Book Review: Racer and the Rest

Colin Seeley memoir captures the spirit and struggles of the Sixties on the racetrack


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Colin Seeley’s eagerly awaited classic-era memoir, Racer … and the Rest, has finally been published by Redline Books and is available in the Motorcycle Classics Vintage Shop.

The beautifully designed, coffee-table-sized 388-page first volume, with a superb selection of photos from Colin’s own archive and the top photographers of the era, deals with the Seeley saga up through 1970.

Students of classic bike racing know Seeley as the man who gave a new lease on life to British singles in Grand Prix and short circuit road racing in the swinging 1960s. By acquiring the rights to the defunct AJS 7R and Matchless G50 engines and wrapping a series of well-made, good-looking, light but sturdy frames around them, he gave riders a stream of successes that lasted well into the 1970s.

Aside from harnessing the performance of large-capacity Norton twins and BSA/Triumph triples, Seeley was also a star sidecar driver in the early 1960s and a Grand Prix winner who twice finished third in the World Championship with his own motorcycles, mainly a Matchless-powered single and later a BMW Rennsport.

Many people don’t realize that Seeley built the prototype Ducati chassis on which all the Italian company’s bevel-drive desmo V-twin road and race models were based, that he worked closely with Honda in creating a series of good-handling café racers, and that he even succeeded in correcting the wayward handling of Barry Sheene’s 750cc Suzuki two-stroke racers with his own frames.

In between, he teamed up with entrepreneur Bernie Ecclestone, who moved on to rule Formula One, and Seeley reinvented himself in the modern era as a Superbike team manager, taking the Duckhams Norton team to the British Superbike title in the early 1990s with their Rotary racers. And that’s just a brief outline of the man’s multi-faceted career.

However, it’s one thing to have done so much, and quite another to tell us all about it in an interesting, accessible, way. With a degree of detail that’s never boring (though it pays to read the book a few pages at a time, such is the wealth of data, emotion and resolve conveyed), Seeley recounts a glorious era in motorcycle racing as seen from someone on the inside.

You’re right there with him in the driver’s seat, wondering if you’re pacing yourself properly on the way to winning your first Sidecar GP; in the workshop prepping bikes and welding up frames while riders hang around, waiting to load up their vans and rush off to Brands Hatch in time for practice; on the phone cooking a deal for Reynolds tubing; listening as a Honda six howls past the TT grandstands while the sidecar boys get ready for action — it’s all there, told pricelessly well in Seeley’s individual style.

On the downside, there’s perhaps a little too much extraneous detail. An exhaustive section on the 50cc “tiddler” TT, in which Seeley was involved only as a bystander, complete with average speeds and margins of victory, is interesting to period racing wonks, but dilutes the book’s focus.

But even that doesn’t detract from a fascinating read, recounting the career of one of motorcycling’s true Renaissance men, who applied his skills to a variety of enterprises and modestly excelled at all of them — including writing a landmark book that captures the spirit and struggles of the Sixties on the racetrack. Be there. Buy this.