The following article is an excerpt from the book 'Royal Enfield: From the Bicycle to the Bullet' by Anne Bradford and published by Brewin Books Ltd. To purchase the book, you can contact Brewin Books or purchase it directly from Royal Enfield Books
What had started life as the Thruxton Nine Hours Race staged by the Southampton and District Club in 1955, became the Motorcycle 500 Mile Race in 1958 and was to be the scene of several manufacturer inspired entries in the long distance production machine race. The likes of Mike Hailwood and many another great names of the time raced production machines entered by dealers which were in reality works-prepared machines, including Royal Enfield.
It was the sight of one of the Super Meteors competing in the Thruxton Production Machine Endurance Race in 1958, ridden by the great Bob McIntyre contending for the lead, that was instrumental in my making my own competition debut. The sight was sufficiently inspiring for me to acquire a Super Meteor, which I soon found to be the equal of current big British twins when ridden with elan on the open roads; there was no 70 mile per hour speed limit in those days.
The Motor Cycling Club staged meetings on the Silverstone Club circuit in the late fifties and indeed still do. Whilst there was no structured production machine racing at the time, it was about the only place where road machines could compete without entering the competition arena against purpose-built racers. It was the scene of something of an annual 'bash ' for aspiring road racers and the competition was fast and furious.
My own inauspicious competition debut took place in the Hour High Speed Trials in 1958 where the 'bog standard ' Meteor proved to be pretty competitive as it was. However, disqualification for 'over exuberance ' resulted.
It is relevant to mention that a certain Mr Collander won the Southern Area Sidecar Scrambles Championship on a 700 RE because it was that bike, prepared by ex-Norton works rider and dealer Syd Lawton of Lawton & Wilson of Southampton, that was the one that I was to purchase from Syd in October 1969, to supersede my own standard model.
Fitted with the pistons and camshafts that were to be standard on the later Constellation model, it was competitive enough to hold the production machine lap record at the Silverstone Club circuit for three years against the Tiger 110s, BSA Super Rockets and Lightinised Vincents of the day. Even so, with a long string of places, I never quite managed to get 'under the linen ' first.
1958 was McIntyre 's first try at winning the '500 ' on a 700 RE, but it was marred by a leaking petrol tank and misfire. However, although frequently lapping faster than any other machine in the 50 strong grid, second place surprised many who would not have considered the Meteor a competitive mount. In that year, a certain Mike Hailwood ran out the winner. A couple more tries in following years ended with a spill and a broken connecting rod.
In 1961, I was riding a Constellation entered by the Royal Enfield Owners Club, one of five competing that year, so the marque was gaining recognition among keen clubmen. My machine was in fact loaned by the factory, while the cycle details were supervised by Syd Lawton. However, an error in calculating the fuel consumption meant that I had to push back to the pits for something like two miles, which somewhat spoilt the result; 13th.
The Crusader 250 four stroke single fared rather better though. In 1960 it won its class, ridden by R Prowting and M Munday. It was a popular model for club-production racing for several years and has since made something of a comeback in Classic racing.
Royal Enfield may not be a name that is always associated with road racing competition but raced they were, and the standard product was at least as competitive as the other machines of the day.
Ray Knight started a 36-year racing career on a Royal Enfield Super Meteor in 1958 and rode a works Constellation in the Thruxton endurance races in 1961/62. A contributor to motorcycle magazines for 25 years, he has published five books on motorcycle racing and won a Production TT in 1968.