A look at the Gilera in its heyday

Gilera 500 GP


Remembering the Gilera in its heyday



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If my rusting memory serves me right the first time I heard a 500 Gilera on full song was during the abbreviated Senior TT in 1954. One of my drinking partners of the long-defunct Birmingham MCC Motordrome near the James factory where we both earned a crust, had ridden to Liverpool with my 600cc Panther 100 and Swallow sidecar. Arthur Penzer, an incredibly trusting travelling companion, had agreed to join me on what was then sold by the magazine Motor Cycling (better known as the Green ‘Un) as a 25-bob (1.25) Senior TT day trip. We left the outfit at a garage offering parking for bikers and duly sailed as foot passengers to Douglas. I remember it being a long and hot walk (the weather was to deteriorate later) to reach a vantage point between Brandish and Hillberry and not being too happy to part with a tanner (six old pence was the price of the weekly Green ‘Un) when a get-rich-quick local met us coming through his hedge. Anyway, we forked out and duly got our glimpse of riders hurdling past on the descent from Creg-ny-Baa without knowing who they were or how they were getting on in the race. A few covetous fellow spectators had radios but gave very little away. They were too absorbed with listening to the commentators, including Graham Walker at the Creg, which wasn’t a bad spot for the editor of the Green ‘Un Graham was the father of one Murray Walker. But I digress.


Gilera 500GP

To our ears a string of singles, mostly Nortons, barked past, sounding rather flat with their familiar burbling meggas. But we knew of the imminent arrival of Geoff Duke on his red Gilera long before he came into sight. We heard the extraordinary howl of his engine as he played unearthly tunes from his four pots. Then we saw him - wearing a white helmet with the red rose of Lancashire and black leathers, squatting aboard the armrests of his mini-faired Gilera. All eyes were mesmerised by his sheer speed. He was on the limit of the racing line and kicking up a puff of dust as he hurtled through the offside gutter of our bit of TT course. Sadly we had to start our walk back to the harbour before the race finished so it was only later that we learned Ray Amm (Norton) from Rhodesia was the winner and Duke second. Later in the season our boss allowed us a working holiday, so James Designer, Doug Cunningham and I rode a pair of Cadet two-strokes to the Belgian GP at Spa. Once again I was mesmerised by the inimitable sound and speed of the Duke -Gilera bombshell, which this time was victorious. Hours later, with normal traffic back on the road circuit, the magic din was still ringing in our ears as we struggled to climb away from Eau Rouge in bottom gear on our James models. In 1955, they ran a Senior TT raffle at the club. It was one of the few occasions in my life on which I have won anything. Penzer and Howdle were playing snooker when they gave out the prizes with a nice box of cutlery for the bloke whose ticket stood for Duke. Of course, we had already heard on a radio at work that he’d given Gilera their very first TT win - and at record speed. Music to the ears in any language.


Recalling Gilera glory

Remembering the Gilera at its best

Remembering the Gilera in its heyday on the circuit