Heart of England Rally
According to the June/July 1976 Megaphone this rally was organised by the Birmingham Sidecar Club at Coleshill. Terry Reynolds noted that he had visited in 1975 in company with Dave Scattergood and Trevor Walton and recommended it.
For more photos from Paul and Lynda Dunn see their collection in the Gallery
In the following issue (August September) of Megaphone Terry Reynolds gave a full report of the 1976 rally which was attended by Terry, Dave Scattergood, Dave Cockerton, Steve Brown, Steve White (in plaster), Dave Lester, Lucy Nowell, Paul and Lynda Dunn, Graham and Karen (550 Suzuki), Andy (500 Kawasaki) and John (Z1)
Les Hobbs still recalls every sober minute and quite a lot of the other time, great characters and fantastic bikes.
How can I hope to cover this event for such an amount of time in one report? Well I'll try.
Packington Hall lies just outside Meriden on the A45 about 2 miles south east of Stonebridge island. I can't remember how we heard about it, it may have been in the Motor Cycle weekly but it was on the same weekend as the BMF rally at Woburn so a few lads down the local youth club, about 6 of us in all, planed to make a weekend of it.
We arrived early evening as a couple of lads had to work on Saturday (Brian Wall owned the local Velocette and Suzuki agency, so he couldn't just close). We pitched the tents and walked to the nearest pub where a few pints quenched our thirst. A couple of bottles of light ale were carried back to the camp site (no tins in those days) and we joined a few of the other lads there around a camp fire where tall tales were re-counted and rugby songs sang.
This was the first time that I met up with Steve Cawthorn. He was wearing his psychedelic bush hat with his rally badges on it, (which was stolen a few years later at another rally) and riding his Sunbeam S8. I was on a BSA C15 as my R69 engine was on the bench at Brian's workshop with a broken crank.
The grounds at Packington Hall were a great place for a rally to be held. It must have been used for a training establishment during the war. There were several brick built single storey buildings with the metal window frames of that period and scattered around were large chunks of aircraft fuselage here and there. The ground was covered with ferns 4/5 feet high and large fallen trees but there was enough open places to pitch tents and have an arena to hold competions. From what I could see the only use it was being put to was to graze sheep.
The event was always attended by a fair few Federation of Sidecar Club members, several with highly modified outfits. One that springs to mind was powered by a Saab 850cc two stroke car engine. Well we were up and away the next morning and off to the BMF.
The following year 1971 we arrived before midday but this year I was on my Triton/Monza. What a weapon that was, my first 100+mph outfit. I really cleaned up on the competitions that were held in the afternoon and probably upset a few of the seasoned sidecar drivers, winning a pair of BSA cuff links, a tyre pressure gauge and a tin of chain spray, all presented to me by the master of ceremonies Cyril (Buster) Heath, Cyril was one of the organisers and over the years I got to know him well. A nice chap, a regular good guy who did a lot of work for charities and things like the Jumbo Run for handicapped children. He worked for Watsons in Birmingham, makers of Watsonian sidecars, but the sidecar part of the firm was only a very small part of their concern. The main business was components for the motor industry. Cyril had lost a leg - I can't remember the details - but it never stopped him enjoying life or riding his Vincent outfit. He was also the main man to see if you needed any sidecar spares as he ran the sidecar section at work. Many's the time I've telephoned him and picked the parts up from his home later the same day. When Watson's went into receivership in the 1980's Cyril took over the sidecar business and set up a small unit, later to merge with the Squire Sidecar concern. I often saw Cyril at the Classic Motorcycle Show at Stafford but over the years his health began to fail and sadly he died a few years ago.
The next year 1972, saw even more of our group at the event and I was on another outfit, the dreaded "Super Frog" part BSA , part Triumph, part Douglas, part Velocette and part Volkswagen, fitted with twin headlamps. It was a rare sight, a bigger pile of assorted parts you could never see. No MOT and no Tax. I went everywhere on it, having fitted forks from a Douglas Dragonfly there was no provision for a steering lock. You could give it full left and turn the outfit around in a circle with the sidecar wheel going backwards. Two years later I took it off the road, sold the sidecar to a German. The bike is untouched in a lockup in Manchester.
The rally was very popular. Attendance increasing each year and always good weather. It was this year that I learned a valuable lesson. Rather than walking down into Meriden for a drink we stayed on the site and used the beer tent, sitting under the trees chewing the fat and cracking jokes. I took a mouthful of beer and felt some thing in my mouth, which I removed with my fingers. The light had faded so I walked the 8-10 feet to my bike and turned the headlight on. Yep, a bird roosting in the tree had crapped in my beer. It's a good job I didn't have a shotgun handy.
The trouble started around 1974. The land owner Lord Somebody demanded double the payment for the use of his ground. The club had no alternative but to pay.
The following year 1975, he agreed to let the club use the site then at the last moment refused his permission. The rally had been advertised for months, the club could not let everyone know in time and this is how the rally site came to be switched to the grounds of Coleshill Mental Hospital. Because of Cyril's charity work one of his contacts came to the aid of the event but there was no beer on the grounds. So we had to walk down to the village. It was there that someone spotted the American army combat rations in the ex-army shop so we liberated a few for the evening meal. They were good, but the shop was now closed! So as I lived the nearest I had to go back during the week and get more for the next weekends rally.
In 1976 the rally was again held in Coleshill, the summer of the drought. It was at this gathering I was taking part it the competitions having now got my R90/6 as a solo. Someone had got some old motorcycle tyres and laid them on the grass (now all burnt by the relentless sun) to form a couple of slaloms. We were started off by someone and as I came hammering down to the first tyre I just touched the front brake. The next thing I remember was coming to with a crowd around me (no helmet on). Dried grass is as slippy as ice.
Yes the Heart of England was a good event. Never any trouble, always fun with good friends, many sadly not with us any more. When is somebody going to invent a time machine so we can all go back to these halcyon days?
- Les Hobbs
We don't need a time machine while you can bring it all back to life! Here is Ted Trett's angle on the dangle.
The 1975 Heart of England Rally was, as Les mentioned, held in the grounds of a mental institution. I thought it was a bit risky going there in case they wouldn't let us out! But I decided to attend along with a few of the Dean Valley MCC.
The rally was always very well organised, but this year was dry, no bar on site. That's when my troubles started.
As I had the biggest top box I was elected/bullied into going to find an off licence for some beer rations. I found a suitable shop, but while I was waiting to turn right I was T boned by a nice young Asian lady in a brand new car. "Sorry mate I never saw you!" Well lucky for me I had fitted a set of wrap around crash bars to my Honda 500/4 and she hit them square on I couldn't even find a scratch on the chrome. But her front wing was destroyed! After we separated the car and bike she said her husband would kill her, then got back into her car and drove off. Being a good citizen I felt obliged to report her to the police.
When I finally got back to the rally I was ready for a beer or three! Then the silly games started. We all know you shouldn't drink and ride, but surely the slow race would be OK? Well it was and I won my heat, but then I gave it a bit too much throttle in celebration and ended up on my backside in font of a large crowd of so called mates who all found it hilarious that I had managed to bend my footrest and back brake and snap my clutch lever on grass when I had avoided any harm crashing on the road!
At that time there were a number of car engined specials regularly seen at Sidecar Fed meets. My favourite was Chad's NSU car engined outfit (cut price Munch Mammoth!) The SAAB outfit is probably Bob Parsons'. My photo is from 78ish, but it never changed much.
Although you can't bring back the past Busters Rallies were always very friendly and that principle is still carried on at Sidecar Federation rallies which are still held almost every weekend. Although it is years since I last had an outfit I still attend one or two sidecar do's.
- Ted Trett
Just read the pieces about the Heart of England Rally. My father, Derek Hedges, was one of the organisers - Buster Heath was a very close family friend who regularly went away with Mum and dad to Imola, Daytona and various other places to watch racing.
Dad was a plumber by trade and he was always in charge of the toilets, if that\'s what you could call those buckets and steel channels.
I was really pleased to see a picture of Dad's Vincent/Wessex illustrating the piece on your page. I was born, bred and brought up with sidecar outfits and, unusually for a youngster, I was never interested in solos.
I remember going to Heart of England as a kid, and then eventually with my mates (I had an A10 with some old sidecar or other), then with my girlfriend on my T110 and Monza and latterly with my wife on my own Vincent/Watsonian.
I also remember the prizegiving after the gymkhana, presided over by Buster,and how proud I was for winning something one year.
The weather was inevitably good for Heart of England weekend but I do agree, its decline started with the loss of Packington. (I played golf there the other day funnily enough - it's now home to a hotel complex).
Buster died in the late eighties of Motor Neurone Disease, which also claimed my father three years ago. Mum insists that there's a connection to Vincents - me next then!!
Thanks for bringing back some treasured memories - and, incidentally, if you have one, have a look at the badge of the Birmingham Sidecar Club. Its very unusual, a brilliant design but also, if you look closely, very strange ...
- Trevor Hedges, Shropshire
Click here and send your answer to Trevor's question.
We went in 1973. This was in Packington Hall. I've found out it was used by US troops in the war. There were a few blockhouses in the grounds.
We met some Germans and learned some new German words, Sheisshause (guess!) and Ficken sie auf and a limpe is a torch, not sure of the spelling, though.
We had some good sing-songs. One I remember is "His bloody great kidney wiper" or, as I've just found out on Google,
The Lady of the Manor.
On the way back one of our members was leading, his girlfriend had come from Coventry, we passed the sign for the Fosse Way, so I went up and stopped him and said we should have gone down there! He said she knows the way but I said that road is dead straight and goes through the village next to mine (Stratton on the Fosse, Somerset) and I'm going down there. So he followed me till they turned off onto the M4 to go to Bristol!
- Alan Rogers