Article from The Motor Cycle July 5th 1923

Durban-Johannesburg Race

Wonderful Riding over Bad Roads
and Steep Hills in Classic South
African Event.

The seventh race for the Schlesinger Perpetual Trophy was held on 30th and 31st May over the usual course from the coast at Durban to Johannesburg, the distance this year being reduced by 1½ miles to 395 miles.

The whole course was over main roads, ‘some good, some poor, most very bad. Racing on stripped machines over South African roads is not merely a test of machine; the driver needs to be as physically fit and in as good training as a long-distance cross-country runner.

The first 30 miles, is comparable with the Isle of Man T.T. course, and consists of innumerable twists, bends, and turns, any number of hills much steeper than that from Ramsey to the Bungalow, one three quarter mile climb of 1 in 6, hardly a yard of real level, and a practically continuous upward run from sea level to nearly 3,000ft. above. The next 21 miles is more down than up, somewhat less tortuous, “but pot-holey” and very rough, followed by a five miles ascent varying from 1 in 9 to 1 in 7, invariably inches deep in dry sand. For the succeeding 200 miles the road develops into a giant switchback, extremely dusty at this dry season of the year, arid finishing with an eight miles climb, that gradually becomes steeper and steeper until the ascent of Laings Nek (1 in 6). This brings the competitors on to what is termed the “high veld,” a vast plateau extending over southern and central Transvaal, varying from 5,500 to 5,800ft. above sea level.

Across River Drifts.

Some 50 miles – between Ladysmith and Newcastle – involves hard climbing over atrocious surfaces across the Biggarsberg foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, where the road is frequently interrupted by river drifts, most of them fortunately dry, but very difficult to negotiate at speed by reason of boulders and loose debris. Where the border line is crossed from Natal to the Transvaal just beyond the Laings Nek climb, hills disappear; there are plenty of long straight stretches; and for a modern 350 c.c. engine the long inclines can be taken on top gear throughout. The steepest hill on the last 150 miles is two miles from the finishing line, requiring second gear for the smaller engines and perhaps from those of larger capacity if everything is not at concert pitch. The final 24 miles is splendidly surfaced, and if a driver is fit enough at this stage to hang on, the big capacity engines can be let all out.

The race is divided into two stages – from Durban to Newcastle (210 miles), where machines are taken from competitors on arrival and locked up overnight under police guard; then from Newcastle to Johannesburg (185 miles). The race is run on handicap terms, and this year new factors were introduced by the four handicappers; the exact handicapping system was not announced until entries closed.

52 Farm Road Gates.

The affair involves months of preparation; special permission from the Government; guards to watch and keep open the 52 farm road gates in the Transvaal. Natal is more progressive and is minus these hindrances to freedom of the road; and a multitude of details. This .year the starting point -was transferred one mile further out from Durban, giving the advantage of a wider road, freedom from spectators up the first hill. The first of the 38 starters to be sent off, Harris and Ressell, were both on twostroke 225 c.c. Enfields, Ressell giving 20 minutes to Harris, as the latter is a novice and had only entered one local contest previously. Ressell was tipped as the almost certain winner by those who could read a line through the handicap, his experience in 1921, finishing eighth, and in 1922, finishing sixth, offering a great advantage. At no portion of the course were these, two men far apart, and in their own way fought out a mighty struggle that was overshadowed by the better known men until near the end of the race.

Main interest centred upon Percy Flook and F. Zurcher (both on 349 c.c. o.h.v. Douglases) with I. H. Scott (349 c.c. o.h.v. A.J.S.) all off the 1h. 45m. mark. Flook went off alone; the other two just three minutes later. Out of the first stage scurry emerged a new star in the shape of J. J. Gill (989 Harley), comparatively a novice, hailing from Ladysmith and receiving 15 minutes; he drove with fine judgment throughout, and after his wonderful performance is entitled to be reckoned amongst the dozen best riders in South Africa.

More Haste, Less Speed

All the starters covered the first stage of 51 miles to Maritzburg, where R. Suzor (349 o.h.v. A.J.S.) retired with machine trouble; he went off much too fast to last out the whole distance, stopped early on to repair, got going again, re-passed the scratch men who had overhauled him – and finis!

The following table is useful not merely for Maritzburg arrivals, but also as showing names of all starters, handicaps, net times, and average speeds in miles per hour:



H. Loader (989 Harley) scratch 1 7 45.67
C. Young (499 Triumph) 0 30 1 9 44.34
J. Gill (989 Harley) 0 15 1 9 44.34
W. Thomas (492 Sunbeam) 1 5 1 10 43.71
P. Flook (340 Douglas) 1 45 1 13 41.91
I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 1 45 1 14 41.35
L. Cohen (499 Triumph)
D. Scott (349 A.J.S.)
T. Nicholl (998 Indian)
E. Borland (499 Triumph)
T. Strange (494) Sunbeam)
E. Murray (989 Harley)
A. Long (998 Indian)
J. Berry (499 Triumph)
T. Sparge (490 Norton)
R. Evans (495) Sunbeam)
E. Gibson (998 Indian)
C. Cormack (989 Harley)
F. Zurcher (349 Douglas)
D. Brink (976 Trump)
P. Walt (998 Reading)
C. Du Plooy (349 A.J.S.)
R. Jones (499 Triumph)
C. Bulman (494 Douglas)
R. Green (349 A.J.S.)
G. Moulder (268 A.J.S.)
J. Moulder (1234 Ace)
V. Ressell (225 Enfield)
J. Parks (596 Indian)
W. Harris (225 Enfield)
A. Hildebandt (248 Diamond)
E. Jacobie (498 Sunbeam)
S. de Kock (596 Indian)
C. VVestman (348 Douglas)
S. Flook (349 Douglas)
G. Taylor (349 B.S.A.)
G. Mauch (348 Douglas)
R. Suzor (349 A.J.S.)

On this first section C. Young (499 Triumph) achieved a remarkable run, his net riding time of 1h. 9m. being but two minutes slower than Loader (989 Harley). Thomas (492 Sunbeam) only one minute in excess was nearly as good as Young, and still more remarkable were P. Flook (349 Douglas), and I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) of 1h. 13m. and 1h. 14m. respectively, both averaging over 41 m.p.h.

The second section, Maritzburg to Estcourt. 58 miles (total 109 miles), generally discovers weakness of machine parts. A. Hildebrandt (248 Diamond) retired with broken piston, and G. Taylor (349 B.S.A.) came in with broken front forks; these were replaced in Maritzburg, losing much time over the transfer. R. Jones (499 Triumph) was down and out with cracked cylinder. T. Strange (499 Sunbeam), R. Green (349 A.J.S.), G. Moulder (268 A.J.S.) and R. Suzor (349 A.J.S.) also retired. F. Zurcher (349 Douglas) had an unusual mishap some 20 miles north of Maritzburg, the teeth stripping on one of the gear box pinions.

Stern Endeavour.

Most of the men likely to reach conclusion of the day’s run had now settled down to stern endeavour. Harris . and Ressell were carrying on a magnificent duel, the former picking up the four minutes he had lost on Ressell to Maritzburg when nearing Estcourt, and they rode in neck and neck to replenish. J. Gill was driving much faster than all the others, and thus early it was obvious he would smother the more experienced men; already he had settled the chances of the scratch division, and with his 15 minutes handicap he stood a rosy chance of winning, together with fastest time. Percy Flook experienced trouble with a petrol pipe breaking close to tank, a defect discovered when the engine suddenly dried up. I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) passed Flook, so that Scott held a lead of five minutes entering Estcourt.

Not more than a mile or so beyond Estcourt, P. v. de Walt (998 Reading) was thrown when rounding a bend owing to his rear wheel collapsing; he escaped head injuries thanks to wearing a crash helmet, a compulsory equipment for all competitors. Between Estcourt and Ladysmith occurred the most serious -mishap in the race, to T. Spargo, of Durban (490 Norton), who sustained a dislocated shoulder and badly cut arms and legs; here again the crash helmet saved his head. G. Westerman (348 Douglas) and E. Jacobie (498 Sunbeam) had disappeared, leaving 24 men who were time 1 in at Ladysmith.


J. Gill (989 Harley) 3h 34m 41.49 m.p.h.
H. Loader (989 Harley) 3h 36m 41.11 m.p.h.
I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 3h 48m 38.94 m.p.h.
L. Cohen (499Triumph) 3h 50m 38.60 m.p.h.
A. Long (998 Indian) 3h 51m 38.44 m.p.h.
P. Flook (349 Douglas) 3h 51m 38.44 m.p.h.
T. Nicholl (998 Indian) 3h 54m 37.94 m.p.h.
V. Borland (499 Triumph) 3h 55m 37.80 m.p.h.
E.Murray (989 Harley) 3h 56m 37:62 m.p.h.
W. Thomas (492 Sunbeam ) 3h 59m 37.11 m.p.h.
R. Evans (499 Sunbeam) 4h 6m 36.63 m.p.h.
D. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 4h 14m 34.92 m.p.h.
V. Ressell (225 Enfield) 5h 5m 29.11 m.p.h.
W. Harris (225 Enfield) 5h 13 28.37 m.p.h.

Two last mentioned were now 17th and 18th on time.

Gill and Loader were, unknown to each other, because of the distance of some 10 miles separating them, putting up a struggle for supremacy that would have been doubly interesting if-they had been travelling together. Gill was now leading the field, on time, by two minutes. I. Scott and P. Flook were, much closer, as Flook had picked up some of the eight minutes lost between Maritzburg and Estcourt the gap at Ladysmith being reduced to three minutes. L. Cohen was holding his own in the handicap. Ressell, with better knowledge of the road than Harris (a novice), was at last able to forge ahead and had gained eight minutes.

Between Ladysmith and Newcastle P. Flook dismounted, four times to wrap fresh tape on the petrol pipe union. V. Borland (499 Triumph) passed one man in a cloud of dust, and when overhauling a second man just ahead on a turn, ran into a thicker cloud, collided with a boulder on the road edge, and smashed his front forks hopelessly; he came off without a scratch. This section is always the worst in respect to surfacing, and as can be gleaned from the next table of arrivals dropped average speeds by at least two miles per hour.

Half-distance Survivors.

Out of the original 28 starters no fewer than 23 were timed into Newcastle – quite a good showing and about the same proportion as in .previous years.


J. Gill (939 Harley) 5h 16m 39.87 m.p.h.
H. Loader (989 Harley). 5h 23m 39.00 m.p.h.
I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 5h 36m 37.50 m.p.h.
P. Flook (349 Douglas) 5h 44m 36.62 m.p.h.
E. Murray (989 Harley) 5h 46m 36.52 m.p.h.
L. Cohen (499 Triumph) 5h 51m 35.89 m.p.h.
R. Evans (499 Sunbeam). 5h 58m 35.39 m.p.h.
D. Scott (543 A.J.S.) 6h 3m 34.71 m.p.h.
L. Thomas (492 Sunbeam) 6h 8m 34.23 m.p.h.
A. Long (998 Indian) 6h 11m 33.96 m.p.h.
D. Brink (Trump) 6h 16m 33.51 m.p.h.
J. Berry (499 Triumph) 6h 21m 33.07 m.p.h.
V. Ressell (225 Enfield) 7h 22m 28.50 m.p.h.
W. Harris (225 Enfield) 7h 27m 28.37 m.p.h.

Two latter were 19th and 20th on time.

The debits, etc., against each man were soon calculated – to avoid an after-dark finish, the first day’s start had not been on actual handicap times – and by 5.30 p.m. each man knew his exact starting time for, next morning. To make clear the correct positions of the competitors for the last and. most exciting day the following table gives the corrected starting times with exact position for approximately half distance.


W. Harris (225 Enfield) 7 0
V. Resselt (225 Enfield) 7 15
I. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 8 44
P. Flook (343 Douglas) 8 52
D. Scott (349 A.J.S.) 8 58
R. Evans (499 Sunbeam) 9 11
C. du Plooy (349 A.J.S.) 9 29
J. Gill (989 Harley) 9 54
W. Thomas (492 Sunbeam) 9 56
S. Flook (343 Douglas) 9 56
L. Cohen (499 Triumph) 9 59
H. Loader (989 Harley) 10.16
C. Bulman (494 Douglas) 10 29
J. Berry (499 Triumph) 10 31
E. Murray (939 Harley) 10 38
J. Parks (596 Indian) 10 40
D. Brink (976 Trump) 10 49
G. Cormack (989 Harley) 10 56
A. Long (998 Indian) 11 3
T. Nicholl (998 Indian) 11 20
J. Moulder (1234 Ace) 11 34

No Restrictions on Replacements

Freedom to do anything with spares “procured or purchased” without restriction and without assistance was a blessing for the majority. The three A.J.S. so far left in were each fitted with new rear wheels. Percy Flook fitted a new petrol pipe partly encased in rubber tubing, and would much have liked , to replace the broken exhaust lifter wire but too many minutes were already wasted. Two or three men were dubious about frames lasting, and practically all the starters were almost brakeless where the old type of external shoe was fitted. There were not quite so many broken spokes, and saddles stood better than previously.

All the second day’s 22 starters reached Volksrust, 35 miles, Harris having gained a big jump off Ressell of 20 minutes. Percy Flook was dropping back on I. Scott, having lost eight more minutes, and the timekeepers working out the varying positions at the finish from constant telephone messages now reckoned the race rested between Harris and I. Scott, and that provided his hubs stood up the latter should win. J. Gill was still piling up pace and travelling at least two miles per hour faster than, the scratch men; the fast time prize looked a certainty for him. The rearmost men starting from Newcastle were obviously putting up a hopeless, stern chase.

Now the real excitement began for the 10,000 spectators in the finishing half-mile. A big board kept all informed of positions of men from frequent telephone messages, and it was reckoned that Scott must about win. At Standerton, 96 miles from the end, Scott was 51 minutes behind Harris, and so fast was Scott travelling that he covered the 52 miles from Volksrust to Standerton in fastest time for this section. On the last day’s, handicap he had wiped out 43 minutes in 87 miles, so that, bar accidents, Scott might overhaul Harris within a few hundred yards of the finish. Ressell was not doing so well, and Gill was dropping pace.


a.m Actual time h. m.

W. Harris 10 5 3h 5m
V. Ressell 10 55 3h 40m
I. Scott 10 50 2h 12m
P. Flook 11 16 2h 24m
D. Scott 11 40 2h 44m
L. Cohen 12 21 2h 22m
J. Gill 12 21 -2h 27m

In the first half-mile outside Standerton Scott passed Ressell, and with assured information that Harris, only was in front he must have piled up a big speed along the straight and easy graded stretches. Harris passed through Greylingstad (58 miles, to go) at 11.24 a.m., followed by I. Scott at 11.46, V. Ressell at exactly noon, and P. Flook at 12.4, succeeded by D. Scott at 12.24 p.m., J. Gill 12.53, and one of the half limit men, G. du Plooy, at 1.9 p.m. With I. Scott only 22 minutes behind, it was any odds on his coming through, as Flook – the most likely opponent – had lost three more minutes on Scott. On the next 12 mile section to Balfour the positions were almost the same, and Scott was streaking along at 50 to the modest 28 m.p.h. of Harris, who was reaching his physical endurance point. Flook had picked up three minutes, yet was still 21 minutes in rear of Scott and 29 behind Harris; the latter, pluckily as he might persevere, could not expect to do better than third place.

Hard Luck.

Then disaster overtook Scott. When in Greylinstad he had dismounted momentarily to fasten up the carburetter base nut. In Balfour he stopped for petrol, and within a dozen yards of restarting the engine pulled up with an awful clatter, from a broken inlet valve head, which had dropped into the cylinder and forced a hole through the piston. It was desperate hard luck for the rider, who is a popular and un-assuming partner with two brothers in a modest motor cycle repair place in Johannesburg. He had trained hard for four months to achieve his ambition.

Percy Flook learned the news at the Balfour’ petrol depot, and here for the first time since leaving Newcastle could he definitely ascertain how many minutes Harris was ahead. But the race, was not yet won, and although the crowd at the finish were prepared for Flook’s arrival after passing Heidelberg at 12.47, just eight minutes behind Harris with 26 miles to traverse. It was less certain for Flook himself. A nasty fall on Laing’s Nek had done more damage than was then apparent. From Standerton the petrol tank had begun to part company with the frame, the holding screws disappearing until but one was left at the rear, near side. For fear of the loose tank causing the petrol pipe to snap he had to slow down dead at all turns because there was no grip for his knees. From Heidelberg it was neck or nothing, and whilst previously he had been saving the engine, he now drove all out to overhaul Harris, get in front as far-as possible, and if the tank did go adrift, to try to push .the remainder on foot. He was lucky to pass Harris 15 miles from the end, and piling on every yard the engine would give he finished, a very popular winner, beating Harris by 8min. 26sec., with Ressell third man 16 minutes later.

Within Sight of Success

The tale of mishaps in the last section was not complete. J. Gill, who had achieved race record from Durban to Newcastle, was well up for full distance time when a valve gave up the ghost only six miles from the finish, and Gill was towed in behind a car; H. Loader (989 Harley) therefore has the honour, although one minute worse than A. Long in 1922. The Harley riders took the team prize (5th, 6th, 13th) and E. Murray (Harley) also secured the prize for machine in best condition.


1. Flook (349) Douglas)
2. V. Harris (225 Enfield)
3. V. Ressell (225 Enfield)
4. D. Scott (349 A.J.S.)
5. H. Loader (989) Harley)
6. E. Murray (989 Harley)
7. L. Cohen (490 Triumph)
8. C. du Plooy (349 A.J.S.)
9. W. Thomas (492 Sunbeam)
10. G. Taylor (349 B.S.A.)
11. J. Berry (499 Triumph)
12. S. S. Flook (349 Douglas)
13. G. Cormack (989 Harley)
14. I. Moulder (1234 Ace)
15. T. Nicholl (998 Indian)
16. J. Parks (596 Indian)
17. A. Long (998 Indian)
18. D. Brink (970 Trump)

At the start of the race at Durban

Flook crossing the finishing line after his strenuous ride

The report below is copied verbatim from a small publication by Ken Macleod entitled Through the Dust Barrier, Part One, 1903-1923 – The history of S.A. Motorcycle Sport. (Part Two, the final issue, covered the years 1924-1927)

Crash helmets were made compulsory for the Deejay from now on, which had been reduced to 395,5 miles as a result of improved road conditions and the elimination of corners and deviations. The start was moved to the bottom of Mayville hill. Harris and Ressell on 250 ccc Royal Enfields were the limit men.

Several riders had to swerve to avoid a dog standing in the middle of the road at Pinetown in spite of the fact that its owner was calmly watching from the side of the road.

Hildebrand retired again with a broken piston. Moulder led Doug Scott and Ressell at Pietermaritzburg.

Flook ran out of petrol at Mooi River and had to replace his petrol pump. Young and Zurcher retired.

But Flook was second behind Ian Scott at Newcastle with Doug Scott third. Gill set a record 5 hour 7 minutes to Newcastle with

Loader also inside the old record. But Spargo had retired after a bad crash at Frere and Maugh was seriously injured in a crash at Ladysmith. The field restarted with adjusted handicaps the next day with Harris and Ressell still leading at Volksrust and “China” Scott third having made up 25 minutes on them. The order was unchanged at Standerton but Scott had gained 75 minutes on the leader and was only 30 seconds behind Ressell. Scott took over second place but his challenge ended when a piston broke at Balfour when he was eight minutes behind.

Flook had also passed Ressell and was only 30 minutes behind Harris at this point.

He had reduced the deficit to 12 minutes at Heidelberg but although he slowed in accordance with the regulations, it was not enough. A policeman stopped him and took his name and address, which cost him 30 seconds. This was sufficient to put the wind up the Pretoria veteran and he caught and passed Harris 12 miles from the finish to win by 7 minutes, having covered those final 32 miles in just 33 minutes.

Loader failed to beat his handicap but his time was just 1 minute outside the distance record. He finished fifth.

1. P. Flook (Rand, 350 cc Douglas) 10 hours 9 minutes average speed 38,96 m/h;
2. W. R. Harris (Rand, 250 cc Royal Enfield);
3. V. Ressell (Rand, 250 cc Royal Enfield).

Percy Flook with the Schlesinger Vase