A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Frank Sheene 1912 to 2008 Road Racer and Engineer

Frank Sheene age Age 38; was an engineer residing in London he worked in the workshops of the Royal College of Surgeons. The location was Queen Square, Holborn. He and his wife Iris, were living in a four-bedroom flat in the same square as  it came with the job. 

Frank lived for the sound of the motorcycle race engine and all the smells and smoke that the two-stroke could produce for as long as he could remember. to keep the family and his dreams together, in the week he kept the machines running in the College and at the weekend he pursued his hobby of squeezing the best out of any race racing bikes that he rode.

Frank and Iris had a daughter Margaret in 1945 and then later a son. Barry joined them in 1950. Barry's life is well documented elsewhere.

Frank (or 'Franco', as he was affectionately known) rode a Brooklands before the war and  had considerable experience of sprints and short circuit races. The machine then was a Douglas 90 Plus and in some races was entered by by the Douglas M.C.C.

Frank entered a number of Isle of Man Manx and Clubman TT races.

Frank Sheene (Royal Enfield, 67) Goo Owen (Matchless, 68) and Harry Voice (BSA, 69) 1952 Junior Clubman TT

 Frank Sheene (BSA) 1953 Junior Clubman TT

 Roy Mayhew (AJS) and pit attendant Frank Sheene, 1959 Junior Manx Grand Prix Frank gave up racing in 1956

What he couldn't do with a spanner was not worth twisting. Whilst Frank rode many larger bikes this page is targeted towards the 50cc class that he was always so interested in.Frank would ride the ITOM at most race circuits in the South and this picture is of him on the developing "Special" showing the new cylinder head and barrel, note the cow-horn exhaust pipe. 

The lad helping him is son Barry, the year 1958. Frank had a number of riders but perhaps the four best known are Bill Ivy, Howard German, Charlie Mates and Barry Sheene his son. Picture: Born to Ride. An eight year old Barry helps his Dad Frank before a race at the now defunct Crystal Palace race track in 1958.

             An Extract from the Motorcycle News in the early 1960's

(Some additions and pictures by the Editor)


"With its record of eight wins in nine starts last season, it's difficult to imagine that much could be done to improve performance of the 50cc Sheene Special". But Frank Sheene, being its constructor, had not been idle during the winter and when the machine appears on the line again this year it will be apparent that it has undergone a considerable face-lift. Picture right: The Sheene 50cc Special (ITOM Engine) Brands Hatch Good Friday 1959. 

Frank has been developing this ITOM based machine since 1955 and has now reached the satisfying stage where the potential from the engine demands handling qualities tantamount to a real-racer. It is in this respect that attention has been concentrated in preparing the machine for this coming season. Picture: Howard German on the early Itom powered Sheene Special.

As speed from the engine have increased, so has the tendency for the front wheel to hop; to combat this the front forks have been modified by the introduction of oil-damping on the re-bound. Additionally the font wheel had been rebuilt with heavier spokes for increased stiffness

For added stiffness too, the frame has been shortened slightly by cutting a section from the main frame beam just behind the steering head. A further stiffening of the assembly has been effected by by converting the frame to full duplex cradle pattern by incorporating a pair of high tensile angle section struts from the steering head cradling the power unit and terminating at the rear fork pivot point.

A result of this work is that the overall height of the machine has been lowered a couple of inches. That the engine is basically ITOM is true: but other than the bare crankcase, little remains of the original unit. In the four years Frank has been developing this machine he has fitted his own flywheel assembly (including big-end and con-rod) cylinder and cylinder head, and the main bearings as fitted are bigger than standard.

Coil ignition replaces the original flywheel component and the cam-plate of the German contact-breaker united fitted is modified to make the ignition setting easily variable. A mica condenser is fitted to stand the high rpm.

To make full use of this hopefully added urge, the machine is fitted now, for the first time, with a glass fibre fairing manufactured by road-racer Gerry Turner and Harry Nash, of Nash Fibre Glass Products of Hatfield. This same firm fabricated the new 2 gallon fuel tank. Picture; Howard German 50cc Clearways Brands Hatch 1961

Mentioning the fuel tank brings to mind a point that indicates the limits that Frank Sheene goes to in preparing his machine. He mixes his fuel to the ratio of 7% oil per 100ml of petrol.

"So far as performance is concerned, Frank tells me that 10.000 rpm represents 68 mph, and revs can be taken now well over the 11.000 mark. Quite a point especially when Howard German, the very able rider of the Sheene Special, takes the machine on to the line, the all-up weight of the machine will be just a few ounces over 95lb!. Author: Charlie Rouse.

Howard German, besides successfully riding his own AJS 7R, he rode for others including Mead and Tomkinson, Geoff Dodkin, Len Stevens Velocettes and the Bultaco’s of Frank Sheene. He also rode other 50cc Itoms becoming British Champion as well as winning a bronze replica in the 1959 TT on the AJS.


A Change to the Mount

Picture: Bill testing the Ducson at Oulton Park 1963 


Brands Hatch, at the Good Friday 1st April 1963 meeting number 161, Bill made his Sheene Special debut aboard the new Ducson-engined bike, a test for the 1963 50cc TT and finished second to the winner, Tohatsu-mounted Dave Simmonds.


The Sheene Special was entered for the 1963 Isle of Man 50cc TT was, as reported, ridden by that young lad named Bill Ivy. The bike went well and coped with the taxing undulations of the TT course, even the Mountain. Bill managed to come in a creditable 7th place behind Ian Plumridge who was riding the Val Knapp CR110 Honda. However this was also the permanent move away from the Itom.

There were 34 entries for the 1963 Isle of Man 50cc TT. They were composed of eight Suzukis, five Kreidlers, four Derbi machines and four Hondas, three Itoms and three Tohatsus, and one each Benelli, C.G.S., D.O.T., Fruin-Dartela, Pope-Special and the Ducson engined Sheene Special. Japan leads with 17 entries, and Germany comes next with five.

In the following picture, #20 is W.D. (Bill) Ivy who finished seventh on his Ducson engined Sheene Special.  Frank can be seen walking over to Bill sitting on the bike and #23 is Dave Simmonds on one of the two Tohatsu machines that started. He failed to finish.  Brother, Mike J Simmonds finished in eighth place on a similar Tohatsu nearly a half hour behind the winner, at a speed of 54.02 mph.

TT 1963 50cc TT Results:

Placing      Competitor                            Machine                 Time                Speed
1                    Mitsui Itoh                             Suzuki                     78.81
2                    Hugh Anderson                   Suzuki                     78.4
3                    Hans-Georg Anscheidt    Kreidler                  78.33
4                    I Morishita                            Suzuki                      77.82
5                    M Ichino                                 Suzuki                     76.2
6                    I E Plumridge                       V Knapp Honda         64.82
7                    Bill Ivy                                     Sheene Special          61.12
8                    Mike Simmonds                 Tohatsu                  54.02

A little history on the steed that little Bill Ivy brought over the finish line in the 1963 50cc TT.

Frank, after being tied up in his involvement with the Bultaco bikes, decided that he has neglected the 50cc class and that he needed a new package if he was to compete during 1963. He had commenced work on a new Sheene Special '50cc racer'. This was over the winter of 1962-63. By the end of 1962 he had finished designing and producing the drawings for the construction of a new frame which was based on his experience of working with the other, larger race bikes. It gave the impression that this was to be a full potential race bike, but scaled down for the engine size and the smaller rider. This translated into "A New Sheene Special 50cc Racer"

The power source for this bike was to be the 50cc DUCSON engine from Spain. This was a Spanish designed, four-speed, single-cylinder, two-stroke power unit. The Ducson Company estimated that it would churn out around 11 bhp at 11,000rpm. For the early part of the 1963 season Frank said that this engine would be used for development but that later it might possibly be replaced by a similar five or six-speed unit.

At the beginning of the development it was thought that Frank still favoured his old friend, Howard German as the rider, but as to the actual rider for the new DUCSON machine, this had still not been finalised by the beginning of 1963.

It was in the last week of March 1963 that the announcement went out stating "Bill Ivy, the up and coming Kentish rider", would be riding for Frank Sheene and would pilot Frank's latest 50cc, which was claimed to be the only machine fitted with a Ducson engine on British circuits.

The motor, said to be an 'ex-works unit' (Motor Cycle News, 3 April 1963), was fitted into the previously described frame - built by Fred Hardy using Reynolds 531 tubing and fitted with Italian Demm front forks. The 19in wheels, typical of the Sports Mopeds of the day, were fitted with Ducson hubs and Dunlop alloy rims, tyres and tubes. The weight of the new Sheene Special was quoted as a very low 851b (38.5kg).

The engine (four-speed version) used the conventional piston-port induction and was equipped with a 17mm Dell'Orto carburettor. Power output was given, by Frank, as being in the region of 9bhp at 11,000rpm (you must compare these figures with those which had been given earlier in this report).

During a conversation with Mick Walker, Frank also revealed that he hoped to replace this four speed motor with a five-speeder, which would incorporate two independent overdrives, thus providing 10 gears.

Frank entered the Sheene Special into the 1964 50cc TT with its rider for this year being Alan Dawson. Un fortunately it was a non starter. It did compete in many other racer during that year.

The Sheene family moved to Australia in the late 1980s, in the hope that the warmer climate would help relieve some of the pain of Barry Sheene's injury-induced arthritis, settling in a property near the Gold Coast. Barry combined a property development business with a role as a commentator on motor sport.

Barry took some bikes with him and Frank, well into retirement age by now, busied himself with supporting Barry when ever possible, sorting the bikes and enjoying a good retirement.

Frank Sheene dies, aged 96

Frank Sheene, father of former Grand Prix racer Barry Sheene, has died at the age of 96. Frank spent the most of his life tuning and building bikes and helped Barry Sheene with his bike racing career, even when he was riding for a factory Grand Prix team Frank would be on hand with a spanner and advice. He was the legendary tuner/bike building father, as well as helping Barry, Frank also played a big part in many other racers careers.


Frank, or Franco as he was affectionately known, passed away peacefully at his home in Australia.  Frank leaves behind his daughter Maggie Smart, married to ex-racer Paul Smart and grandchildren Scott Smart (Current British Superbikes racer) and Paula Smart.


Frank Sheene tribute.
I raced a 125 water cooled Bultaco in the late sixties and Frank, assisted by son Barry, helped me out a few times, passing on secrets about these Spanish two strokes.

"Much later I last met Frank in 2005? when at Brands Hatch at a car race meeting. I went on to race cars and was in the paddock grandstand, when I saw him sitting there with his No. 7 baseball cap on. He said Brands gave him a lifetime pass and he used to go to Brands on spec, just to see what was on. A great man, who produced a brilliant son, who I knew from the age of sixteen".

Hope this is of use. Ken Joslin.

Return to Notable Racers