Saturday 26 September 2015

Winning Through Adversity

I was leafing through some old magazines when I came across this letter from the pages of the MZ club magazine (Jan/Feb 1983). In his own words, it tells the story of racer Alan Shepherd’s troubles en route to the US and his win in the 1964 Daytona Grand Prix. As you’ll no doubt agree, this was one epic journey.

Alan Shepherd at Knockhill Race Circuit in Fife, Scotland
During his time with MZ, Alan had no formal contract. Lacking hard currency they couldn’t pay him, so they would supply him with bikes and mechanics, and he could keep whatever prize money and sponsorship he could find. However, Alan, who managed to hold down a full time job whilst racing, used what money he won to buy Western components to improve the MZs.

After retiring from racing Alan still did demonstration races at classic meetings on an MZ 125, keeping alive the memory of MZ’s racing heritage, and reminding people of the genius of his close friend, MZ’s race bike developer Walter Kaaden, the inventor of the modern two stroke engine.

Alan always came across as a quiet unassuming man who played down his part in MZ’s racing success. I remember at an event in the '90s him recalling his trip to Daytona and after detailing all the trials and tribulations, finished the story with the phrase ‘…and the bike won’. As if he had had nothing to do with the victory.

Alan died in July 2007. A great man who will be sadly missed.

Daytona 1964
The Will to Win (or was it good luck?)

My first race in 1964 was the first World Championship meeting at Daytona. The 250cc machine I was riding was a twin cylinder two stroke rotary valve MZ which was prepared at the MZ factory in Zschopau under the attention of the brilliant Mr Walter Kaaden (Walter Kaaden is responsible for the design of all the two stroke racers still in use today).

The American organisers had arranged a charter flight for all of the European competitors, and two days before this flight was scheduled to take off from London Airport I received a telegram from Walter Kaaden which read, “Alan we cannot compete at Daytona, sorry, Walter Kaaden”. 
Walter Kaaden
 It was in the middle of the afternoon when I read this telegram, so I ‘phoned the factory at Zschopau to find out why we could not go? I was told the visa for Mr Kaaden was not available because the Americans would not let him into the America. I asked, “If I came to collect the machine could I go on my own?”  “Yes, of course you can”, was his answer, “but how are you going to get there and back to London Airport by the day after tomorrow?” 

I asked him to meet me at the West/East border at Marionborne on the next day, which he kindly agreed to do. So I started the long trip to Daytona via Southend - Ostende Airferry, Belgium, West Germany / East Germany and back to London Airport (in an old J4 van, not the best vehicle for Inter Continental Travel!!!).

From Grange-Over-Sands to Southend was relatively uneventful apart from breaking almost every traffic regulation! I caught the late night flight which got me to Ostende just before midnight. The all night drive from Ostende to Marionborne was uneventful, except for the big-end noise which was gradually becoming more noticeable.

At the West/East border there was a delay problem. I wanted to go into the eastern section but I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I could have got a visa to go to Berlin, but I didn’t want to go to Berlin. After a lot of arguing, and more than an hour’s delay, I got in. Mr Kaaden was waiting for me with a bike and some spares (4 magnetos, chains and sprockets etc.). The MZ didn’t have engine trouble just magneto trouble. A quick transfer from his van to mine, and with all his good wishes I started back. 
From L-R: Walter Kaaden, Mike Hailwood, Alan Shepherd, Ernst Degner, unknown
 The East/West border didn’t want to let me out as I hadn’t really been in, having got a visa with no destination on it. More arguments and delay and eventually I got out. Now I had to average 45 mph to catch the airferry in Ostende! Not very fast by modern standards but a tall order in a J4 van with tapping big-end. Before I got into Belgium the big-end cap gave in and the rod poked itself through the crankcase! That stopped me! 

I phoned the German AA and shortly afterwards their breakdown vehicle arrived. I explained I was going to catch a plane at Ostende in 4 hours, then I was going to the USA and would he tow me to Ostende? No, he wouldn’t, was his answer, but he would tow me to the nearest Morris Agent (about 25 miles in the right direction). When we arrived at the Agent’s garage it was closed - other than for petrol. I explained why I must catch the plane and the attendant ‘phoned his boss who, luckily for me, was a motorcycle racing enthusiast. The attendant said the boss was coming down top see me, and in a few minutes a very nice large Mercedes screeched to a halt. 

After a quick examination he said he would not be able to get the parts until tomorrow, but said he would tow me to Ostende. I just as quickly told him that I couldn’t afford to have him do that, his reply was, “Let’s worry about that later, all that matters now is getting you to Daytona”. He didn’t wait for my answer, just moved his Merc into position and the attendant attached a tow rope, and off we went to Ostende. 

Quite a fast and uneventful journey, except for some problems at the German / Belgium border who were not happy about a West German pulling a British van with an East German machine in it! Oh dear, didn’t I create problems?

We arrived at Ostende in time to catch the last plane, and all the German garage owner wanted was my autograph, wasn’t I lucky? Then I bribed the fork lift driver to push the van up the ramp into the plane. I think I gave him about 10DM (about £1.00).

At Ostende I ’phoned the Castrol competitions manager at 1.30 in the morning and he told me where to go!! To Southend railway station and catch the first train to London in the morning, and leave the van at the airport. So, during the night I got a taxi to transport the MZ, my tools, leathers and the spares from the airport to the station. Imagine the taxi drivers face while I was trying to get a fully built racing bike into his taxi! And also the Southend/London commuters with all my gear and the bike in the train corridor.

As arranged, in London the Castrol competitions manager was waiting, and we got to London Airport with an hour to spare (Phew!!!).

Practise at Daytona was not without its problems. The bike was not its usual trouble free self, instead of having acceleration like a rocket, it was more like an old road bike. After the first practise I changed both magnetos, even though I didn’t think they were faulty, but nothing other than magnetos ever went wrong, but in the second practise it was just as slow. So in desperation I changed them again, with my changes to the carburetion it went a little better in the third practise but was very short of power so with only one session left I ‘phoned Walter Kaaden in Zschopau to get some advice. On the phone, at about £1.00 per minute, which was a lot of money and I could not really afford it, he told me what to do to improve its performance, after I had explained its characteristics. In the last practise it went perfect, but I still had to change the gearing before the race.

A spectator from London offered to do my signalling, which was very welcome. The machine ran perfect in the race. The two leading Suzuki’s got tired as I piled on the pressure, and I finished with a very comfortable lead, and didn’t I enjoy myself?

When we got back to London, after I had a go at piloting the plane (a DC6), my van had been repaired by the Castrol manager. I returned the bike to Zschopau without further incident.

My thanks again to the brilliant Walter Kaaden and his team, the German garage owner, the Londoner who gave me signals and Malcolm Edgar of Castrol. Without all their assistance I wouldn’t even have got to Daytona. I really do take my hat off to Walter Kaaden, on the ‘phone I told him exactly what the engine was like, and he replied immediately that the fuel must be a different octane value, so I had to change the timing and the carburettor settings. He gave me the exact timing figures, all in a 3-minute ‘phone call.
With race bike at BMF Show, Peterborough, England
To be fair without Walter Kaaden I could not have qualified in practise, never mind winning the race. Thanks for all your assistance, including the Daytona Marshall and the Organisers.

Kind Regards,

Alan Shepherd (1935 - 2007)

Wednesday 23 September 2015


This is the latest old car to turn up outside the garage next to my work. They specialise in working and restoring the sort of ordinary vehicles that I remember from my childhood rather than flash sports cars and the like. This one is a 1964 Ford Cortina 1500 Estate Mk I.

Bonnet badge says that it's a Consul for some reason

Thursday 17 September 2015


Dave is a friend of mine. He's a really big road-racing fan and frequently sends me postcards if anything interesting happens on one of his jaunts.

Here's his latest offering from the Island.

A Very Silly Trip Indeed

In 1997 The MZ Riders Club held their National Rally & AGM in Brecon, Wales. This was about 450 miles from my home on the east coast of Scotland. I was going, the only decision I had to make was which of my two bikes I would go on. The BMW R100RS, a serious touring machine which would simply eat up the miles, or the MZ ETZ125, my little runabout which would struggle to maintain 55 mph and which was not even roadworthy. The choice might have seemed obvious. I decided to take the wee 125. It was, after all, an MZ event, so it seemed only proper that I attend on one of their bikes.

This was my report for the club magazine MZ Rider immediately afterwards.

A Very Silly Trip Indeed

Well, no more excuses. Having spent the previous week rebuilding the top-end (easy), sorting out the electrics (difficult) and re-spraying the whole bike (not too bad, actually), I was as ready as I was ever going to get. The bike was taxed and MOT'd and Brecon beckoned (sorry, couldn't resist that one).
Thursday morning I loaded up and set off. Being on an ETZ 125 I had ruled out extended travel on the motorways and I intended to stick to mostly the quieter A-roads. The route looked fairly straightforward, that is if you discount the distances involved. A7 to Carlisle, A6 to Preston, and A49 towards Wales. I say towards Wales because I didn't have a map of Wales, but reckoned that Brecon was big enough that it would be signposted once I got near enough.

The A7/A6 parts of the trip passed without too much incident. I was familiar with the roads having ridden them in the past. Weather-wise things were quite favourable. Cloudy for most of the journey, and not too cold. Traffic was mercifully light. This I put down to most drivers using the motorways and, it being midweek, people were mostly at their work. The only really heavy traffic I encountered was around Wigan at about 5pm as people were, quite reasonably, going home.

If I make this part of the journey sound rather easy, then I have to admit that that was how I found it. I stopped a couple of times for fuel, and once in Shap for a sandwich. Beyond that I just got on with it, Zed numb-bum notwithstanding. I was "in the groove" and the miles were just eaten up. I must confess to enjoying the trip down. At 50mph you can spare the time to look around you. Everything on the roads is faster than you, so you just let them past and keep on going at your own, very slow, pace.
After Wigan I kept my eyes peeled for road signs leading to Wales. I knew that I didn't want to end up heading for Liverpool and in the end headed for Wrexham as it was posted as North Wales. Here I took the A483 towards Oswestry and kept the bike heading south. By now it was getting dark and I was getting tired, so I stopped for a rest and to get some fuel at Llandinod Wells. While here I bought a local map to try and orientate myself and see how much further I had to go. "Bugger", not only was I on the right road but I was only about 35 miles away. I could have saved myself the cost of the map.
Off I set on the final leg of my journey. I have not gone in much for the practice of riding to rallies during the hours of darkness, so the trip through the Welsh hills was....interesting. Top speed swung back and forth between 30mph (going up) and 65mph (going down). At one point I reached a marked 75mph and that is enough to put the wind up anyone on a grossly overloaded 125 in pitch darkness and on unfamiliar roads.
The last edition of MZ Rider contained directions to the campsite. Unfortunately, they assumed everyone would be approaching from the South, I wonder why? Still, I kept alert for campsite signs and spotted one when approximately the right distance from Brecon. I pulled in to investigate and as I sat in the car park a figure loomed out of the darkness. Not to worry, it was a familiar face. Relief, I had arrived.

Ten hours after starting out and just over 400 miles from Edinburgh. Being an experienced Rallyist I hit the bar before setting up the tent. A note of caution here; a long trip, very little to eat and two pints of Flowers Best Bitter can have an amazing effect on you. "Time for bed", said Zebedee.......
On Friday folk began arriving early. It looked like being a good do. I was dragged off to Hay-on-Wye, 'Town of Books', as a sidecar passenger, a novel experience, in a move to make me spend all my money. I'm afraid that I have a weakness for a good bookshop, and here there were hundreds of them. I could have went quite potty except that I wanted to conserve what little money I had, and that I had absolutely no spare room on the bike whatsoever. Oh, all right then, I bought six books. I'd worry about getting them home later.

A rally is a rally. If you've been then you know what I mean. Folk arrive, some you haven't seen for ages, some you've never met before. You wander around looking at the bikes and talking to their owners. You marvel at the modifications on some bikes and file the info away for future projects, and you wonder how some of the heaps made it the length of their streets never mind all the way to Wales. All in the entire turnout was splendid. A plethora of sidecars, a Trophy, a Trophy Sport, and all the usual MZ fodder. I was pleased to note how few non-MZs turned up over the weekend. I think about 78 people had booked in by this point
Remember that I'd said that there was no room at all on the bike then proceeded to buy things? Well, a man turned up in a van and proceeded to sell the contents of his garage. Mucho cheapo. How could I not help him out? I also managed to lay my hands on another dozen really early issues of MZ Rider. The proceeds from the sale were kindly donated to club funds, which was rather generous. That was Friday, more or less. Back to the pub (surprise, surprise), and thence to bed.
On Saturday more folk arrived, and today's expedition was to the Welsh Whisky Centre. Didn't know that the Welsh made whisky did you? Apparently they were one of the biggest exporters of the stuff until the rise of Methodism put an end to the whole trade in the nineteenth century.

Boring pub-quiz type fact, did you know that the Jack Daniels factory was founded by Welsh immigrants? Bet that pisses off a few Harley owners (I always like to insult Harley owners at some point in my little diatribes).
A couple of us toddled along to the visitor centre. I don't know if it's worth £2 to get in, but since we didn't pay (there was no one on the door when we arrived so we just waltzed right on in) the point is somewhat academic. The film show was quite interesting, and when we finished there was a free tasting. I must admit that I didn't hold out high hopes for a wee dram of "Welsh", but I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't crap at all, in fact it was jolly good. One of my colleagues was rather taken by another of their products, "Taffski Imperial Vodka". Would I lie to you? He pronounced it good stuff. At least that's what I think he said, it came out as "whhrrrrgghhh, yeargh", or something. At least he gave it the old thumbs-up.
And so to the AGM where yours truly scooped a couple of rally awards. Even more stuff to try and get home. 'Best 125/150', for which I am well chuffed after all the work I put into the bike beforehand, and 'Long Distance'. I admit that I'd have been severely pissed off if someone else had got this. If anyone else from Scotland had come down I'm sure that they would have gone home with this. So, there you are, I'm glad nobody did. If I could make it on a 125 you could have been there a slight quicker on a 250 or bigger. I apologise for not taking the details of the other awards, I dare say it will be fully reflected in the next magazine. AGM over, to the bar, and once more to bed, albeit a bit earlier. I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow.
The trip home was pretty much a repeat of the trip down. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the little bike performed over the whole weekend. I arrived home tired and hungry, but with a great sense of achievement.

I did enjoy annoying a few colleagues at work the following week, people who constantly slag off MZs. Picture the scene as I swagger into work and enquire where they've been over the weekend. After listening to their adventures, nobody having travelled further than about a hundred miles, I casually announce that I've just returned from a 900 mile round trip to Wales. On an MZ. Oh, yes, and it was a 125. Great wailing and gnashing of teeth etc. What fun. Should have some peace, at least for about a week. Who needs a sports bike anyway?

My thanks to the organisers for putting on a smashing weekend at such short notice. It's not easy organising one of these as I know to my cost. The awards currently have pride of place on the mantel at home. I've never won anything like these and I'm going to show them off thank you very much.