A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Racing Reminiscences

Dick Chalaye 
Sales and Team manager - Tooleys Lee Green.

The research for this article is taken from a booklet by Dick Chalaye. I have used some of his notes and added more explanation where necessary and as more information has become available.  The photographs are an addition are my choice. 

Location: The 1962 Isle of Man TT. "I took a holiday in the Island at the same time as the 50cc TT, and early in the morning the practice period saw me in the pits area. Charlie Mates brought his Itom over for the event which had the cylinder tuned by Frank Sheene. After the first practice, he was very unhappy about the performance".

In my luggage, I had a cylinder and piston set which I had tuned just in case one of the Itoms entered needed them. I mentioned this to Charlie and agreed to fit this to his Itom. We then went to Jurby Airfield to get the carburation sorted out. We eventually got the right jet fitted. The Itom seemed to be going well so we left well alone until the race.

In the race Charlie went very well and the Itom proved its capabilities by finishing 16th, being the third private owner home. In front of him were the Works 50’s of Suzuki, Honda and Kreidler. The private riders in front were Dave Simmonds on the Tohatsu and Horace Crowder on a Kreidler that had been breathed on by the factory mechanics who were present at the TT. In between these and Charlie was the works Benelli of Ralph Bryans. We had not had time to test for the correct front and rear sprockets and so the The Itom was over-geared for this event but coming down Bray Hill it was timed at just under 90 mph. This race was the first experience of the "50" on the Isle of Man and it proved that the Wasps could hold their own in such an exhausting race. (Charlie Mates working on the Itom in a workshop on the Isle of man during the 1962 50cc TT)

Without a doubt, the most gruelling event for 50’s was the annual Snetterton Enduro. This was a five hour race and I used to take the van with a supply of Itom spares in case anybody needed something. For the 1961 Enduro, Andy Bone (a Nottingham Itom Agent) had a very rapid Itom, much modified, with six gears etc. The gear set was made by the Chisholm Bros of Maidstone (Itom Agents). The Andy Bone Itom came around first in the lead and again on the second lap, further in front, but then a disaster happened and it was wheeled into the pits and retired. (Andy's comment: "My first Itom 1961 set the lap record Snetterton Rider by Ian Johnson").

The Chisholm Bros had two Itom models racing, together with two of the best riders of the time- Bill Ivy and Maurice Thomas. The machines were quite fast and one of them was using positive oiling as against Petroil. Maurice Thomas was 50cc Champion of Brands Hatch in 1961, and even more remarkable was third in the Brands hatch overall championship for that year, behind the great Chris Vincent and the legendary Derek Minter. Behind him were the following riders: 4th Rex Avery, 5th Phil Read, and 6th Dan Shorey. Other placings in the 50cc Brands Hatch Championship were 2nd Dave Simmonds, 3 Charlie Mates, 4th R. Kemp, 5th Bill Ivy, 6th Ted Kempson, then Mike O’Rouke, Bob Latham, Roy Nicholson, Geoff Votier, Brian Brader, Macey, Lucas, Larkin, Mike Simmonds, and Bob Smallcorn.

The original design of the Itom Engine made them ideal for higher performance. The gears were close ratio. The primary drive was by direct gears, and the crankshaft had full disc flywheels. At this time, late 50s early 60s, other 50’s had wide ratio gears, chain drive primary, and bob weights.

The MOTOM company from Italy came over here in about 1960 with six of the Works racers. They offered rides to the best 50cc riders, and in so doing wiped away the opposition. [Editor] (At the 1961 Snetterton Enduro, the Motoms were ridden by British riders and one of them, piloted by Jim Pearson and Peter Inchley, led the race for many laps and set the fastest circuit lap record for the race at 56.26mph (90.52km/h) before retiring with a suspected broken valve.) These four-stroke models a had torsion bar valve return system. Before racing the mechanics would start up the engines and turn up the torsion bars to get the optimum performance. 

Dave Simmonds had the only Tohatsu in the country. His Father was an airline pilot who regularly flew to Japan, and he brought the machine back with him direct from the factory. Dave was an exceptional rider. He lost his life trying to rescue a fellow rider from a caravan fire in the pits on the Continent.

Dave and his brother Mike made several small scaled featherbed type frames for their Itoms and one for the Tohatsu., These were all actively raced and displayed great improvements over the standard frames. The standard Itom Forks, shocks etc. fitted these frames. In all only about 5 or 6 were made. 

One of the CR110 Hondas came into our shop, and I took off the petrol tank and put it on an Itom. It looked really good so I got hold of Harry Nash (the chap that made all our Fairings etc.) and he came straight over. He made fibreglass copies of this tank but with our own alloy Quick Release Filler Caps fitted and this is how our Racing Tank came into being. The tank was not used only by us but was sold to many budding 50cc riders who were preparing their own machines. 

Geoff Votier rode my Itom for a while, and the evening before Brands Hatch meeting I was preparing it for the event when I hit upon an idea. (I didn’t tell Geoff about it). He started the race but when he put his foot on the nearside footrest to mount the bike, it gave way and delayed him in getting away. The bike was going really fast and he overtook many and finished third. He told me that he thought it could be quicker than anything on the circuit. In fact, Frank Sheene came over to me and asked me what I’d done to it.

I didn’t tell him of course. He took it to the next meeting and after a reasonable start he overtook everything and was in the lead, this lasted for two laps when there was an almighty blow up. Dave and Mike Simmonds remarked that as it passed them they just knew it couldn’t last. Well, it came home and when I stripped it the full extent of the damage was revealed. The piston had just come in half at the gudgeon pin. The top half hammered the cylinder head, the bottom half went down into the crankcase. The freed gudgeon pin moved sideways into one of the transfer ports and ripped it down, bending the conrod.

What a mess. I can’t imagine what made this happen. The only thing I didn’t do was to inspect the whole assembly after the last race, but as the next race was only six days away I let it go. If the piston hadn’t failed it would have won several races for sure. From what I can gather it must have been doing 12000 rpm plus and that was from a Mk.5 model.

In 1959 at Brands Hatch you would have seen a variety of Racing 50’s in the paddock. There were Demm “Dick Dicks”, Maseratis, Itoms of course, plus the Sheene Itom, Fruin Dartellas (with Demm engines), the pull-rod DUCATI Cucciolo and even the four-stroke overhead camshaft Sterzi. In the races, you would see the Sheene Itom closely challenged by other Itoms.

The Sheene Itom was one of the first Competition models in the country. He had modified it by machining off the fins above the Exhaust Port and shrinking on an alloy close finned block of larger diameter. This assisted in the dissipation of the heat from the barrel. The picture on the left shows Frank Sheene on his ITOM.  You can just see the enlarged finning. The picture below is Howard German also on the Sheene Special and again the larger finning is noticeable.

About 1960 Alpha Bearings of Birmingham made some special crankshafts for racing Itoms. They had wide caged roller big ends with slotted conrod to aid lubrication, and a needle roller small end. The conrod was oval in shape and with knife edges. Every part was highly polished. These were used successfully but didn’t really increase performance. The conrod was a heavy lump compared to the Itom unit.

The Itom 'Competizione' had a factory tuned cylinder with ports filed and polished. It is said that one elderly engineer sat at a bench in the factory and it was he alone that finished all the Competition Cylinders.

When you think about the 50cc races in 1959 and the 1960’s you realise that the Mighty Itom did much much more than just being a small motorcycle. It brought together hundreds of enthusiasts who became friends, and every one of them had their own endeavours. 

We had good times. We laughed and joked, had our triumphs and disappointments, but above all this was the wonderful friendship with those around us. The Itom gave all this to us but those days are just memories now, and we’ll never see the like again. 

Dick Chalaye 1998

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