1981 DJ RALLY from The Automobilist


By Colin Oakhill – V.V.C.

It has been suggested that the annual D-J Run has of late lost some of its sparkle and glamour; this, if true, could only be because (unlike the circumstances of the other popular annual events) the organisers cannot significantly change the format of the run, and the route, the watering holes and even the probable winners are thoroughly familiar to all previous entrants.

The 1981 D-J certainly disproved that particular suggestion, and it turned out to be possibly the most successful of the series to date.

The entrants and their satellites started gathering in Durban unusually early this year and by Tuesday afternoon quite a collection of familiar faces and machines was to be seen in or around the Holiday Inn enjoying the glorious weather that prevailed until the start – naturally – on Friday the 13th.

On Wednesday evening the Vintage Car Club repeated their generous gesture of previous years and invited riders and their friends to a party in their fine new clubhouse outside Durban. It was evident from the glow on the faces of the returning merrymakers that a good time was had by all, and this is perhaps an apt opportunity to express the thanks of everyone to the V.C.C. for their hospitality.

The first harbinger of the event to come arrived on Thursday afternoon, when some 200 souls crowded into the grill room of the Inn to be welcomed by Clerk of the Course Brian Lawlor; Brian wisely confined his own address to the bare essentials, invited questions but skilfully avoided allowing questioners to dominate the meeting, and everyone was in and out within half an hour complete with route schedules and a few (too few for most!) pre-calcs.

Viv Lyons, Bill Averve, Ralph Lange and Bob Leach at documentation.

Ken Gibson from Illinois warms up his 1936 Ariel combination before the start.

From 6.30 on Friday morning, in a gentle drizzle, 137 riders from an entry of 140 came under Starter’s Orders and were flagged off by Councillor Williamson. The usual few got lost getting out of Durban in the rush hour and found themselves en route to the South Coast, and that apparently endless grind uphill to Hillcrest took its usual toll of inadequately prepared machines, but overall the quality of machine preparation this year was outstanding. Nevertheless, as we were to see, about 9% of starters would fail to finish because of mechanical failure.

Andy Murray on a 1930 Rudge-Whitworth leaving the start at Durban.

Topper Browne from Oxford getting a little help from his friends at the start in Durban.

With light rain falling, especially for the earlier numbers, the scene was set for the first section of regularity, some 50 km. from Hillcrest through the valley of 1000 Hills to Pietermaritzburg. The problem here was not so much rain as heavy mist – riders found it difficult enough to see where they were going without having to read watches and route schedules and count white lines. It was on this section that Syd v.d. Vyver had more than his share of trouble. Syd, you will know, is a veteran champion racing motorist, and one of his hobbies now is powered hang gliding. A couple of weeks ago he crashed and cracked his pelvis, was put into a steel corset and told not to ride a motorcycle for six months. Syd being Syd duly started the D-J on his 1928 A.J.S. 350cc machine and suffered magneto failure en route to Pietermaritzburg. He removed the magneto, rebuilt it with parts from a spare instrument he was carrying, reassembled and retimed it and carried on only to suffer from a broken throttle cable soon after. He “borrowed” a length of fencing wire (the farmers along the D-J route must spend a fortune of fence repairs every March), connected one end to the throttle slide and the other to his bootlace – removed for the purpose – and went on his way with the free end of the lace clenched in his teeth. The result on bumpy roads was a bit hairy even for Syd, so he devised a Mark II version by tying the lace round his leg above the knee and this worked perfectly until he was able to get his cable soldered. He continued eventually to claim his finisher’s award in Johannesburg. There were other examples of this sort of determination and resourcefulness in this year’s event, as there have been in every D-J since 1913, and the story is included here only as an illustration of what it is that puts the fascination into this event above all others.

After Pietermaritzburg came the stretch – albeit an open section – which is dreaded by every rider of a veteran machine, and this year Town Hill was at its worst because of the gentle rain that had been lubricating belts for the previous two hours.

At the toughest section – the very end – Hu and Betty Jones, Stuart Halsall and Frank Riley formed a co-operative and helped each other get their machines to the top, while Max Hertz managed it alone after he’d found a pile of builders’ sand which he used as belt dressing on his Rudge Multi (to the detriment, he feared, of some of the rather delicate mechanism around which a Multi belt has to run).

Part of the co-operative on Town Hill – Frank Riley, Stuart Halsall and Betty Jones.

When Stan Wesselink wrote his account of the 1979 D-J for this journal, he put in a strong plea to the organisers to do something to help veteran machines up Town Hill. He forecast the horrifying result “if a rider suffered a heart attack as a result of the tremendous strain of negotiating Town Hill”. We can do no more than endorse Stan’s plea now; if Clerks of the Course could see what Town Hill does to someone like Stuart Halsall, who is not elderly and goes to some trouble to keep himself fit, they would easily see the potential disaster of allowing an unfit or elderly rider of a belt driven bike to tackle the hill unaided.

Undoubtedly, if a concession is made here to riders of veteran machines they will not be eligible for the major awards, but that hardly seems to matter. A rider of one of the motorcycles we are referring to would not in his wildest dreams see himself winning the Schlesinger Trophy!

Regularity recommenced in the vicinity of Midmar, and this year Howick was not included in the route except by a handful of riders who knew that the route always goes through Howick and proceeded to do so, just as on the next day a very experienced rallyist who shall be nameless was to know that the route always went through Heidelberg so he did – but it didn’t.

The speed groups on this year’s event were deliberately mixed in the starting order, with the slow speed group going down to No. 61 and the middle speed to No. 129, with the result that speeds generally were higher, for longer sustained periods than riders have experienced in previous D-J’s. There were no complaints about that, but it also meant that the lunch stop at Estcourt was shorter than usual. It was here that we saw Brian Lawlor and Angela entertaining the Lady Mayoress of Estcourt (with her chain of office worn) to lunch among the riders – a nice touch which can only enhance the prestige of the D-J.

The last control on the long stretch Ladysmith – Newcastle, Norman Lyons up.

Newcastle was warm for a change when the field arrived. Joan Mooney was there at the Holiday Inn doing her usual efficient job of getting a couple of hundred people checked in with no delay, and the Innkeeper once again provided black velvets for everyone, but there was no cocktail party this year. Instead, the function room normally used for the party was used for dinner for the D-J people – a great improvement, which enabled groups of friends to sit together, though the absence of the traditional party was missed by many who found the crowded bar a poor substitute.

When the results of the first day’s run were posted, Peter Aneck-Hahn was leading with 104 points lost, followed by Ralph Lange and Frank Hayward with 108 and 113 points lost respectively. This was probably the closest result at this stage ever seen on a D-J, and would have been a bookmaker’s nightmare if one had been involved — the three joint favourites lying first, second and third.

Saturday, however, brought tragedy for poor Frank and he got no more than a few metres from the start when the gearbox of his big American Excelsior went solid and his run was over.

Everyone else got away without drama and rallied towards Standerton and the Round Tablers’ Clubhouse for lunch, and thence to City Deep; but this was by no means the usual rather uneventful second day of the D-J. The Clerk of the Course had maintained his cunning right to the last of his 16 controls, and many were the tales of missed speed changes at the subsequent inquests.

Doug McLaren getting down to it, repairing the magneto on his 1918 Sunbeam, JAP 998c.c. V. twin engined machine.

Willie Grobler, who was leading the 250cc class comfortably on his immaculate Rudge, broke his magneto chain and suffered consequential damage beyond roadside repairs between Volksrust and Standerton – almost in sight of home. There were more retirements too on this last lap, but the saddest was that of Harvey Lambie who, riding his first D-J after officiating in so many of them, was involved in an accident with a car in Greylingstad and suffered injuries which put him in the local hospital but which fortunately were not serious.

First across the line at City Deep was editor Coen Deetlefs on his 1923 Zenith twin, followed at intervals by the rest of the field over the next two hours – generally with nicely blued exhausts and sizzling engines. There was no killing time outside the market this year and the pressure was on right to the end.

A really massive crowd of spectators was at the well-organised finish, and it was noticeable this year how much interest there was along the route, especially after Standerton, with groups of enthusiasts spectating from parked cars, including the usual bunch of optimists on Alberton hill which has been bypassed since 1979. This interest, and the really good radio and T.V. cover given to the event this year can only be due to the wonderful publicity given to the D-J by the Rand Daily Mail and by Cy Symons in particular.

Unfortunately, Saturday night’s T.V. announced Ralph Lange as the overall winner when in fact John Linley had rallied beautifully on Saturday to take first position after being 8th in Newcastle, while Ralph retained his second position.

In another break with tradition, the prize-giving party was held on Sunday and it took the form of a luncheon at the magnificent new Escom headquarters Meggawatt Park. What a success this was! It would be difficult to imagine a more suitable venue in more lovely surroundings than this, and although R.D.M. Editor Sparkes had a gentle leg-pull at Escom’s use of its shareholders’ money in his speech, I think we all forgave Escom its latest tariff increase at least for a few hours.

Our old friend Ken Gibson from Illinois made a speech on behalf of the seven riders who came from the United States just to ride in the D-J. Ken expressed their gratitude for the way they had been received but the feeling was mutual, we were delighted to have them, we hope they come again and perhaps bring their friends with them.

Only three of the American visitors qualified for finishers’ awards, mainly because they spent too much time admiring the scenery in Natal and were outside the time limit in Newcastle, but they all finished the full run including 78-year-old Ben Chesney from Missouri who must be the oldest rider ever to compete in the D-J.

An excellent performance by Oliver Barrett II in bringing this 1911 Scott through to a class win.

No one made a speech on behalf of the four English visitors, but they were none the less welcome for that. One of them, W.D. Pile from Hampshire, failed to qualify for a medal due to lateness at Newcastle but he finished the course as did his three compatriots who qualified. Topper Browne from Oxford brought his 1928 Sunbeam from home to ride in the event. At 72 he missed the “Oldest Rider” award to Fred Aulfes by a whisker; when he was interviewed on T.V. on Saturday he was asked if he had enjoyed the event. He replied in one word: “Magnificent”. “Would do it again?” Topper’s response was an emphatic “No!” But he was beaming all over his face, and it didn’t look as if he meant it.

The first ten places in General Classification and the class awards are shown below as published, though it appears that two of the latter may have be re-allocated.

There were 113 finishers from 137 starters, but only 9% of starters actually failed to complete the run due to mechanical failure. The corresponding figure in 1970 was 32%, so a lot of midnight oil has been burned quite effectively in the intervening period!

Peter Aneck-Hahn being greeted by the Town Crier at the finish.

The happy winner! John Linley collects the Schlesinger Trophy.

Harvie Lambie’s Hard Luck Trophy collected by his daughter, squired by Don Davies.


General Classification
I. J.W. Linley 1935 Velocette 5OOc.c. 176
2. R. Lange 1935 Velocette 5OOc.c. 200
3. J. Stead 1928 B.S.A. 5OOc.c. 230
4. K. Linley/Mrs. J. Linley 1936 Velocette S/C 5OOc.c. 343
5. C. van Rensburg 1935 B.M.W. 740c.c. 350
6. J.G. Thompson 1928 Scott 600c.c. 362
7. P. Aneck-Hahn 1934 Velocette 350c.c. 376
8. W. van Dongen 1928 Sunbeam 5OOc.c. 425
9. Mrs. A. Simpson 1935 Triumph 5OOc.c. 426
10. Mrs. E. Richmond 1934 Triumph 55Oc.c. 440

Pre-1926 Machines
250c.c. No Award
350c.c. D.M. Berry 1925 Sunbeam 575
5OOc.c. O. Barrett jnr. 1911 Scott 622
Above 5OOc.c P. Hall 1917 Harley-Davidson 989
Sidecar Mr. Mrs. H. Jones 1920 Harley Davidson S/C 953

1926 – 1930 Machines
Up to 350c.c. H. van Niekerk 1930 Calthorpe 542
Over 350c.c. J.G. Thompson 1928 Scott 362

1926 – 1936 Machines
250c.c. J. Pitchford 1936 B.S.A. 492
350c.c. A.B. Woodley 1936 Triumph 454
5OOc.c. P. Aneck-Hahn 1934 Velocette 376
Above 5OOc.c. C. van Rensburg 1935 B.M.W. 350
Sidecar Mr. & Mrs. K. Linley 1936 Velocette S/C 343

Best Lady Rider
Mrs. A. Simpson 1936 Triumph 426

Best belt-driven Machine
M. Hertz 1913 Rudge 3034

Oldest Machine to Finish
S. Halsall 1910 Bradbury 3422

Oldest rider to Finish
F. Aulfes 1913 Rudge S/C 4893

Youngest rider to Finish
Miss. V. Herholdt 1930 B.S.A. 1114