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The Peril Speed Equipe

Estimate: £20,000 - £24,000

The Peril Speed Equipe

The following three Lots were constructed by the late Bill Bragg. A carpenter/cabinet maker, Bill Bragg lived in Canterbury Road, Thornton Heath and in the mid-1950s took up circuit racing with a Triumph sidecar outfit. A big crash at Crystal Palace resulted in several months in hospital and Bill transferred his allegiance to sprinting. Although most of his engineering skills were self-taught, Bill’s radical ideas on how to get a motorcycle down the quarter-mile as quickly as possible would turn out to be highly influential. In 1958 he built what is considered to be the first double-engined sprint bike ‘Twin Thing’, which carried its two Triumph engines in an extended Norton Featherbed frame. He persevered with this bike for 18 months or so, but never really sorted out the coupling of the two engines.

In 1960 Bill decided to go back to a single 650cc Triumph engine and made a purpose-built sprint frame - again a first - with fuel carried in the top tube and oil in the main downtube. He purchased a glassfibre drop fuel tank from a P51 Mustang fighter plane and set about making a fairing from it. This was commonplace in the USA, where many ‘Lake Racers’ used drop tanks as car bodies, but once again a first for the UK. Early in 1961 the machine was featured in ‘Motor Cycle’ magazine, which referred to it as the first ‘kneeler’ sprint bike. At this stage it used the blunt end of the teardrop-shaped drop tank as a fairing, but soon after this Bill fitted the pointed end instead and the bike took on the form it has today.

Another point of discussion over the years has been the exhausts, which pointed forwards and exited the fairing as four small outlets. Many opinions have been put forward regarding this innovation, but the reason was simple: first of all there was not sufficient space inside the fairing for the conventional two pipes so a different route had to be found. Secondly, he did not have a tube bender so could not bend large-diameter, thin-walled tubes; his simple solution resolved both of these problems. Amazingly, the tubes for all Bill’s frames were bent by heating to red hot and then bending them in the grill of the drain in the gutter outside his house! The rest of the specification comprised a Norton/AMC gearbox and clutch, and twin Dell’Orto carburettors. This simple set up formed the basis of Bill’s many sprint and drag race bikes for the next 40 years.

Bill painted the fairing bright yellow, and in an article written by Vic Willoughby the machine was dubbed ‘Yellow Peril’; the Peril Speed Equipe was born. ‘Yellow’ ran a best quarter mile of 13.39 seconds as a solo and 13.99 as a sidecar, with long term passenger Chris Buckingham in the chair. The sprinter was transported to events on the sidecar platform of Bill Bragg’s road transport, and when the number of bikes increased a trailer was towed behind the outfit. Bill’s trusty sidecar outfit covered thousands of miles as he pursued national and world records on both two and three wheels.

Later in 1961 Bill Bragg started a new bike, incorporating swinging-arm rear suspension to cope with the bumpier tracks of the era, and this became ‘Scarlet Peril’. The specification was similar to ‘Yellow’ but Amal TT carburettors were used. This bike was something of a disappointment, as it did not go any quicker than Yellow Peril. Undeterred, Bragg set about a new project for the 1962 season.

This machine, ‘Blue Peril’, used the same frame layout as ‘Yellow’ with the rear suspension innovation of ‘Scarlet Peril’, but added a supercharger to the mix. Bragg is credited as the first person to supercharge Triumph twin engines, and he was helped by the Allard Motor Company, which supplied the Shorrock supercharger. Once the initial fuel starvation problems were overcome the bike ran 11.19 seconds for the quarter-mile, very much on the pace for that period. Bragg raced ‘Yellow Peril’ as a sidecar and ‘Blue Peril’ as a solo up until the end of 1966, although both bikes were run in both solo and sidecar form. In 1965 ‘Yellow Peril’ set a 750cc sidecar world speed record at 147mph. A fourth bike, ‘Silver Peril’ was built, apparently for grass sprinting, and was later ridden at sprint events by sidecar passenger, Chris Buckingham. Its whereabouts are unknown. When Bill Bragg emigrated to Australia in 1966, the bikes disappeared.

In 1999, Ron May, president of the National Sprint Association and one of Bill’s rivals, died. Ron owned four sprint bikes and a couple of circuit racers. When these were purchased from his estate, the Perils were discovered in a collapsed shed at the end of his garden where it is believed they had been since 1966. They were rescued by current sprinter Bob Anderson and subsequently rebuilt by Tony Huck.

‘Yellow Peril’ was restored in 2005 and ridden for the first time in 39 years at North Weald in July 2005 by Norman Hyde. Since then it has been ridden at Mallory Park, North Weald and at Beaulieu, where it resided in the National Motor Museum alongside ‘Blue Peril’ until 2009. In 2006 ‘Blue Peril’ was completed and the engine run at North Weald in August of that year. ‘Scarlet Peril’ was restored in 2008, and in 2010 the three bikes were displayed together for the first time in over 45 years.

‘Yellow Peril’ was prepared for North Weald in August 2010 and Martin Newton took over the controls. Martin ran a 13.7-second quarter-mile with a 94mph terminal speed, a very creditable effort as he confessed after the run that ‘the clutch started to slip so I shut it off just before the finish.’

Bill Bragg’s inventiveness and innovation put him firmly at the forefront of the development of sprint and drag race bikes in the 1960s. Putting the Perils in context, they pre-date George Brown’s Super Nero and all of Alf Hagon sprint bikes, and thus are of immense historical significance in the development of the sport.

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