[Words: Paul d’Orléans. Photos: D.G. Manktelow]

D.G. Manktelow needed a few college credits, and had an interest in photography, so took a photography class in East Sussex, England, in 1960.  He documented his friends in the the British Rocker scene from  1960-65.  Be careful what you study as an afterthought in college – it’s likely to become your career after graduation, as happened with D.G., who became a professional photographer. His son Adrian Manktelow has kindly consented to show some of D.G.’s photos on The Vintagent, as a tribute to his father’s skill, and the unique period he documented. Many of the riders remain family friends, although a few didn’t pass the trial by fire of the Rocker years...

a pair of Norton Atlas 750s, with ‘ace’ bars and a dustbin fairing, in front of a ‘typical Rocker car covered in Bondo – an Austin Atlantic)’

And all the classic Rocker gear is represented; the Goldies, Bonnies, Dommis, dustbin fairings, even a Norvin, and at the end, a couple of Japanese lightweights…. There was always a bit of real racing to inspire the ‘go faster’ look of the Rocker boys; these shots (above and below) of a racing Dominator 88 were taken at Mallory Park. A very tasty machine indeed, and worthy of imitation.

Pre-unit Triumph Bonneville with full cafe racer gear, and a BSA DBD34 Gold Star in standard Clubman trim with a Lyta aluminum racing tank
There was always a bit of real racing to inspire the ‘go faster’ look of the Rocker boys; these shots of a racing Norton Dominator 88 were taken at Mallory Park. A very tasty machine indeed, and worthy of imitation.
The other side of the racing Dominator, having a little fettle before its next track outing
Nothing will make your Norton Dominator 99 go faster than a leopard seat cover and Goldie muffler! The two-in-one exhaust was an optional extra from Norton, and the flat ‘bars are standard. It was sporty to begin with… you can tell it’s an early ’60/’61 model by the two-tone paint job (standard) and the Norton ‘button’ on the timing cover – of course it’s a Slimline Featherbed frame as well.
Another Norton -complete with a Peel fairing- that’s being used to its cornering limits, as the fiberglass will shortly be ground away on the tarmac, or, if you’re really unlucky…

 

…it will find a bump in the road and lift the rear wheel off the deck, pitching itself and the rider off the road completely. This machine is an early Wideline Norton, can’t tell if it’s a single or twin-cylinder, but it has the ’58/’59 type chrome panel on the petrol tank; the ‘ace’ bars have Doherty alloy levers, very racy, and the rear valanced mudguard has had the removeable rear section… removed! Much of it would have needed repair after this getoff, but it seems the rider never had to bother, as the notation says “he survived this spill but wasnt’ so luckly later when he died on his way back from London on this bike…”.
Not all Nortons were Dominators, Atlases, or Internationals; this is the only photo I’ve ever seen of a café racer Norton Navigator! The 350cc little twin was never a great performer, and certainly didn’t live up to the hotrod reputation of it’s bigger brothers. I’ve owned four of them (don’t ask), and the timing chest sounded like a cast iron stove being run over cobblestones… not Norton’s best effort. But, they are compact and tidy looking, and share forks and wheels with the big twins.
Not all Rocker-worthy machines were British, either; this NSU Supermax 250cc single is a rare cafe racer, although plenty of road racers were built in imitation of their rare Sportmax production racer.  Here’s a before-and-after study…
…of an attempt to lighten and sportify what was already a very good machine. The pukka racing NSU Sportmax is one of most beautiful motorcycles of all time, but this impecunious young owner could only manage to lose the front mudguard and add ‘ace’ handlebars… improvement or desecration?
Regarding clip-ons; for the seriously racy crouch, the rule was, ‘the lower the better’ – just above the lower fork clamp seems to have been the goal. Inspired by racing practice, it became Fashion, and actual utility was left out of the equation…no racer had clip-ons that low! The fellow on the second machine has inverted some fairly high handlebars to really get down to it.
This Triumph Tiger 90 with ‘bikini’ rear enclosure, ca.’62-’64, has met its cornering limit fairly quickly – the centerstand and footrests are being shaved away by tarmac. This bike is very standard though – rearsets would be useful for such scratching! Undoubtedly, the rider needed the bike to take him to work or school the next day, so practicality ruled the hour…
Here’s another rarity; a Royal Enfield Super 5, their sportiest 250 in 1962/3, with short leading-link forks, 5 speeds, and a 20hp engine, giving about 84mph top whack. This is a ’62 model with deeply valanced front mudguard – amazingly the bike is completely standard, with ‘ace’ bars as per catalogue spec. R.E. had a clue; in 1964 they introduced a factory-built café racer –  the Continental GT.
Another classic cafe racer on the right; a Norvin, the immortal combination of a Vincent 1000cc v-twin in a Norton Featherbed chassis, which according to the notes ‘had only three speeds’, but still went like stink! This machine falls into the Barely Legal category, with no head or taillamp in the this photo, but later on…
… it was completed, and our lad can be seen ‘hanging off’ at the notorious bend which ate the Norton in the earlier photo.. Note the spectators lurking on the outside of the bend – the Rockers must have been the best thing going on a sunny weekend day, and  this was the corner worth watching!
Another corner worth watching; here a BSA Gold Star tears around the bend, while the fellow in the plaid jacket records the proceedings on his portable tape player! I can hear it now – the classic Gold Star muffler has been replaced with a short megaphone (actually a factory racing item), and it was LOUD. The rider is very well tucked away and leaning a lá Phil Read into the bend. Nice technique.
Another shot of our B.S.A. Gold Star hotrod, with clip-ons a bit lower than the Factory set them…the tank is patterned on the ‘Lyta’ large-capacity racing item, although this looks like a fiberglass copy – much cheaper, and money was certainly tight in the 1960’s. Phil Read had only recently introduced the ‘knee hang’ on GP circuits; it would be many years before racers would hang completely off the seat. The lad had great style – what a terrific shot!
“Into every ride a little Trouble must fall”… and if you’ve ditched your center stand for more ground clearance, a kerb is a handy thing. Even a Learner could ride a hot Royal Enfield Clipper 250cc, as this fellow has, while waiting for his pal on the Norton with Peel fairing to sort out his issue. Note the four-wheeled competition driving away; truly, motorcycles ruled the road in the 1960s in England. That little Hillman  saloon would be hard pressed to make 70mph, and certainly wouldn’t get there quickly.
And if you’ve got a bike, and your mate’s is down, give the lad a ride…no holding onto the rider though! A very nice Norton Domi 88 or 99, with optional tachometer, but driven from where? Perhaps it’s just for show – I only see one cable – or maybe it’s an 8-day clock!
And then, the Trojan horses appeared…so unassuming in thes early days, and so small.  While the 125cc SOHC Honda CB92 Benly had tremendous performance for its capacity, it was still only a 125… and if the rider was a big bloke, it would take a while to achieve the 70mph max – no passing Hillmans then. Note the fellow’s ’59’ Club patch; Father ‘Bill’ Shergold’s club for motorcyclists, and you had to visit his church in Hackney Wick, London, to get a patch. It was the largest motorcycle club in the world during the 1960s.
By the time this Yamaha YDS1 250cc two-stroke twin appeared, all bets were off, and Honda had already won a string of TT victories. Yamaha and Suzuki were pressing hard on the Isle of Man as well as on the GP circuits, scoring victories over their exotic DOHC counterparts from Italy and Germany. Britain had long before given up a credible threat in GP racing.

Cue ‘The End’ by the Doors please, as this was the smoky perspective soon to be seen by all the leaky, unreliable, cobbled-up, badge-engineered, head-in-the-sand British café racers in the very near future. More’s the pity…

 

 

 

 

Related Posts

Bill Phelps

Those Ace Cafe Days