The following is taken from a Special insert in The Rand Daily Mail newspaper, 23 March, 1984

Making history

Between 1913 and 1936, hundreds of riders braved bad weather and worse roads to compete in the Durban to Johannesburg races. They tested not only their nerve and skill, but also the power and capabilities of those ‘magnificent motor machines’. The Rand Daily Mail and Castrol sponsor the D-J Commemorative Runs as a salute to their achievements – and as a challenge for modern day trialists.

LEICESTER SYMONS, Motor Editor of the Rand Daily Mail, reports on the event for old motorcycles and the historic races which inspired it.
THE D-J Commemorative Run has this year gained full international status, making it possible for the organisers to invite the largest number of foreign riders yet.

They will be competing against scores of cyclists from all over South Africa for the Schlesinger Vase – the historic silver trophy brought out of safekeeping by the Rand Motor Club in 1970.

And all the riders will be paying tribute to the heroes of the original races between Durban and Johannesburg, run 20 times from 1913 to 1936, with a four year gap from 1915 until 1918 because of the First World War.

The first four races were run ‘downhill’, from Johannesburg to Durban, but the direction was changed in 1921 and remained ‘uphill’ for all subsequent races. The 1913 and 1914 races were spread over three days, which gives an indication of what road conditions were like. There were overnight stops at Standerton and Ladysmith.

The remaining races were two-day events with an overnight stop at Newcastle – as in the Commemorative Runs.

Only in 1920 and 1921 was an event for sidecar combinations incorporated. In that year the combinations ran up while the solos ran down.

In 1921 both ran up, with the combinations starting after the last of the solos in what was always a handicap event.

The distance of the race was more than 600km. The roads were appalling, particularly in the early years. The weather was often foul.

Both roads and machines did improve considerably as the years went by, resulting in a steady increase in speeds, but both remained almost primitive by today’s standards.

Yet hundreds of riders accepted the challenge and conquered the conditions, so making the greatest contribution to the unique character of the race – and creating a legend that has endured.

Similar races cannot be run now, when roads and machines have progressed almost beyond belief, but the D-J Commemorative Run has re-created the character of the original races to a remarkable degree – not least in the camaraderie between competitors – in spite of all the unavoidable changes in the way the events are run.

The bikes, at least, have not changed as much as might be expected, because only machines built before the end of 1936 – the year of the last of the flat-out races – are eligible.

Most of them are touring machines in touring trim, instead of out-and-out racers or specially tuned versions, but there are regularly a few which actually competed in one or more of the races, including some of the most successful ‘real racers’.

Some of the regular Commemorative Run riders are also veterans of one or more of the races.

With racing on the public roads no longer possible, the event is now a regularity trial, but remains highly competitive.

Riders from overseas, who have taken part from time to time but are used to events where regularity does not play a major part, have frequently expressed surprise at the accuracy with which the local “tigers” maintain their set average speeds.

The route, though the roads are all tarred now, follows that of the original races as closely as possible.

It runs almost entirely on what the present generation of travellers knows as the ‘old main road’ between Durban and Johannesburg, avoiding the modern motorways as much as is practicable.

The Commemorative Run this year will be the 14th, the 1974 event having been cancelled because of fuel restrictions after the 1973 oil crisis.

Percy Flook, winner of the 1919 and 1923 races and second in the 1920 ‘Snowstorm Derby’, poses proudly with his Douglas and the Schlesinger Vase after his 1923 win.

FRED TO THE FINISH Fred Aulfes of Greytown, a regular winner of the award for the oldest rider to finish the D-J Commemorative Run, in his element on a previous run, extemporising an automatic inlet valve to get him to City Deep after a valve stem had broken.

Castrol: Keeping up a commitment

MOTORSPORT brought Castrol, co-sponsor of the D-J Commemorative Run this year, to South Africa 55 years ago and it is still going strong as one of the country’s biggest supporters of the sport.

Castrol technicians came from Britain with Malcolm Campbell early in 1929, when he brought his Napier-Campbell to the isolated Verneukpan in the north-western Cape to attempt a new world land speed record. Campbell struck many snags and did not succeed in his main aim, though he did set several lesser records, put when he returned to Britain, Castrol stayed.

Until then the company’s oils had been sold in South Africa through an agency, but the experience of the country and its potential gained by the men who accompanied Campbell, decided the company to open a local branch.

An office was opened in Johannesburg in June, 1929, and branch offices in Durban and Cape Town later that year.

The years from then until 1936, when it was run for the last time, saw the D-J reach the peak of its fame as one of the world’s toughest motorcycle races.

And Castrol was right there, as it was in many other major motorcycle and car races of the time.

Most of the company’s records of motor sport activities in South Africa in those days have unfortunately been lost and those that survive mention only one D-J.

Ironically, this was a race in which the winner did not use Castrol. But, as riders who did use Castrol filled the next five places, that hardly mattered.

Today, in addition to supporting individual competitors in almost every field of motor sport and co-sponsoring the D-J Commemorative Run, Castrol backs a wide variety of South African events for vehicles of all types and ages.

The Castrol Barberspan 500 on March 9 and 10, which opened the SA off-road racing championships for bikes and four-wheelers, regularly draws the biggest fields in the series – and did so again this year.

The Castrol International Rally, to be run from July 7 to 10 this year, is the country’s premier rally for modern cars and is in world class.

Though motorsport politics continue to deny it a place in the world rally championship series, it regularly attracts top overseas competitors.

This year the Audi works team in Europe will be entering Michele Mouton, the phenomenal French woman driver and her Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons in a works Quattro.

Less than three weeks later, on July 27 and 28, venerable cars and bikes, all built before the end of 1918, will be taking part in the Castrol National Veteran Run from Ladysmith to Durban.

The Castrol Three-Hour at Cape Town, scheduled for December 8 this year, has for years been established as one of our most popular endurance races.

Other events backed by Castrol include the national drag racing championship at Tarlton and the Castrol Clubman’s championship series at various racing circuits.


Spectators grin and a small boy gapes as ‘Iron Man’ Alf Long, winner of both ‘sidecar’ D-Js (1920 and ’21) and one solo race, shakes hands with passenger Johnny Driver after one of his victories.

Ruts, rocks and rivers all in the way to win

JUST about everything connected with the D-J, except the spirit of the riders, has changed since the first races were run, but nothing has changed more than the roads.

They used to be rutted, rocky, unsurfaced horrors – no more than the track; of farm wagons for much of the more than 600km.

By the time the last race was run, in 1936, they had improved a great deal, but were still surfaced with gravel except from Durban to Maritzburg and a few other short stretches, where there was tar.

Now there is tar all the way – and no gates.

Apart from the so-called roads themselves, farm gates, open railway crossings and drifts across spruits and rivers were major hazards in the early years.

A map of the route, issued for the 1919 race by the Rand Motor Club, shows that there were 39 open rail crossings, 62 spruits to be crossed and 10 deep drifts.

There were only 11 bridges across rivers, most of which were big ones like the Vaal at Standerton and Tugela at Colenso.

A sample section, between Balfour and Greylingstad, shows four gates, a spruit crossing and an open railway crossing in less than 5km. In the 60km between Volksrust and Newcastle there were eight open rail crossings.

In 1913, when the first race was run, there were 27 gates – to be opened and closed by the riders – between Greylingstad and Standerton. That meant a gate about every 2km.

Len Iggulden, who rode in four D-Js, airborne over a hump about 1,5km from the finish of the 1927 race, in which he came second.

Most of the gates were of the notorious “concertina” variety – devilish collapsible contraptions of sticks and barbed wire. They were among the most infuriating of the many hazards – and could be deadly.

In 1913, Holder on a Douglas, seeing one of them open, with the sticks and wire pulled clear of the road and lying on the ground, thankfully put on speed.

Too late, he saw that a single strand of barbed wire was stretched across the road between the tops of the gateposts. He could do nothing but duck and hope.

The barbs snatched his cap off as he scraped through, but Gould, also on a Douglas and the next man on the road, was not so fortunate.

He also saw the trap wire at the last moment, released his grip on the handlebars and tried to drop off the machine.

He was a fraction late. The wire caught his neck, lacerating the skin so badly that he had to have it stitched at Standerton. He continued the race as far as Ladysmith, where he retired because he could no longer stand the pain.

A little further on, Dove on a Premier dropped into an “awful hole”, was thrown into the air and fell on his chin, dislocating his jaw and forcing four of his upper teeth into the lower jaw.

He remained at the spot while a doctor was sent for, to warn other riders by waving his handkerchief.

When one arrived unexpectedly he exerted so much muscular effort, in an attempt to add a shouted warning, that the dislocated jawbone was pulled back into place.

Let’s hear of veterans

MORE than 30 veterans who rode in at least one of the old D-J races, including one rider who competed in the first race in 1913 and three winners of later events, were still living less than a year ago, nearly 50 years after the last race in 1936.

Mr Billy Bell, a well known veteran motorcyclist – though not a D-J rider – has over many years collected and collated a store of information about the races.

Since August last year, following the publication of an article based on his information, he has had letters from 34 ‘survivors’ or from people in close contact with them.

They include Mr F W Hatton of Ladysmith, who rode a 286cc FN in the first three-day race from Johannesburg to Durban 71 years ago.

He finished 22nd in 22hrs 38mins, at an average speed of 29,74km/h.

Mr C W Bower of Bulawayo won the 1925 race, which was his first D-J, at 59,52km/h.

He competed again in 1926, ’27 and ’28, flushing in the top 20 each time – 18th, 3rd and 5th respectively.

Mr Burton Kinsey, of Munster in Natal, competed in five D-Js from 1930 to ’34, winning in 1933 at a new record of 92km/h.

He was the first rider to break seven hours, his time being 6hrs 54mins 50secs, and in 1976 he became the first – and so far only – D-J race winner to ride in a Commemorative Run.

Mr Cranley Jarman, who had competed in the 1932 and ’33 races, won the last of the D-J races – which were always handicap events – in 1936 at 90,37km/h.

Mr Archie Browne of Witkoppen rode in five races from 1919 to ’33 and created a unique record in 1930.

He was first across the finishing line at City Deep, only to be excluded on a technical point concerning the silencer of his DKW, but was awarded a gold medal “for a good ride”.

Mr George Moulder of Kensington, Johannesburg, competed in 1923 and ’24; Mr H C Kirkland of Maritzburg rode in 1925 and 1928; Mr Len Iggulden of Maritzburg competed in four races, from 1927 to ’30, finishing second in 1927; and Mr Alf Anderson rode in 1928.

Mr Alex Grant of Malvern, Johannesburg, was another rider in 1928; Mr John Mynott of Glenwood, Durban, rode in three D-Js from 1928 to ’30.

Mr Norman Jones of Benoni competed in 1929; and Mr Jimmy Winters of Uvongo Beach is a veteran of seven races, from 1930 to ’36, with 5th in 1934 as his highest placing.

Mr C R Holmes of Port Shepstone rode in 1931 and ’32; Mr Johnny Galway of Lambton, Germiston and Mr Jack Freeman of Port Shepstone both competed three times, from 1933 to ’35; and Mr L N Horsfield of Westville, Durban, raced four times, from 1931 to ’35, when he finished second.

Mr Harold Hall of Montclair, Durban, raced three times, from 1934 to ’36, and has competed in every Commemorative Run, while Mr Hugh Fergusson, of Benoryn, Benoni, is another veteran of the races from 1924 to ’36 who has ridden in most of the Commemorative Runs.

Mr Hall will be riding a Levis, No 38, this year and Mr Fergusson will be on a BSA, No 32.

Mr P A van der Merwe of Hartebeespoort raced in 1934 and ’35, as did Mr K Jones of Umbilo, Durban; Mr R Hirzel of Parkhill Gardens, Germiston, competed in 1931 and ’34; Mr E Schroen of Maritzburg rode three times, from 1934 to ’36; Mr Alf Norcott of Congella, Durban and Mr H Williams of Benoni were riders in 1935 and Mr W Collard competed in 1936.

Mr Gordon Collins, who won fame for inter-city records in cars, competed in the 1928 D-J, as did Mr Roy Whiteford of Farramere, Benoni.

Mr Les Kadish of Johannesburg rode in 1929 and ’35; Mr Charlie Payne was a competitor from 1930 to ’33 arid Mr J P Thomas rode three times, from 1930 to ’32.

Mr Alex Macaulay of Kensington B, Randburg, competed in 1934 and ’36; Mr Buddy Fuller of Durban, South Africa’s ‘Mr Speedway’, rode in the 1935 D-J and Mr R G Fergusson, Hugh’s brother, competed in 1936.

Mr Bell believes there must be still more survivors of the historic races and would be pleased to hear from or about them.

His address is 74, Webber Road, Germiston, 1401 – telephone (011) 51-5164.

The days of the D-J and its men of iron
DESCRIBING the riders who won fame in the old D-J races as “Iron men” may be a cliché, but it is none the less a deserved accolade.

“The iron in those men was stronger than the steel in their bikes”, the old-timers say.

They are recalling men like Alf Long, Percy Flook, Fritz Zurcher, Old Charlie Young, Baby Scott and many more.

Alf Long was arguably the toughest of them all. His name appears on the Schlesinger Vase – the premier award for the race, but only to be won by solo riders – only once, but in fact he was a D-J winner three times.

When he got his name on the trophy, for winning the solo race in 1924, he had already won the sidecar races, run in conjunction with the solo events, in 1920 and 1921. They were the only two sidecar D-Js.

Alf rode in 18 of 20 D-Js, only missing the 1913 and 1914 events before the gap caused by the First World

His record included a second and a third place in addition to the wins, nine gold medals for finishing in the first 10 and 13 finishers’ medals in all.

In 1936 he crashed and broke a leg about 160km from the finish, but got back on the bike to take third place.

Then there was Old Charlie Young, who sat on the fuel tank for about half of the 1919 race to reduce the strain on makeshift repairs that he had carried out, with the aid of wire from a farmer’s fence, after a collision with a horse.

The bike was classed as un-rideable after the race, but Old Charlie had finished second to the great Percy Flook. He was to win the race three years later.

Baby Scott was the youngest and greatest of a family of outstanding riders. He rode in his first D-J in 1924, before he had turned 17, and beat his brothers Clarrie and Douggie to finish fifth. A year later he finished third on a tiny 172cc Francis Barnett.

In 1928 he won on a Chater Lea and in 1928 did it again on a James. He and Percy Flook were the only riders whose names appear twice on the Schlesinger Vase, as winners of the solo races.

In spite of his wins in 1919 and 1923, Percy Flook always considered his ride in 1920, when he finished second to Fritz Zurcher, the greatest of his life. That was the year of the famous Snowstorm Derby, but that – to quote Kipling – is another story.

The ones who kept going, even in a ‘snowstorm’

C W Bower, being welcomed at the finish after winning the 1925 race, followed up with 18th, 3rd and 5th places in the next three, riding a 348cc Douglas each time.

Most famous of all the stories about battles against the conditions on D-J races is that of the ‘Snowstorm Derby’, as the 1920 race was dubbed – and the duel it produced between Percy Flook and Fritz Zurcher. It was the last of the solo events run down from Johannesburg to Durban.

Weather conditions on the Transvaal Highveld were so bad on the morning of the start that there was serious discussion about calling the race off until several riders insisted that they would go, come hell or high water.

After many falls and more than 12 hours of battling through incessant rain, sleet, snow and mud to cover about 300km to the Laings Nek pass down into Natal, Flook – who had won the 1919 race – and two other riders sought shelter at a farmhouse in the pass.

Soon afterwards they heard that Zurcher had gone through, so Flook climbed back into his wet and icy riding kit and set out after him, reaching the overnight stop at Newcastle 75 minutes behind.Next day he closed the gap and caught Zurcher as he was mending a puncture south of Estcourt. But hardly had he done so when his bike’s handlebars broke and he came down again. He fashioned a makeshift handlebar from a fence post and some wire, but Zurcher was well ahead again by then.

A puncture at Hillcrest was almost the last straw for Flook, but he was assured of second place if he could finish, so grimly got on with the job.

Only six other riders finished that race, which Flook – who won again in 1923 – always classed as his finest ride.

Zurcher’s winning time was 23hrs 18mins 20secs, compared with Flook’s 12.45.47 the previous year.

Percy Flook’s and Zurcher’s wins gave manufacturers Douglas three of the five D-J victories that made it the most successful marque in the history of the race.

Percy’s brother Syd kept things in the family by winning on a Douglas in 1927, after C Bower had scored the fourth Douglas win in 1925.

Ralph Lange, king of the Commemorative Run with two wins and two seconds to his credit, celebrates one of his victories in appropriate style. (Photograph taken after he won the 1976 DJ)

The article below, by Jack Skip, comes from the “The Vintage Motorcycle” 1984. VMCC UK


The British entry in this year’s Durban-Johannesburg Trial would certainly recognise some truth in the statement that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. After arriving in Durban in glorious weather which matched the expectations nurtured during the bitterly cold weather in the U.K. just prior to departure to Africa, the D-J was run in conditions so bad that even the Brits, noticed it! Not that we should really complain as the rain broke a drought of some years’ duration which has had serious effects on agriculture as was evidenced by the state of the farm lands seen on the journey down to the coast.

As most people will know the D-J Trial commemorates the series of road races which were run over the 400 miles between the two cities between 1913 and 1936 when racing over open roads became unacceptable. The commemorative event is a timed trial of the kind familiar to V.M.C.C. rallyists but with some significant differences. To begin with there are “open” sections in which there are no controls and the only requirement is to be on time at the conclusion of such open sections in order to start the “closed’* sections on time. The closed sections have secret and in some cases hidden controls and have to be ridden, not at a fixed average speed, but at averages which vary over parts of the closed section from 25 m.p.h. to 48 m.p.h. There can be as many as 14 speed changes in any one section. The point which the average speed changes is indicated on the route card at the time at which, if you are on schedule, you should be passing the point on the road from which the new average applies. Times are recorded to the second and points are lost for each one second late or early at the control. Add to this the usual requirement for blanked out speedometers and the scene is set for a demanding competition.

In this year’s D-J there were eight closed sections in which there were 21 controls. When I say that the winner lost 202 marks which is an average of under 10 seconds error per control, you can begin to appreciate the precision of the rallyists who win this event. The dedication of the “Tigers” has to be seen, two stop watches at least are in use, one to record overall time and the other to assess the speed at which the rider is travelling, either by timing the passing of the kilometre posts or counting the number of dotted lines painted on the road where these two aids exist, Other more esoteric methods must come into play where they do not, but these are beyond my understanding.

The “professional” approach indicated by the above however, does nothing to destroy the essential fun and socialising which is such an inseparable part of the enjoyment of the D-J which is refreshingly free from one-upmanship, a genuine admiration for the Tigers exists alongside the leisurely approach taken by the rabbits like me who are only out for the enjoyment.

As I have said the Overseas contingent arrived with high hopes. There were seven competitors from the U.K., Majorie and Rod Ringer, Roger Keane, David Millard, Ian McBride and Jack Skipp whilst Jerry Willard and Cees de Wit came from the Netherlands. In the event Roger Keane’s wife, Maureen, sportingly accepted the opportunity of acting as sidecar passenger to one of the competitors whose scheduled passenger was prevented from riding through injury.

Sponsorship from the South African authorities dealt with the fares for entrants from overseas, a helpful official from the Ministry of Sport eased our passage through the Immigration controls and the hospitality of the local enthusiasts which included a barbecue at the Vintage Movement Club House augured well and everybody arrived in Durban on top form. At least almost everybody, the Ringers from the Isle of Wight and the two entries from Holland who had shipped bikes out spent what must have been a frustrating time clearing custom formalities but ultimately succeeded in getting the machinery to the beach front hotel which was the trial headquarters. The rest, having availed themselves of the generous offers by local enthusiasts to supply machinery, which was taken down to Durban for us, were spared this problem.

A 1931 KSS Velocette had been provided for me by Peter Blackwell and after scrutineering, which is pretty stringent, had passed off successfully, I precipitated my usual crisis by having the Velocette seize-up during a trial trip up the road. This was due to my failure to turn on the oil tap. In self-defence all I can say is “nobody told me.” Alternative machinery was offered for my use but I had my heart set on riding the Velocette and after giving it a mild thrashing down the road, decided that I would risk it on the trial. In the event it went splendidly and gave me first trouble-free ride I had had in the D-J out of three entries.

At the start on the first day of the Trial there were ominous signs that the weather was not going to oblige and wet weather gear became the order of the day. With some 25 miles past, in the picturesquely named Valley of the Thousand Hills, the weather deteriorated into something the Scottish Highlands would have been proud of. Mist accompanied by what I would describe as high density rain (i.e. 1,000 droplets per square inch), made the wearing of goggles impossible and as I wear glasses left me in some difficulty. The road, not being a major highway, also provided a challenge as it had numerous and deep potholes which were difficult to see due to the conditions. After climbing the escarpment some 2,500 feet above sea level the mist vanished but the rain continued as it would do for the whole day. An excellent curry lunch at Estcourt some 160 miles from Durban restored the tissues somewhat but I have to admit that the end of the first day’s run at 280 miles to Newcastle, where large measures of brandy, rum and mulled wine were waiting, did not come a moment too soon.

At this the halfway mark the usual disasters began to surface. Ian McBride from Northern Ireland developed gearbox problems on his Velocette and poor Ian was left standing at the roadside until picked up by the sweep car. This left him with a severe chill and a temperature which ended his D-J. Mary Ringer riding her 350 Rudge finished the day with valve clearances considerably in excess of normal. Every effort was made by the locals to remedy this but finally the bike succumbed to the dreaded shellacitis and that was that. Edward Lewis who was riding a 1921 Rudge multi had the belt break some 10 miles out from Newcastle and discovered that the spare he was carrying was unsuitable. He pushed and free-wheeled his way into the finish and was at work at 5.30 next morning to get the bike ready for the second day. He succeeded in this and was rewarded at the finish with a trophy for the most sporting rider. In my view, richly deserved, anybody riding a belt-driver in the D-J is a hero, but to triumph over the problems encountered by Edward as well, reflects something special.

The second day was, to begin with, fairly uneventful. It started with a lovely 40-mile long open section run to Volksrust, this included nice swinging bends over mountain passes with no worries about keeping to schedule. All went well until Heidelburg, about 50 miles from Johannesburg where the rain started again, this time the high velocity stair-rod variety which made riding pretty painful and so to the finish, for my part highly delighted at having had no problems.

Followed the prize-giving lunch the next day at which David Millard collected the cup for the best first time competitor in the D-J and also the best overseas rider trophy. As already mentioned Edward Lewis took the most sporting rider award and endeared himself to those present by saying that having come all that way and received such hospitality and help, he felt that the least he could do in the circumstances was to try “bloody hard”. This sentiment was much appreciated.

So ended the 1984 D-J which I am sure will live a long time in the memory of those who took part and I am sure I speak for all the overseas competitors in paying tribute to this unique event.