A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles



The BRITAX Hurricane 
Britain's First Production 50 cc Road Racer

A little dog that takes you for a walk.

The Cucciolo was a 4-stroke clip-on engine for motorized bicycles conceived during and shortly after the war  by a Turin lawyer, Aldo Farinelli and developed in collaboration with a self-taught engineer, Aldo Leoni.

During the 1939 - 1945 war, Aldo Farinelli began working with the small Turinese firm Siata (Società Italiana per Applicazioni Tecniche Auto-Aviatorie) with the idea of developing a small engine that could be mounted on a bicycle. Farinelli's and Leone's first prototype was running on the streets of Turin in Autumn of 1944. The yapping sound of the engine's short stubby exhaust inspired the name Cucciolo ("little puppy") for the motor. Weighing a little over 17 pounds (7.7 kg) and giving 180 miles per US gallon (77 km/l) when installed in a bicycle.

On July 26, barely one month after the official liberation of the country (2 May 1945), Siata announced their intention to sell Cucciolo engines to the public. It was the first new automotive design to appear in post-war Europe. Some businessmen bought the little engines in quantity and installed them in frames, thus offering for sale the first complete units.

When demand outstripped supply, Siata found a manufacturing partner in Borgo Panigale, near Bologna "The Ducati Company, known for their expertise in auto-electrics, who were seeking new opportunities for employing its workers and facilities, so a licensing agreement with Siata was reached. Production rose from 15 units in 1946 to over 25,000 in the following years, when Ducati reached an exclusive agreement for the production. In 1952, with 200,000 Cucciolos already sold, Ducati finally offered its own complete moped based on the successful little pull rod engine. By now the engine had lost its pedals and acquired a 3 speed gearbox.

Britax sold the Cucciolo engine, both as an attachment, for the customer to fit and as a complete machine in several formats. One was the standard cycle with pedals fitted, then a heavyweight, open cycle frame with girder forks and drum brakes fitted. This also had the pedal assembly fitted. 

Then there was the Scooterette: competition to the Italian scooters fast coming into the British market. This appeared to be the same as the bicycle, but with a scooterish style body fitted. 

The Scooterette was an under £100 priced, weather protected single-seat runabout and was without doubt one of the major attractions at the Earls Court Show. 

Since then, production had pushed ahead at a good pace, with few snags and s a result numbers of the attractively styled little machines were now appearing in the dealer showrooms.

Finally, the weather protection was first rate: if a windscreen was to be used in conjunction with the extensive leg-shields and foot boards, protection would be as complete as that offered by scooters costing many pounds more.

The success of the Scooterette pointed the way forward to satisfying the growing need for a British made 50cc racer to compete with the sleeved down machines on the track at the time.  Small engine racing (50cc) was already taking place in Italy and moving through Europe and the buzz was getting to the competitive nature of the racing motorcyclist. They needed a machine that could compete and one that would allow them to fettle and tune the engine to get more out of it.

The 'piece de resistance' was the Hurricane, aimed at the fledgling 50cc racing fraternity. Underneath that dustbin fairing were the same cycle parts as fitted to the standard and Scooterette models. The pedals were removed and a megaphone exhaust fitted. I'm not sure if any modifications were made to the engine bar the fitting of the megaphone exhaust. The Hurricane holds the claim of being the first production 50cc racer in the UK and a 50mph top speed was claimed.

The two-speed ohv pull-rod 48cc engine mounted in a standard British-made Britax frame reached an easy 40mph in standard trim.

Brief Specification:

Austenitic valves in the Pull Rod system
Double coil valve springs
Megaphone exhaust 
Amal carburettor
Weight was 97 lbs and a Top speed of 50 mph plus

An early racer, Noel Dicks, getting down to it on a tuned and lightened Britax Hurricane with a Ducati Cucciolo engine. Early fifty racers campaigned the Little Pups like this with considerable success. Th engine had proven itself as a racing fifty on the continent and in 1951, for a publicity stunt, a lone model with a string of willing riders had circulated the Italian Monza race circuit at an average speed of 39.3mph for 48 hours.

By late 1953 the British motorcycle press were having a go at 'some speed' work with a 'little pup.' Tuning comprised of some minor porting work, carburettor adjustment and a tiny open megaphone exhaust well, what “respectable single raced without one?” all fitted into a carefully run in well set-up model of the Britax Scooterette cycle parts, now with its hotted up Cucciolo engine. Wearing racing leathers and adopting a crouch familiar to all of us, any rider, regardless of skill could hit 45 - 50 mph. 

With the advent of the full Dustbin fairing the picture was set for a very competitive machine to wage war on the sleeved-down NSUs and other engines that were about in the UK at the time.

Perth and District Motor Club was first established in April 1907 (earliest record) as a car and motorcycle social club. The move to mainly motor bikes came about in late 1954/early 1955 when a group of Perth businessmen members decreed that as it was a motor club the bikes should be excluded, but they misread the strength of the bikes members and were promptly voted out. They then went on to form the 55 Car Club and P&DMC continued as mainly bike events with the odd car treasure hunt. Over the years the Club has run all aspects of the motorbike sport including Road Races: Meetings were held at Errol Aerodrome, Bal-ado Gask Airfield and finally at Knockhill.

There were two protagonists of the 50cc movement in the early days and one other driving force who came a couple f years later, Duncan Mitchell. These wanted to see the class on the track at main motorcycle race events. Arnold Jones, who had a direct interest in Britax and Maurice A Raby an engineer with a love for the small engine, based in Coventry. These two were always pushing for the 50cc to be a racing class. Jones, promoting the racing idea in his attempts to publicise the Ducati Cucciolo inspired Britax Hurricane managed to convince some circuits to run 50cc races.  He approached the Perth and District Motorcycle Club in 1954 who agreed to run a class at one of their meetings. Raby had to wait until 1955, when the Blackmore Motorcycle club held a 50cc class in the Whit-Monday meeting. (see 'Where it all began')

As a result of the Perth and District Motor Clubs involvement, The race held at Errol aerodrome, Scotland on May 23rd 1955 is credited as being the first recognised 50cc race but with only three entries, all Britax Hurricanes and a winning speed of only 31.7mp.h. The three bikes completed the race with Gordon Bird in the saddle taking first place, J.H. Airth (Hurricane) taking second and G.E. Gibson taking third. On this showing it was considered that the class stood little chance of success and was dismissed at the end of the year. However, this was not the death of the '50' and further races took place on the English circuits in 1955 and still do today with both Classic and Modern Machines. (Picture of Gordon Bird on his Hurricane)

My thanks to Steve Bird, son of Gordon Bird who sent me the following pictures of his father racing at the inaugural meeting of 50cc racing. if the public wanted to get any nearer to the riders they would have to be on the track and Health and Safety? what was that in those days. 

Steve also wrote an article for the VMCC to form part of the April issue of the Journal. VMCC have allowed me to display the article on this page.  Please note:  "This article first appeared in Vintage & Classic Motorcycle (April 2021 issue), the magazine of the Vintage Motorcycle Club. Thanks to the VMCC for permission to reprint it".  Please click on the last picture to download a copy of the article.  






VMCC Article on the Hurricane and Gordon Bird

I was corresponding with George Todd about seeing him race at Oulton Park back in the 1960s and he spoke about the Britax Hurricane.. George is well known for his motorcycle engineering skills and overall knowledge and perhaps in particular his work in developing the BSA Bantam engine for racing. George kindly allowed me to use these photographs.

Photographs copyright of George Todd - George on a Britax Hurricane

George Todd with one of his bantams and an Itom 1954

George Todd with a Super Bantam engine that he developed

George Todd - Love = a racetrack and a Bantam 1955

He made the following comment which adds to the history of the Hurricane. "I'm still hoping to find someone who has a picture of the remarkable demonstration race that was staged during a Silverstone Saturday, or perhaps a BMRC event, in which about 20 Britax racers were lined up on the starting grid. This was, I guess around 1954. I rode one of them which was fun as I wobbled around my favourite airfield circuit, along with Thruxton, and later Snetterton"...  (We are trying to find more information on this and if any reader has a contribution, please email to us).

Race speeds, on the track, increased with the competition of the sleeved down NSU Fox two-strokes and now the 'race developed' Cucciolos, not just reaching 40-50 mph but lapping at 45-50+ mph. This was not far behind the slower 125s of the time. Both the motorcycle press and the watching public became impressed and pushed the idea of 50cc racing but an anti racing fifty group grew. Fortunately and often their voice backfired helping rather than hindering the fledgling cause.


1955 50cc Britax Hurricane - 001  Part of the Saltarelli Collection. Photographed by Phil Aynsley at Senigallia, Italy in 2000.


The above pictures show that there is at least one survivor (as far a research shows there was only circa 20 ever made!) and it was in the Saltarelli Collection in Italy. This collection was split up and sold off by RM Auctions in Monaco but the Hurricane did not feature in the lots so who knows where it is now.  (Information needed please)

The following article is from the Power and Pedal magazine January 1955. 
(R. D. Vaughn Williams in the saddle)

WITH the appearance of the  Britax-Ducati Hurricane it is  safe to say that formal 50c.c. racing  has arrived. Informal 50c.c. racing has been taking place for some  months. Devotedly tuned clip-on engines without their silencers have been reaching speeds well into the forties.  The new Britax is powered by the Ducati 4-stroke 48c.c. engine already familiar under its  model name of (Cucciolo). 

But before taking to racing the Ducati has undergone a number of modifications. Austenitic valves and double coil valve springs have been fitted and the engine equipped with a special Amal carburettor. There is a trumpet exhaust. 

The streamlines of the Hurricane's metal skin reveals a family likeness to the Scooterette, pictured  in Power and Pedal last month.  Wheels are 20ins. x 2.5ins. The  machine weighs 97 lbs. and is  priced at £99. 18. 0d. including Purchase 'Tax`. Special tuning is available for an extra £6.

To say that the Hurricane is exciting to ride is to put it mildly, particularly if one is unfamiliar with racing motor cycles. A run is needed to start the machine. The saddle is set well back and the  expert, provided that he is thin enough, can place his chin on the tank. Thus mounted he may roar along at over 40 m.p.h. and to  say “roar" is no poetic fancy.  At first the steering seems extremely light, but this settles down as the speed increases.

It is worth while comparing the price and performance of the Hurricane with that of a 125 c.c.  machine, the smallest to race hitherto. A 125 c.c. racing machine costs over £250 and has a top  speed of 75 m.p.h. plus. The  Britax costs under £100 and has a top speed of 50 m.p.h. plus. Economics alone would seem sufficient to assure the popularity of 50c.c. racing. Two race meetings for this class of machine have already been planned for 1955. 

Moving on to 1956

This following Program is for a motorcycle race meeting held at Silverstone and is one of the earliest records I have of a race meeting on an English circuit, in the late 1950s that shows a record of the Britax Hurricane taking part. The date was 6th July 1956. In the very beginning there were insufficient riders to make a single class race for the 50cc. Also there were times when the 125cc boys were sparse on the ground as well. In this situation the two classes were put together to form a reasonable grid.

Twelve 50cc riders assembled on the grid with a mixture of machines. You will also notice that there is a lady rider, Miss Pauline Dale who came 6th in her class riding a Britax Hurricane. You will also notice that Gordon Bird, mentioned above when he raced in Scotland, has changed his Hurricane for an Itom Sport which he worked on to improve its capabilities and called it an Itom Special". There was little one could do to increase the speed of the Hurricane and even when the 3 speed Cucciolo motor came out, it was no match for the three speed Itom.

Silverstone 6th July 1956

Moving on to 1957

This is another one of the earliest records I have of a race meeting on an English circuit but one year later. It shows a record of a Britax Hurricane taking part and was again held at the Silverstone race circuit in England. 

You will notice again for the rider listing that only four (4) out of the twenty (20) mounts carried the Ducati Cucciolo engine. One rider, not in the picture, who was building his experience on the 50cc Itom and the 125cc MV Agusta was S.M.B. Hailwood. He was already riding in the bigger classes.  

Silverstone Trophy Day 1957
No. 8 J. F. Glendenning – Itom
No. 9 Bill Peden – NSU Quickly
No. 14 W. A. Phillips – Cucciolo
No. 10 L. Cooper – DOT Vivi
No. 4 D. M. Dibble – Itom
No. 5 Frank Sheene – Astor Special
S. A. Fairchild – Britax Hurricane
G. S. Knox-Gore – Fruin Special 

1955 and 50cc racing takes off in Scotland at the Errol Airfield. My thanks to Steve Bird for this photograph of his father, Gordon Bird who won the race.



The 50cc Racing Hardware