The ex-John Blanchard, Tony Jefferies, works
1967 Seeley-URS 500cc Racing Motorcycle
Engine no. 'HEINRICH'
This unique machine is the sole prototype built by Colin Seeley Racing Developments in collaboration with German sidecar racer and engine builder, Helmut Fath, whose URS sidecar outfit was powered by an advanced 500cc four-cylinder engine seemingly tailor-made to challenge the might of MV Agusta in Grand Prix racing's premier solo class.
During a lengthy convalescence the result of a serious accident in 1961 that claimed the life of his passenger, Alfred Wohlgemuth Fath had spent his time tuning BMW engines for his fellow sidecar racers. He planned to return to competition in 1963 but BMW refused to supply him with engines, a snub that Fath determined would not go unpunished. With assistance from Dr Peter Kuhn of Heidelberg University and fellow racer/engineer Horst Owesle, the project took shape in Fath's forest workshop outside the town of Ursenbach from which it took its name: URS.
Although similar in outward appearance to the MV and Gilera fours, the eight-valve URS motor incorporated several unusual design features, not the least being its two separate crankshafts (set at 90 degrees) driving a common countershaft that had the contact-breakers for the twin-plug ignition mounted on its right-hand end. Kuhn's expertise and the use of special valve springs enabled the URS to rev at up to 15,000rpm, an exceptional figure for a 500cc four with two relatively large valves per cylinder. Bore and stroke dimensions of 60x44mm were chosen and Bosch fuel injection employed, the first successful use of such a system on a racing motorcycle. Although larger, heavier and possessing a higher centre of gravity than the rival BMW flat twin, the higher-revving URS four made 84-88bhp compared to the BMW's 65-70, which would prove more than enough to make up for those apparent handicaps. With that kind of power the URS should have been more than a match for the three-cylinder MV Agusta, hence Fath's interest in the solo project.
By July 1964 a prototype engine had been produced and later that same year made its track debut as a solo machine ridden by club racer, Paul Smetana. Unusually, Fath chose names rather than numbers for his engines, which were called 'Emil', 'Freidrich', 'Gustav' and 'Heinrich'. It is believed that only these four were built as complete engines, though parts were manufactured for several more.
After a shakedown debut season in 1967, Helmut Fath duly gained his long-awaited revenge the following year, beating BMW-mounted Johann Attenberger to the sidecar World Championship. It was the first time since 1953 that a non-BMW-powered machine had won. The solo project however, had not gone so smoothly.
Back in 1964, Colin Seeley had won the Dutch TT on his BMW sidecar outfit, which bore the legend 'FCS-BMW' on the side, the 'FCS' standing for 'Fath Camathias Special'. (Helmut Fath was tuning Florian Camathias' engines at the time). Colin's contacts with Fath resulted in his contracted rider, German-speaking John Blanchard, testing the prototype URS solo early in 1967. Fath was pleased with Blanchard's lap times at the Hockenheim test and Blanchard was impressed with the machine, although it needed improvement, particularly in the chassis department. Colin Seeley agreed to help and work started on a suitable frame in June from a design put forward by Eddie Robinson. However, Colin's Isle of Man TT commitments meant that the project had to be put on hold almost immediately.
Fath instructed that the Seeley-URS should be ready for a debut at the Hutchinson 100 on August 13th followed by the Ulster Grand Prix a week later and then the Scarborough International a week after that on Saturday 16th August. As if that wasn't enough, it was also scheduled to appear at the Snetterton International the very next day and then the Oulton Park International on Bank Holiday Monday three events in three days or five in two weekends! This would turn out to be a totally unrealistic programme for such a complex prototype.
Despite the enormity of the task, Colin and his team had the bike ready in time for the Hutchinson 100, traditionally run in reverse direction at Brands Hatch. Blanchard crashed the Seeley-URS in practice, necessitating an overnight effort to bring it back to race-worthy condition. Colin was allowed a couple of laps to check that all was well with the bike. Blanchard retired with an oiled plug in the first race but managed a 9th in the second despite a throttle problem. Helmut Fath, who had won both sidecar races on the URS (Lot 339 in this sale) returned to Colin's home a happy man.
Although there was no sidecar class at the Ulster GP, Helmut and his crew travelled to Northern Ireland to support John Blanchard. Troubles in practice enforced a back-row start for Blanchard, who nevertheless had worked his way up to 3rd place within two and a half laps, behind Mike Hailwood's works Honda and John Hartle's Matchless G50. Passing through the speed trap at 144mph, only 8mph down on the works Honda, John was going well but finally lost 3rd place to Jack Findlay on the McIntyre-Matchless. Blanchard was having braking problems with the Seeley front stopper but his 4th place gave Helmut Fath and his team their first-ever Grand Prix success with the Seeley-URS solo.
In the week leading up to the Scarborough International, Helmut Fath, concerned about the Robinson-Seeley drum brake's perceived lack of stopping power, arranged the loan of a Lockheed disc brake as used by Rickman-Métisse. It was this act - fitting a component made by one of Colin Seeley's commercial rivals and without his knowledge or consent - which ultimately would prove the project's undoing.
John Blanchard won his heat at the demanding 2.41-mile Oliver's Mount circuit and in the race made his way up from 14th on the first lap to 9th on the second, setting the meeting's fastest lap in the process, before crashing again. The problem was a lack of ground clearance under heavy braking, which no doubt would have been fixed in testing had Fath's timetable allowed.
Unable to resolve his differences with Helmut Fath over the unauthorised disc brake modification, Colin Seeley demanded the return of the rolling chassis, which was on loan to Fath from Colin Seeley Racing Developments. The URS engine was removed at Snetterton and Colin returned home with the rolling chassis, minus the Lockheed front brake. The next day Colin travelled to Oulton Park in an effort to patch things up but it was not to be, Fath saying that there would no more solo outings that year and he would do it himself in the future. Colin kept the frame, which he sold a couple of years later to motorcycle racer Stan Adams, whose intention was to use it as the basis for a 'special'.
Meanwhile, Blanchard had broken with Seeley but continued to be involved with the URS solo project, which now used a Rickman-Métisse frame. Ridden by 'veteran' Karl Hoppe, the URS-Métisse dominated many of the early European internationals in 1969 and won the 500cc race at the non-Championship Austrian Grand Prix at record pace, breaking Giacomo Agostini's 1967 lap record. Hoppe followed up with an impressive 2nd place behind Ago's MV in the West German GP at Hockenheim.
Shortly afterwards, Friedl Münch's company had a new owner American millionaire, George Bell. Bell was firmly committed to the pursuit of a racing programme, and it was this ambition that forged the link with Helmut Fath. Own-built Rickman-style frames were used by the new Münch-URS team, whose first race was at the (non-Championship) Austrian Grand Prix on 29th April 1970. It was a dream debut: Kaczor winning the race with Hoppe 2nd, although it must be said that the opposition was not a strong as it would have been at World Championship level. Nevertheless, Hoppe's Münch-URS managed an impressive 4th place at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim a week later. Sadly, after this promising start the project fell apart; Fath left following a disagreement with Friedl Münch, taking rider Kaczor with him, and Münch's dreams of Grand Prix glory, at least in the premier solo class, turned to dust.
Unbeknown to Colin Seeley, John Blanchard had by this time purchased the original Seeley frame from Stan Adams and installed a 750cc URS engine. The machine was rebuilt with an improved swinging arm and upgraded suspension, and fitted with disc brakes front and rear, but otherwise remained as it had been built back in 1967.
In this form the Seeley-URS was entered for Tony Jefferies to race at Snetterton on 29th August 1971. Unfortunately, the plugs oiled and Jefferies could not get the bike of the start line. Back at Snetterton in October it was better news, Jefferies bringing the Seeley-URS home in 3rd place and setting the fastest lap. Then, to show what might have been some four years earlier, Jefferies rode the bike in 500cc form at the Brands Hatch 'Race of the South' in October '71, finishing in an impressive 3rd place behind winner Giacomo Agostini's MV Agusta and Barry Sheene's Seeley-Suzuki TR500, posting the fastest lap in the process. Sadly, that was the end of what could have been a credible challenge to the dominance of MV Agusta, and the Seeley-URS remains one of Grand Prix racing's more fascinating 'might-have-beens'.
Quoted in Mick Walker's book 'German Motorcycles', Tony Jefferies recalled that the 750cc URS had a very narrow power band 'whereas the 500 was a truly superb motor.' He went on to say that the handling of the solo was very reminiscent of the Manx Norton era, rather than the Yamaha and Triumph Trident he was used to. Summing up, Jefferies commented that 'the engines never broke down and although not in my opinion fully developed the 500 engine was superb.'
The current owner purchased the Seeley-URS directly from John Blanchard in March 1992, (together with the World Championship-winning URS sidecar outfit, Lot 339) and has since paraded and raced it at numerous events and race circuits throughout Europe. A quantity of spares came with the two machines, sufficient to build a few more engines. These spares are offered as separate lots, so unlike some classics of the period this one could be raced without fear that a blow-up would render it a permanent non-runner. Apart from the swinging arm and front disc brake, the machine is in correct 1967 specification, though the 500cc engine now uses carburettors, and will be in running condition by time of sale. The machine comes with technical data relating to the URS engine, and copies of press cuttings and magazine articles spanning many years, including a track test by John Surtees published in 'Classic Bike' magazine (November 1991 edition).
The URS-powered Grand Prix solos in their various forms possessed all the right ingredients for success and had by no means reached the end of development when the project was fatally undermined by the Münch factory's financial collapse at the end of 1971. Today, this unique Seeley-URS represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire a European 500cc multi-cylinder Grand Prix racing motorcycle, possessing in-period race history, eligible for entry into the most prestigious celebrations of historic motorcycle sport.