Royal Enfield’s 1960s two-stroke racers – the story in a scrapbook

Pete Kelly takes our promised fuller look at Herbie Light’s scrapbook covering the progression of the Royal Enfield two-stroke racers of the 1960s.

In the mid-1960s, squeezing 34bhp from a 250cc two-stroke ‘single’ was quite a feat, but after starting with a single-carburettor Villiers Starmaker, Royal Enfield rapidly progressed to one of the best-handling and most powerful British two-fifties ever built, with its own engine at the heart.

The story started on a high note, with Motor Cycling announcing in 1964: ‘Hartle to Ride 250 Royal Enfield Works Racer’. The cutting went: “Royal Enfield’s road racing comeback – presaged last October by their joint managing director Leo Davenport – took a dramatic step forward last week when 1960 Junior TT winner John Hartle agreed to test their prototype 250 at Oulton Park early next month.

‘Moon Eyes’ John Cooper was one of the top riders to campaign the Royal Enfield racer. Others included Percy Tait and Griff Jenkins.

“John said: ‘The prototype sounds very good. It has a special frame and forks built for Royal Enfield by Reynolds, and the engine will be one of the latest single-carburettor Starmaker units.’

“John is due to visit the Redditch factory to see the machine being prepared and to discuss racing matters with Leo Davenport, winner of the 1932 Lightweight TT. Royal Enfield are being advised on their re-entry into racing by another very famous TT winner – six-times World Champion Geoff Duke.”

Another write-up stated: “Coming along nicely is the prototype Royal Enfield racer which John Hartle may ride in the Hutchinson 100 meeting at Silverstone on April 4.” But it added tellingly: “The final decision cannot yet be made because John has other commitments.”

It was a Motor Cycle News headline: ‘Hartle’s First – and Last – Ride on the Enfield Racer?’ that outlined those commitments. The story went: “Hartle’s oil company commitments are with a different concern to those of Royal Enfield’s, and this is almost certain to prevent him from racing this works prototype production racer. He has been entered on the 250 Enfield by Geoff Duke for the Hutchinson 100 meeting at Silverstone on Saturday April 4, but it seems now that there will be a change of rider.

Read more in the May 2018 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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