Every sporting event generally includes the participation of several contributors, from the sporting entity which manages the sport to the athletes concerned, including the organisers, the circuit or the stadium (or otherwise), the spectators and, in the case of motorsports, the manufacturers, teams, mechanics, etc. Relationships between this whole little world may vary according to circumstances but are – in general – good, which is necessary for a smooth running of the sport. This was not always the case though. Sometimes two parties were going through a period of misunderstandings that may have led to a crisis. This is what happened at the end of 1953 and beginning of 1954 between the FIM and the manufacturers of that time, more precisely the International Permanent Bureau of Motorcycle Manufacturers. For this reason there is no classification for manufacturers in the 1954 Road Racing Grand Prix – any mention would only be anecdotal, as no title was awarded that year. In fact, this was the first really serious problem since the creation of the Championship in 1949.
An extraordinary meeting of the International Sporting Commission was held on 8-10 October 1953 in Paris. Among the subjects on the agenda were an analysis of the situation in the annual Championships and a discussion with the International Permanent Bureau of Motorcycle Manufacturers.
Mr Chamberlain, CSI Vice-President and ACU (Auto-Cycle Union, British Federation) delegate, spoke first: “In the opinion of the ACU, the Individual riders’ Championships have served their purpose and should now be abolished, but the Manufacturers’ Championships should be retained. The reasons for this proposal were that the riders’ Championships created difficult relations between the riders and the manufacturers whose machines they rode, and between the riders themselves”. A long discussion followed and eventually it was agreed that for the year 1954 the Individual Riders’ Championship should be abolished.
This decision was conveyed to the manufacturers at a joint meeting with the Bureau Permanent International des Constructeurs de Motocycles held on the afternoon of Friday 9 October. During this meeting the President of the Manufacturers’ Board “welcomed” the proposal of the CSI but, while accepting the abolition of the Riders’ Championship, the Permanent Bureau underlined the importance given to the reduction of the number of races, and its wishes to see the Manufacturers’ Championship being limited to a total of six races in each of the solo classes (125, 250, 350, 500) of which the four best results should be taken into account. Moreover, three of these six races should regularly take place in Germany, Great Britain and Italy respectively, and it should be laid down that only machines and riders entered by the manufacturers themselves should be allowed to participate.
Other proposals were also submitted to the CSI. A proposal to reinstate the previous system of indicating each year one amongst the various classic meetings as the European Championship meeting was rejected. A Commission of Inspection CSI/Permanent Bureau was considered to be impracticable. One manufacturers’ representative in each country would be asked to give the views of the manufacturers of that country to the CSI. The entry of each manufacturer would be considered as automatic (no entry form), but each manufacturer should have the opportunity of declining his participation in the Championships before the start of the season. Finally, the Individual Championships shall be dropped for a period of one year – 1954 – and the question of its restitution considered in a year’s time.
During the Congress in London on 10-14 November 1953, the CSI President, Mr Pieter Nortier, recalled that the subject had been discussed in October and it was decided to recommend to the General Council that the Riders’ Championship not be run the following year, but also not to reduce the number of countries in which World Championship races could take place, to maintain the Manufacturers’ Championship provided that the number of races counting towards this Championship be limited only to the four best performances of each determined brand, and to give the permission to the manufacturers to withdraw from the World Championship provided that this intention was announced before 1st January of the following year. The first decision – to abolish the Riders’ Championship – was approved by the manufacturers, but they requested more time to discuss and take a decision about the other subjects.
Several National Federations expressed themselves strongly against this decision concerning the individual Championships, notably Italy and Spain: Don Rodil said that the Grand Prix of Europe had been abolished in 1948, and going back to it clearly did not favour the interests of the sport as a whole. A series of events was created which enjoyed a great success and the FIM should continue its work in this way, and not make changes that could jeopardize this development. Besides, “the FIM should not become dependent on the manufacturers as the sport, not the industry, must be our main concern”.
The President then explained why this proposal had been made. The reason came in part from the riders themselves. A top factory rider could be unlucky in the first events and then during further meetings, he could receive the order not to race too hard in order not to prejudice the other riders of the manufacturer’s team of which he was also a member, and who had already been successful in the previous meetings.
The Swiss delegate, Mr Barambon, replied that from a purely sporting point of view, it was a mistake to abolish the Individual Championships. According to Mr Chamberlain, Individual Championships were not very popular amongst some riders. He added that one of that year’s champions had tried to withdraw at the beginning of the year; a survey among the German riders resulted in a majority being against the championship. Finally he mentioned also the idea to propose to the General Council that in future the Bonacossa Trophy could replace the Championships, as this Trophy would be awarded to the best rider of the year, following the results of a vote by the CSI members (this would be refused).
Messrs Pérouse and Rodil were still not convinced. The President said that in any case the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau should meet again on November 30 and it was not impossible that the manufacturers might refuse to take part in the Championship. “Consequently, I wish to ask the General Council to authorise us to modify or even to cancel our recommendations if, following the decisions taken by the manufacturers, it would seem advisable to do so”. The authorisation was given by the General Council.
The next meeting took place at the Automobile Club de France on December 11 and 12, following a preliminary meeting of the CSI Bureau on December 10. The outcome of the meeting of the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau, held in Milan on November 30, needed a serious discussion. In fact, the manufacturers had decided to go for confrontation, saying that if the CSI was not prepared to reduce the total number of Championship meetings to six, they would withdraw from the championship and also forbid their riders to take part individually. After a long discussion, the CSI delegates decided that, as the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau proposed to forbid its members to take part in a Manufacturers’ Championship, that Championship would be dropped for 1954 and an Individual Championship for riders would be reinstituted, covering all 9 Championship meetings, but only the four best results in any one series of races would count.
The story, though, has not yet come to an end. On January 18, 1954 in Brussels, the Manufacturers Permanent bureau met again – Messrs Nortier, CSI President, and Bruinsma, Dutch CSI member, were present at part of the meeting, following the request of the British manufacturers. The Permanent Bureau decided to maintain its decision of November 30 and was not ready to let the manufacturers who were interested in racing (nor the CSI!) find a solution themselves. Five days later, the Manufacturers’ Permanent Bureau issued a press release saying that it had decided to take part in six of the nine Classic Meetings (Grand Prix), but that they would not take part in the Grand Prix of France, Ulster and Spain. The Bureau had the intention to create a “Grand Prix of the Motorcycle Industry of Europe”, a Trophy which would be awarded to the manufacturer who scored most points in those six races. In the CSI report, there is a note from Secretary General Tom Loughborough: “This cannot be realized without the previous authorization of the FIM; Sporting Code Arts. 91, 92 and 93”.
On March 18, a last attempt was made by the British Manufacturers in London who tried to convince the CSI members present - Messrs Nortier and Chamberlain (it was Chamberlain’s last meeting; he would pass away two days later), and Messrs Violet, President of the Technical Commission, and Secretary General Tom Loughborough - that the FIM should give the right to the riders to decline their participation, i.e. “to declare they do not wish to take part in the Championships”. The manufacturers were of the opinion that “most of the riders would decide not to take part and that it would be better to abandon the Championships”…
It is quite possible that the attitude of the manufacturers was led by the British industry – the attitude of the ACU also advocates in this direction. It may be linked to the fact that the situation quickly evolved against them as from 1949. In the 500cc class, the last title for Norton was in 1951, in the 350cc in 1952 and in Sidecar in 1953… Gilera - soon followed by MV Agusta – won everything as from 1952 with their four-cylinder machines. Italian manufacturers started to dominate in the 350cc as from 1953, what they were doing in the 125cc and 250cc since 1949. In the Sidecar class, the BMW dominance would start in 1954.
Solutions would be either to abandon the championships or to give more importance to the manufacturers’ titles (thus deleting the riders’ title), which maybe would make more publicity for them and push them to invest - in the case of Norton, to restart the development of a four cylinder engine, dropped some time before. Another argument would be to say that in the 500cc class the machines were too fast (and dangerous) and to propose to abandon this class.
But none of this would happen. The British industry would survive until the end of the 60s on the motorcycle market, and in racing by providing single-cylinder, then twin-cylinder machines to the privateers, allowing the starting grids to be filled up. Anglo-Saxon riders would still keep a supremacy during several years, by their number and their skills – Surtees, Hailwood, Redman…- and thanks to the success of the TT, but times would change…
At the Congress in Scheveningen (Netherlands) on the first week of May 1954, the General Council decided to follow the rules as published in January, i.e. without any mention of a Manufacturers’ Championship (the article was deleted), with the mention of at least 30 entries per solo class (16 for sidecars), and with four races to count if four races or more were run. Contracting-out on the part of any individual driver would not be admitted.
The article concerning the manufacturers would be re-introduced at the 1954 November Congress in Paris for the 1955 season.
1: Rhodesian Ray Amm on the 500cc Norton: one win (TT) and two second places (West Germany and Switzerland) gave him the second place in the 1954 Championship.
2: Geoff Duke at the Tourist Trophy, during the presentation in Douglas, with his Gilera 500 four. He won five races in a row that year – getting his third title -, but at the Isle of Man, the race was stopped by a red flag. Duke had already refuelled but Ray Amm had not. The Rhodesian won by one minute.
3: Fergus Anderson won his second consecutive title in the 350cc class (on a Moto Guzzi) in 1954. He was 45 years old…
4: The 250cc World title was won by German rider Werner Haas (picture) and the 125cc one by Austrian rider Rupert Hollaus. Both were riding NSU.
5: German pair Wilhelm Noll and Fritz Cron clinched the 1954 Sidecar title, beating Eric Oliver at the last race in Monza. It should have been BMW’s first title, but it did not count…
6: British rider Geoff Duke dominated the first half of the 50s, with four 500cc World titles (51, 53, 54 and 55) and two 350cc titles (51, 52). On the picture, he raced at the Bremgarten circuit in Berne (Switzerland), en route to his fourth win of the season.
All pictures: Collection Maurice Büla/FIM