Surtees and the dream machine

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

John Surtees sets off towards glory on the 1957 TT

The 500cc M.V. Agusta stands as one of the most exotic motor cycles in the world when viewed in 2013. When viewed in its competitive heyday of the mid-1950s, it was quite simply one of the most thrilling machines in the world.

Count Vincenzo Agusta and his brother Domenico formed Meccanica Verghera Agusta in 1945 as a means to save the jobs of employees of the Agusta aviation works. Their plan was to produce cheap, efficient transportation that could withstand the demands of rural life and yet cut a dash on the streets of Rome.

Despite its utilitarian ideals, M.V. Agusta was soon operating just like its great contemporary Enzo Ferrari’s burgeoning sports car business: selling domesticated racing machines as a means to fund its on-track successes.

The design team of Arturo Magni and Piero Remor developed a range of bikes bristling with performance features and success arrived in 1948 when Franco Bertoni won the Italian Grand Prix. In 1956 the senior 500cc class was dominated by M.V. with its signature machine, this 4-cylinder inline thoroughbred ridden by the brilliant young Englishman, John Surtees.

With its quartet of exhausts broadcasting an ear-splitting howl and its standard-setting technology dressed in immaculate red and silver racing colours, the M.V. Agusta 500 GP bike embodied the thrill of motorcycle racing like no other machine.

With it Surtees notched up 22 world championship race wins in 1956-1960 and was crowned world champion in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960. The records that he set with the 500cc M.V. Agusta include 32 wins out of 39 races entered in the 1958-60 seasons and a total of four Isle of Man TT victories, becoming the first man to win the Senior race three times in succession.

1905 RAC Tourist Trophy Race Report

The Royal Automobile Club has announced that this April’s British round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone on April 12-14 will be given the name RAC Tourist Trophy and the winners presented with the oldest active trophy in motor sport. It’s a title that has passed from sports to saloon and GT cars over the years, but remains one of the most evocative in the sport – so here’s a little taste of the TT’s first edition, back in 1905:

Action from the 1905 TT, now the world's oldest active event

Action from the 1905 TT: now the world’s oldest active event

The RAC was not yet Royal – still being the humble Automobile Club – when it laid out its plans for the inaugural Tourist Trophy race. The event would comprise four laps of the fearsome 52-mile Highroad Course: an open road loop around the Isle of Man, used the previous year in selecting the British entry for the Gordon-Bennett Cup.

The course was daunting: climbing from near sea level in Douglas to 1,384 feet at Brandywell, with many sections on what were then rough tracks and featuring more than 420 corners. In addition to this challenge, the Club also decided that there was to be a fuel allowance of one gallon for every 22½ miles driven.

The prospect of achieving victory against such odds drew a total of 54 entrants, of which 42 would eventually line up to take the start on 14 September 1905.

Predictably there was heavy attrition, with the first run at the loop accounting for four cars – most notably the Rolls-Royce of C.S. Royce, which was the first retirement with a broken gear. Five more cars retired with mechanical problems on the second loop. On the third loop the calculations made regarding fuel consumption came in to play and the first car to run out of petrol – a 14-16hp Argyll – rolled to a halt after just 143 miles and 3 furlongs of running.

Five cars failed on the fourth and final loop of the course, of which all but one ran out of petrol. Meanwhile a three-way battle for victory featured the 14hp Vinot et Deguingand of Norman Littlejohn, the 20hp Rolls-Royce of Percy Northey and the 18hp Arrol-Johnston of John Napier.

Ultimately it would be Napier who triumphed and, in so doing, set a new lap record of 1 hour 31 minutes 9.6 seconds which stands to this day – an average of 34.2mph. In total he drive for 6 hours 9 minutes and 14 seconds, averaging 33.9mph and consuming his fuel at an optimum 25.4 MPG.

Two minutes and nine seconds behind Napier came Northey’s Rolls-Royce while Littlejohn was forced to slow in order to reach the finish, coming in three minutes behind Northey with just 2.6 pints of fuel left in the Vinot’s tank. It would be another 20 minutes before the next finisher – Cyril Roberts in another Arrol-Johnston – came by the line, with only 18 cars being classified as finishers.