by Eddie Turner
One of the earliest forms of competitive motorcycling.
Douglas machines have been at the forefront of motorcycle speed events since the early 1920s when the factory produced the OHV sports models. Subsequently, developed and strengthened to produce the Dirt Track (Speedway) machines of the late 20s, these bikes are still capable of showing a clean pair of heels to most contemporary machines. For many years now, the Dirt Track based engines have been used to good effect in the world of sprinting. Such illustrious names as Barry Briggs and Steve McQueen tried their hands at sprinting Douglas machinery in the 60s. Since then, the tradition has been continued by riders such as Howard German, Phil Manzano, Bill Dent, Colin Clifford, Bob Jones and, of course, Henry Body.
The present day sprinting scene still has a fair smattering of Douglas motorcycles giving a good account of themselves in events organised by The National Sprint Association and The Vintage Motorcycle Club. Currently, there are 7 or 8 Douglas bikes being ridden competitively, with Henry still being the man to beat – he holds the class record for every course he has ridden on – and is still fiercely competitive after 60 years of competing in various disciplines. In 2011, Henry retained the 500 sidecar championship but relinquished the unlimited title (after many years) to Eddie Turner.
For 2012, there should be 5 LDMCC members in regular action (Henry Body – unlimited vintage and 500 sidecar classes. Bernie White, Eddie Turner and Rhett Fisher – all unlimited vintage, and Dave Massam – 500 vintage). Rhett normally shares his bike with son, Chris. We also hope to have 2 VMCC members in attendance (Chris Illman and Malcolm Herwin – both 500cc vintage).
Sadly, the Douglas affliction seems to be restricted to the Southern half of the UK, but if you wish to see us in action, we usually attend the sprints at Weston Zoyland (Somerset), Keevil (Wilts), Wroughton (Wilts), Tempsford (Beds), Eelmoor (Aldershot, Hants), North Weald (Essex) and Shakespeare County Raceway (Long Marston, Warks). Dates will be shown in the events list as we get them confirmed.
by Dawn Whiteoak
With their interest in all forms of motor cycle sport,Douglas soon became involved in the Isle of Man TT races in 1911 with an entry of four 2¾ hp machines in the Junior Class. This was the first year that all events were run over the now famous mountain circuit. One of the works riders was Willie Douglas who eventually finished seventh with the remaining running Douglas ridden by G.L. Fletcher who finished twelfth. With five machines entered in 1912 the Junior event was won by Harry Bashall followed by three other Douglas machines in the first five. Two of the machines subsequently entered the Senior event where they finished fifteenth and seventeenth. Interest continued in events in The Island as well as at Brooklands and other circuits until 1923, a prominent year, when twelve Douglas motorcycles were entered in both the Junior and Senior classes, and another three in the Sidecar race. This gave Douglas their first Senior Race victories with Tom Sheard winning on a 500cc machine. Douglas also won the first ever Isle of Man Sidecar race with Freddie Dixon with the famous banking sidecar outfit, while JimWhalley had the fastest lap in the Senior with a time of just under 60 mph (97 km/h) during a wet race. A Douglas also placed third in the Junior TT that year. Later in 1923 Jim Whalley won the French Grand Prix, a distance of 288 miles (463 km), and another Douglas won the 1923 Durban-Johannesberg Marathon race; a remarkable achievement by Percy Flook on a 2¾ hp machine with an average 43 mph (69 km/h) for 430 miles (690 km). 1923 also saw Jim Whalley win the Spanish 12-hour race and Alec Bennett won the 1923 Welsh TT race. In the 1920s, racing continued at Brooklands with exponents such as Graeme Brown, Douglas dealer for 70 years and life president of the London Douglas MCC.
Post war, the factory had little road racing success. Douglas entered the 1950 Bemsee ‘Silverstone Saturday’ however, before Douglas could enter they had to manufacture a total of fifty 90 Plus models in order to qualify for entry in the Junior Clubman’s race. Before any machine could be accepted as a Clubman’s model, the manufacturer had to certify that at least fifty identical models had been made on a production basis. A Douglas did win this event although the machine was not a Plus but a Mark 3 Sports ridden by Don Chapman of Reading Ace Club.
Post war the TT races saw many Douglas mounted riders, and in 1951 there were 18 entries. The highest placed Douglas of this year was 7th ridden by S Cooper. Only a further 2 Douglas machines finished and achieved a finishers award.
Douglas to this day is still involved in racing, sadly not in the UK. From the 80’s within the VMCC’s racing section there have been a number of Douglas machines on the track – Frank Dolman (#110), George Easton (#46) and Eric Whiteoak (#35). Whilst Frank favoured a pre-war machine both George & Eric preferred the post-war era.
Clearly Douglas had not totally given up the idea of race involvement in the fifties when a prototype racer was designed and manufactured. The prototype survives in the ownership of an LDMCC member but “Works” involvement in racing went no further at this late stage in the life of the company.
The late George Easton originally raced a 90 Plus, then went on to race his Mark 3 & Dragonfly (both 500cc & with engines made by George himself). George had numerous successes with both of his 500cc machines but his favourite was his Mark 3. Lastly the late Eric Whiteoak raced an 80 Plus from 1992 to 2003. Eric was also seen on the Hill Climb scene with the Douglas which was also great to ride on the twisties. A favourite circuit of Eric’s was 3 Sisters in Wigan. This is a carting track with no straight bits and so the Douglas was in its element. Although no Douglas machines are currently known to race in the UK, historic racing still continues at a range of venues around the country. It is hoped that Douglas machines will return to the track in the UK in events other than just demos in classic events where some very competitive machinery can be seen ridden in anger.