Obituary: Ivan Wicksteed

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The Independent Culture
A LINK with 1930s record-breaking on the old Brooklands racetrack at Weybridge, Surrey, has been broken with the death of Ivan Wicksteed. He holds the 500cc lap record in perpetuity, with an average speed of 118.02mph on a Triumph motorcycle he built and tuned with an old schoolfriend, Marius Winslow.

The two young enthusiasts, still in their twenties, had approached Triumph's managing director in a supreme example of naive optimism, explaining that his newly announced twin-cylinder road machine might be modified and supercharged so effectively that it would break the Brooklands record. Edward Turner, never a man with time for publicity through racing, listened to what they had to say and simply replied, "A very logical conclusion. Good afternoon, gentlemen!", before turning on his heel and walking away.

Spurred on by this rejection, Wicksteed and Winslow bought their own Triumph, prepared it for the track attempt and in October 1938 set the new lap record. The response from Turner was immediate, with full-page advertisements congratulating Wicksteed on his achievement, then inviting the two to the Coventry factory and asking what support they needed for future efforts.

Before that promise could be realised, the Second World War intervened, the steeply banked Brooklands track was partly dismantled to make room for a runway, and Wicksteed's record was forever beyond reach.

He went on to be a formidable but unlucky competitor in the Isle of Man TT races. In the 1950 500cc Clubmans race for production machines, he was a clear leader on his Triumph until the fuel tank split and he ran out of petrol. Back again in 1951 he was once more on top form, leading the race comfortably until given a "Slow Down" signal by helpers anxious to avoid a repeat of the 1950 catastrophe. He responded too effectively and his great rival Ivor Arber, on a Norton, speeded up with a supreme last-lap effort to snatch victory from Wicksteed's grasp.

Wicksteed's early tendency to original thinking was reflected in his solution to the lack of petrol for private use during the Second World War. He built a road-going land yacht and utilised natural power to cruise around the country roads in the region of Royston, north Hertfordshire, where his engineering business was based.

Novel the land yacht may have been, but it was never a commercial proposition, unlike his development of the "down grain creel", a mechanical flail that was attached to early combine harvesters to thrash rain-flattened corn upright so that the blades of the harvester could reach it. Only when the combine manufacturers offered such an attachment themselves did he stop selling this ingenious device.

A keen sailing man, Wicksteed turned to the manufacture of boat trailers instead. In 1960, to prove his own Hi-Speed Trailer better than others, he towed a boat and trailer up the newly opened M1 motorway behind his Jaguar car at over 100mph.

His Brooklands record was recognised in recent years by a Leicestershire father and son, Titch and Roger Allen, who in 1986 built an accurate replica of Wicksteed's machine, using the handlebars that were the only known remains of the original. Forty-eight years after his historic ride, Wicksteed could still struggle into his racing leathers to enjoy another brief moment of glory.

Ivan Benedict Wicksteed, motorcyclist: born Letchworth, Hertfordshire 9 August 1914; married (one son, one daughter); died Gosport, Hampshire 22 October 1998.