While doing some research on the Velocette MkVII KTT production racer, I was reminded of Les Higgins, who rode one in the 1938 Isle of Man TT, and wrote a book about his racing exploits, ‘Private Owner’ (Foulis, 1948). He was never in the top ranks of riders, but writes about the life of a typical ‘clubman’, the arch-enthusiast who spent all his money and free weekends racing at Brooklands, the Isle of Man TT, the Ulster Grand Prix, at Donington Park, etc, filling up the ranks of the ‘also rans’.  Riders such as Les Higgins were the principal customers for over-the-counter racing machinery, such as the Velocette KTT, Norton Model 30 International /Mans, Excelsior Manxman, etc.

A rare find, but essential for a Velocette KTT enthusiast: ‘Private Owner’ explores one man’s passion for racing. This is a scan of the dust cover, showing Les racing his Velocette MkVII at the Isle of Man in 1938. [Foulia]
His account of racing in the 1930s is a track-side glimpse of an insider who was just as in awe of his heroes as the presumed reader, and he recounts the endless dramas of his various races in great detail.  Lap times, which riders rode which bikes, how the bikes performed, and occasional quotes from the champions, make ‘Private Owner’ a charming period piece, on par with G.S. Davidson’s numerous books on racing in the immediate post-war era. Higgins was quite young when he first encountered motorcycle racing as a schoolboy (1924), along the promenade during the Herne Bay speed trials.  Five years later he purchased a new 1929 Velocette KSS, learning how to ride on the road and prepare for racing.  Like many aspiring but not wealthy racers, he found ‘last year’s model’ racers in the 1930s, like a Velocette KTT MkIV and later MkV, paid for with his meager weekly wages of 57 shillings.  He ultimately bought a new MkVII KTT in 1938, although this meant he had to enter the IOM TT to gain delivery of the bike, but was intimidated, to say the least, with what was the world’s most important road race at the time.

Les Higgins on his Velocette MkVII KTT at the 1938 IOM TT races. He finished 29th in the Junior TT, with a 73.39mph average speed, with a fastest lap of 30m 12s.  From the book:”Between 1938 and 1951, fairhaired Londoner Les Higgins had seven goes at the TT and finished once, 29th in the 1939 Junior on the machine pictured. His infinitely more memorable achievement was the original ‘Shell History of the TT’ which he painstaking compiled in 1953.”[Keig Collection]
Here’s a couple of extracts from ‘Private Owner’ : “…an agent whispered into my ear the news of the birth of a new KTT. I straightaway parted with the Mark V and placed an order for a new Mark VII…a few weeks later the agent telephoned to say that Veloce were despatching the KTTs very shortly but were only supplying them to TT entrants. This was a step I had not considered taking, but I decided that if competing in the Island races was the only way to get the KTT then I had better enter!”

Les Higgins at the Isle of Man, with the wind blowing open his leather riding jacket.  Note his gear, with the leather jodhpurs held up by suspenders, and the lace-up boots.  This outfit is likely supplied by D.Lewis, now known as Lewis Leathers… [Dennis Quinlan]
“In 1939 [before the war] England possessed three circuits where motorcycles and cars could be raced: Brooklands, Crystal Palace, and Donington. It was found necessary to commandeer these in order to win the war, and the Palace and Donington became dumps for vehicles…what the tenants did to Brooklands was deemed too terrible to be made public; suffice to say the owners sold out and Brooklands passed out of the history of motoring for ever, mourned by all… Although no one begrudges them their sport, it was remarkable that horse racing in now way suffered, for the grounds so beloved by the horse racing fraternity were soon back in circulation….We did what we could with former aerodromes, which was better than nothing but a poor substitute.  To ad to our woe the peoples of the Continent, their lands ravaged by warfare and raped by the conquering enemy, promptly set about the organization of road racing…”