Sunday, 5 June 2011

"Bob Mac" McIntyre - the Flying Scotsman (2nd Edition)

Robert McGregor McIntyre was born to race motorcycles, he had all the right qualities to be one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time, natural ability, clinical logic and outstanding race-craft. He was also a skilled engine tuner, mechanic and machine-builder, but "Bob Mac" was tragically taken from us while still in his prime. The "Flying Scotsman" was only 33 when he was fatally injured racing in the British Championship meeting at Oulton Park on August 6th 1962.
Bob McIntyre wearing his custom-made, one-piece leathers, Italian pattern goggles
and his helmet adorned with the emblem of the Mercury Motor Cycle Club.
Bob McIntyre was born in Scotsoun, a suburb of Glasgow, on November 2nd 1928. (He also had a younger brother, nine years his junior, who never raced bikes and later emigrated to Australia). His father worked on the Clyde in the shipyards and never wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, so when Bob left school at 14 years of age, he went to work in a motor garage in Partick to learn a trade. He started his apprenticeship on his 16th birthday and later bought his first motorcycle, a 1931 Norton 16H, which cost £12. He wasn't interested in racing at all at this time, the bike was nothing more than a means of transport and also something he could rebuild and tinker with. He soon had the bike looking as good as new and after six months he sold for £50 - a tidy profit in the 1940s. With the aid of a loan from his parents, Bob's next bike was a 1935 Ariel Red Hunter, a much faster machine than the Norton and the cause of one or two spills for young Bob. Shortly before his 18th birthday, a motor cycling club was formed in Scotsoun and Bob became one of the first half dozen members. The club was the Mercury Motor Club, whose emblem adorned Bob's crash helmet throughout his career.

At 18 Bob was called up for National Service and eventually found himself posted to Suez, where his experience on a motorcycle got him a job as a despatch rider. Once his service was done, Bob returned to Scotland and continued with his apprenticeship. The Mercury Club had grown during his abscence and some of the members were taking part in trials and scrambles. Bob went to watch one of the scrambles at Airdrie, where he was captivated by the legendary Bob Smith on his AJS and decided he'd like to have a go himself. His first ever race meeting was a scramble at Craigend Farm. not far from his home at Scotsoun, where he raced his own Ariel, minus the headlamp. As the months passed by, the Ariel was modified and tuned, and Bob got steadily better. His fascination with tuning motorcycles had grown too, so as soon as he had completed his apprenticeship, he found a job with Valenti Brothers, a motor cycle dealers in Glasgow.

Bob in his first ever official race on the Ariel Red Hunter - a scramble at Craigend Farm.
It was around this time that Bob witnessed his first motorcycle road race too. he went to Kircaldy and thought to himself that he could ride better than most of the guys he was watching, so decided there and then to enter a road race for himself and see how well he could do. Bob's biggest obstacle was not having access to a bike suitable for road racing, but Alan McKenzie, a fellow member of the Mercury Club, offered him the chance to share his BSA 350cc Gold Star at an event at Ballado Airfield near Kinross. The race was held on the old concrete runways, which had seen better days, but Bob's scrambling experience proved invaluable on the loose gravel and he won three events before falling off in his fourth race.

Bob and Alan entered more and more Scottish races on the BSA and Bob did reasonably well in his first season. The Ariel was sold to fund new parts, tyres and entry fees so the two of them would turn up at the races aboard the BSA with their spares and toolkit strapped to their backs.

One of Bob's rivals in those early days was Les Cooper, whose family owned Cooper Bro's of Troon. Les rode a brand new AJS 7R, a proper racing bike. Towards the end of the 1951 season, Sam Cooper, the senor partner of Cooper Bro's, asked Bob if he would like to race their Gold Star BSA in the 1952 Isle Of Man Junior Clubman TT. He also asked Bob if he would like a job, so in the winter of 1951, Bob switched jobs and started to ride his racing bike to and from work, choosing the most demanding routes he could find, just to improve his skills and get a better feel for the bike.

During practice for the event, Bob made an error which almost cost him his chance, He forgot to remove the centre stand and as he descended Hilllberry at speed, the stand hit the ground and threw Bob off, causing the bike some serious cosmetic damage. Sam Cooper was furious and threatened to pack the bike up and return home, but Bob protested and eventually Cooper calmed down and let him take his place on the starting grid, on the promise that Bob would ride with caution! This turned out to be a defining moment in Bob's racing career as he finished 2nd to Eric Houseley and also set a new lap record of 80.09mph, a remarkable feat considering his bike was struggling with carburettor problems, a blown head gasket and young Bob was supposed to be riding cautiously!

In September of that same year he took Cooper's 350cc AJS 7R and Manx Norton to the Isle Of Man. While he was there he was given the chance to ride a works AJS which he rode to victory in the Junior Manx Grand Prix. Two days later he rode  the same bike to 2nd place in the Senior race. This was the beginning of a great career that would see Bob at the top of the road racing game for ten years.

Bob McIntyre took his racing very seriously and set standards that many still strive to achieve today. Not only did he make sure his bikes were always immaculately turned out, but he made sure his body was in peak condition too. He kept fit by playing badminton and swimming and spent the closed season climbing in the Scottish mountains. He was also teetotal, never smoked and watched his diet very carefully. He was equally concerned with his appearance too. He wore a custom-made one-piece leather racing suit which was snug fitting and unpadded. His boots were also custom made with a supple, fine grade leather and soled with rubber to aid quick push starts. His racing kit was supplemented with wrist length gloves, a white helmet featuring the badge of the Mercury Motor Club and a pair of Italian pattern goggles. If nothing else, Bob was always the fittest and smartest racer on the grid.

In 1953, Bob was invited to join the AJS works team, but he struggled at first. He had a disappointing TT, failing to finish in any event, but he finally scored his first international victory at the North West 200 where he won the 350cc race on a standard two-valve AJS 7R rather than the 7R3 "triple knocker". He also stood on the podium at the Ulster Grand Prix and recorded his first GP victory at Pau in France. McIntyre appeared to have had his best results on standard machinery and even in the senior class he preferred to ride the production Matchless G45 rather than the works E95 "Porcupine", which he described as "...most horrifying... a camel!"
Bob McIntyre on the AJS 7R3 "Triple Knocker" at Scarborough in 1954.
Despite finishing 2nd in the 350cc race, Bob did not like the 7R3 as much as the production two-valve 7R.
For 1954 Bob stayed with AJS, preferring to ride the standard 7R and G45 whenever he could. Once again, he was frustrated with his results and and had another disappointing TT. The 7R3 let him down in the Junior event and he could only finish 14th on the "Porcupine" in the senior race. AJS pulled out of Grand Prix racing at the end of the 1954 season, so Bob seized the opportunity, went back to his privateer roots, and beagn a famous partnership with Glasgow's ace tuner and sponsor Joe Potts, who provided him with 350cc and 500cc Manx models and also prepared a special 250cc Potts Special Norton.

At the Isle of Man TT Bob rode one of the greatest races of his career. His streamlined Norton had the beating of all the British factory entries and he even beat Surtees on the Moto Guzzi. He actually led the race for the first four laps only to be beaten by Bill Lomas on the last lap. Giulio Carcano was so impressed with his perfomance that he offered him a ride on the factory Moto Guzzi, but Bob stuck with his trusted friend and did not accept the invitation. Despite a brilliant domestic season in 1956, Bob could not repeat his success at the TT, retiring from both the senior and junior races with mechanical problems. 1956 saw the legendary tuner J "Pim" Fleming join the Potts team, adding another dimension to the preparation of Bob Mac's engines.

Bob Mac at speed on the Pim Fleming tuned Potts Norton at Silverstone in 1956.
1957 turned out to be Bob's big year. He was invited to join the Gilera works team and mounted on a 4-cylinder Gilera Arcore, he won both the Junior and Senior races at the Golden Jubillee Isle Of Man TT and also became the first rider to do a 100mph lap on the mountain circuit when he completed his third lap of the senior at 101.03mph. The fourth lap was even faster at 101.13mph! During the extended 8-lap race it is estimated that McIntyre reached speeds of around 160mph, so it came as no surprise that he actually caught and overtook the 1956 World Champion, John Surtees on the 500cc MV Augusta and won the race. It was this success that really cemented his place in history as one of the greatest TT riders of all time.

Bob later described the 1957 junior TT Gilera 350  as "the nicest machine I ever rode... smooth as silk". He also recalled how every time he passed the Guthrie memorial he imagined the fellow Scot urging him on to victory, but during the senior, on that fully streamlined Gilera, he reckoned Jimmy was shaking a finger at him and warning him to slow down!
One of my favourite Motorcycle racing photographs.
Bob McIntyre riding the Gilera Four to victory in the 1957 Junior T.T.
The 1957 World Championship also looked to be within his reach, but a crash in the Dutch TT at Assen put him on the sidelines for a couple of months. His record for the season was still excellent though, with a 2nd place in the 500cc Ulster Grand Prix and victory in the 350cc Nations Grand Prix at Monza. Bob finished 2nd in the 500cc World Championships and also took 3rd place in the 350cc World Championship. At the end of 1957 the Italian team also quit Grand Prix racing, but in November 1957, Gilera invited McIntyre to ride a 350cc racer around the banked Monza circuit in an attempt to break the one hour speed record. He averaged 141 mph on the bumpy Monza surface, a record that was not broken until 1964 when Mike Hailwood lapped Daytona at 144.80mph on an MV Agusta.
Bob McIntyre's 1959 350cc Potts Norton photographed at Knockhill in 1993.
With no works team place for 1958, Bob returned to his roots once again and was back on his trusted Potts Norton and AJS machines, but the TT races ended in disappointment again. He retired from the junior race on the second lap whilst in 2nd place and in the senior, it really looked like McIntyre would become the first racer to lap at over 100mph on a single cylinder bike, but he suffered valve gear problems whilst catching eventual winner Surtees. For the 1959 season Potts prepared a specially tuned 47bhp Norton engine for Bob, which took him to a great victory in the North West 200. He could only manage 5th place in the '59 senior TT and in 1960 it was becoming obvious that the single cylinder British bikes, although still hard to beat in domestic competition, were no longer competitive  against the exotica from Germany, Italy and Japan in the TT or on the International scene.

Bob had a dream of starting his own motorcycle business, building a range of top quality, over-the-counter racing bikes in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc versions. The two smaller machines would be 4-cyclinder models like the Japanese, and the 500cc would be an 8-cylinder job, but partly due to a lack of capital, Bob's dream would remain just that.

Honda had always wanted to add McIntyre to their stable of talented works riders and they finally got their man when he signed to ride for the Japanese factory for the 1961 season. In the 1961 Isle of Man Lightweight TT Bob raised the lap record to over 99.58 mph but lost his lead when his engine seized. He did finish 2nd in the Senior TT, albeit on on a Potts Norton, becoming the first rider to lap the TT course at over 100mph on a single cylinder engine. Bob also rode 350cc Grand Prix races on Bianchi machines during 1961, gracing the podium in Holland, Sweden and East Germany. He had also breifly led the Junior TT on a Bianchi before engine problems forced him to retire.
Racing the 250cc Honda. (photo by J.M.Fyfe, Alloa)
During 1962 McIntyre was blessed with full works machinery from Honda. He finished 2nd in the Spanish, French, Dutch and German 250cc Grands Prix but had little luck at the Isle Of Man TT with a non-start in the Senior TT and mechanical problems in both the 250cc and 350cc events. His best perfomance of 1962 was probably the Belgium 250cc GP at Spa-Francorchamps, which he won in front of 100,000 spectators. A week later he finished 2nd to Jim Redman in the 250cc GP in West Germany and finished a credible 4th on a rare outing in the 125cc GP.
Bob McIntyre launches the 285cc Honda over BallaughTT during the 1962 Junior TT.
Then it was back to Britain for the British Championship meeting at Oulton Park over August Bank Holiday. Bob had already won the 250cc event and had briefly led the 350cc race on the 285cc Honda before it packed up on him. He entered the 500cc race on his Manx Norton and after a bad start in wet conditions, he fought his way up to 2nd place and was chasing leader Derek Minter at Clay Hill Corner when the bike appeared to go straight into the bank with Bob still on it! The front wheel hit a ditch and Bob was catapulted into the trees. He was taken to Chester Royal Infimary where he remained unconcious for nine days and eventually died from serious head injuries. Nobody was ever sure what caused the fatal crash, there was talk of a gearbox failure at the time, but when Pim Fleming stripped the bike nothing was wrong. Bob seldom made mistakes either, so we can only assume that the bike must have aquaplaned on the surface water

Earlier in the year, during the Isle Of Man TT, Bernard Howard had sat with Bob discussing his future plans. It was the day that Bob was attempting to take on the 500cc machines in the senior TT aboard a 285cc Honda. Things weren't going Bob's way that day, but he still wore his heart on his sleeve and gave it everything he'd got. Bernard asked Bob why he kept on racing, especially as his wife was expecting their first child and he'd achieved just about everything there was to achieve. Bob replied... "I may think of quitting at the end of the season". He never got the chance to quit. Bob passed away on August 15th 1962 having never regained consciousness. He left a widow, Joyce and a three month old baby daughter, Eleanor.
"Now you can brake" - (photo by Peter Roberts).


  1. A brilliant article. Bob was my hero from the age of twelve when I saw him come second to Derek Farrant in the 1952 Senior Manx on the same machine that he had won the Junior on two days earlier.
    However you have made one mistake. To my everlasting dissapointment Bob was not the first rider to lap the mountain circuit at 100 mph. He was overgeared that day (it was a windy day) and Derek Minter passed him and recorded the first 100+ lap on a single cylinder machine.
    Incidentally after AMC withdrew from racing Derek Farrant retired and took up yacht (dinghy) racing where excelled and became a world champion.

  2. @ Anon - Think you need to check the record books. The great Bob Mac was the first man to lap the IOM TT course at over 100mph - and he achieved this feat in 1957. The above picture of Bob riding his Junior TT-winning Gilera to victory has long been my favourite racing photo too!
    Derek Minter did many things but being the first to circulate the Island at 100mph was not one of them. His first ride on the Island wasn't until 1958.. He and his Norton cracked the magic "ton" lap in 1960 - the first time a single cylinder machine had lapped at over 100mph..
    Two great riders on two great bikes - but credit where credit's due - the honours go to Bob for being the first in 1957.

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  4. Bob Mac did not take on the 500s in the 1962 Senior TT of the Friday. He was entered on his own single cylinder but it was not race ready; there was talk of him riding the 285 Honda but it could not be ready after its retirement in Wednesday's Junior TT, so Mac was a non-starter.

  5. Very nice article. Bob was my hero. I was at school when he died and I cried tears. I found this article as I was just checking that Bob did actually race a G45 Matchless some times.


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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.