70 Years Ago – A European Wind of Change

I thought I might research some motorcycling trivia and find out what else of significance happened 70 years ago 1950

Gilera works team Nello Pagini  (1) Umberto Masetti (42) and Carlo Bandirola (17)

I was reminded that in fact this was the year that the British manufacturers found themselves being dislodged from the podium by the great Italian motorcycle makers.

The Belgian Grand Prix took place on 2nd July 1950. The scene was set at Spa in Belgium, like the gladiators of ancient Rome, the riders found their places on the grid, the 500cc race was about to get under way. The machines of Norton, AJS and Velocette lined up against those from the factories of MV, Guzzi and of course Gilera. The race became a hard fought battle. The first casualties were Arti Bell on a Norton who collided with the AJS of Les Graham who himself, seconds before had lost control after touching a Gilera ridden by Carlo Bandirola. The high hopes of the British were to be dashed when the frontrunner, Geoff Duke (no.28) was forced to retire from his lead position with tyre trouble on his Norton leaving Ted Frend fighting hard against the Italians. Ted eventually managed to secure third place on the AJS. The race turned out to be a disaster for the British bikes for although they benefited from much better handling than their continental rivals, they simply could not beat the power of the mighty four-cylinder Gileras ridden to victory in the hands of their superb riders, the great Umberto Massetti (no.17) placed first and his team mate Nello Pagini (no.42) second. The British engines just could not compete with the power of these multi cylinder offerings.

If only the factories of Norton and AJS had simply had the courage to put the investment into engine development and then coupled it with the McCandless brothers advanced frame technology, the Italians and perhaps even the Japanese whose successes were to follow, might never have stood a chance. This of course is just my humble view of the events of that momentous day 70 years ago and perhaps reminds me of a secret dream from my youth of seeing the magnificent Gilera 500/4 married to the equally impressive Featherbead frame.

Something to ponder on perhaps!

Keith French 2020

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