Bill Swallow, a brief history by Chris Swallow

Yorkshire-rose-64DAD STARTED RACING WITH the remains of his student grant back in 1968. A Velocette was the obvious choice of bike as Grandad Ken had a bike dealership in the West Yorshire village of Golcar dealing mainly in Velo bikes and bits. Ken raced himself throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, debuting a Scott Flying Squirrel initially, then later progressing to Nortons, a 7R and a G45. He raced home and abroad in many events, including the Manx Grand Prix, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix to name a few. I remember Dad telling me the story of Grandad getting off the Ulster ferry at some ungodly hour of the morning with not much more than his pipe, flat cap and 7R and asking the local bobby for directions to ‘the circuit’ before proceeding to ask the seemingly amenable fellow for a push to get the 7R fired up. It is not much known if the local residents were similarly amenable to the crack of an open megga on the docks at such an early hour.

Dad was the eldest of five brothers. Twin brother Alec campagined many home-brewed Velocette specials throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, younger brother Jim took well to scrambling and late brother Richard proved very adept at road racing, starting out on a Greeves before progressing to Yamahas at the TT, then pairing up with Syd Lawton’s Aermacchi for much success in the Manx Grand Prix, winning the Junior Classic from 1987–91.

Bill Swallow and the Lawton aermacchi.

DAD DEBUTED IN the Manx Grand Prix in 1971 on the Velocette Thruxton he had ridden since ‘68. In 1966, to contest the Production TT Velocette made a batch of about ten squish head Thruxton engines, designated by an ‘R’ suffix to the engine number (in this case VMT803R), and one of these came the way of Grandad. Dad must have stuck up his head the highest from the nest as he ended up buying this engine from Grandad. A home made frame was aded in ‘71 but the Manx Grand Prix highlighted its limitations so in 1975 he stuck his head up again and bought a McCandless Featherbed frame, in addition to a Manx rear hub an Quaife five speed box.

Two years later and it was decided that the McCandless’s design could be improved upon and the long winter of ‘77 resulted in a Seeley Mk II-esque design to surround the now evolving Thruxton engine being rolled out of the shed for ‘78. The result was the ‘Swallow Velocette’, which was raced in pre-Classic racing days against more modern machinery, hence it’s ‘evolved’ nature—

not a Velo for the purists or eligibility police. Campaigned in many Manx Grand Prix and victorious in the 1966 500cc UK National Kennings Classic Bike Championship, the ‘Swallow Velo’, (christened ‘Scruffy Devil’ by an impressed Mac MacDiarmid in a 1987 Classic Racer test) was sidelineD in ‘88 as Dad took up acquaintance with sponsored rides on Seeley G50s, Aermacchis and Nortons with much success.

Dad’s first Manx Grand Prix win was the 1986 Junior Classic and since then he has notched up a further eight classic victories and elevent podiums (eight of which were second places to either brother Richard or Bob Heath). A 2nd in the ‘Island’ in 1999 on a standard 500cc Petty Manx with a lap of 108mph was the highlight of his TT career, though in the same year he was lying 2nd and splitting the works Hondas in the Lightweight race on a 400cc Honda when a dry fuel tank necessitated a red-faced push in for 10th place.

Bill Swallow, Davida helmets, magazine ad, 2004.

Davida helmets magazine ad, 2004.

At 63 years young, his most recent Manx Grand Prix was in August 2011, where he rode an AJS 7R Replica to 4th place in a damp and patchy Classic 350cc race, commenting afterwards to me, “Well. That‘s the first time since 1986 I’ve finished and not been on the podium!”

I spoke to him the other day and he was nursing a swollen knee after getting tangled up in someone elses start line accident at British Historic Racing’s final round of the season at Cadwell Park. He’s optimisitic though and looking forward to getting immersed in the New Zealand racing scene and assures me his knee will be ‘alright to have a do on a bike’ by the time he gets over here.

Slideshow of Bill racing >>

Cover, NZCMRR 2012 Pukekohe Classic Festival Souvenir Programme, Bill Swallow, Colin Sealey, Classic Motorcycle Racing, New Zealand

This article originally appeared in the NZCMRR February 2012 Classic Festival Programme, Pukekohe Park Raceway, New Zealand.