Before Moto Parilla – A Brief Autobiography

An avid reader of the “Eagle” centre page in my youth, I gained an early understanding of 2 stroke and 4 stroke combustion engine operating principles well before I started my indentured apprenticeship with the commercial vehicle manufacturers Dennis Brothers. This was a time when Dennis were still designing and manufacturing petrol and diesel engines and by far the majority of components, including gear boxes and axles which went into their wide range of vehicles.

With my family home in Old Woking, Surrey, being some 6 miles or more from the Dennis factory in Guildford, it was not very long before I had had enough of cycling to and from work each day and I eventually managed to talk my mother into allowing and assisting me to purchase a 49 cc “Power Pak”.

Setting off for the first time with the Power Pak fitted above and driving the rear wheel of my bicycle, was a “Eureka moment” and the start of my love affair with motorcycles.

It was not long before I wanted more power than the standard Power Pak could deliver and I took another step towards motorcycle racing when purchasing a first edition of “Tuning for Speed” by Phil Irving of Vincent HRD motorcycle fame.

The now highly tuned Power Pak was soon followed by a 197 cc Francis-Barnett and then a Triumph Tiger 100, the bike on which I competed in my very first road race at Brands Hatch in 1956.

From 50 cc Itom to 500 cc Vincent Comet, a Gambalunga Moto Guzzi with a broken crank shaft and a G 50 Matchless, many makes followed and were added to the list of bikes which I pulled apart and then rebuilt during my “other apprenticeship”.

Robin & Ron Kenward warming up my 500 cc Moto Guzzi “Gambalunga” – Brands Hatch paddock 1959 In addition to Ron Kenward, my mentor in both tool making and motor cycle racing, there were 2 ex works riders amongst the 30 plus staff employed in the Tool Room at Dennis Brothers. This ensured I never had any shortage of advice during my “other apprenticeship” when it came to bike preparation and engine tuning !!

Above right – Richard on his Matchless  G50 at Brands Hatch

Right – Robin & Ron Kenward warming up my 500 cc Moto Guzzi “Gambalunga” – Brands Hatch paddock 1959

Dennis Bros Tool Room staff and apprentices – RM middle front row – 1956

Left – Peter Lucas’ Itom fitted with RM gears – 3rd place British 50 cc Championship race – Castle Coombe

Right – Waiting to scrutineer my Gambalunga with Ron Kenward – Brands Hatch paddock 1958

On to Moto Parilla….

When I agreed with Cyril Ashford, MD of Capriolo/Moto Parilla UK, in 1963 to race Moto Parillas the following season instead of my G50 Matchless and a 7R AJS (which I had planned to lease or purchase from Geoff Monty), our agreement provided for Capriolo/Moto Parilla UK and/or SIL Moto Parilla Milan to provide three MSDS Moto Parillas and all key components including Ceriani forks, Oldani brakes and Dell’Orto racing carburettors which we thought essential at the time to have any chance of making the MSDS production class bikes competitive enough to qualify and compete in International races.

The only knowledge I or my mechanic Vic Wotton had relating to the internal workings and specific preparation requirements of Moto Parilla motorcycles for road racing, before our arrival at Moto Parilla in March 1964, was limited to my experience of testing a 250 MSDS for one day only at Brands Hatch in the Summer of 1963; stripping down a 175 MSDS engine and gearbox with Ron Kenward over the Winter of 1963 and the limited knowledge I gained, as an observer, during a 2 day visit with Capriolo/Moto Parilla directors to the factory in Milan, in October of the same year.

The main purpose for stripping down the 175 MSDS engine over the winter of 1963 was for Ron Kenward and I to work out the most practical way we could scale down the engine to 124 cc. We also took the opportunity to look for other modification we might make, once I got to Milan, to increase the performance and/or durability of all three engines.

In the absence of news from Moto Parilla over the Winter of 1963, other than reported ‘supply difficulties,’ we became increasingly concerned and began to wonder if Moto Parilla could, or were willing, to fund the cost of purchasing the identified key proprietary components – our concern was found to be justified when upon our arrival at the factory we discovered none of the said components had been purchased and very little appeared to have been done to prepare for our visit!

Not withstanding, the situation in which we now found ourselves, we at least had the 3 bikes supplied by Capriolo/Moto Parilla and after consulting with Cyril Ashford  we decided to press on as explained in the introduction to G.P Rider – forever the optimists, Cyril Ashford even went so far at the time as to suggested any future success we may achieve racing the Moto Parillas would be all the greater for having accomplished such successes on practically standard bikes!!

Arrival at Moto Parilla

So here we were in Milan with our Ford Thames parked up in the factory “Goods Receiving” bay off-loading the bikes, tools and the other equipment we had brought from the UK. Our gear was then transported, with the aid of a motorized pallet truck, to the enclosed workshop area designated “the race shop” now in the process of being re-opened and cleared of new kart engines and other components by the two Moto Parilla mechanics assigned to assist us during our stay.

We were not particularly impressed with the Moto Parilla race shop which devoid of any special tooling, dynamometers or test cells, appeared to be more akin to an apprentice or staff training area. This race shop was certainly not in the same league or have the atmosphere of Connaught Racing in Ripley or Francis Beart’s somewhat smaller race shop in Guildford, both visited on many occasions during my apprenticeship when taking ‘extended lunch breaks’!

The Moto Parilla race shop, rectangular in shape and measuring around 150 square meters, was located next to the factory front wall within but partitioned off from the main assembly hall with walls of steel panelling & wire mesh. Against 2 sides there were long steel framed wooden topped ‘fitters type’ work benches with a further 2 free-standing benches placed in the middle of the work area.

Next to race shop was a large store room full of current and past Moto Parilla model service parts and in close proximity another smaller store room, which we later named ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ – full to the rafters with Moto Parilla prototype road racing and other competition frames, tanks, seats, exhausts – there was no shortage of atmosphere here!

The Moto Parilla factory

Parilla factory working areas

Most of these parts were clearly very old and there was little evidence of any recent development parts having been added to ‘Aladdin’s’ collection.
At no time during our visit did we see any engines, gearboxes, frames or other components from the all-conquering Moto Parilla double overhead cam race machines from the 50’s
Shortly after our arrival we were shown around the factory and introduced to the Supervisors of each department and to a visiting Engineer (Eng) who appeared to be an ex-employee of Parilla and/or a Parilla dealership? The Eng, possibly in his early forties, spoke some English and seemed to know more about the workings of Parilla engines and their preparation for competitions than any other person we met during our stay with Parilla. The Eng, who was always greeted most warmly by all the Parilla staff and Management when visiting the factory, called in to see us every 3 or 4 days.

Frankly, I cannot now remember the names of the visiting Eng or the 2 mechanics assigned to assist us who had been working on the assembly line when we arrived. We were informed that the mechanics were experienced in preparing Go Kart racing engines and Wildcat scramblers for competitions, and both were reported to be very keen motorcycle racing fans! They spoke no English and initially the only way we could communicate with them when the Eng and a bilingual secretary were absent, was with my very poor “O level” Spanish and with Vic trying out his better French!! This was until the mechanics supplied us with sticks of chalk when at least our ability to communicate technical issues with each other just took off!
When we set off from the UK we were not at all sure what accommodation if any might be available to us in Milan. When I raised the issue with Cyril Ashford back came the reply “I am sure Moto Parilla will look after you both” this turned out to be another of Cyril Ashford optimistic forecasts!
Around midday on our first day with Moto Parilla our assistants signalled they were stopping work and off to lunch and as nobody had informed us of what our dining or accommodation options might be, we decided to tag along with them to the ‘workers’ canteen. The canteen was no different from any you would expect to see in a UK factory of a similar size, apart from the menu!

Having collected trays and followed our assistants along the line pointing out to the servers our choices as we went, we eventually arrived in front of the canteen cashier, just as our assistants, having paid for their lunches, were walking off to find a vacant table. I should explain Vic and I were on a very tight budget having encountered higher cost in getting to Milan than anticipated – speaking no English, the cashier passed us a piece of paper with the cost of our food written on it – I just smiled and pulled out my pockets to indicate I had no money on me, at this point one of our assistants retuned to find out what was going on and after a lot of arm waving he appeared to explain to the cashier that we were ‘guests’ of Moto Parilla. This did the trick, for now, and we were allowed to proceed with our food without having to hand over any cash!

Site of many free lunches!

We were about to leave the canteen after a splendid meal when along came the cashier with a docket for one of our assistance to sign – he clearly did not wish to accommodate her so I took the docket and signed it myself. This seemed to more than satisfy the cashier and we continued this process for the duration of our stay not knowing what might happen on our last day?

In the evening on our first day with Moto Parilla when most of the workers had already left the factory we requested directions to the nearest camp site from one of the secretaries and we were given directions to a site some distance south of Milan. One hour later we were heading out following the directions given when we came across a large city park and gardens. This park was much closer to the Moto Parilla factory than the camp site recommended to us so having seen a motor-home entering the park we decided to stop and take a look.

In the centre of the park was a children’s entertainment centre, a paddle pool, tennis courts and other general amenities. We could not find any formal camping or caravan parking area but to one side of the lake there were large gardens of rhododendrons and azaleas, all very similar in layout to the grounds at Crystal Palace, south London – driving in as far as we could go between the rhododendrons and azaleas we found a perfect parking space right up against the inside of the park high front wall completely out of sight from the other areas of the park. Here we stayed for the night and the remaining nights during our time in Milan completely free of charge! On one occasion a park attendant did find us and insisted we leave before the park was closed for the night – we obliged by just moving to another area of the park until he had gone home returning to our chosen parking space only after the park was closed.

We had a long discussion with the Eng during his first visit to the race shop when we explained our original plans; the current requirement to cut back on the plans for economic reasons and also in part due to SIL Managements decision not to proceed in developing new gearbox clusters. The Eng clearly understood our position and after, I suspected, consulting with SIL Management, came back with a number of options he thought we should consider for preparing the bikes. Shortly after this meeting, two 30 mm bore Dell’Orto SS1 racing carburettors and three multi spring racing clutches also appeared on our work bench!!

During the time we were with Moto Parilla I recorded in an exercise book every day, or during each evening, the modifications we made to the bikes and critical assembly information we obtained from the Eng and our assistance. Regrettably, the exercise book was lost three years later when our family home in Woking was sold at the time I was working and living in Portugal.

On to…. Engines Modifications