My father, James Alexander, was born
in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1908. The family moved down to the
southeast of England soon after he was born, firstly to
Middlesex, then a few years later to the farm near Ashford. It
was here that Jim’s interest in motorcycles and speed was
awoken, riding his elder brother’s motorcycle long before he was
old enough to have a licence!
In the 1920s the family moved again to a larger dairy farm at
Hadlow, near Tunbridge in Kent. His father, my grandfather, was
totally and implacably against Jim’s desire to race. His only
concession was to allow Jim to build a piggery unit on their
farmland. No help was offered for building materials, labour,
the purchase of the initial breeding stock, laying on of the
water supply, or feedstuff. However, in spite of the obstacles
and opposition, the piggery was obviously successful enabling
Jim to buy his first KTT from Frank Arrow of Arrow Morots in
Jim and Frank became lifelong friends with Frank offering to
tune and set up the KTT for grass track racing. Clearly, from
the very beginning Jim was a very talented rider, winning many
awards in 1932-1933 at grass track events in Kent including some
at a natural grass “bowl” at West Kingsdown found by fellow
Clearly Frank knew his way around a set of spanners - the
racing adage: “to finish first, first you have to finish”, was
as true then as it is today.
In 1934 Jim decided to take on the ultimate motorcycle racing challenge, the Manx Grand Prix. Again Jim bought a new 350 KTT from Frank Arrow, and again Frank tuned the bike for this gruelling event, entering both Junior and Senior races.
To even reach the Isle of Man in those days was an amazing story in itself. The race bike was loaded onto, I think, a BSA sidecar outfit with the body removed. His younger sister, Mary, my aunt, rode on the pillion seat the 200 miles to Liverpool.
At race days she organised the paperwork involved and wrote the
lap times in the programme which I still have. Jim finished 8th
in the Junior race at an average speed of 69.84mph.
Unfortunately I don’t have any record of the Senior race other
than I know that he finished (although according to
www.manxgrandprix.org he came 10th at 71.32 mph).
Obviously the piggery was doing well and Jim entered both MGP
races in 1935 finishing 11th in the Junior at an even faster
speed of just 72 mph - quite extraordinary. Mary accompanied Jim
again on the pillion of the BSA. Frank and Joyce came by car,
carrying tools and spare parts etc, with Frank looking after the
fettling and tuning before and during the meeting. My knowledge
of the Senior race was provided by Aunt Mary many years later.
It appears that he was riding very well until the third lap,
when he sideswiped the stone parapet of Braddan Bridge. The
impact knocked him off the bike and he lay unconscious on the
Quick-thinking marshalls and spectators rushed to pick him up
before any other competitors arrived. They carried him into the
adjacent church yard and propped him against a tombstone.
When he regained consciousness a few minuted later, he did
wonder where he was! A spectator next to him gave him the
inevitable cigarette and he passed out again! He was given a
medical and pronounced OK apart from a few bruises,
scratches and a headache.
He was very lucky to survive as so many over the years did not.
The KTT was a total wreck (I don’t think there was any insurance
available in those days) and I am sure that that brought his
motorcycle racing days to an end, together with pressure from
his father to stop racing.
From the early 1950s it was always a thrill for me when we went
up from Hadlow to visit Frank and Joyce at Arrow Motors. I spent
hours looking and sitting on bikes in the showroom, and watching
the mechanics working. I imagined myself one day racing
motorcycles - clearly those days sowed the seed for racing.
I was never brave or talented enough to race motorcycles,
although 12 years later I did go on to race cars. (Ian had a
very successful career in the ‘60’s, racing minis and his own
Diva GT in England, Europe and later in Australia - Bob).
When Frank and Joyce visited us all those years ago I was
always fascinated hearing Jim and Frank reminiscing about
racing. Just a couple of incidents I can remember, of course, is
the sheer speed - by keeping the throttle wide open for long
periods - down Bray Hill, Sulby Straight and up and down the
Mountain - no wonder he kept two fingers on the clutch lever - I
don’t know how fast a 350 KTT was capable of, but clearly he
must have been carrying huge speed through the fast curves to
Ramsey and down to the Bungalow to average 70 mph. I do remember
them talking about how vitally important it was to avoid
touching a kerb!
Sitting in the lounge as a 12-14 year old hearing all the
stories was something I always looked forward to. I do remember
Dad saying he instinctively took his hand off the handlebars
when he got too close to a brick wall and on another occasion
raising his head to one side to avoid touching a granite stone
wall - talk about commitment! Now, much later in life, I
understand how my father felt on his first lap of the Isle of
Man - the most dangerous and demanding circuit in the world. It
is exactly how I felt on my first lap of the Nurburgring.