The ex-Francis Williams, Brooklands
1930 Cotton-Blackburne 498cc Racing Motorcycle 'The Village Fire Engine'
Registration no. NJ 3031
Engine no. GEDR 110
'Francis Williams, doyen of British sprinters, made his name on a Cotton powered by one of the fabulous parallel-pushrod 500cc Blackburne engines introduced for the 1930 TT series.' John Griffith, 'Historic Racing Motorcycles'.
Nicknamed the 'Village Fire Engine' by Graham Walker in its Brooklands days, this 1930 Cotton-Blackburne racer was originally owned and developed by Francis Williams. In November 1959 it was the subject of an article written by John Griffith for 'Motor Cycling' magazine in a series entitled 'Built for Speed', which later appeared in book form in 1963 as 'Historic Racing Motorcycles'. Williams is pictured in the Griffith article riding the Cotton in 1949 and still owned it at time of first publication in 1959. There are several mentions of both Francis Williams and the 'Fire Engine' in A C Perryman's book, 'A Clubman at Brooklands', published by Haynes in 1979.
Francis Williams registered the Cotton for use on the public highway in 1934 and the machine comes with its original logbook, which even has entries for the rationed petrol allowance in WW2. For a few years the Cotton-Blackburne belonged to another Rottingdean resident, Ronald London, from whom Francis Williams repurchased it towards the War's end. London's is the only other name recorded in the logbook. Williams sprinted the Cotton regularly throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, sometimes with a JAP engine installed.
After his father's death in the early 1960s, Francis' son sold off the collection of racing bikes and spares to various interested parties. Ernie Woods bought the big Norton-JAP v-twin sprinter and a number of engines and spares, which included parts for a 'parallel pushrod' Blackburne racing engine made for the 1930 TT races, just like the one fitted to the 'Fire Engine'. Ernie sold the Blackburne engine parts to the current vendor, though family and work commitments meant that they would not be put to good use for some time.
Meanwhile, the Cotton-Blackburne had passed into the ownership of another ex-Brooklands racer, R E Leveson Gower, who loaned it to the Stanford Hall Museum for display. It was at Stanford Hall in 1979 that the current owner first saw the machine, which was unrestored and looked exactly as illustrated in John Griffiths' article. He later bought the machine from Mr Leveson-Gower and rode it in Vintage race meetings during the late 1980s.
The acquisition of the 'Village Fire Engine' enabled the vendor to realise a long-held ambition to build similar machine. The Blackburne engine bought from Ernie Woods was missing its intermediate timing casing, so the 'Fire Engine's was copied and the completed machine - nicknamed 'Black Beauty' - was ridden by Mervyn Stratford in historic races, proving almost unbeatable in its class in Vintage racing (see Lot 392).
In the late 1980s the vendor decided to have another go at Vintage racing and rode both machines, 'Black Beauty' in the pre-'34 class and 'Fire Engine' in the post-'34 to 1948 events. (Francis Williams had fitted alloy wheel rims to the 'Fire Engine' but these are not accepted in pre-'34 events run by the VMCC's British Historic Racing section). The vendor usually managed to get into the top half of the field but it was generally a case of the bikes being faster than the rider! After falling off a few times he decided to hang up his boots and put both of them into semi-retirement.
Mervyn Stratford had the odd ride on the 'Fire Engine' in the 1990s but both machines have been languishing under wraps for some time, leading to the decision to put them up for sale. The Cotton was never rebuilt to concours standard but just kept clean and tidy. A few changes were made to meet modern racing regulations but all the parts required to reinstate the machine to its 1959 specification, with the exception of the disintegrated dualseat, remained with it. The vendor advises us that 'The Village Fire Engine' has now been reinstated to its former glory as seen in the John Griffith article of 1959. Representing a rare opportunity to acquire a famous ex-Brooklands racer, this historic motorcycle is offered with a substantial file of history - close inspection of which is recommended - containing copy correspondence, assorted press cuttings, various photographs, maintenance/servicing notes, diagrams and details of work carried out.