Although the Isle of Man T.T. Motorcycle Races started in 1907, did you know that the very first motorcycle race on the Island actually took place in 1905, and the term T.T. (Tourist Trophy) was coined in the same year?
The Auto-Cycle Club of Great Britain had decided to enter a three-man team for the International Motorcycle Cup Race, which was to be held at Dourdon in France in July 1905. In order to select the team, an eliminating trial was required, and the obvious venue was the Isle of Man, where a road-closing law had been passed in 1904 in order to hold trials for the Gordon Bennett Cup car race (public road closure was not permitted in the UK).
The Gordon Bennett Trials were again being held on the Island at the end of May 1905, so the logical solution was to hold the motorcycle trial the morning after the car race. The course was to be exactly the same as that used by the cars (see map); starting at Quarter Bridge, south through Ballasalla to Castletown, up the Ballamodha straight through Foxdale to Ballacraine, along the current TT course to Ballaugh Bridge, left there to the coast and into Ramsey via Sandygate and St. Judes, and then back over the Mountain to Douglas. The race would be held between 3am and 8am on Wednesday, 31st May, and it was calculated that riders should be able to complete 3 laps in the time allocated - a distance of some 155 miles. Eighteen entries were received (including one from a T. Tessier, riding a 9hp Roc entered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!).
Practising on the course was only possible when the cars weren't using it, and riders were unhappy with the condition of the roads, made even rougher by the actions of the cars, with Creg Willey's Hill and the Mountain road being particularly bad. One of the best British hopes, J.F. Crundall, crashed at Ramsey Hairpin, breaking his arm. Consequently it was decided at the eleventh hour to alter the course, with the bikes turning right at Ballacraine and returning to Douglas via Crosby and Union Mills, thus cutting out the northern section and reducing a lap to approximately 25 miles. There were control points at Quarter Bridge, Ballasalla, Foxdale and Ballacraine, where the riders were required simply to stop and restart.
On the afternoon of Monday, 29th May eleven motorcycles were officially weighed in at Quiggin's Rope Works in Lake Road, by Douglas harbour. Regulations stipulated a maximum weight of 50 kilos, and several machines failed to meet the requirement and were excluded.
By 2.30am on the morning of the race, spectators were already at the best vantage points, and the Quarter Bridge Hotel was busy serving pints of beer and breakfasts to eager customers. The start was delayed by half an hour, due to heavy mist patches on sections of the course, but at 3.30am the race began, with six riders setting off at one-minute intervals. The starters were:
1) W.H. Hodgkinson, JAP
3) C.R. Collier, Matchless-JAP
4) H.A. Collier, Matchless-JAP
5) H. Rignold, Rignold
9) C.B. Franklin, JAP
11) J.S. Campbell, Ariel
A late arrival was F.W. Barnes on his Zenith but, although he was allowed to start, his bike wouldn't fire and he was seen pushing out of sight, destined not to finish a lap.
Harry Collier was first to complete a lap in 37mins 51secs, with Irishman Franklin close behind, giving Franklin a lead of some one-and-a-half minutes. Campbell completed the first-three leaderboard. Charlie Collier had skidded at Braddan Bridge whilst leading the race and was thrown from his machine, but only suffered minor cuts and bruises. However his front wheel was badly damaged, so he pushed in to Quarter Bridge, fitted a spare and, to cheers from the crowd, set off again. Unfortunately, in an effort to make up lost time, he over-rode his machine, which seized with a broken con-rod on lap 2.
Franklin was leading on the road at the end of lap two, and, after stopping to take on petrol, was away again in less than a minute. Harry Collier arrived next, but he was now nearly 15 minutes down on Franklin. Scotsman, Campbell, third on the road and in the race, also came in for fuel, and there was some excitement when his machine caught fire. This was quickly beaten out, and, without a second's thought, he was back in the saddle and away. He was just passing out of sight when Rignold arrived in fourth place.
Franklin again led at the end of the third lap. This time, while his machine was refuelled, he took coffee, and, after pumping up his back tyre, set off again. Harry Collier was next to arrive, still 15 minutes behind Franklin on corrected time.
The bikes were now such a long time coming round that a good number of the crowd went home for an early breakfast. The general opinion was that the bikes weren't as interesting as the cars they had watched the day before.
Campbell completed his third lap only some 20 minutes before Franklin finished his fourth at 6.17am, and the next bike to arrive was again Campbell at 7.00am, with no sign of Harry Collier. However he eventually appeared a few minutes later having run out of petrol five miles from Quarter Bridge, and had pedalled in. Although exhausted, he re-fuelled and proceeded. Less fortunate was Rignold, who completed his third lap in 2hrs 14mins, only to retire. With his accumulator flat, he had pushed his machine six miles!
At 7.42am Harry Collier crossed the finishing line with Campbell close behind, and, having started 3 minutes behind Collier, Campbell was declared the winner in a total time of 4hrs 9mins 36secs, averaging nearly 30mph. But what had happened to Franklin? Having led the race throughout, he retired at Foxdale on the last lap with a broken con-rod, although he was awarded third place as the best non-finisher, and had set the fastest lap of the day in a time of 34mins 43secs on his second lap. At their midday meeting, the ACC judges had no hesitation in selecting these three as their team for the International Cup Race.
In the race at Dourdon, Collier held fifth place until he broke down one lap short of the race distance, whilst his team-mates managed only one lap each. The race was won by Austrian W. Wondrick on a Laurin & Klement, and, with second man, Ed Demester from France, excluded for changing a wheel against regulations, the only other finisher was Frenchman J. Giuponne riding a Peugeot.
Meanwhile, with growing international disinterest in the Gordon Bennett Cup race, and a British desire to hold an event for road-going touring cars, the Automobile Club came up with the idea of holding the Tourist Trophy Race (shortened to 'The T.T.'), to be first held in the Island in September 1905. It would be another two years, following the demise of the International Cup Race, before the ACC adopted the same format for bike racing. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Alan and Mike Kelly
The weigh-in at Quiggin's Rope Works on 29th May 1905. Machines from left to right are --- 11 - J S Campbell; 1 - H Hodgkinson; 15 F W Barnes; 16 - G Wilton; 9 - C B Franklin. Harry Collier is leaning forward between Barnes and Wilton.