The latter part of the Sanby Saga, by Peter Dobson
from Classic Racer in Spring 1988
AT THE end of 1966 Charlie left Roy Claridge to concentrate on racing. A full-time job and a full racing programme was too much, but to supplement his income he planned to tune other people's racing engines in his workshop at his parents home in Welham Green.
1967 was the year of the controversial 'bandit' motors, with Dave Croxford winding everybody up by claiming that some successful riders were using bored out engines. Not everyone agreed with him, but Steve Lancefield said he knew of several people using 500cc engines in 350cc races. It also transpired that a 498cc Manx Norton engine could be stretched to 636cc and still look like a standard 30M, and Charlie asked Jim Smith to build him one. Not to join the anonymous band, but to combat the menace of the Dunstall Norton twins. It turned out to be immensely powerful, but a pig to start due to the high gearing. For example, on TT gearing at the Palace he was often last away but amongst the leaders by the end of the first lap.
The season started well for Charlie up at Cadwell Park , with two wins on the 7R, and a third on the Triton known as the WMS (Wally Maisey Special). According to a Motor Cycle News advertisement for the April races at Lydden Hill the entry would include " Rossman Charlie Sanby, and revenge-seeker Eric Hinton. Remember that Sanby pipped Hinton last year ". I rang up Charlie to find out what a 'Rossman' is, or was, and discovered it was nothing more exciting than a printers error. It should have read 'Bossman'. Despite this piece of gibberish the racing, held in pouring rain, was very close, as it was all year.
Charlie had stern struggles at all six Lydden meetings, beating Hinton, Jolly, Scully on his rapid but erratic Scott, Brian Kemp and Martin Ashwood into first places in the 350cc races and Unlimited events. And being beaten by Mick Andrew on a Triumph Bonneville, and Lance Well on the Harley Davidson.
The July meeting saw Lance Weil's first outing on the very large and very quick 850cc Harley, and in the heat of battle Charlie touched its back wheel and came off very heavily. But when it was all over for the year he was still the Lord of Lydden.
The April Brands Hatch meeting was a total loss for Charlie, but he usually enjoyed Brands, if not for the racing then for the 'âpres ski' at the Hilltop nightclub on the Maidstone road where Mike Hailwood, Bill Ivy and others sought relaxation rather than cocoa and an early night. His transport at the time was a 15cwt Thames van which had a six-cylinder, 2.5 litre, Zephyr engine with overdrive. It was normally quite fast, but after an evening at Hilltop went even quicker. After the descent of the aptly named Death Hill passengers were sometimes known to get out and walk rather than ride home in it!
Charlie partnered Ken Watson on a 250cc Ducati in a 500 mile production race at Brands, and despite the handicap of Charlie's weight - he was not much lighter than the bike - they finished seventh overall, and third in class, although they lost two laps when the battery broke up.
In June he rode a 350cc Aermacchi in the Junior TT, sponsored by Ned Minihan whose rider Alan Barnett had gone over to Tom Kirby. Sid Lawton hadn't got the bike uncrated so he practised on the 7R, and when the race bike did arrive, on Friday afternoon, he had to alter it to fit. There was only time for two practice laps and then had to pay £3 for a weigh-in extension so he could clean the bike before the race in which he finished twelfth. He was fourteenth in the Senior on his own Manx Norton, and went home with two Silver Replicas. Pretty good, considering the high race speeds set by Agostini and Mike Hailwood.
Lydden Hill apart, where he rode 'impeccably' according to the press, the rest of Charlie's racing year was not financially rewarding. He crashed the 636cc Manx Norton at the Palace after overtaking Dunphy, hitting the railway sleepers on the outside of Tower Bend. And he fell off again at Gerrards Bend, at Mallory, at the Race of the Year meeting, and badly bruised his wrist.
1968 was worse, although he teamed up with Ron Chandler for the season, and was helped out with tyres and chains by Tom Kirby's brother Reg. He lost the Lord of Lydden title to Brian Kemp in May but won the Joe Craig Trophy for the best British rider on a British bike when he was 15th in the Junior TT, and 14th in the Senior.
Later in the month Motor Cycle News reported that Charlie had tried to excavate the bank on Paddock Hill at Brands. "Despite his bulk", as they unkindly put it, he failed but broke a toe, and consequently missed a ride in the 24 hour race at Barcelona . At the end of 1968 he packed it in, and sold the Norton - and would have sold the 7R if anyone had wanted it. His intention was to build up his tuning and repair business in Hertfordshire, but things suddenly perked up, thanks to Vincent Davey of Gus Kuhn Ltd.
DAVEY, the late Gus Kuhn's son-in-law, had entered Mick Andrew for the 1969 TT, and asked Charlie if he'd like to go with Mick to act as an advisor. The TT course was always Charlie's favourite, and he soon arranged to ride John Cooper's Seeley, taking over from Jack Findlay who had been offered an Aermacchi for the Senior.
Colin Seeley was in the Island and looked after the G50 Matchless engine, which was just as well as it blew up twice in practice. And in the race the mag packed up at Sulby on the second lap. But in Wednesday's production race, which was the object of the exercise, Mick Andrew finished fourth on the Kuhn Commando at an average of 95.18mph. A remarkable performance for a first-timer, which delighted Vincent Davey.
As thanks Davey loaned Charlie a Commando, and he campaigned that and his 7R for the remainder of the season. He almost regained his Lord of Lydden title but the front brake anchor arm of the Commando snapped and cast him off, and he set a new track record at the Crystal Palace on the Kuhn Commando, just before he crashed at Tower.
When the season ended he went into training. In the coming year he was to join Pat Mahoney and Mick Andrew in the Gus Kuhn team, and was determined to be slim and fit. Works teams go to endless trouble to shed l0lbs from a bike, and Charlie was almost four stone overweight! Part of his training programme was to ride a BSA in trials, and by February he was down to 13 stone.
For 1970 Mick and Pat each had a Seeley 7R, a G50 Seeley, and a Seeley Commando, but Charlie - last one in -had only a Seeley Commando on which to further his career. However, Mick Andrew was killed in a road accident in Brixton before the season started and Charlie took his place in what became a two man team.
After wins at Crystal Palace , Brands and Thruxton in May he got his first works ride and teamed with Peter Williams on a yellow works Commando in the 500 mile production race at Thruxton, which they won convincingly.
Later in the month he was involved in a multiple pile-up at Brands, and broke his collarbone and as a consequence couldn't ride in the TT. However, booked to ride a works Commando in the production race at the Swedish Grand Prix, at Anderstorp in July, Charlie took a road bike down to Thruxton and thrashed it round and round. He won the race in teeming rain and Motor Cycle News described him as a hero.
Paired with Peter Williams again for the 24 hour Bol d'Dor at Montlhéry, they were doing well when, in the middle of the night, the crankcase burst and that was that. Charlie finished off the season with a shunt at Lydden. "The exhaust dug in and off we went" he said.
By 1971 Vincent Davey was so disenchanted at the lack of appreciation and support from Norton Villiers that he cut back on the cost of racing, and fielded Charlie as the one man Gus Kuhn team. He was to concentrate on the British Road Racing Championships on a 500 and 750 Seeley, and he had some hairy moments.
The weekend before the TT he had a lurid crash at Mallory, in the 500cc race. Percy May, who rode for Ray Petty, was leading in a hard fought race, with Charlie, Brian Kemp, Harvey and Dave Croxford right behind him, when he went sideways on at Gerrards in the rain. Charlie tried to take him, but lost it and fell off, and Dave Croxford hit his bike which broke in half!
Seeley rebuilt the engine and repaired the frame, but Charlie and the Kuhn mechanics had to put the bike together in the Isle of Man. That was the first year of the Formula 750 race. At the end of the first lap he was second behind Jefferies on the works Triumph triple, and in front of Pickrell on the other Triumph, and Peter Williams on the works Commando. On the third lap he was challenging the leader when a battery lead broke, but he had lapped at 102.75mph: the fastest ever Norton lap, beating even Hailwood's fastest. In the Senior race he was running-in the rebuilt Seeley, but even so he finished eighth.
At the post-TT Mallory meeting Charlie was right up behind John Cooper and Gary Nixon on the Triumph triples, hoping that one or other of them would make a slight mistake, when the 750 Seeley broke its big end bolt and deposited the engine on the circuit as they flashed across the line with two more laps to go.
Throughout the season the new slimline Charlie Sanby rode extremely well, mostly beating Peter Williams on the works machine. "Vincent Davey lapped that up, but Dennis Poore did not." That year Charlie finished third in the British Championship, was second in the 750 Formula, third in the Superbike Championship, took the lap record at Thruxton, and won the Silver Helmet, presented annually by the late Bill Ivy's mum.
In the Golden Age of racing he would have been snapped up by a factory team, but instead, due to a misunderstanding, was left without a ride. Peter Inchley had asked Charlie if he'd ride a works Commando in Ontario, Vincent Davey assumed he'd be riding for the works for the season and he wasn't asked to join the 1972 Gus Kuhn team.
In fact, Norton were looking for another rider. Charlie did some testing for them at MIRA and Frank Perris told him he'd asked John Cooper to join the team. He promised Charlie the ride if Cooper turned it down. The next thing he heard, though, not from Perris, was that Tony Rutter was to join the Norton team. Charlie was displeased and rang up Dennis Poore to tell him bluntly where to put his ride. "A week later I got a letter from Frank Perris telling me my services wouldn't be required". In the end Dave Croxford got the ride.
REX White of Suzuki asked Charlie if he would ride a water-cooled 750cc triple in the Isle of Man , but he'd already made a verbal contract with Peter Inchley and Frank Higley to ride their Hi-Tac Suzuki in the Senior. Practising at Brands on the Suzuki, the day before Good Friday, a bike seized on Paddock Bend, the rider falling off just as Charlie, Barry Ditchburn and several others arrived there at high speed. "There were bikes everywhere. I fell off, hit the railway sleepers on the bank and broke a wrist and shoulder. Barry Ditchburn's bike caught fire. It was like a bloody battlefield."
Surprisingly, he was fit enough to ride in the TT. The Hi-Tac was really nothing more than a development machine, but Charlie finished tenth to win a Silver Replica. He raced the bike, with mixed results, for the remainder of the season.
Frank Higley had a full race workshop, with a dynamometer, in his wood yard out at Woodcote, and for 1973 Charlie built two new Seeley Hi-Tac Suzukis, a 500 and a 750, which he raced throughout the season, once more with mixed results.
At the end of 1973 Hi-Tac Engineering gave up racing. Charlie, who'd been self employed since 1966, had also lost his workshop so it was off to Bryants of Biggleswade as a mechanic. There was no thought of racing for them but they bought him a brand new 750 Ducati Desmo for production races, and the ex-Boyer Triumph Triple. On the Ducati Charlie finished twelfth and last, in the Production TT, due to a badly earthed condensor and in the Formula 750 race he packed up on the second lap when the first gear pinion broke.
For 1975 Roger Sharpe of Bryants decided to build a 750, with a Seeley frame, using a water cooled Suzuki engine from a standard road bike tuned by Barry Hart of Barton Engineering. Its first outing was the International Open Classic TT, and Charlie finished third, behind John Williams and Percy Tait on Yamahas. Partnered by Dave Mason, he rode the Desmo to 20th spot in the 377 mile, 10 lap production race. For the next 18 months he spent a lot of time developing the bikes and in 1976 the Desmo was replaced by a 500cc ex-works Suzuki twin.
For the following year Bryants bought a new production racer; a 750cc Le Mans Moto Guzzi and, to break it in, Charlie would go out in his dinner hour and do100 miles! He'd go north up the Al to Norman Cross, rode round the roundabout and down to Stevenage, and then back he'd go to Biggleswade, all within the hour! One day the law were waiting on the flyover at Eaton Socon when Charlie blasted past, and they pursued him all the way to Norman Cross. "If I hadn't slowed down for the turn they never would have caught me." They even radioed ahead for help, and when Charlie saw a police car hurtle past in the opposite direction, blue lights and siren going he wondered idly what the drama was about. He kept his licence, thanks to a good 'brief who cost much more than the fine.'
After 3,500 miles the bike was stripped and carefully rebuilt. He didn't race at all that year, but when he'd finished the Le Mans it was good for 150mph on TT gearing, and he couldn't get it flat-out on the road.
1978 was the year that Hailwood won the Formula One TT. Charlie rode the Moto Guzzi, still with lights, a hooter, and the starter motor, and was sixth on the last lap at the Bungalow, when oil surge under braking 'did' the big ends. He coasted in to finish twelfth, but even so his average speed was still 99.87mph, with a fastest lap at 104. Vincent Davey said that Charlie Sanby was probably the most unlucky rider who ever rode for him.