Colin Jordan Seeley (2 January 1936 – 7 January 2020)[1][2][3] was a British motorcycle retailer who later became a motorcycle sidecar racer, motorcycle designer, constructor and retailer of accessories.[4] In 1992 he was involved in running the Norton Rotary race team.[5]

Early days edit

Seeley was born in Crayford, Kent. He left school at fourteen and started riding on his handyman-father Percy's Vincent Rapide when he obtained his licence at sixteen, beginning his working motorcycle career as an apprentice for Harcourt Motorcycles, becoming acquainted with Bernie Ecclestone at his nearby used motorcycle salesroom, followed by Halfords motorists' shop, both in Bexleyheath, Kent, and then as a mechanic for a driving school where Seeley also learned to drive a car. Another move was to the Schwieso Brothers bike business in Dartford, Kent where he gained experience working with many different marques, also repairing and maintaining bikes in his spare time working in a wooden shed at his parents' home, using his bedroom to store parts.[6]

In 1954, after being rejected for National Service as unfit, Seeley had aspirations to own his own motorcycle business, securing rented premises in the Old Forge, a car garage at Stapley Road in Belvedere, Kent. Whilst his father Percy had progressed from Series A Rapide through Series C Shadow to a Black Lightning, Colin was using a Matchless V-twin sidevalve with a large box sidecar to transport motorcycles sign-written with advertising for his business.[6]

In 1956 Seeley established his first retail shop in nearby Nuxley Road, where, with his father Percy, they traded as C.J.Seeley (Sales) Ltd., Motorcycle Specialist, keeping the Old Forge site for service and repairs.[6]

As agencies were difficult to obtain, Seeley started with sub-agencies (under the main-dealer umbrella) from Zündapp, NSU and Moto Rumi, also selling bicycles, clothing and accessories, later being appointed as main agents for AJS, Ariel, BMW, Francis-Barnett, Greeves and Matchless. Further expansion in 1958 saw a nearby new showroom, again in Nuxley Road, dedicated to selling and fitting sidecars.[6]

Racing background edit

When Seeley was fourteen he would cycle to the nearest local race track, Brands Hatch, which had then converted from grass track to hard surface, where he was impressed by Vincent Motorcycles employee Ted Davis racing his Vincent sidecar outfit.[6]

Seeley entered his first race in 1954 at Brands Hatch, a one-hour endurance event, riding a solo 500 cc BSA Star Twin borrowed from a friend, where he completed 42 laps during the hour. Pressure of work prevented any further competition until 1957 when Seeley entered his first scramble on a part-exchanged Triumph twin, followed by grass track, hill climb and Ramsgate sprint using the same machine.[6]

By 1958 Seeley had acquired an AJS agency and purchased an ex-works 500 cc scrambler which he was uneasy with; also holding a Greeves agency, Seeley approached the factory for support and rode scramblers for them in 1958 and 1959.[6]

In 1960, Seeley with his friend – mechanic and employee Wally Rawlings – bought their first sidecar outfit, and ex-Eric Oliver machine based on a Manx Norton, entering their first race at Snetterton in April 1960. With only one other entry accepted during 1960 – at Charterhall in Scotland, 400 miles from his base in Kent – Seeley was disillusioned with the race-regulating bodies.[6]

Seeley (8) leads George Auerbacher (5) during the 1965 Sidecar Dutch TT.

In late 1960, as a rider-agent, Seeley managed to convince the AMC factory to sell him a new Matchless G50 solo race bike to be modified and used with a Canterbury racing sidecar, for which Seeley was an agent. After some encouraging results on local tracks, Seeley entered his first Grand Prix event, the Isle of Man TT in 1961, finishing in sixth place.[6][7]

BMW RS54 Rennsport 500cc engine showing low flat-twin design, camshaft drive, Dell'Orto carburettors and gearbox output coupling to shaft final drive

Seeley raced in the British and world championship sidecar competitions between 1961 and 1967.[4] He raced his own-design machines with Matchless G50 500cc engines and for the UK large-capacity class Matchless 650cc G12 CSR[4] followed by Norton 650cc Dominator engines prepared by Paul Dunstall,[8] but for Grands Prix the size limit was 500cc, meaning the only reliable, competitive engine was the BMW RS54 Rennsport.[9]

Abandoning the tall-engine configuration of the single-cylinder Matchless G50 outfit, Seeley campaigned the flat-twin BMW installed in a lower-line outfit called FCS-BMW[10](Fath-Camathias Special). His best competitive results were first place at the 1964 Dutch TT and second-place finishes in the sidecar competitions at the 1964 Isle of Man TT and the 1966 French Grand Prix at Clermont-Ferrand.[11][12] Seeley was one of the first to wear coloured racing leathers, using red suits together with passenger Roy Lindsay during the 1967 season, a trend started in 1966 by Derek Minter.[13]

Seeley motorcycles edit

Development edit

After retiring from competition, Seeley concentrated his efforts on designing and constructing Seeley-framed racing motorcycles, initially powered by AJS and Matchless motorcycle engines.

After experimentation during the winter months, the first prototype frame - powered by a Matchless G50 single-cylinder 500 cc engine - was built from Reynolds '531' tubing in early 1966, and was 9 lbs lighter than a standard G50 frame.[14] The prototype had Manx Norton front forks with an eight-inch dual-sided brake by engineer Edwin 'Eddie' Robinson,[15] which Seeley later retailed separately[16] and Manx Norton rear forks (swinging arm, swingarm) with Manx conical rear hub.[14]

Production frames would have a swinging arm made by Seeley, and customers could specify four, five or six-speed gearboxes.[14]

Derek Minter tested the bike at a race circuit local to both himself and Colin Seeley – Brands Hatch – describing it as "the best steering solo he'd ever tried" and the front brake as better than the Oldani normally used on his Manx Nortons.[17]

When the AMC motorcycle firm closed their in-house race shops in 1963 due to financial problems, although spares were still available, the actual engines were then obsolete.[18]

There were no manufacturers producing new 350 cc and 500 cc race machines for purchase,[19] excepting a 350 cc Aermacchi,[20] prompting fears over sustainability of the existing AMC race engines and leading some tuners to turn to developing road engines, such as Triumph Tiger 100 used in the lightweight composite-framed 'Monard' by Geoff Monty and Allen Dudley-Ward, Allen Dudley-Ward's own 'DWS 500' (a Triumph Norton) and Brian Bennett's twin-carb all-Triumph).[21][22][23] Although these were not expected to be fully competitive against the OHC AMC race engines, they were a cheaper clubman's starter option.

Seeley in late 1966 purchased all the engine tooling and spares for their racing AJS, Matchless and Norton motorcycle brands.[24] The availability of AJS 7R and Matchless G50 engines was ensured, and Seeley did not have to consider manufacturing the AJS and Matchless cycle parts.[25] The Manx Norton spares aspect[26] was sold-on to former sidecar racer John Tickle in 1969,[27] changing hands twice again by 1994.[28]

Production edit

Production began in July 1966, with the first available G50 500 cc bike being purchased by Swiss racer Ernst Weiss.[29] David Dixon track-tested the 350cc AJS 7R-engined version for Motor Cycle albeit hampered by the chassis being fitted for smaller Derek Minter and running-in a new engine, he reported the bike – with a six-speed Schafleitner gearbox – to be the smoothest 7R he'd ridden.[30] Dixon also reported that there was two gearbox options - four-speed or six-speed at extra cost.[30]

Motor Cycle staff writer David Dixon reported in November 1966 that Seeley was "hoping to step-up the output of his Seeley 349 cc AJSs and 549 cc Matchlesses for 1967. These will, as in the past, be sold as complete machines ready to race." Seeley was also appointed as a Reynolds 531 frame tubing stockist.[26]

Seeley soon was devising frames for other engines. The 1967 URS 500 cc four cylinder intended for Grands Prix racing was initially ridden by John Blanchard, but the Seeley-frame aspect of the project (provided by Colin Seeley Race Developments) ran into problems with personalities and by the sudden use of a non-Seeley front-brake from rival Rickman Brothers, resulting in Colin Seeley confiscating his rolling chassis less the brake, caused the Fath (URS) team to use a Rickman Metisse frame from 1968 onwards, a successful Grands Prix machine campaigned by German Karl Hoppe.[31] Colin Seeley later sold the frame privately, which Blanchard eventually bought, and using a spare Fath/URS engine was able to create a complete machine.[32]

In 1968 Seeley developed road-race frames for the 250 cc QUB two-stroke twin-cylinder,[33] followed by the 500 cc QUB two-stroke single-cylinder engines, both conceived by Dr. Gordon Blair at Queen's University Belfast.[34]

Other engines were Yamaha, creating the Yamsel[35] so effectively raced by John Cooper and later Norton twins. Seeley went on to develop in 1971 a roadster based on the Matchless G50 engine called the Seeley Condor.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s when almost all the major motorcycle manufacturers had pulled out of Grand Prix racing, the Seeley-designed chassis became the race bike of choice for privateer racers of the era.[4] John Cooper won the 500cc class at the 1968 North West 200, while Brian Ball finished second to Giacomo Agostini in the Senior TT at the 1968 Isle of Man TT, both riders on a Seeley-Matchless.[36][37] At the 1969 North West 200, John Blanchard and Brian Steenson placed first and second in the 500 class aboard Seeley-designed motorcycles.[36] In the 1969 Isle of Man TT, Seeley placed four of his machines in the top ten in the Senior TT race with third, fourth, sixth and seventh-place finishes.[38] His best result as a constructor came in 1970 when Tommy Robb rode one of his machines to a fourth-place finish in the 500cc world championship.[39] Seeley later used other Japanese engines in his chassis, most notably using a Hi-Tac Suzuki T500 engine for Barry Sheene in 1971.[40] Sheene used the bike to win the British national championship and declared it the best-handling motorcycle he had ever ridden.[40]

His designs proved so successful in competition that he earned a reputation as one of the best motorcycle frame designers in the industry.[4] In the 1970s, Seeley moved to automobile racing when Bernie Ecclestone hired him as joint Managing Director of Motor Racing Developments to work on Brabham racing car production, and in 1986 with the Brabham Formula One team.[4][5]

Road bikes and others edit

Seeley Honda (1977)

Following on from the Condor roadster, during the mid-1970s Seeley - under the name Colin Seeley International - produced a special, lightweight, single-seat sporting road bike with Honda CB750 750 cc SOHC engine and front forks, featuring his own fuel tank, seat and exhausts.[5]

Additionally, the frame and swinging-arm was available separately as a kit for self-builders having the Honda 750 engine and ancillaries.[41] Seeley was the UK-importer for American-made Lester aluminium motorcycle wheels.[42]

In 1977 Seeley produced for Honda a limited-production of 150 'Phil Read Replica' TT Formula 1 race-styled roadsters based on the CB750F2 with accessories by Seeley in Honda Britain colours of blue and red,[5] followed by a 1979 updated version called CB750SS in white with red or blue flashes.

Again in 1979 he produced a Seeley Honda TL200 trials bike, a smaller version of the 360cc works bike ridden by Rob Shepherd, based on the XL185 engine with a Reynolds 531 tubing frame, Marzocchi forks and Girling rear shock absorbers. All machines were hand-built, and, with limited production volumes, have become collectors' items.[5][43]

Other product lines were developed. Seeley fairings were instantly recognisable by the styling and twin headlights, as were megaphone-shape replacement silencers with long reverse-cones which he dubbed Easy-Fit.[44]

As vintage racing increased in popularity, Seeley's motorcycles experienced a resurgence with a victory at the 1988 Manx Grand Prix.[45] Since then, Seeley machines have won twelve times in vintage class racing at the Manx Grand Prix.[46]

Charity work edit

In 1976, Seeley's first wife Joan was diagnosed with cancer which ultimately proved to be terminal; in her memory, Seeley established a small charity named The Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust.[47] Originally administered by a small team of trustees who died or retired, Seeley and his second wife Eva later ran the charity, from which they took no expenses, with all the monies raised being invested into equipment for hospital facilities.[48] Past patrons include Murray Walker and Mike Hailwood, who was succeeded after his death in 1981 by his widow Pauline.[47][49][50]

References edit

  1. ^ Director Check Retrieved 2014-09-29
  2. ^ Minter was the master, says Colin Seeley "His death, on January 2nd, was also my 79th birthday". Bike Sport News, 10 January 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2016
  3. ^ Colin Seeley, legendary frame builder, has died aged 84 Motorcycle News, 8 January 2020. Retrieved 8 January 2020
  4. ^ a b c d e f Seeley, Colin (2006). Colin Seeley; Racer and the Rest Volume One. ISBN 9780954435714. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e [1] "Colin Seeley; Racer and the Rest Volume Two" Google Books. Retrieved 2013-06-15.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Coiln Seeley Racer and the rest Volume 1 at Google Books Retrieved 2014-09-30
  7. ^ IOM TT 1961 Race Sidecar result Retrieved 2014-09-30
  8. ^ Motor Cycle, 29 July 1965, p.147 Snetterton 1300cc Sidecar, Race Results, 2nd Seeley, 647cc Dunstall Dominator . Accessed 2013-06-15
  9. ^ Motor Cycle, 16 Feb 1967, p.209 Racing Line by David Dixon. Accessed 2013-06-22
  10. ^ Motor Cycle, 19 May 1966, p.640-42 In at the Deep End - by David Dixon Track test comparisons between Owen Greenwood's Mini and Colin Seeley's FCS-BMW. Accessed 2013-07-05
  11. ^ "Colin Seeley Isle of Man TT race results". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  12. ^ Motor Cycle, 2 June 1966, p.725 French Grand Prix, Sidecar Results - 1st F.Scheidegger, 2nd C.J. Seeley "Sensation of the Sidecar Race...Seeley's ex-Florian Camathias engine was really on song..." Accessed 2013-07-29
  13. ^ Motor Cycle, 9 March 1967, p.302 Racing Line by David Dixon. "Red racing outfits for Colin Seeley and passenger Roy Lindsay are the start of a swing to coloured leathers— but Derek Minter, who started it all with a green suit last year, told me he couldn't get into this outfit—he'd put on too much weight!" Accessed 2014-01-27
  14. ^ a b c Motor Cycle, 17 February 1966, p.220 Seeley Specials. Accessed 2013-06-14
  15. ^ Classic Bike, August 2002, pp.58-61 Eddie Robinson profile. The man they call the Frame Brain Accessed and added 2014-11-02
  16. ^ Motor Cycle, 5 May 1966, Special Equipment Review, p.595. Accessed 2013-06-15
  17. ^ Motor Cycle, 17 February 1966, p.220 Seeley Specials
  18. ^ Motor Cycle, 4 November 1965, p.663 Racing Line by David Dixon. "Great news for 7R and G50 owners! AMCs are now making a batch of spares and new engines. Already, some 15 G50s have been built but most have been sent abroad. However, more will be produced for the home market. Later, a smaller number of 7R engines will be built". Accessed 2013-08-05
  19. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, August 1966 p.23 'Looking Ahead'. "Following their racing successes at American classics such as the Daytona event, there is a strong rumour that the Triumph/BSA organisation may start to market over–the–counter replicas of their Daytona racers. If they do, they will be the only firm in the world who can actually sell you a brand new racing bike over 350cc". Accessed 2013-08-19
  20. ^ Motor Cycle, 6 October 1966, p.474 Tag tables, price guide for new machines available in UK. Aermacchi Ala d'Oro racer 250 cc, £489 (GBP), 350cc £514. Accessed 2013-08-02
  21. ^ Motor Cycle, 29 April 1965, p.560 DW Special – Norton Triumph 500 cc racer feature. Accessed 2013-08-05
  22. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, April 1965. p.44 Check your combustion, better balance by Ian Speller. "MM visited the workshops of Britain's leading engine tuner, Allen Dudley-Ward at Kingston upon Thames, Surrey" Accessed 2014-04-14
  23. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, November 1964, p.7 Full Chat by Bruce Cox. Brian Bennett's 500 Triumph racer. " ...he is using a highly tuned T100SS with the unit-construction engine and gearbox. With development Brian thinks the Triumph motor could form the basis of a cheap, competitive and utterly reliable production racer." Accessed 2014-04-15
  24. ^ Motor Cycle, 17 November 1966, p.680 'Villiers plan replica racer'. "Concerning racing plans, chairman Dennis Poore remarked: Because we have sold off some of the old racing equipment of AMC, this does not mean that we have given up the idea of racing. We have sold some extremely old equipment and had we tried to go racing with it, we would have been a laughing stock. After all, Villiers bought the manufacturing rights to the AMC marque names—not their past." Accessed 2013-08-09
  25. ^ Motor Cycle, 20 October 1966, p.542 'Racing Line' by David Dixon. AMC Racing Spares saved. Accessed 2013-07-11
  26. ^ a b Motor Cycle, 24 November 1966, p.711 'Clubmen's Grand Prix' by David Dixon "..he also hopes—eventually—to have enough Norton material to make complete Norton engines to fit into Featherbed frames made by Reynolds Tubes." and p.689 'Showscan' "Seeley has been appointed as an official stockist for Reynolds famous 531 frame tubing"
  27. ^ Motorcycle News, 12 November 1969, front page: John Tickle buys Manx rights from Seeley. Accessed 2013-12-06
  28. ^ [2] Archived 22 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine Molnar Precision Ltd, Manx Norton section. Retrieved 2013-07-29
  29. ^ Motor Cycle 21 July 1966, p.86 Racing Line by David Dixon Accessed and added 2014-12-23
  30. ^ a b Motor Cycle, 1 September 1966, p.274 Lower and Lighter by David Dixon. Accessed 2013-06-14
  31. ^ [3] Mick Walker's German Racing Motorcycles Retrieved 2013-06-14
  32. ^ [4] Bonhams Auctions. Sale of Seeley URS machine. Retrieved 2013-06-14
  33. ^ [5] Colin Seeley; Racer and the Rest Volume One p.265 Retrieved 2013-12-07
  34. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, December 1970, p.46/47, QUB Technical Topics. Dr. Blair's 500 housed in the Colin Seeley frame Accessed 2013-12-07
  35. ^ Motorcycle Mechanics, December 1970, p.36/37, John Cooper interview by Charles E Deane. "I wish I'd started on the Matchless earlier, they're much cheaper to run than Norton. I still have the Seeley 500 and now the 250 and 350 Yamsels." and "...we're now producing the Yamsel road racing frames as kit for sale...for the road racing boys who want a decent frame for their TR2 or TD2 motors. I have them in stock at my garage". Accessed 2013-12-07
  36. ^ a b "North West 200 race results". Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  37. ^ "1968 Isle of Man Senior TT race results". Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  38. ^ "1969 Isle of Man Senior TT race results". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  39. ^ "1970 500cc world championship results". Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  40. ^ a b "Memorable Motorcycles Seeley Suzuki". Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  41. ^ Bike, February 1977, p.53. Faster frames. Accessed 29 August 2016
  42. ^ Bike, February 1977, p.55. Lester cast alloy wheels, Colin Seeley 'International' advertisement. Accessed 29 August 2016
  43. ^ Which Bike UK magazine, November 1980. On the Rough. Little Big Uns. "The Honda is built in this country by Colin Seeley International, the engines being supplied by RSC in Japan and built specially for trials. At £1280 the Honda reflects its hand built origins..." Retrieved 2014-10-04
  44. ^ Motorcycle News, (UK weekly newspaper) 6 October 1979, p.10 Advert. Easy-Fit replacement silencers [img]. Colin Seeley International, Old Forge Works, Stapley Road, Belvedere, Kent. Accessed and added 29 September 2014
  45. ^ "1988 Manx Grand Prix Senior Classic race results". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  46. ^ "Seeley race results". Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  47. ^ a b The Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust homepage Retrieved 2014-09-30
  48. ^ Motor Cycle News 4 February 1981 p.2 £25,000 in Seeley Fund. "More than £25,000 has been raised in the first year of the Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust. The charity have given a £2,500 nerve freezer to the Walton Foundation in Liverpool and are now raising money for Nobles Hospital on the Isle of Man". Accessed and added 2014-10-03
  49. ^ The Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust About Us Retrieved 2014-09-30
  50. ^ Motor Cycle News 5 May 1982 p.9 £4,500 Tribute to Hailwood. "Special pain relief equipment has been presented to Birmingham Accident Hospital in memory of Mike Hailwood. Pauline Hailwood, Mike's widow, presented the £4,500 machine bought out more than £40,000 raised by the Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust. Mrs Hailwood is now the honorary patron of the Trust". Accessed and added 2014-10-06