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Howard R. Davies

Howard Raymond Davies (June 27 1895 – January 1973, was a motorcycle racing champion.

He was born at 351 Ladypool Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. His parents, Frank and Bertha, then moved to Wolverhampton where Howard attended Wolverhampton Municipal Grammar School. He was a good swimmer, won swimming medals, rode horses and hunted, and drummed in a band.

He joined AJS as an apprentice, and raced successfully for Sunbeam and AJS, when not plagued with breakdowns. He decided to build his own motorcycle, and in 1924 formed HRD, "Built by a Rider", which only lasted a few years, but built a fine reputation. The name was purchased by Phil Vincent, who then established Vincent-HRD. Howard Raymond Davies died of cancer in January 1973.

AJS Apprentice

When Howard left school he became an apprentice with AJS. He gained motorcycle building experience, but really wanted to go racing. AJS were fully occupied filling orders at the time and racing had no priority. Sunbeam had a good racing team, but had a no-staff-poaching agreement with AJS, so Howard moved to Clyno as a tester, and shortly thereafter moved to Sunbeam.

Racing for Sunbeam

The Sunbeam team of 1914 consisted of Tommy de la Hay, Vernon Busby, Howard Davies, and Charlie Noakes. Howard was entered in the Scottish Six Days Trial on a 6 hp AJS V twin combination. He did well initially, but damaged his frame on the fourth day. He stayed for the rest of the event, but found on his return to work that such behaviour was not tolerated, and was sacked.

Howard briefly worked for Diamond, before he managed to find his way back into Sunbeam. He was then entered for the Senior race at the 1914 Isle of Man TT. He finished in second place, and Sunbeam won the team prize. He did well in other events that year, like the Coventry and Warwick Club trial. Howard won a a gold cup for best performance of the day, and a silver cup for best sidecar performance.

Howard and his family lived at 'Darley Dale', Crowther Road, Wolverhampton at the time.

War Service

When World War I broke out, Howard joined the army and reported to Aldershot in early October to join the Royal Engineers. For 12 months Howard served as a despatch rider and served in France. When he returned to England he was given a Commission and posted to Dunstable. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, where he gained a Royal Aero Club Pilot's Certificate, at the Ruislip Military School on 29 July 1916, and was promptly posted to France. He flew RE8 aircraft for 34 Squadron, at Villers-Bretonneux, artillery spotting and was shot down twice.

On the first occasion he found his way back to his own lines, but the second time he and Lieutenant J R Samuel were captured at Karlsruhe becoming prisoners of war.

Initially listed as missing, it was then announced that he had been killed in action. An obituary appeared in May 1917 in 'Motor Cycling',whereupon it emerged that Howard had actually been taken prisoner. He attempted to escape a number of times, once by tunnel, but was unsuccessful.

Racing for AJS

Returning to England after the War he was demobilised in June 1919. His first Post-War job was with Aston Motor Accessories of Wolverhampton. He then moved to AMAC Carburettors and began again to ride part-time for AJS. He joined the AJS team for the 1920 Isle of Man TT, and was entered for both the Junior and Senior. The 2.75 hp AJS machines suffered engine problems and he had to retire early in both events with broken valves.

In 1920 Howard had many competition successes. In July, riding an AJS in the Scottish Six Day trial, Howard won the gold medal at Stile Kop making the fastest time, won another gold medal in the Darlington ACU trial, and broke 14 records at Brooklands, including flying kilometre, flying mile, and average mean speed.

AJS Competition Manager

By the end of the year, Howard became the full time AJS Competitions Manager.

He became involved in T.T. machine development, and by early 1921 the TT machinery was much improved. The 1921 AJS team obtained 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th places in the Junior Isle of Man TT. The winner was Eric Williams. Howard finished in second place, even after having a puncture in the second lap. Howard finished first in the Senior TT on a 350This was the first time a 350 cc motorcycle won the Senior.

In trials, Howard won the team event, with Harry Harris and Eric Williams in the ACU six day and the gold medal.

On May 24 1921 Howard Davies broke four world records at Brooklands:

  • 50 miles at 66.5 mph
  • 1 hour at 66.09 mph
  • 100 miles at 64.68 mph
  • 2 hours at 65.3 mph

Then things returned to "normal". The 1922 and 1923 TTs were a disaster. With the AJS machines suffering engine problems, he did not manage to finish a race. Howard left AJS in 1923 and moved to Hutchinson Tyres.

Freelance

He accepted an offer to ride an OEC, in the 1924 TT, but after only three laps, the machine failed.

HRD Motors

He had often thought of building his own motorcycle, and perhaps influenced by the many mechanical failures he had racing the bikes of the day, decided to make his own.Howard left Hutchinson Tyres in August 1924 to set up HRD Motors, which survived for just over three years.

Davies rode his own motorcycles at the 1925 Isle of Man TT, coming second in the Junior and winning the Senior.

In January 1928, the company went into voluntary liquidation.

After HRD

After HRD Motors closed, Howard went through a number of motor industry jobs. He worked first at Alvis, then Meadows Engines, and then Bill Lyon's Swallow and Coachbuilding Company at Coventry. He went into business as a manufacturers agent, covering cars, motorcycles and allied industries.

By this time he was living in Southbank Road, Kenilworth. Later, he would move to his final home in Warwick Road, Chadwick End, Solihull.

He continued to attend TT riders reunions, which started in 1937, and would visit Mallory Park with Albert Clarke. On one of these occasions he got to ride on the track, on an old HD75 and an AJS.

At the Last

Howard died at home in January 1973, of cancer. His wife Maisie died two days later. They had a joint funeral at the Robin Hood Crematorium in Solihull.

Sources

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