MOTORCYCLE HERO: COLIN SEELEY
THE RACER, THE RETAILER AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Colin Seeley, who passed away in January, made a huge contribution to motorcycling during his life.
Born in Crayford, Kent, on 2nd January 1936, Seeley grew up near Brands Hatch race track, watching races as a boy and developing a love of motorcycles and sidecars.
Having been impressed by Vincent’s chief tester Ted Davis, Seeley must have been over the moon when, at the age of fourteen, his father offered him his first ride upon a Vincent Rapide.
Seeley's first job was as an apprentice in a local motorcycle shop, Harcourt Motorcycles. He then got a job at Halfords and worked at both companies while training as a mechanic at a driving school. When he wasn’t in one of his jobs, you would most likely have found him in his parent’s shed, where he repaired and maintained bikes using his bedroom to store the parts.
After being rejected from National Service in 1954, Seeley and his father set up their own motorcycle business, working from a car garage. But it wasn’t enough for him to work on bikes, he wanted to race them. Borrowing a mate’s 500cc BSA Star Twin, he entered his first race: a one-hour endurance event at Brands Hatch.
The business was doing so well that two years later, in 1956, Seeley and his father opened a retail shop, keeping the old garage for service and repairs. This made him a multi-franchise dealer at the age of 20. His second retail shop opened in 1958 and was dedicated to selling and fitting sidecars.
After having taken a couple of years off from racing to focus on his company, Seeley got back in the game and entered four more races on a part-exchanged Triumph. He bought his first sidecar outfit in 1960, which was based on a Manx Norton. He and friend, employee and mechanic Wally Rawlings, used it to enter their first race in Snetterton.
His big break came in 1961 when he entered his first Grand Prix event, the Isle of Man TT. He used a new Matchless G50 solo race bike that he'd convinced the AMC factory to sell him. It was modified and fitted with a Canterbury racing sidecar, for which he was an agent. He achieved sixth place.
Between 1961 and 1967, Seeley was one of Britain’s best sidecar racers. He and Rawlings achieved their best results in 1964, coming first place in the Dutch TT and second place in Isle of Man TT sidecar competitions. 1966 saw them come second place again, in the French Grand Prix sidecar competition. But it was the achievements that followed his retirement from racing that he would be best known for.
Seeley turned his efforts to designing and constructing Seeley-framed racing motorcycles. Though initially powered by AJS and Matchless engines, Seeley went on to use Norton, Yamaha and Suzuki engines, among others. At the time, all the major motorcycle manufacturers had pulled out of Grand Prix racing. The Seeley-designed chassis became the choice of race bike for many.
John Cooper won the 500cc 1968 North West 200 upon a Seeley-Matchless. The following year, Seeley-designed motorcycles were in four of the top ten places in the Isle of Man TT. In 1971, Barry Sheene won the British National Championship upon a Seeley Suzuki-powered bike. Sheene declared it as the best-handling motorcycle he had ever ridden.
Seeley started a new project in the 1970s, though this one was born from heart-breaking circumstances. His wife Joan was diagnosed with cancer in 1976 and passed away three years later. Seeley set up the Joan Seeley Pain Relief Memorial Trust. Seeley and his second wife Eva ran the charity, which has raised over £125,000 and provided hospital equipment to over 30 hospitals. Seeley also went on to run the Norton Rotary race team in the 90s.
His two-volume chronicle on his career Colin Seeley, Racer... and the 'rest' was released to raise money for the charity. It is considered to be one of the most detailed stories of a racing career ever written. Seeley was a man of many talents and of much determination, who put his best foot forward time and time again. It’s fitting that the recording of his career matched the career itself: nothing short of brilliant.
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