Sunday, 7 November 2010

SCOTT - 1928 dirt-track model.

Back in 1928, there was a brand new motorcycle sport sweeping the nation, dirt-track racing, or speedway as it soon became, was a major attraction. Top riders were earning big money and every bike motorcycle manufacturer in the country wanted a piece of the action. Some of the bikes were very good, some were a total failure whilst others were just plain bizzare. Many of them didn't look like speedway bikes at all and were simply road bikes stripped of their lights, brakes and mudguards. It says a lot for the bravery of the pioneer riders that they actually raced some of these bikes on the cinders at all!

One bike that should never have been a success was the Scott... a 500cc twin cylinder two-stroke with water cooling and an unusual low slung frame. Produced in the Yorkshire town of Shipley, this was one bike that definitely did not look anything like a speedway bike... but amazingly, in the hands of a select few riders, the yowling Scott has gone down in history as one of the legendary bikes of the cinder sport.

Jeff Clew described the origins of the dirt-track Scott in his excellent book "The Scott Motorcycle - The Yowling Two-stroke".

The Scott Motor Cycle Company's involvement with dirt track racing occurred in a quite unexpected way. When Frank Varey was detailed to join the Scott riders party to the Isle of Man in the capacity of machine cleaner. Allan Jefferies begged him for the loan of his three-speed Super whilst he was away. Unfortunately, the Super was written off completely in a road accident that followed, when Allan was run into by the rider of a Scott sidecar outfit whose sidecar wheel lifted on a left hand bend. The crash did not do Allan much good either, for he suffered a fractured skull, cheekbone and jaw.

When he ultimately emerged from hospital it was obvious that a machine would have to be built from scratch, since even the Super's crankcase had been cut in two by the force of the impact. Putting their heads together, Frank and Allan decided they might as well build a machine that could be ridden on the cinders. And so, from a quite calamitous beginning, a dirt track Scott began to take shape. To assist with the finances, Allan promoted two meetings at the nearby Greenfield Dog Track and at various tracks in Lancashire.

According to Allan, it was Frank's superhuman strength and courage, coupled with their complete ignorance of steering geometry that made Frank such a spectacular favourite with the crowds. His lurid style of riding and the scream of the Scott on full power drew spectators in large numbers and soon word got around to Harry Langman, who took such an interest in the project that it was decided to add a dirt track model to the official Scott range. Cecil Knowles of the Frame Shop organised production, using a frame that was a cross between that of the Flyer and the Super, a formula worked out by Frank and Allan the hard way.

The dirt track model neared completion one Saturday lunch-time, on the day when Frank was due to ride his own model at Bolton the same afternoon. Anxious to give the new model an early try-out, Allan agreed to remain at work so that the new model could be completed in time for delivery to Rochdale Town Hall Square by tea-time, to enable Frank to try it at an evening meeting in Salford. In return, Allan would take over the old machine, so that he could have a ride at Rochdale.

Like all deadlines, the completion of the machine was met with some difficulty, but Allan eventually set off for Rochdale, just in the nick of time. Both riders agreed to meet up towards midnight at a much-favoured steak pudding shop in Littleborough, where there was a parrot they were teaching all kinds of quite unmentionable phrases. When they finally got together, Frank was clutching a Golden Helmet, the major award presented to the star of the meeting at Salford. The parrot learnt much that night during the session that followed.

El Diablo Rojo - Frank Varey on the Scott that brought him glory as a pioneer speedway star.
The Scott employed an open frame and a TT engine, and it was said that the Heart-rendering yowl of this particular machine was terrifically exciting. The dirt-track model had a 3-speed gearbox, specially braced Webb forks of the old type, (later fitted with "Super Squirrel" type forks) a smaller than standard radiator and a very neat exhaust system. There was no Kick start on these Scotts and the entire Primary and magneto transmission was enclosed, the abscence of exposed mechanism was a noteable feature. The cost of a brand new machine in 1928 was £95.
The legendary Frank Charles from Roose near Barrow-In-Furness aboard his Scott in 1929
Juan Pagano, another Belle Vue rider who favoured the Yorkshire built Scott
The bike really did require an unorthodox riding style and mighty muscles to manhandle it around the cinder bends. Very few mastered it, but Frank Varey, "El Diablo Rojo" as the fans called him, (yes the Red Devil himself) got the necessary technique off to a tee, even though it's lack of ground clearance led to chamfered frame tubes after every meeting. Other riders who rode the Scott included Arthur Franklyn, Frank Charles and Oliver Langton. Wilf McClure even raced a banking sidecar outfit using a dirt-track Scott. Frank Varey must have liked unusual bikes because when he eventually fell out with the Scott owners he changed his steed to a Norton, another bike with a short production run and featured in my earlier post here. His Scott eventually ended up in the hands of another Belle Vue rider, Frank Burgess who rode the bike with some success at Workington and Barrow in the early 1930s.
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Frank Burgess in action at the Holker Street track, Barrow-In-Furness, 1930.
*Footnote* Even though Frank Varey is always associated with riding a Scott, he only actually rode the machine on the dirt-tracks for 18 months. He rode it throughout the 1929 British season and took it to Argentina with him during the winter. When he returned to the UK in the spring of 1930, Varey was dismayed to find that the factory had done nothing to improve the DT Scott at all as they had been concentrating on developing a brand new 5-cylinder car engine. Varey walked out on Scott and after a brief flirtation with Norton he turned his allegiance to the Rudge. Ironically, Scott went into recievership shortly afterwards.

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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.