Heroes don’t come any bigger for me than the guys who run anywhere near the top of the leaderboard at the Isle of Man TT.
Even the blokes who just have a go on the notoriously unforgiving Mountain Circuit are worthy of huge respect in my book.
No surprise then that I really enjoyed seeing the film Closer to the Edge a while back. All the TT action and the sights and sounds of that amazing place worked for me. But the thing that caught me by surprise was the degree of insight the film provided into the minds of the top competitors. It was great to see our own TT champ, Cam Donald, taking part and revealing something of the way he approaches the weaving of his spectacular magic. By the way, if you ever get a chance to say g’day to Cam, you’ll find him to be one of the nicest blokes ever to strap on a helmet. And he doesn’t even think that he’s special…
I also enjoyed the way the film focussed on British TT-ace Guy Martin’s eccentric scallywag side. That was lovely stuff. In the old days there were a lot of scallywags and dingbats to the square foot among motorcyclists, but I fear our tribe has taken on more of a white-bread character in recent times.
Later a Rennie Scaysbrook interview with Guy Martin in sister-mag AMCN caught my eye. I loved reading Guy’s answer to a question along the lines of, "What have you been up to lately?" Guy happily responded that he had added a Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine to the collection of interesting stuff in his shed.
While I can match any of these TT aces in the enthusiasm-for-bikes stakes, I don’t have a lot in common with them in the areas of courage and ability. So it was a heart-warming moment when I learned that Guy Martin and I share a fondness for Merlins. The big difference between us on this front, though, is that Guy now has his and I missed out on mine 35 or 40 years back.
I was getting a pair of Harley heads bead-blasted in an aircraft-repair shop when I was offered the Merlin. With a young family and a lot of commitments at the time I had to say that I would get back to the bloke after checking my finances.
It was a bleak moment when I turned up to buy it a few days later to discover that it had already been sold. It was just affordable then but now the few survivors are way beyond my reach.
What’s so good about a Merlin? Developed by Rolls-Royce from the Schneider-Trophy-winning racing-seaplane engines of the early ’30s, this awesome 744kg, 27lt, V12, supercharged engine powered most of the fighters and many of the bombers that won the Battle of Britain.
And what would I have done with my Merlin? After welding up a sturdy cradle for it from 1¾in x 1¾in angle and bolting it to the shed floor, I would have jury-rigged a primitive heat exchanger and exhaust system. Then on high days and holidays, before lighting the barbecue, I would have treated myself and my mates to a few minutes of the stirring spectacle of the amazing machine bursting into outrageous life.
Maybe Cam could get me an invite to Guy’s place when he’s firing up his own Merlin?