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George Brown

Precision engineer Derek Chinn, one of the originators of the successful Pegasus sprinters, says that the man who most influenced his team was sprint superstar George Brown.

This article was taken from June 1993 issue of 'The Classic Motorcycle'.

Derek Chinn
Derek Chinn smokes away from the Santa Pod line on Pegasus in 1971. His terminal speed was 146mph.

The World Speed Record attempt was made in October 1970, when wind was thought unlikely. Cold and damp would be less of a problem. Elvington was chosen because it had a 2½ mile long strip, if you used the grass at the end. George Brown's attempt started in sunshine but in the few seconds that it took to reach half way on Super Nero, the rain had started and a breeze was blowing across the track.

George Brown
At Thurleigh airfield, Bedfordshire on November 1961, George realised his life's ambition and shattered the World Standing Kilometre Solo record for up to 1000cc motor cycles. He also broke another six British National records in the 250, 350 and 500cc classes on his Ariel Arrow.

From my mid-way vantage point in the paddock I was treated to the amazing sight of the bike being blown at least 10 feet off course. George didn't even close the throttle.

He had hoped to go for a 200 mph average over the flying quarter mile, but conditions were too difficult even for a man of George's ability and courage. His best flying quarter was at 190.315. However, with a sidecar hitched up Super Nero went to a new World and National Record for the flying mile in a mean of 28.074 seconds, or 128.234 mph. George was 58 years old - how's that for dedication?

Sprinting and record breaking is a solitary sport, entered into purely for individual satisfaction. There is no money in it, in fact it costs a great deal, and little publicity is derived from success. The odd pot and the congratulations of your friends are about all you can hope for, even after Fastest Time of Day.

For the thrill of a lifetime, take 336lb of motorcycle with 90-100bhp under the tank, stick an Avon slick on the back for real traction, and squirt it of the line. Nitro-swilling Nero in 1961 guise.

It's a lonely sport too, quite different from our other disciplines, and only a certain type of person can succeed. It is by no means easy to get the adrenalin flowing when you are out there alone on some cold, windswept airstrip.

George Brown started motor cycling on a Raleigh - appropriate to his Nottingham birthplace - and his competitive spirit soon turned him to trials and grass tracking. Meeting Philip Vincent of the Vincent HRD Company in Stevenage led to a job in their experimental shop in 1934. Naturally, he spent as much time as possible testing the products at the highest possible speeds.

George on his Comet
George was working for Vincent HRD when he raced his Comet at Cadwell Park in 1946.

Although the police around Stevenage were pretty tolerant of the works chaps, George overdid it one day and was hauled before the bench. When asked what speed the miscreant had been doing, the police officer declared that his stop watch made it 110 mph. "Impossible!" said The Beak, and forthwith dismissed the charge.

George was grass-tracking a 350 Velocette quite successfully but was keen to go road racing. Philip Vincent was reluctant to risk such a valuable employee but he relented. At Brooklands in 1937 George should have gained a Gold Star for lapping in excess of 100 mph, but he was not then a member of the British Motor Cycle Racing Club which gave these awards. This feat may have been on the very first 1000cc Rapide, known as the Plumber's Nightmare for its profusion of oil pipes. It was certainly on a wet track and I believe the bike clocked 113 mph.

1948 TT
The lack of half a pint robbed 36 year old George Brown of TT victory in 1948. Crowds cheered him on as he pushed his Vincent for the last six miles.

Such was the start of George's career in road racing. He rapidly became a star at places like Cadwell Park, riding a 500cc Series A Comet Special which had received his personal attention. Came the war, and although George was keen to join the RAF he was in a reserved occupation and spent his time with the Percival Aircraft Company.

Post-war, it was back to Vincent and road racing, firstly on his Comet Special, which became known as the Cadwell Special for its many successes at the Lincolnshire track. George also raced a special fitted with a prototype speewday engine. Vincents had hoped to compete with J A Prestwich's all-conquering units, but the project failed.

Towards the end of the war the Stevenage firm had been preparing for peace by developing the Series B Rapide. Phil Irving, notable Australian engineer and Vincent director, decided that one should be prepared for racing, so the famous Gunga Din was born; a 1000cc, 400lb projectile which was campaigned successfully by George as a partner to the 290lb Cadwell Special.

Nero at Thurleigh
An Avon slick gets a wipe before Nero is opened up for a crack at the World Record. Trapped piston rings in the rear cylinder had caused a misfire, but Cliff Brown sorted it out during the night before Sunday's sprint at Thurleigh.

In 1948, he raced for the first time in the Isle of Man, at the Clubmans' IT. He was well in the lead after three laps in the up to 100Occ Senior, but then ran out of petrol and pushed in the final six miles - a feat in itself. He had the consolation of taking fastest lap at 82.65 mph on his virtually standard Series B. George had many successes that year, but at Eppynt in mid Wales he was well in front on Gunga Din in the big race of the day when he crashed badly in avoiding a young spectator who had strayed onto the track.

1949 was a particularly good year for Gunga Din, in hill climbs, sprints and on short circuits. George won the Unlimited Race at the first-ever Silverstone meeting and was almost unbeatable in hill climbing at Shelsley Walsh.

George Brown, Thurleigh, 1960
Sprinting is a solitary sport. George Brown feels the cold as he welcomes the dawn at Thurleigh airfield on the November, 1960 day he went record breaking.

The Vincent company started to move away from motor cycles in the early Fifties to concentrate on industrial engines, and in 1952 George left to open his own motor cycle shop. In the early post-war years his road racing ability was acknowledged by attempts to lure him to works team membership by both Norton and AJS. Nevertheless he remained loyal to Stevenage.

The parting of the ways would probably have come about before long though, for it was said that George and his brother Cliff (who had also worked at the factory for years) were very keen on conventional suspension, front and rear, whereas the factory insisted upon keeping to their own rather special designs.

The brothers decided to make a racing bike of their own. They paid £5 for a burnt-out Rapide and this formed the basis of Nero. Before this project got under way however, George became even more closely involved in road racing. He returned to the Island in 1951 for a very creditable fourth in the Junior on an AJS 7R. The following year he took sixth place on the Ajay in the Junior and seventh in the Senior on a Joe Potts Norton.

1960, George Brown
November, 1960 and George Brown inscribes his name in the record book. Nero's sidecar wheel gets up in spite of 25lb of ballast as he knocks 3.38mph off the World Standing Start Kilometre Sidecar Record previously held by the BMW outfit of Florian Camathias.

Tragedy struck in 1953 when Les Graham was fatally injured in the Senior, and George Brown ran into the wreckage of Graharn's MV with serious results. About that time George decided to concentrate on hill climbs and sprints. Record breaking came later.

With Nero to Black Lightning engine specification and benefiting from all the skilled attention the Browns could lavish on it, bike and rider became one of the best known partnerships that the sporting motor cycle scene had witnessed. At Thurleigh in 1961 George took the Standing Start Kilometre World Record for up to 1000cc machines on a faired Nero with a best run of 20.505 seconds, a mean speed of 108.73 mph.

Ariel Arrow
Selley Oak lent the Brown bothers an Ariel Arrow to see what they could do with it. It was soon taking National records up to 500cc.

During the same weekend George also took the British Standing Start Kilo Record in 250, 350 and 50Occ classes on a special Ariel Arrow. This machine had been lent by the Selly Oak company to see what the Brown brothers could do - a good deal, it seemed.

The year 1962 saw George Brown, at 50 years of age, seeking further successes by seriously considering a blown version of Nero, and Super Nero was born. This bike's first win was at Wellsbourne with FFD at 11.5 seconds.

I got to know George Brown in the Sixties. My friends Ian Messenger and Chris Butler and I, now with a Vincent of our own and bent on sprinting, spent hours in his Stevenage shop listening to pearls of wisdom from the doyen of the sport.

Dual coil ignition systems, caged roller big-ends, Gold Star valve springs, cam design, Stelliting cam followers - we learned all about this exotica.

Super Nero
A 2in SU carburettor feeds Super Nero's supercharger which was run at clutch speed to give a theoretical boost of 12.75lb. The 1500cc engine used standard Rapide touring cams, high lift rockers and a compression ratio of 8:1 compared to Nero's 13:1.

Cliff Brown was usually in the background fettling a bike. It must not be forgotten that he was responsible for much of George's success.

We also discussed the merits of single gear versus gearbox. Fellow sprinter Alf Hagon was a single gear exponent, but George always recommended a gearbox. He used a standard Vincent box but with double-backlash gears to speed the changes until half way through the quarter. Modem drag racers seem to agree and use gearboxes.

George on Super Nero
At Carrigrohane in Ireland, George and the solo Super Nero averaged 114.95 mph, crossing the finish line at 180 mph. The sidecar attempt was aborted when the blower drive slipped.

His starting technique was to get his feet onto the rests smartly. "It's no use waving your legs in the breeze. Get yourself wholly on the bike and use your body weight to control it," was his advice.

Another way he might have benefited from his road racing experience was in his narrow, low down clip-on handlebars. Most of us needed fairly wide and high bars to help wrestle the bike. I doubt if anyone else could have handled a set-up such as George used.

He was the pioneer of streamlining for sprinting, proving that it was worthwhile even for the quarter mile. In kilometre and mile record attempts he reckoned a good fairing was worth 20 mph. Side winds had more affect, but he had the skill, strength and courage to cope.

George Brown, the father of British sprinting, died in 1979. At one time he held 24 World Records, more than anyone else up to that time. It would be impossible to dream up a more fitting honour for such a man than the George Brown Memorial Sprint Meeting. This year it takes place at North Weald on 25th July. I'm getting the old bike out for another go myself.

See you there?