Eligibility: Spondon 38mm forks

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Forks have played a major role in shaping the format of GP Originals. The specification requirement to use period diameter forks has been a major factor in the success of the series. When previously popular championships allowed later, larger forks to be used in their post-classic classes, riders felt the pinch as their fellow competitors began to replace period components with increasingly modern parts.

As specified in our eligibility, 350 forks must be 35mm-36mm diameter to reflect the original Yamaha part. We allow other fork manufacturer’s items should they fit within the specification and have a period appearance. The GP Originals regulations have always allowed for certain components to be deemed eligible upon accurate research and with due consideration to the effect on the competitive nature of our classes.

Clive Horton on a 250 using 38mm Spondon forks

↑Clive Horton riding the wheels off the 250 Rotax in 1980 featuring the Spondon forks. Clive was helping Spondon develop their 250 chassis whilst also riding a Cotton in that year.

Digging deep

As the Series grows and progresses, components are brought to our attention and our team then delve into many hours of research – this can take a fair amount of time as we are all volunteers. This gathering of evidence, allows us to consider whether the part falls within our existing rules, not to change them. We expect the rider or team making the enquiry to also work hard to uncover as much substantiated evidence as possible. We check independent facts, ask for written statements from professional riders or engineers and gather date-proven photographs, magazine articles or results sheets.

We received a request about one such component in Autumn 2021. We are all aware that Spondon were prolific engineers during the period and made their own chassis and forks, they achieved a British Grand Prix victory with Martin Wimmer using their frame on the Yamaha in 1982.

The Derbyshire-based firm made their own 38mm fork that was used in two-stroke GP machines during the period. Until this time no one has requested to use them at GP Originals but, within a short space, of time another enquiry was made.

In 1979 Bill Simpson installed them as original fitment on the bike ridden by Stewart Cole in the photographs shown in this article. At the time, Spondon offered the forks to order with their own frames with the option of original Yamaha forks or Spondon’s own 38mm forks.

↑ First image: Stewart Cole lining up to race the 350 using the Spondon forks.
↑ Second image: 250cc Rotax with Spondon forks installed on the machine 1980 © Motorcycle & Road Racing Chassis
↑ Third image: Pete Beale coming in to land on his Spondon forks in 1981
↑ Fourth image: Peter Howarth using the Spondon forks in period © Mike Dowkes
↑ Fifth image: Examples of Spondon forks. Stewart Cole giving them a workout at the MGP Lightweight 1979.
All credits to the photographers (where currently unknown).

Spondon through the 1970s

There were four generations of the 38mm Spondon forks design. The stanchions remained the same but the bottoms were adjusted along the way. In the late 1970s White Power (as WP were known), provided adjustable damping internals, Stuart Tiller of Spondon believes they were the first company to be supplied by WP.

  • The earliest incarnation c.1974 featured a large fin with four holes to accomodate 298mm or 320mm disc.
  • The second generation were of a similar design but lugs were added to allow a single caliper to be fitted on either side.
  • The third design were die cast, longer and slimmer with two lugs and a thin front and back stiffening rib.
  • The final design in 1979/1980 simply featured thicker stiffening ribs.

↑ First image: Steve Carthy with his Spondon in February 1976. Purchased directly from Bob Stevenson of Spondon
↑ Second image: The bike is believed to have been originally built in 1974.

In terms of eligibility for GP Originals we feel these original Spondon forks fall within our existing regulations for aftermarket period parts. Therefore, they must be the original item made by Spondon. Replicas or 38mm diameter forks from other machines or manufacturers are not permitted.

1979 Motorscot article

Read the 1979 Motorscot article kindly supplied by Stewart Coombie.

I have been asked to confirm the originality of a motorcycle made by Bill Simpson and built by him and assisted in a small way by myself. The bike is a Simpson and was built with Spondon 38mm front forks in 1979, I should know as I spent an enormous amount of time looking after it and preparing it for Stewart Cole who rode it very well all around the UK and IOM.

Stewart Coombie
Stewart Cole using the Spondon 38mm forks

↑Stewart Cole on the BSR 250F in 1979. (Photographer unknown.)

GP Originals divider graphic

A personal account from Stewart Coombie

I used to work with the same firm as Robbie Allan and of course Robbie and wife Margaret started the Scottish Motor Cycle Show which they grew into a huge success, it was a big risk/gamble to start with but hats of to them they made it great.

Robbie decided to buy a bike for the 1978 MGP and went to Bill who had heaps of contacts and to cut to the chase Bill brought the TZ 250 cantilever chassis back from the 1978 UGP, it was Sam McLements bike but I don’t know which one of them used it at the UGP.

Anyway I got the bike from Bill and the plan was for a long time pal of Robbie’s to use it at the 78 MGP, this was for Derek Allan (no relation) to ride. So I take the bike to bits and find that the frame was broken in lots of places, it took a lot welding/brazing and plating to make it safe. Those riders are very fast men and the bikes take a terrible punishment on the Irish roads where it had done most of it’s racing.

Bike sorted and Davy Silver organised to come to my house at Aberfoyle in those days and take the bike across for me. We met Derek and Rhona for the first time as we came off the ferry, and we have been the best of friends ever since. Victor, who is Derek’s oldest also does the roads in Ireland and good he is too. Back to Derek who earned a Silver Replica in the race on a bike he had not seen before, he thought that the cantilever chassis/suspension was marvellous and gave him a new lease of life.

The new bike was meant for Derek but it did not work out as he was very busy with his growing haulage business and could not spend as much time on the racing as was originally planned. He reluctantly gave up his ride, which was very difficult for all of us as we were all close pals.

Robbie and Maggie said to me “We want the bike to be raced in Scotland and the MGP, it is your bike now, you treat it as yours and put whoever you want on it”. They were both brilliant with me and so to the test day at Knockhill on the 10th June 1979, where I met Stewart Cole who was testing his 350 TZ Simpson. Stewart did thirty laps and liked the bike and I liked what I saw. There began another friendship. Stewart is a very tidy person, a good engineer and everything has to be just right. He was a good fast safe rider and tidy with it, he was what I was looking for and it all worked out good.

First outing was East Fortune for 20 practice laps to get the set up right and more of feel for the bike. Stewart gave me a pile of new spares and as he always did, said “use what you want”.

First race 23/6/79 Beverage Park and a fourth place. Second outing Knockhill first race 1st place, second race 2nd place and overall 250cc winner. Third meeting 14/7/79 Knockhill race one 2nd place, race two 1st place. Race three a handicap race 2nd by 10yards to Bill Robertson who had a 1/2 lap start another lap or less, very pleasing. Next outing 29/7/79 East Fortune 4th in very hot company.

People today don’t appreciate how good and competitive the 250 and 350 racing was back then with everybody on TZ Yamahas and for Stewart to have a 250 and a 350 Simpson, it must be unique. Next Ingliston 5/8/79 a very dangerous (armco lined) and fast circuit. I was pleased we came away from there with a great 3rd place in a very fast race.

Next up the big one. The 1979 MGP and a very good 18th place and a Silver Replica. The result requires a bit of explaining as it was actually much better than it looks, the race was cut to three laps and we did not have a big enough tank and had to refuel. Most, if not all at that time, did not have to refuel, so anyone that knows the IOM just think about it. Hindsight is a great thing. We had two Simpsons, we could have put the big tank from the 350 on. Who knows? But it bothers me, as Stewart was good enough to win on both bikes.

…I can assure that there were only ever three people touched, or were allowed to touch, that bike. Stewart Cole, myself and Bill… the bike was good but it was the jockey that made it good.

Stewart Coombie

I do hope that you can make contact with Stewart as he can explain what happened in the newcomers’ race as Geoff Cannel came to me in pit lane to ask on behalf of Peter Kneale if Stewart had pitted for fuel as Rob McElnea had a 15 second lead on him going into the last lap. Stewart had pitted but Rob had not. Oh-oh dear a broken gear pedal, and we had thought about it and fitted a brand new Maxton pedal for the race. Remember the bad bump/jump at schoolhouse corner, he had it won but for that. I went to pick him up after the race and he was not down at all, he was chuffed to bits with his achievement, we both knew that he had won the race but for a bit of bad luck.