On November 12, 2015, I travelled to Brooklands to sketch as much of the interior of the McEvoy Shed as I could in a day. Shown is a completed section of what will be an almost 360 degree sketch of the inside of this historic shed, as it was when I visited on that windy day.
The McEvoy Shed is used by the Brooklands motorcycle volunteer team, an active group of enthusiasts who give up their spare time to keep the numerous motorcycles at the museum
in fine fettle. As well as maintaining the current inventory of museum motorcycles, the team also restore and resurrect historic machines. Over the last few years the main focus for Ian McCaw and his happy band has been a full restoration of the Doug Earle Cotton-JAP. This intriguing motorcycle was built by Earle in the 1990s as a replica of a 1930s Outer Circuit racer, complete with sidecar. Doug aced Zeniths at Brooklands in 1938 and so the Cotton-JAP was built by one of the few that had experienced the legendary banked track. The Cotton frame is the oldest component dating from 1928 – it’s believed the frame was used for grass track racing after the war. The JAP engine, seen on the work bench in the illustration, is a speedway unit dating from 1938. At the time of my visit, the frame was away being painted and so only the odd part of the motorcycle was to be seen around the shed, for instance the gearbox on top of the shelving unit, leaving hints of the team’s activity.
The shed is full of tools and other period ephemera. Nothing has survived from McEvoy’s day but the team has done a good job of keeping it looking period, while still using it as a workshop. Spending time in the shed gave me a unique insight into how the space is used by the volunteers and run as a period motorcycle workshop. However, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened at the time Michael McEvoy was resident, so after my visit I spent some time in the history books and spoke to everyone I thought might know something about McEvoy. Thank you to those people that helped me with this article, especially Peter Lancaster. This has been another great experience of the minefield of historical research.
Before The Shed
Michael Ambrose McEvoy was an Etonian who got a taste for motorcycle sport while still at Eton as a member of the Public Schools’ Motor Cycling Club. At the age of 16, he was hillclimbing on a 350cc Douglas. By 1922 McEvoy was competing in Midlands events and was a class winner, riding against high calibre riders such as George Brough and George Dance, ace Sunbeam tuner.
After Eton, McEvoy went on to work as an engineer at the Rolls-Royce factory in his local city of Derby, instead of choosing the more traditional route of going on to Cambridge or Oxford University. During his spell at Rolls-Royce, he worked on a motorcycle frame design in his spare time. The frame used a full cradle to hold a V-twin engine, with a single top tube and twin down tubes running from the headstock to the rear wheel axle. An additional third tube ran from the headstock to the engine plates. This innovative design made the frame very rigid and was quite different to the engine plates used by many manufacturers of the day. In 1924, while still at Rolls-Royce, the first McEvoy motorcycle appeared under the manufacturer name of LF Ellis. In an article in the Derby Daily Express, “Mr Ellis made it clear that Mr McEvoy is not concerned in business and he is engaged in the automotive industry in Derby… McEvoy, he, said, simply rode his own machine and did all the racing.”
And that he did. McEvoy rode his McEvoy-Anzani at a number of events during 1924, including a few at Brooklands . One race of note was on July 19 at Brooklands, where the gear lever broke while pulling away from the start. For the remainder of the race, McEvoy had to hold the gear in top with one hand and steer with the other, weaving down the straights at 100mph!
In 1925, McEvoy left Rolls-Royce to concentrate on his own marque. In the same year, McEvoy managed to persuade George Patchett to leave Brough Superior to become competition manager at McEvoy. Whether it was the potential pay rise for the change in position or the chance to work with an engineer of McEvoy’s calibre, who knows. Either way, McEvoy must have been very persuasive as the decision to move from an established maker such as Brough Superior would have been a tough decision.
The debutante motorcycle for McEvoy’s 1925 range was a 500cc JAP engined McEvoy Special. The engines were quoted as being “hand picked and tuned by GW Patchett” and claimed to be good for 100mph in production trim. The racing team of McEvoy and Patchett was a great match and new ground was about to be broken with Brooklands, as their new racing home.
In The Shed
McEvoy moved into the shed at Brooklands in 1926. During the short residency, the team made pioneering steps, pursuing McEvoy’s lifelong obsession of working with superchargers. The main machine the duo worked on was a 980cc JAP fitted with a Roots-type supercharger. Coupling a supercharger to a V-twin was a British first, so McEvoy had to work from his own engineering experience in order to see what would work. The first configuration McEvoy settled on had the blower mounted just behind the timing case, driven by a series of gears. The blower then fed into a two litre reservoir and then on to two Binks carburettors. He soon found that this configuration would not work as the supercharger caused knock on effects on the jetting of the carburettor and the timing of the engine. To solve the problem McEvoy found that he could swap the order round so that the mixture would pass through the carburettor first and then onto the supercharger, which in turn fed straight to the inlets of the V-twin barrels. This configuration worked rather well, so much so that it was used by the likes of Baragwanath, Noel Pope, and Alf Hagon in their supercharged motorcycles and is still used to this day.
Brooklands was an ideal home and testing ground for the supercharged machine but inorder to see what the motorcycle was truly capable of, the team had to travel to more suitable testing grounds. McEvoy and Patchett worked at Brooklands to prepare the supercharged 980cc machine for the trip to Oostmalle in Belgium. Here, there was a suitable road that could be closed to the public in order to attempt speed records. On March 14, 1926, the McEvoy team achieved mile and kilometre Belgian records at 115mph, but sadly no world records. Even though they didn’t achieve world records this was still a major achievement, due to the experimental nature of the machine. Working with a totally new configuration, the engineering and ingenuity employed to achieve this must be given high praise indeed.
The following Saturday (March 20) the McEvoy team was back on home ground racing the supercharged machine at Brooklands, where Patchett came third. One month later, on April 10, the McEvoy team achieved first and second places at Brooklands, showing that the machine was improving with each event. During this time, the team was gearing up to achieve speed records, again at Southport Sands. On Saturday, April 17, Patchett rode the 980cc McEvoy, winning the un-limited class with a record motorcycle speed for Southport Sands of 116.5mph. On the same day the McEvoy team also won the 500cc Sidecar and 500cc Solo races, proving that with the tuning expertise of Michael McEvoy and the expert riding of George Patchett, consistent results were possible.
McEvoy continued to push its motorcycles further throughout 1926. The 28th September meeting at Brooklands was particularly successful as the McEvoy team achieved a 73.58mph standing km and 79.93mph on a standing mile using the sidecar outfit. They also achieved a 85.35mph standing km in the solo class. Racing at Brooklands continued into 1927 where Patchett gained his Gold medal on Wednesday April 20, during the five lap solo 1000cc scratch race. Patchett averaged 100.82mph and achieved a maximum speed of 106.19mph. By this time, McEvoy was using the longer stroke 996cc
After this financial blow, McEvoy seems to venture more into the sport of speedway, not only as another market to demonstrate his innovative motorcycles, but to continue his racing. McEvoy developed Rudge and Blackburne powered Dirt Track bikes with very low slung motors, not unlike the speedway motorcycles of today. Michael rode against the likes of Sprouts Elder, one of the legendary riders of the day. McEvoy’s speedway bikes were just as innovative as his road racing motorcycles, showing his natural engineering abilities always pushed the boundaries of any discipline he ventured into.
Alongside motorcycle sport, McEvoy continued to develop and sell machines for a range of markets, using single and twin cylinder engines. At the 1928 Olympia show, McEvoy displayed a range of motorcycles, including a 987cc ohc straight four and a 350cc ohc single The McEvoy dirt bike was also included in the line-up, which shows that the firm was taking the speedway market seriously. Due to lack of backing and the financial climate, production for McEvoy motorcycles slowed to a halt in 1929.
Only a handful of McEvoy motorcycles survive and it’s a great shame that due to a brief production period and unfortunate circumstances, McEvoy hasn’t been remembered quite as well as he deserves within the world of motorcycles. His early experiments in supercharging motorcycles are to be highly commended due to their pioneering nature. It is even briefly mentioned in The Motor Cycle, March 11, 1926 that, “The McEvoy firm has a great faith in the future of the supercharger, first of all for racing, and later for ordinary touring machines, and is carrying out a series of experiments to determine the possibility of employing an increased charge in standard engines.” We will never know what would have happened if McEvoy had continued with its innovative machines, but hope that the machines and their creator are remembered and inspire current motorcycle engineers to continually push their own boundaries.