Image: MORTONS ARCHIVE
This amazing photograph of a Wallis-JAP at Brooklands is noteworthy for its unusual subject, and its clarity. The rider-designer, George Wallis, was later the man who initiated the concept which spawned the Ariel 3.
The clarity of this picture is what initially led to its inclusion. But then, on even half-hearted study, the subject machine becomes more remarkable. Further, on closer looking still, the flat rear tyre appears too. And all captured, wonderfully, with period, slow shutter speed equipment.
Briefly, the event, the machine, the man: The event is the summer 1926 Brooklands 200 mile races, held on Saturday, July 24, at the famous banked track in Surrey. There were classes for 250cc and 350cc machines run in the morning, with 500cc and 1000cc in the afternoon.
The pictured machine is a 344cc JAP-powered Wallis, with its rider its creator, George Wallis, the eponymous maker of the unusual motorcycles at his Queens Mead Road, Bromley, Kent premises.
“A Whole Day’s Racing at Brooklands” began the preamble Motor Cycling’s report, continuing, “No Spills, but Many Thrills.” The Motor Cycle – also demonstrating enthusiastic use of capitals – went with “JAP-engined Machines Successful in All four Classes.”
Both then went on to furnish details of happenings, with Motor Cycling deciding to focus on Wal Handley’s late start in the 350cc class and subsequent near win, while The Motor Cycle chose to name each winner: 250cc class, J S ‘Woolly’ Worters (Excelsior); 350cc, Bill Lacey (Grindlay-Peerless); 500cc, Jack Emerson (HRD) and C T ‘Count’ Ashby (Zenith) in their opening salvo.
Though there were no details given early on in the article, some further reading revealed the reason for Wal’s late start – on preparing for the commencement, he discovered a ‘slit’ (The Motor Cycle) or ‘tyre trouble’ (Motor Cycling – though the same publication, later and more ominously, described ‘… a cut of considerable dimensions’) in/with his front tyre, which meant he lost seven-and-a-half laps to the leaders while the situation was remedied.
From then on though, Handley rode like a man possessed, chasing them down and making the field look like callow newcomers, which they certainly weren’t – men in the 350cc class included stellar performers such as winner Lacey, Frank Longman (AJS), Dougal Marchant (Chater-Lea), Freddie Hicks (Velocette), Jock Porter (New Gerrard), Billy Colgan (Cotton), to name a few.
Wal chased and chased, getting the better of everyone except Lacey, to finish runner-up. In fact, Wal’s net time without his delay would’ve not only won him the 350cc class, but the 500cc… and the 1000cc one too!
The 250cc race – like the 350cc category, run in the morning – was first off, with Paddy Johnston (Cotton) the early leader, Geoff Davison (New Imperial) an early retirement, while first time visitor to Brooklands, Hungarian rider Ladislaus Balazs, on a Zenith, was putting in consistent 65mph laps.
Like-mounted F C Millar took over at the front, then Worters took the advantage, then Millar got ahead again. Then stopped. Worters took over to win, Balazs (who became a car racing driver of note) coming home second, with the P&P of Mike Couper (another later to earn fame on four wheels, as a driver of fast Talbots at Brooklands) completing the top three.
The 350cc class saw the top two as earlier mentioned, with third A P Hamilton, Velocette, and then the Zenith pair of H M Walters and Driscoll. Our man Wallis finished in ninth, at 67.51mph, compared to the 81.20 of winner Lacey. There were 10 finishers in the class, from 30 starters.
In the afternoon, it was the 500cc class – Emerson won, with second Worters, on his 344cc Excelsior JAP. Many of the big machines – Bert Le Vack, on a plated top-to-toe New Hudson, Vic Horsman (Triumph), Freddie Dixon and Rex Judd (both Douglas), Bert Denly and Chris Staniland (both Nortons) to name a few – struck trouble and stopped. Third was P M Walters’ Sunbeam-JAP.
The 1000cc class saw 12 come to the line; George Patchett raced into the lead, on the McEvoy, but was forced out, leaving Ashby to win, with Frank Longman second on a Harley-Davidson, which, rather remarkably for the year, was a single speeder (though with clutch and counter shaft) ahead of R E Humphries’ Brough Superior.
Back to the 350cc race, and our Mr Wallis. Keen to practice what he preached, George Wallis campaigned his hub centre-steered machine himself, and it was a regular appearer in the press. Between 1925 and 1929, Wallis tried to make the unusual looking (okay, ugly) machines a sales success, but, alas, it proved not so, despite Syd Crabtree’s 16th in the 1926 Junior TT on one – indeed, perhaps the same one in our picture?
In 1929, George Wallis became involved with speedway, his Wallis-JAP becoming the Comerfords-JAP – named after the huge Surrey dealers – and the leading machine of its era.
Wallis, possessed of an inventive mind, moved onto other ideas, including the banking three-wheeler that – after being bastardised and wrongly revised – became the Ariel 3, though he retained the patents, which later were sold to Honda.