Friday, August 31, 2012

Brian Crow, Royal Enfield test rider of the 1950s and '60s

Royal Enfield test rider Brian Crow is shown in a photo
from the website of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK.
Brian Crow, the Royal Enfield factory test rider who famously dipped his rear wheel in the sea to begin a dash from John O'Groats to Land's End, died Aug. 30, 2012.

"My father Brian Crow was the test rider for Royal Enfield motor bikes at their factory in Redditch," his daughter Gail Clarke wrote me.

"I am informing you that sad to say he passed away this morning surrounded by his family. Please forward this on to members of Royal Enfield clubs as he had letters from many members asking him about motorbikes and he always answered every one.

"He was a devoted father, grandfather and great grandfather. He will be cremated at a later date at Redditch, Worcestershire, England."

Brian Cleeve Crow was the first in a five-rider team that raced a brand new Royal Enfield Continental GT from the northern point of Great Britain to its farthest southwest point in 1964. The object was to dramatically introduce the racy new model to the public.

"The factory's 1964 run of 22 hours and 20 minutes was a phenomenal achievement on the 250cc Continental GT," said Allan Hitchcock of Hitchcocks Motorcycles. His team recreated the epic stunt 40 years later, using a 612cc Royal Enfield Bullet. He is quoted in an account of the 2004 recreation by author Gordon May, one of the riders in 2004.

Brian Crow was on hand to observe the recreation.

“This has made my year,” Crow told Gordon May.

“I remember leaving John O’Groats on the GT like it was yesterday. It was really cold and I felt a huge burden of responsibility. The support van left me an hour before I was due to depart. Locals came to chat and wish me luck.I actually started with my rear wheel immersed in the North Sea; there was no start and finish line in those days."

Crow told May that the GT he rode was not stock.

“The engine was assembled very carefully in the competition shop so that it ran perfectly. They used a titanium con rod so that it would stand up to the thrashing it was about to get.”

In May's account, Allan Hitchcock directs that the front wheel of the Bullet used in the 2004 run should be dipped in the sea at the end of its run at Land's End.

“That’s for Brian Crow,” he said.

The handsome Crow, nicknamed "Crowie," was a legend in the small Royal Enfield Experimental Department.

He was seriously injured in a 1959 crash at the MIRA track when a gearbox seized. Experimental Department employee Jack Moore was there.

"He was in third doing 90... Crowie's first words were 'pick up the bike Jack.' He went to hospital, but left the scene in a car I think, from the control tower."

Employee Mervyn Pantin was there as well. He wrote:

"First of all I thought he'd held it, the bike went from side to side but then he did a handstand in the air and came down on his hands, fracturing his forearm. The bike was taken back to the factory for examination and the gearbox was stripped while all the Heads stood round, Jack Booker, Tony Wilson-Jones and several Foremen. Someone had put the wrong-sized part in."

Crow was certainly never afraid of speed. He drove a tiny Berkeley sports car, with Royal Enfield motor, and drove it fast: 100 mph by one account. The car lost a windshield once, while passing a truck. Berkeley's reaction, reportedly, was "this happens a lot."

Brian Crow presents a Royal Enfield bicycle to a contest winner
in this 1965 photo from Meccano Magazine.

Recollections from reader Mark Mumford: "I met Brian a few times but had the pleasure of spending a day in his company (along with three or four of the others involved in the GT launch, including John "Mooneyes" Cooper) at the Hitchcocks recreation of the GT launch stunt.

"At Allan Hitchcock's request I took my newly restored GT to Silverstone along with a friend's example; you can see them in the publicity photos. Brian was pictured on my bike, marveling how small they were by today's standards. (And his not so youthful waistline!)

"He was very candid about the non-standard build spec of the motor, commenting that the only really different component was the con-rod, which was specially made by HDA (High Duty Alloys) Enfield's usual supplier, but in titanium. He also talked openly about how he and (sales manager) Roger Boss worked exceptionally hard to market Royal Enfields in the 1960s, not only with high profile stunts but lots of day-to-day slog 'round dealers and following up on customer comments and complaints.

"Crucially, they both chose to ride bikes on these visits rather than use the cars their posts entitled them to, and were used by the representatives of the other British makers.

"He must have been well into his 70s then but I was struck (and similarly to many of the other Royal Enfield employees I've met) how enthusiastic and interested in bikes he still was. There was also a common agreement that although pay wasn't the best at Enfield they felt they were part of a family, and repaid this with loyalty.

"By the early '60s of course, the Mountford family had given way to the corporate ways of the new parent EH&P Smith Group and Brian spoke about how their hard work and ideas for development were ignored. All things must pass but it was a pleasure to know him, even for that short while."

Old riders meets new in photo at 2004 Hitchcocks recreation.
From left, Pat Braithwaite, John Cooper, Allan Hitchcock, David Dixon, Brian Crow, Don Payne, Gordon May and Mick Duckworth.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10/06/2012

    Just went out to the garage to-day ad fired- up my Continental GT. When my interest flags I re-read the account of 'The race'; a real epic. RIP Brian and al sympathy to your family, Jayem.


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