21 Jan 2011

Gordon Cobbold, also a biker

Gordon Cobbold

I am sorry to say that I did not know this man, although we share the same name. Our relationship, family-wise, is quite distant, but I feel a kinship with him for reasons obvious to anyone who has followed this blog for a while. I found this excellent tribute to him recently, written by Dave Stewart, who later also became a president of the British Motorcycle Racing Club (also known as Bemsee). I have very slightly edited it, but without major alterations. He sounds a good guy!

Gordon Cobbold at Brooklands
Gordon Cobbold on a Sunbeam at Brooklands 
"Gordon's racing career began in 1923 with the Essex Club at the old Brooklands Circuit in Surrey where average race speeds in excess of 100 Miles per hour were attainable. By 1925 Gordon was a regular winner and also a works Sunbeam rider. By this time Gordon was a member of BMCRC who were at that time headquartered at Brooklands. 1926 was a good year for Gordon, culminating in him winning the Grand Prix run on the mountain circuit, which used part of the banking, the finishing straight and some of the service roads running between the Vickers works sheds and the old clubhouse.
In 1927 he had an exceptionally good year with many wins and records and this was also the year in which he attained his 100 mph Brooklands lap star. Averaging over 100mph is scary enough on machinery which was at the cutting edge of technology ( ie liable to dump the contents of its sump at any moment), but the safety wear of the day consisted of a WW1 leather flying helmet, a leather coat and army surplus boots!

Here is Gordon (number 15) overtaking on the banking at Brooklands.
In 1928 the Sunbeam concessionaire withdrew from racing and Gordon spent the next two years on a variety of other bikes with some success' but more failures mainly due to mechanical defects. At this point he decided to accept an offer to ride for the Crystal Palace speedway team " I could get £5 a night start money which was more than most peoples' weekly wages in those days. At the end of the 1930 season we were asked to go to Paris and take part in a speedway festival at the Buffalo stadium and we ended up staying over a year ". Apparently they used to freight out bikes, old Douglas' mainly, and do them up for speedway use "Then let the froggies rent them for a few francs per lap until they'd got the bug. Then we'd sell them a bike !" Gordon and his sidekick, who must remain anonymous to protect his good name, made a fair amount of money at this but Paris is a fairly easy place to spend money so they never seemed to have much left at the end of the month. At about this time they hit on the idea of having an international speedway event with all the worlds top riders invited, effectively the first ever world championship. " All these chaps arrived from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, America and the like... I didn't have a bloody clue how it was going to work. I had the lorry parked out the back ready for a quick getaway if need be ". As it happened the stadium was packed to capacity and there was still a suitcase full of francs left over when everyone had been paid. Thinking they deserved a holiday after all thier hard work the lads went to Monte Carlo. "Two weeks later we were damned well broke again".
Gordon left England in late 1930 with £20 in his pocket and came back after a roller coaster ride of fun and trouble in 1932 with £15 in his pocket. "Wouldn't have changed a bloody thing though". And that is the nice thing about the man, he can truly sit there and say after 94 years that he would do it all again and would share it all with his late wife Rita who he sadly lost last year. Gordon is now our club president and I personally am proud to call him a friend I would thoroughly recommend a chat with him as a pleasant way to pass an hour or so. He can be found at nearly all of our meetings and after five minutes you can easily forget that you are talking to a man who was born while King Edward VII was on the throne. "

Here he is in 1998, still on a Sunbeam. Having been a long-standing President  of the BMRC, he lived on to be 100, so that makes at least two tons!

My favourite quote from Gordon is the one used in this comtemporary cartoon : " I don't mind breaking my neck, but I do hate to be ignored! "

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