Mike and his Mechanics
The Memories of Joe Weaver

 

"I contacted Jeremy at Mikes web site with some 1961 photos and he suggested that I write a resume of my experiences as Mike's mechanic during the 1961 season. At 85 years young and with memory lapses I will do my best."

Joe Weaver...............

 


Working as service manager for Kings of Bristol I had a phone call in late March 1961 to present myself at Oxford to meet Stan Hailwood , MD for Kings Motors Group, and Mikes team Ecurie Sportive, to discuss working as mechanic for the Hailwood Racing Team. Mike's father, S. W. as everybody called him, had heard that I had been a GP race car mechanic prior to my employment at Kings of Bristol, and as Mike's previous senior mechanic had left his employ, I was required to start on the following Monday at the Oxford race shop without fail!

 


Photo by Joe Weaver -
Joe Weaver with the RC162 250cc Honda


On arrival in Oxford that Monday morning I met S W and was introduced to Mike,and John Dadley, a long standing mechanic, and all the workshop machinery and race bikes, I could also see that there was an enormous amount of work to be done ,and the 1961 season was going to be very hectic indeed, SW, in my interview, said he wanted to enter a 250,350,&500 in the TT, a 7R AJS ,& Manx Norton ,and either the 250 Mondial,or 250 GP Ducati twin desmo in the lightweight class, plus race meetings leading up to the TT in June, and all the major classic races in the calendar. John’s responsibility was the 250 Mondial as well as being our self appointed Press release Officer. SW allocated me to the two Ducati 250s & the 350, parallel twin desmos. One Norton engine had already gone to Bill Lacey for reconditioning, & a 7R engine to the AJS factory, both to be prepared for the oncoming TT.


SW by now had decided to enrol Dicky Brown , service manager of Laytons into Ecurie Sportive to complete the team and the responsibility for the Norton& AJS machines.


The 250 GP Ducati desmo had lost its power on its last outing and refused to start due to bent valves. However the bigger problem was, that the Italian works mechanic who had worked the 1960 season on it, had returned to Italy taking all the spares & data with him. A cylinder head strip, attention to the valves, plus a rebuild, and it sounded fine again. Mike came over smiling and whispered in my ear "Joe this bike has more neutrals than gears so don't worry if you hear it over revving now and again, thought I better let you know" with a max RPM of 12000, quite high revs in those days, he really made my day.

 


Photo by Joe Weaver - Relaxing period at the Dutch GP
John Dadley, Mr S. HailwoodSnr. MV Agents Bill Webster and Dick Brown


The Ducati was raced at Silverstone on 8th April but was blacked flagged when leading the race in front of Two 250 Honda fours. Mike was pleased with the engine performance but disqualified for riding the Ducati, SW had overlooked entering the Ducati, and not removing the Mondial from the official list before the practice started, so both Mike and I lost out and were bitterly disappointed.


The one & only 350 Ducati desmo engine was a basket case under the bench, and SW wanted it rebuilt and put back into its frame, maybe a good bike for the TT he said, so I rebuilt it refitted it in the frame ready for Castle Combe to test it in May. Mike won his heat there but the swinging arm cracked and it was put aside for repair.

The TT was now looming up, Dick & John had fitted the engines to the 500 Norton & 350 A JS ,& serviced & checked the bikes ready for practice in the I0M, we also had 2 practice bikes and the 250 Mondial all ready to go. Off to Geoff Dukes Hotel 5 car garage, in the island which SW had acquired for our workshops for 2 weeks or so.


Photo by Joe Weaver - Work in progress John Dadley& Dick Brown


By the time we had set up our workshop, there was a rumour around the team that SW had secured from the Honda factory a new 250 Honda four to run as a private entry, eventually it turned out to be true and Mike, Dick & I descended on the Honda camp in Douglas to collect it with its spares, 4 carb jets, one rear sprocket, & one small fuel tank.


Mike decided that we start it before we left the Honda Camp and with oil and fuel topped up, we gave Mike a push start. The engine did not start but produced only loud explosions in the exhaust. A Honda mechanic ran up to us, pulled all the colour coded wires from the energy transfer/ignition system, then after he mixed up all the colours, it started, this is a good beginning I thought must make a note of the new colour system.


So now the 250 Ducati and Mondial were surplus, and SW, Mike, and the team were looking forward to first IT practice session. SW had given me the job of looking after the Honda,and we could, as a team, modify it as we wished. The first thing we did were the foot rests, gear change and brake pedal change over, Mike sat on the bike to readjust the seat and riding position. With a further check over the bike was now ready for its first practice.
The practice periods showed up some problems as I remember, that we had to attend to and modify before Mike was happy. However, they were all overcome by race day. A change over to Avon tyres, and Lodge plugs was made and attention was paid to a carburetion problem and the two centre cylinders which were running weak giving engine overheating & oil boiling. Air flow to the sump area was increased; oil on a rear tyre was cured with tank encasement. Fuel surging was eliminated with insertion of baffles in fuel tank. The rear S/absorbers were changed to improve handling of the machine.

 


Photo by Joe Weaver - Bill Webster, Bill Lacey & Mike


SW now in the meanwhile had secured a 125 GP Honda twin from the Honda camp, a well worn practice hack, with no spares, "service and tidy it up, and tighten everything and see what it goes like Joe" said SW. Well it went very well indeed with little attention for the total practice and
TT racing miles it covered, and Mike won his first TT on the Monday morning on the 125 cc, and in the afternoon race on the 250 cc Honda /4, his 2nd TT win, all in front of the Honda works team, The TT 350 race on the Wednesday was down to the 7R AJS being looked after by Dick & John.


They had fitted a new developed 5 speed gearbox manufactured in Italy which SW had delivered to the 10M w/shop, and after a few practice laps, it was found occasionally to jump out of gear and over rev the engine. Mike said he could handle it so it stayed in situ for the race. Dick and I tried to persuade SW to allow us to refit the original 4 speed back but to no avail, SW would not give way.


The race was won by Phil Read, but Mike was leading the race till the engine blew up a few miles from the end. In retrospect, over revving, plus the gudgeon pin had not been internally ground so it split in pieces horizontally, from the broaching operation, which finally caused the engine failure. How Mike skilfully rode it so far in the race we were amazed.


Photo by Joe Weaver - Mike cooling down after winning 250cc Race at Assen


The Senior 500 cc race on the Friday was down to Dick Brown & John Dadley looking after the Manx Norton, with Bill Lacey attending to the fine tuning of the motor he had reconditioned for the event.


However Bill was having trouble with the Lucas magneto and after rectifying the problem with Mr Johnson of Lucas all went well on the Friday and Mike beat the MV Agusta of Hocking winning his 3rd TT that week.


The Dutch TT at Assen was the next classic, both the Hondas only needed servicing to get them to the line, after winning the 250 cc race by about 28sec, Mike was now leading the World Championship by 2 points from Tom Phillis who was on 20 points. In the 125cc race Mike fell avoiding a tail ender while dicing with Phillis .He couldn't carry on so he retired to the pits, to get ready for the 500cc race. The Norton was no match for the MV Agusta for power in the 500cc race, but Mike gave his best and finally came in a worthy 2nd place on his Norton to the delight of the spectators, and his team.


The 250 Honda went very well in practice for The Belgian GP, and race day we were hoping Mike would be able to pull off a win and increase his lead in the world championship. However it was not to be, the Honda was not up to the works power in the race and Mike finished in 3rd place behind the winner Redman and Phillis in 2nd place, all three now on 26 world championship points.

 


Photo by Joe Weaver - Mike at 1961 Isle of Man workshops at Geoff Dukes Hotel


Mike entered two more events at Brands Hatch and Castle Combe before the next classic event at the East German GP at Sachsenring 30th July. Mike had not raced the 125 or 250 since the Belgian GP so both bikes had a thorough check and service before we took them behind the Iron Curtain. SW now decided that Dick and I would travel in the van, with Mike and SW in Mikes Jaguar.


It was an uneventful journey to Karl Marks Stat where we found our hotel and met Mike and his Dad After we had had a meal and a good night’s sleep we were ready for practice next day. The practice for the 250 went well, no problems till the final practice, when an intermittent misfire took hold. I put it down to ignition after checking the carb needle clips, which we had trouble with before. So I removed the energy/Ignition cover, two sets of contact points, and the two condensers. One condenser was found to have its internals loose and rattling. They were also very small in size. The Honda team were contacted for spares but they said they did not have any on hand. So we tried the-next pit to us, the Benelli mechanics and they found and gave us 2 larger condensers .These had to be fitted on the outside of the case, waterproofed with plasticine and wired into the contacts .When the motor fired up we were happy all was well, and looking forward to the race with 250,000 race starved spectators from all over Europe making their way to the circuit.

 


Photo by Joe Weaver - Honda’s Team manager extending his thanks to Mike and Stan Hailwood for their efforts involved in Mike’s win of the 250cc race at the Dutch GP.


On passing the pits on the 1st lap mike gave the thumbs up and went on to win a thrilling 250 race again in front of the works Hondas. The Benelli condensers stayed till the end of 1961 Season. Then Mike raced the 500cc Norton into 2nd place close to the more powerful MV Agusta. A fine days effort with superb riding, and the crowd loved it.


The Ulster GP was the next important meeting as Mike was now leading the 250 World Championship for the first time. The 250 cc race was won by Bob McIntyre on his private Honda, a brilliant performance, and Mike came in 2nd to pick up yet more championship points.

Mike on the 125 Honda was placed 5th in the race with the engine slowly running out of power, and his Dad finally at last gave the order to return it to the Honda camp.

Mike on his Norton again finished 2nd to the MV Agusta in the senior race.


Mike had now signed as MV works rider for the 350cc and 500cc classic races, but he could still ride the private Honda in the remaining 250cc World Championship events. The Italian GP at Monza on September 3rd was the next race for the Honda, and also Mike’s first turnout for the MV factory. The 250 race was won by Jim Redman, Mike 2nd, in possibly the most hard & thrilling race of the day. Bob McIntyre, John Hartle & Tom Phillis were all on Hondas & failed to finish. Mikes lead was now hopefully, fairly secure in the Championship.

 


Photo by Joe Weaver - Mike on starting line at 500cc race at Dutch GP.


Mike's first ride on the MV in the 350cc race placed him in 2nd' and he gained 1st place in the 500cc.race. The bikes obviously now under control of the MV factory mechanics for the classic races, made life a great deal easier for us to get home, now and again.


The Swedish GP at Kristianstad in September was the last 250 classic race where Mike could be certain of winning his first world title. Jim Redman led the race riding brilliantly, not giving up on the championship points, but he had an unfortunate crash, which pushed Mike into 1st place to win the race and the 250cc World Championship, a great result for Mike, his Dad, and the Ecurie Sportive team.


The 1961 season was now over for Dick & I, the Hondas were sent back to the factory. Mike was now under contract to MV and so we returned to our Service Manager jobs, Dick to Kings of Oxford, and myself to Kings of Bristol .We were sad but honoured to have accompanied Stan & Mike in his finest of years.

Joe Weaver

 

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