A Rudge lost to time

The story of a 499cc Rudge Syndicate racer, by Mike Farrall

I guess as time goes on, top all-round racers, the likes of Tyrell will be forgotten as more and more new names take accolades at the forefront of racing. He has become my Rudge racer hero over the years with more and more of his memorabilia coming my way to preserve and hold high for him.

Briefly, after some glorious years, Rudge quit racing in 1933, but Graham Walker part of the works team (Murray Walker’s father) formed a Syndicate team of Tyrell-Smith, Wal Hanley, Ernie Nott and himself as long as Rudge could supply the race bikes, this worked to a small degree. 

I had been looking hard at a photo at all details I could make out, kept by my bedside for 15 to 20 years. Of a Rudge race bike in a glass case somewhere in Australia, and wondering what it was hiding, often thinking it was talking to me, and me to it, through the photo below. 

H G Tyrell-Smith Rudge Syndicate racer

1934 Rudge 499cc Syndicate Racer

The description was slightly wrong and no confirmation of truth. It stated that it has been ridden at the Isle of Man in 1934 and brought to Australia in 1935 and was, at that time, the fastest bike in Australia.

I was informed it was for sale and given the details to make contact, which I duly did. I explained my position with Rudges, to be told he was not really quite ready to sell. The bike had been in the family for many years belonging to the owner’s father and had been in the museum for some 50 years.

A chance to buy the ultimate classic race bike

Two years later he made contact by luck on the last day of private bidding on the bike. That in itself was a difficult one, to come up with an off the cuff price!

The following day he phoned and told me I was not the highest bidder. However, he wanted it to come to the UK and for me to have it… wow! Next problem was to tell the wife, pay for it and get it home whilst still not knowing what it really was.

The given frame and engine numbers did not make sense and I contacted the Birdwood Museum in Adelaide to confirm collection and to check these details were correct for shipping. They checked the paperwork, different but wrong numbers again, on checking the frame and engine, BINGO! Now my dreams and beliefs all came true!

Tommy Rogers and George Hannaford in Australia on the Rudge in 1935
Tommy Rogers holding a hat was the Victoria, Rudge Agent, and is shaking hands with George Hannaford after winning the Australian TT 1935.

It was indeed one of a batch of 12 racing bikes produced in 1934 for the syndicate team to race with others for sale over the counter. Not only that, it was the only one of the 12 that was actually raced by the factory and by a Syndicate member. It was not ridden at the Isle of Man TT but at the Ulster Grand Prix, coming in third place with Tyrell-Smith. It was then exported to Australia and entered the Australian TT. It finished either 1st or 3rd of that I am not sure yet.

The bike arrived home the weekend of Goodwood Revival 2011. It was an emotional drive past Coventry with the bike coming home to its birthplace. 

The 1934 Rudge story developed further

A couple of months later the person giving the contact details, sent a couple of photos and asked if they were similar to the bike I had bought? Not only were they like it… the machine in the photos was the same bike! Amazing as I had never seen a 1934 Rudge racer full side picture, and there were both sides.

A vintage racer with history

Another two or three months passed and the same guy phoned me, advising me he had something silver for me and would be down to see me tonight. What he turned up with was amazing.

Tyrell-Smith’s 1934 Ulster GP third-place trophy for the bike, silver Ulster team medals, 1929 and 1932 3rd place TT silver replicas along with his personal scrapbooks from 1927 to 1939 in five volumes.

This really was amazing to bring together after so many years apart and to find so much out about such an amazing machine.

It was then that I learned that the bike was also raced at Brooklands in 1934 again by Tyrell-Smith in the 100 Mile GP and achieved over 100mph on petrol. 

The Rudge is back on the road

Left in the museum there was no chance of the Ulster trophy and history of the bike coming together. It is a Rudge Syndicate racer in the true word, one of 12 over the counter racers

499cc, giving 34 bhp at 4000 rpm, four-valve, semi-radial, 10 degree down draught bronze head with RR50 (Rolls-Royce spec) alloy crankcases.

It has a close-ratio magnesium 4-speed gearbox, coupled alloy muffed 8″ brake drums, 1″ longer double bridged front forks, a large Brooklands type fuel tank, aerodynamic oil tank and a special new frame for 1934. It has 21″ front wheel and 20″ rear leaving the factory weighing 308lbs.

It really is literally the last factory race bike made with all the latest mods available in 1934. It is a fantastic bike to ride, I feel very privileged to be caretaker of this machine for a while and have a special place in my heart for it. The bike is now recommissioned and used regularly on the road and at events around the country by both myself and my daughter Laura.