• Unique historic racing motorcycle • Fascinating TT and other history • Distinctive looks
The Manxman was a motorcycle designed and built by H. J. Hatch and Eric Walker of the Excelsior Motor company in Tyseley, Birmingham. Introduced in 1935, The Manxman was first raced at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT in the same year. Although it never won the TT, the Manxman was a very popular and reliable motorcycle which was successful in international racing and the Manx Grand Prix. Production was halted by the Second World War and did not resume.
The Manxman Special is thought by the vendor to have been made in 1949, by renowned frame and fork maker E.R.G. ‘Ernie’ Earles. If it was Earles’ work, this was an early design by the man who went on to patent the Earles Fork in 1953. Internet research, however, has turned up a Classic Bike article from November 2015 that suggests the bike was designed and made by Shrewsbury bike-shop owner J.J.I.’Jack’ Sparrow (of whom more in a moment…).
It’s also claimed that the bike made its TT debut in 1949 – a letter in a contemporary bike magazine records the presence of an aluminium-framed Excelsior at the TT, and the vendor believes that it may have been ridden at that ‘49 TT by Doug Beasley, who had previously ridden a works Excelsior.
What is more certain is that the aforementioned Jack Sparrow rode the Manxman Special at the Lightweight TT event in 1951 (achieving 15th place), 1952 (21st), 1953 (retired) and 1954 (16th). As Manxman had ceased production at the outbreak of WWII, the Manxman engine was at least 12 years old when Sparrow commenced his TT career.
Subsequently, the Manxman Special was acquired by a rider named Bill Smith, who in 1955 entered the inaugural Isle of Man Southern Hundred event on the bike, and won his class. (The vendor has seen an article on Bill Smith in a 2021 edition of Classic Bike, for those seeking more information.)
The vendor acquired the Manxman Special around three years ago, from the estate of the owner of a private museum in Chertsey, Surrey. It is believed that the bike was in the collection for more than ten years prior to the owner’s demise. The vendor has not been able to establish any details of the bike’s history between 1955 and its arrival in the private museum, but our research has revealed that it was sold by Bonhams Motor Auctions in April 2004, listed as part of a deceased estate.
Bonhams’ listing confirms the idea that the frame may have been made by Earles, but says this happened in 1948 while the machine was owned by Sparrow! The listing continues: “At around the same time, Sparrow fitted BSA telescopic forks and a Norton front hub...The machine's engine dates from around 1936.”
Doug Beasley’s name also comes up in the Bonhams listing, where he is credited with having made modifications to the bike’s engine.
Bonhams also record the bike as having been previously sold in 1999, again as part of a deceased estate, this time that of the late Eddie Williams, but goes on to say that no supporting documentation for any of the above history can be found.
The vendor has no paperwork for the Manxman Special, but he does have one blurry b/w photo of the bike in action (pictured), believed to have been taken on the TT event. Manufactured for racing, the bike has not been registered for use on the road. As it’s not registered the Manxman Special is MoT-exempt.
As far as one can tell, the bike is largely original, although the vendor suggests that the front brake is a non-period later addition – it would, he says, originally have had a single, leading-shoe ‘Manx’ brake. There is a modern rev counter attached to the handlebars, and a plastic bottle has been duct-taped to the frame to act as a catch-tank for surplus oil – something that would not have been required in 1949! A new owner might wish to address these minor issues to return the bike to something closer to its original condition. The frame, forks, fuel tank and the engine components appear to be in extremely good order, with no evidence of corrosion or damage.
The vendor says the bike is fitted with a GP carburettor and close-ratio Albion gearbox.
Since acquisition, the vendor has not ridden the bike but he has started it, and assures us that it runs acceptably well. As the bike was previously in a museum, it is likely to have been a long time since it was regularly used and the new owner will need to be aware of this. (Even that Bonhams listing from 2004 says that the machine’s last date of use and mechanical condition ‘are unknown’.)
Visually, everything appears to be in order but it’s difficult to establish the condition of the engine without hearing it run. Similarly, we cannot verify whether the brakes or any other mechanical parts function as they should, other than to say that they all look to be in very good condition.
This is a unique machine with a TT and Southern Hundred pedigree and a fascinating, if vague in places, history. Further research would make an interesting project (if you can get past all the internet references to the Pirates of the Caribbean films!).
It’s a technically interesting machine and would be guaranteed to turn heads at any historic motorcycle event. For those with an interest in historic motorcycles, than can be few such intriguing – or rare – machines on the market.
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