Here’s a bit of a scoop, we think we’ve found the earliest film footage of scooter racing. And there’s no Lambrettas or Vespas to be seen at all!
For all those who think scooter racing began with the first Italian Vespas and Lambrettas in the 1940s, we’ve got news for you. Let us take you back to the 1910s, and Essex in England. The seafront road from Westcliff towards Southend-on-Sea was where the Westcliff Speed Trials were held, organised we think by the Essex Motor Club.
Research has shown this event dates back to at least 1910 and continued until at least 1921, where car marques such as Vauxhall, Silver Hawk, Fiat, Frazer-Nash and Bugatti, along with motorbikes such as Triumph, Norton, Sunbeam, Douglas and Indian took part in races along the seafront.
There was even an event in June 1914 it seems, despite World War One breaking out the following month, held on the promenade at Westcliff-on-Sea on 25th June, where one WH Herrtage won this award racing his Rudge motorcycle, coming second in the ‘up to 500cc’ class. Apparently “The motorcycles entered were 226 in number, the cars numbered 82, making a record entry of 308.”
In July 1919 H.H. Burrows (Chairman of the Essex County and Southend Automobile Club) competed an ABC Skootamota at the Speed Trials against other scooter riders.
The ABC Skootamoto was a post-war scooter with single-cylinder 123cc OHV engine, designed by Granville Bradshaw and built by Gilbert Campling Ltd, with engines produced in Surrey and assembly on the Isle of Wight.
In the film footage of the 1919 Motor Speed Trials on the Esplanade, Westcliff-on-Sea the title captions exclaim that “Lady driver (age 17) wins many prizes”, and another part way through announcing the “novel feature” of a scooter race! The footage appears damaged at the end, but considering it’s almost 100 years old, it’s amazing that even this much has survived.
We couldn’t find any results for 1919, but it seems in 1921, one motor scooter event was provided, the winner SC Marshall piloting a 1.5 hp machine over a standing start kilometre in a time of 1m and 14s, at a speed of 29.91 m.p.h. It many not sound much, but the fastest motorcycle that year was an Indian which achieved a top speed of just over 75mph.
Anyway, with television not beginning in this country until the 1930s, this news-reel footage would have been shot to broadcast at cinemas around the country. And now you can watch it at home. Click on the image below to see it and enjoy…
****UPDATE – AUGUST 2017
It woul seem that Getty have purchased the archive which the film below was linked to, and now the link goes to the general Getty page. We have searched high and low for the footage but cannot find it again. If it resurfaces we will update the blog.
(Film footage copyright owned by Gaumont Graphic Newsreel/Reuters)