick Osborne 21 years ago, it commemorates the speed race which used to take place between the two world wars and which was last run in 1936.

Having never before had anything to do with the organising of a rally, I have only seen the DJ from the view point of the entrant. In common with everyone else in the same position, I firmly believed that the organisers spend all the money and half their time on devising totally unnecessary forms which don't make sense. The other half of their time is spread evenly between producing route schedules that employ inappropriate speeds over incorrectly measured distances and taking petty vengeance on those entrants who by their last year's behaviour have incurred the organisers' wrath. This is achieved by ensuring that said entrants share the Newcastle rooms furtherest from the front door (and believe me that's a long way) with other entrants who do unspeakable things in their sleep, the least of which is snoring. It is common knowledge that a hit list is kept meticulously up to date for this very purpose. Paid overtime is utilised for the moving of K stones and arranging herds of cattle and fallen power lines at appropriate places.

This DJ has totally changed my perceptions and has caused me to reach some far-reaching conclusions -inter alia:

1. We, the rallyists are divided into two groups;

a. Those who cannot read and write and
b. Those who can, but only do it partially or don't do it at all.


2. The basic skills required by DJ rally organisers include mental telepathy, a higher degree in hotel booking procedures, a good sense of humour and the ability to select the right wife, because she takes all the backlash.

It follows that:

3. The primary ability required of the rally organiser's wife is to be able to maintain her spouse's cooling system in first class condition by the frequent application of scotch whilst he makes the 33rd phonecall to Putsonderwater about the missing SAVVA dating number which elicits the standard responses namely that:

a. The dating officer has been sitting on it (what?) for five years.
b. The bike has completed 40 DJs and everybody knows that it is a 1903 Aitchimaici.
c. Who the hell is SAVVA anyway?

Joking apart, I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise, and working with Mike and Pauline Bosman who know the ropes so well was an absolute pleasure. We were also fortunate enough to inherit Joan and Jock Meldrum's computer records which gave us a head start.

Having now been able to create a computer data base with the able assistance of Robin Eliovson, it is hoped that next year's entry forms can be sent out fully completed requiring only a cross or a signature or nothing depending on the category of entrant.

Suffice it to say that Mike and I were most grateful for the many, many entrants who sought us out specifically to thank us for the event.

As to the event itself, for Robin and I, the bike was as always the 1936 BMW R17 and sidecar known as Emily. Apart from an electrical fault en route, which cost us an hour because I had serious brain fade, she went like a bomb as usual. We enjoyed it immensely - well, most of it. The first day's weather was not so good and that close-up view of the southern end of the cow with its tail in the air at Nottingham Road near frightened me to death - looked like a 600/16 Firestone inner tube. Thank heavens for mates like Tom Jones who booted a way through the herd for us, thus saving Robin from certain death by drowning in the sidecar.

Some of the highlights? Best of all were the 20 first time riders. The looks on their faces at the start varied from spurious confidence to downright terror. Then the first time finishers. They were all one meter taller when they arrived at the Johannesburg's market. Sales of finisher's ties reached an all time high and I know at least one first timer who, having finished, now sleeps in his DJ tie. And our own special lunatic Bill van Dongen, who having pedal assisted the old Precision all the way from Durban, goes on his afternoon jog when he gets to Newcastle. Not to be forgotten are Cyril Richmond finishing his 21st DJ and of course dear Uncle Viv Lyons who got me started on this rally.

Years ago, now the oldest hippie in the movement, someone at the finish was overheard saying "I didn't know Walter Battiss rode a motorcycle".

And what a pleasure to see all the old faces we haven't seen for so long. Truly, for those who have not been there, the camaraderie and the atmosphere in the Ocean Inn Durban garage during scrutineering and documentation on the day before the start, has to be experienced to be believed.

Statistically, we had 155 entries (a record I am told), 140 odd starters and 100 odd finishers. The attrition rate was high with wet electrics probably the main cause.

Robin and I had 4 bikes entered, of which three started and two finished. Had Peter Aneck-Hahn not had his unfortunate accident the week-end before, I am sure that would have been four starts with three finishing and certainly one up there in the low numbers. We also had on the rally 4 control cables, two pushrods, 1 saddle and 1 gearbox main shaft, all of which completed the course, so all in all, it was one of the best DJs we have been on.

Next year? For sure if they will have us.
1991 D-J. 21st Anniversary Run.
(Photographs by Andre Deetlefs)
Cyril Richmond being greeted by wife Betty on the completion of his 21st DJ, all on the same Harley Davidson.
Busy fuel stop.
Gunter Russek with his 1927 600cc Indian.
Bill van Dongen on his belt-drive Precision being push started.
No 26, Thys Pottas on his 1927 BSA 1000cc. No 33, Jon Lewis on his 1928 OK 500cc.
No 2 is Max Hertz on his 1914 Zenith Gradua 699cc belt-driven machine.
Adriaan Botbijl's 1925 Royal Enfield 350cc.
Barry Stead, 1931 Norton 500cc who came second overall.
A wet start at Bothas Hill. No 35 Henry Watermeyer, 1926 Sunbeam 500cc, No 27 Harold Freeman, 1928 Sunbeam 350cc.
Ken Sink, 1931 AJS 350cc
Julius Civin, 1930 OK 500cc pushes in to the finish
Larry Collins and Bev, 1929 Royal Enfield, 980cc combination in the rain.
Derrick Kruger, 1934 Royal Enfield 250cc at Greylingstad
Alan Crookes, 1933 BSA 350cc
Gerald Hollis, 1929 BSA 557cc doing some adjustment
Fuel line at Newcastle.
Andries Kruger, 1929 Sunbeam 500cc, looking on is Dick Osborne on the right.
How the D-J was born
By Dick Osborne (VVC)

When you know that I went to school with Ian Scott, son of "China" Scott, and Reg Long, son of RS Long and brother of Alf Long, and played golf with Syd Flook, himself a winner of the D-J and brother of twice winner Percy Flook, you will understand that motorcycling came to me at an early age.

I was on the Loskop Rally organised by the Pretoria Old Motor Club, riding an ex Baby Scott machine, a 1928 350cc OHC Chater-Lea. Major Chater-Lea was my hero, establishing many world records on a Cammy Model. There was a long stretch of road. When you are alone on a bike with your thoughts, your mind wanders. A hawk lifted from a telephone pole and a rabbit ran in front of me for half a kilo. It was then that the idea of the D-J came to me.

I shared my thoughts with Oliver Barrett, then Chairman of the VVC, and he thought it a brilliant idea. "Go for it," he said, "you have my full support." I must pay tribute to Oliver Barrett at this stage for helping me to get the DJ off the ground. A finisher's medal was the first thing I got from the late Doug Tarr, whose father earned it in 1914, and had replicas made. Engravers were organised to engrave the finishers' names on medals the same night of the prize giving.

I wrote the rules and regs, but these were pruned to suit the modern rally of the day. Some of the rules still stand to this day.

Trophies were needed and every one approached was most enthusiastic to be involved with the event. The Schlesinger Vase used to be the premier award for the event. This I learned was the property of the Rand Motoring Club (RMC). I offered them to co-share the organising of the event and so the famous Schlesinger Vase was back where it belonged with the D-J. I must say this partnership has worked very well. Rudy Hindrichs and Alan Ravenscroft were RMC men who put in trojan work. Both have passed on and their places taken by others. And so in 1970 the first D-J was born. We had 65 entries and the standard of restoration left much to be desired. That 40 finished was a miracle.

There was much rebuilding of engines going on in the garage. This was when Cyril Richmond's expertise first came to the fore. The atmosphere was electric. The D-J oozed friendship and helpfulness. A competitor's machine was found to have a cracked piston. Cyril Richmond vanished with the piston returning half an hour later with it welded up, needing cleaning up which he did with the aid of a file.

The 22nd of April 1970 was a stinking hot day and we set off into the unknown. Town Hill at Maritzburg, a steep hill, claimed many casualties, mainly magneto trouble. I remember coming across a bike up on the prop stand with the rider lying next to his bike. I went up to him and asked "Can I help you?" He sat bolt upright and said: "Don't touch me!" - probably thinking of outside assistance, got onto his bike and rode away.

If you make Town Hill the chances of making Newcastle are greater. If you make Newcastle, the chances of getting to Johannesburg are also good. Old man Rhodes, father of Arthur Rhodes, riding a Rudge going through Ladysmith was chased by a big dog. So big it looked like a small horse. This dog got old man Rhodes by the arm and pulled him to the ground. He muttered a few choice four-letter words at the dog, who, not having heard such abusive language before, turned round and loped off.

Tommy Viljoen, a champion Speedway Rider riding a 1913 fixed drive Norton came a cropper. He left the road and went over the top and lay on the ground in a dazed condition. He was taken to a doctor who pronounced him fit and returned to where his bike was only to find it was gone. Someone had loaded and taken it to Newcastle.

Sy Symons, motoring editor of the Rand Daily Mail, had given the event very good publicity resulting in hordes of people at the refuelling stations to see the bikes.

The Mayor of Newcastle invited the riders to his parlour to a cocktail party. Can you imagine 50 hungry riders with plates of dainty snacks before them? They tore into this lot like a pack of wolves and in no time devoured the lot and then concentrated on the booze on offer. In his welcoming speech Dr Naude for the next three years told the same joke about "Jou Hoi" meaning of course the legendary Don Hall. He was at the restart the following morning to send the riders on their way.

We used as much of the original road as possible and the bit outside Heidelburg was very bumpy, pot-hole after pot-hole. It was here that tool boxes opened and spewed tools all over the road and head lamps were coming loose and falling off.

Such was the interest in the first D-J that spectators were waiting at vantage points from Heidelberg to City Deep where a crowd of about 2 000 were there to see us in.

When I got to City Deep a big lump came to my throat and tears to my eyes. "I made it, boy, I made it." I was riding a 1930 Sunbeam. It never missed a beat and was to do many more D-Js. And now the D-J celebrates its 21st birthday. I never thought at the time of how long the DJ would go on for. But motorcyclists enjoy a herding instinct and it will probably go on for as long as there are organisers and sponsors. The enthusiasm is there and it will probably go on forever.

The older riders will remember the first wet D-J. It rained throughout the event. Boy was it cold. Talk about brass monkeys. D-J riders are made of stern stuff and carry on to finish. Then there was the down run from Jo'burg to Durban. We passed through a hailstorm so terrible I thought the event would be cancelled. Rain all the way. Riders came to the finish absolutely drenched to the skin. The things we do for fun.

I had to give up riding about 10 years ago on doctor's orders but have been involved in all 21 D-Js in some form or other. Mainly scrutineering. Talking about scrutineering reminds me of one event when I came across a universal chain I never knew existed. I was doing Dave Folb's Connaught and noticed the primary chain was much too tight. He said not to worry, the chain loosens up when he gets going. The very next bike was Reg Clark's Douglas. The primary chain was much too loose. He said not to worry, it tightens up when he gets going.

It has been a happy 21st D-J. My heart bleeds for those who broke down. Strong hearts chaps, have another go next year. At the 21st prize-giving party I was presented with a picture depicting a 1914 Harley Davidson and a 1936 Excelsior Manxman in the form of a clock from the motorcyclists of the VCC of SA. A real treasure which I will keep for all time.

Winning the D-J is not the all important thing - that's a bonus. What is important is having taken part, and earning the finisher's medal.