Malcolm Davis Remembered

Report: Ben Falconer

The Western Centre Gazette pays tribute to Malcolm Davis, 30 years after his untimely passing. First we have a piece from The Citizen, then an in-depth interview with Malcolm's brother Tony.

For readers of more "senior" years, Malcolm Davis is synonymous with huge natural ability for trials and motocross, and the Bultaco name. He won three British scrambles championships and was a front runner in the GPs. Of course Tony was fine works rider in his own right, and their father Les was a major figure in the running of motorcycle sport in the Western Centre and beyond.

Anyone who has any memories and/or pictures of Malcolm that they would like to add are welcome to send them to editor@acuwesterncentre.org.uk.

Malcolm Davis - The Citizen, 29 December 2010
Reproduced by kind permission of Glosmedia. Copyright protected.

GLOUCESTERSHIRE and the world of motorcycle sport tragically lost a sporting hero, 30 years ago.

Today, a block of flats at 206 to 214, Barton Street gives no clue to the presence of the big Malcolm Davis Motorcycles dealership but prior to his death in October 1980, it was buzzing with customers and staff. Young lads getting in to biking, commuters, dirt riders, and road riders were regulars at the shop.

The driving force behind it was the Davis name - Malcolm earned it on the track during scrambling's (now motocross) golden years. He was three times a British champion, on AJS and Bultaco machinery, and on his day was a match for the legends of the sport. His father Les was a very influential international figure in the sport, and his business acumen and his son's success were perfectly matched.

Before tragedy struck, Malcolm and the shop were riding high. His brother Tony, who lives in Gambier Parry Gardens, Gloucester, and friend and colleague Mike Pye (aka John) remember Malcolm's best days as if they were yesterday.

There were many great moments in his career but one of the most memorable for his fans was a defeat, to the greatest rider of his generation and an icon of the sport - Belgian Joel Robert. On a blisteringly hot day at Dodington Park, now in South Gloucestershire, in 1968 and with a crowd of several tens of thousands, he led Robert until electrical gremlins sidelined him.

"Malcolm went out and absolutely flew," said Tony. "He did not even gate first – he wasn't a great gater – but in two laps he was in front. The crowd loved every second. "Joel tried to haul him back on the CZ but afterwards he said he was too quick for him downhill."

A collective gasp of disbelief swept across the crowd when Malcolm's bike broke down. "In all fairness to Joel, he turned around after he crossed the line and rode back to Malcolm," said Tony. "He gave him the back seat. It wasn't far to the pits but it was the gesture that mattered. That meant a lot."

Malcolm was bitten by the bike bug at 13. Tony, then 15, had lost interest in horse riding and was tearing around on an old Francis Barnett in a field next to the Air Balloon pub at Birdlip, which their father ran. Every time Tony upgraded, to a new machine, Malcolm followed. "We rode in the woods opposite, that father owned, and a quarry at Cold Slad," said Tony, a works trials and scrambles rider in his own right. "That poor bike got used a lot and I don't know how many hours we spent on it, in the rain, in the dark. We dug a big trench so we could jump over it. "He really was a brilliant trials rider and we spent thousands of hours practising in the wood and the quarry."

Malcolm's need for speed pushed him towards scrambling, a sport which regularly attracted five figure crowds. Even locally, events like the Cotswold Grand National and the Tirley Grand National pulled in thousands. Without the multimedia grip on our lives that we have today, the public was all too ready to take in the thrills and spills of live motorsport. The Tirley event in 1968 illustrated that perfectly. "They had Miss World, Penny Plummer, who was also Miss Australia, presenting the prizes," remembered Tony. "I had to give her a ride round the track and she screamed all the way round. I had fingernail marks in me for ages. Beautiful girl though!"

Riding off-road was Malcolm's life, and it was his plain love of just riding that led him to enter a trial in Devon. Waiting at the side of a country lane for petrol, Malcolm was hit from behind by a car and was killed instantly. He was 36. After all the risks he had taken on the track, he was killed by an event beyond his control, as he was sitting stationary on the bike.

"The awful thing was, he had just got a baby daughter, Katie," said Tony. "She never knew him." Hardwicke church was packed for his funeral. He was buried at Tredworth cemetery. Understandably, Mr Davis senior's interest waned after Malcolm's death and the shop was sold on a few years later.

Mr Davis senior started it by dealing in bikes and parts from the Air Balloon, in a small way. As Malcolm's fame grew, so did the shop.

"About 1966 they got the end shop, it was a butchers shop, and they gradually expanded," said Tony, no mean rider himself. "They did not just stick to competition, they got in a lot of road bikes too. "They mixed that and the off road well. "They had great staff – Mike Pye in the stores, Gerald Elton, John Husband - really good people."

Mike, who works at Pittville Motorcycles in Cheltenham, was waiting with Mr Davis senior a short distance up the road for Malcolm to arrive and get fuel, on the day he died. "He was fantastic," said Mike. "He packed a lot in to his 36 years. He was in to squash and cricket as well - he could have represented the county at cricket if bikes hadn't come along. "Whether it was trials or motocross, he was a natural."

Tony continued riding for a short while but his main interest is line dancing – he takes classes all over the Forest of Dean. He remains a motorcyclist at heart. "He was a naturally talented rider, and a brilliant friend," he said. "We were always there for each other. It was a sad loss to us as a family and the motorcycle world."

*A chapter on Malcolm Davis's motocross success features in Out Front! British Motocross Champions 1960-1974, by Panther Publishing. Author Ian Berry says Malcolm was AJS mounted in 1968 he won the 250cc British Championship, did it again in in 1970, before winning on the Bultaco in 1973. He was also runner-up to Bryan Wade in 1969 (AJS/CZ) and 1971 (Bultaco) and to Vic Allan in 1974, again on Bultaco. He took second place behind Bryan Wade in the first 125 championship in 1973.


Tony Davis on Malcolm Davis

Copyright: Western Centre Gazette

Early days...

Tony Davis: "He got in to it because of me I suppose. I was riding horses, doing jumps and races."

BF: Well enough in fact for Tony to represent GB at on four legs and two wheels, in the ISDT. "I hit 15 and got a calling to go on a bike. Father (Les) had ridden bikes and I took to it."

With Malcolm, who always called Tony "Davis", following behind, it wasn't long before they were both on bikes. "I had an old Francis Barnett, it was a hand change. We were at the Air Balloon at the time, where we had a big field. We rode in the woods opposite, that father owned, and a quarry at Cold Slad.

"Malcolm just said "Let me have a ride". He would have been 13 and I was 15. He never took to horses, so we shared the bike. That poor bike got used and I don't know how many hours we spent on it, in the rain, in the dark. We dug a big trench so we could jump over it.

"It got to a stage where father realised horses were gone. He upgraded me to a 197 Greeves and Malcolm had the Francis Barnett. I wouldn't let him ride the Greeves, he would have beaten me. He really was a brilliant trials rider and we spent thousands of hours practising in the wood and the quarry."

Birthday boys...

In the late 50s, to enter a trial meant having a road licence, something that then was achievable at 16. Tony could not have had a better guiding hand, in John Draper, in his first competitive outing just after his 16th birthday. Malcolm was two years younger but couldn't wait, so when he entered his first trial, he rode only some of the route – being under age, he pushed the law of the land a little by pushing his bike across country lanes between sections.

"My birthday was December 16, 1957 and my first trial was on Boxing Day at Minety. I went round with John Draper (the only rider to win every capacity class in the Scottish Six Days Trial, and 1955 European Scrambles champion) and all the time he was telling me what do to.

"Malcolm then had my Greeves when father bought me a better one, though four strokes were the in bikes. Johnny Draper was always saying "You need a four stroke". Then father bought me a new-ish 350 AJS and Malcolm had that Greeves. Everyone could see he had it in him, even at the age of 15. A lot of trials used to start at the Air Balloon. Malcolm entered a trial there and pushed his bike across the road because he wasn't old enough to ride.

"He finished about sixth in a good entry – there were many good riders there, like Gordon Jackson. "He could not wait until he turned 16."



Scrambling was around the corner for Tony, and Malcolm had to have a piece of the action.

"It came about in May or June at Draper's farm when there was a scramble. I rode a trial in Stroud on the Saturday and we converted the bike in to scrambler for the Sunday. I think I even rode up there and back (to Draper's farm at Prestbury).

"We geared it up and Malcolm came to watch. That bit him in a big way. Come his 16th birthday father got him a good bike - a Greeves.

"I was on works BSAs by then. He had a whole winter of trials, then we did a summer of scrambling. Malcolm had a really good first season and it became clear that scrambling was his forte. He was a brilliant trials rider but an even better scrambler.

"Greeves noticed him reasonably early – it helped that father was selling Greeves at the time. I switched from BSA to Greeves and we both rode together in 1965.

"Malcolm was to ride events on the Continent and as I had experience with the ISDT and scrambles there, Greeves asked me to go along with him. We had a good summer together.

Then Bultaco came along and asked him to ride for them. He was riding European championships by then. Bultaco had to go through Rickmans (the importers), who were the importers and that really started the ball rolling for him. It was a very experimental bike, nothing like what the Rickmans had.

"It was a totally different bike. In 1970 he won the British Championship. He won it three times, on the AJS twice.

"When Bultaco hit trouble and he went to AJS. I thought it was a totally retrospective step, having spent years on Villers engine bikes. But Malcolm was fantastic on it. They seemed as if they were one, though the shocks were going all the time, it seemed."

The Duck Pond...

"Malcolm was thinking of doing the ISDT (International Six Days Trial, now the ISD Enduro) and Matchless offered him a bike to ride in the Welsh 3 Day, which he rode in a trial to get used to.

"I will never forget that day. We were looking at a section and Malcolm spotted a line and we agreed that it didn't want too many bikes over it. Malcolm rushed back to the bike and jumped on it, and roared up the section.

"He had it on the line but he must have hit something we hadn't seen. He went straight over the bars. Normally he'd wait at the top of a section but he was gone.

"We were with Geoff Chandler, who said "just let him cool down" and we rode on. Along the rode was a hedge, with a hole in it, and a duck pond. Malcolm was in it, with the bike.

"We all went by, laughing, and he was up to his waist. We got him out and he said the bike wouldn't start – it went second kick – and he did finish. The press had fun with that for weeks and so did we."


Good times...

"If you asked him what were the best days of his life were, he would say "Bultaco". Senor Bulto was like a second father, like he was with many of the riders. Ignacio Bulto too was a wonderful person.

"Sammy Miller and Malcolm and I, the Lampkins and Rathmell had a wonderful relationship with them. When we went out there, it was like going home. They really looked after you. One night, I went out for a meal with Senor Bulto and General Franco was there."

They had to help themselves though, to get round export duty.

"Even though the bikes were free, you couldn't explain that to a border guard. So we used to spray them with water and dust to make them look second hand. We did it loads of times and it worked, every time."

Malcolm's pit crew included mechanics Geralds Elton and David Harris, the late Jimmie Mayo who kept his bike looking immaculate, Mike (aka John) Pye, and the late John "Hubbo" Husband. Hubbo kept Malcolm in the second moto of a Spanish GP round.

"Malcolm had just finished second to Joel in the 1st leg of the 250cc Spanish World Round. They came to the line for the 2nd leg and were under starters orders. 

"Malcolm was by the side of Joel when the Bultaco engine cut out. Malcolm put his arm in the air, Hubbo and I ran to him. I started to take the plug out but it was clear the gate would drop at any time. Hubbo leaned across the back of Malcolm's bike and pointed to Joel's back wheel.

"Joel immediately noticed this and put his arm up and pulled back - by this time I had changed the plug and she started up 1st kick. Joel's mechanics said nothing was wrong with the back wheel, and Joel looked at Hubbo and me, smiled and put his thumb up to us and the starter and off they went."

Team spirit..

"We were part of the South team for the North-South scramble up at Thirsk one year and while the North had Smithy and the Lampkins, the South had a very strong team. Anyway, we won and agreed that the last one of us down to the diner at Redcar off the A1 would pay for our meal.

"We nominated David (Bickers) to go and collect the prize money and the trophy, but we were off. His face was a picture, as he was being interviewed on the podium and he could see our vans leaving the circuit. We were in Malcolm's Mercedes van, which we used on the continent and it really flew. Bryan Goss was behind us and we must have been doing 80mph.

"Malcolm pipes up: "Davis, that's David coming up behind". I was surprised – he had a big Mercedes car, with a three bike trailer on the back and he was really moving. He wasn't going to be beaten and he wasn't going to pay for those meals.

"I thought I'd indicate right and block him off but that wasn't enough. That big Mercedes came past on the grass central reservation, bikes and all. As we slowed to pull in, he got between us, pulled up at the door so virtually no-one could get in and completely unruffled, asked who was paying for the meal."

"They were great times, and though that was a daft thing to do, it showed the cameraderie. When Jerry Scott was killed, it hit us all so hard, we were that close."

Big bikes...

"Bultaco produced a 360 but for Malcolm a 400. Gerald Elton, who was one of Malcolm's mechanics, and Dave Harris had to work hard on it to make it go well off the bottom. When they got it right, it would blow anything off.

"He had it at Dodington. He went out and blew them off in the first race, he was so far ahead it was embarrassing. In the second leg it was not right, and it was missing a bit. Gerald sorted it for the third leg and he was flying.

"I was his board man and every time he went past he was showing me four fingers. I assumed as it was a five speed bike he had a problem with the gearbox. It was probably top that he didn't have, and it went bang, in a big way. All he had to do was cruise in but that wasn't him. He was always all out.

"He used to say to me "Hey Davis, if you ride at the back you get covered in dirt". I admired that but sometimes it is not the right way to ride. John Draper used to say if you pick your moment, the guy in front will make a mistake, and you can pounce. Of course Malcolm's answer was that he was out front and he didn't make mistakes!"

Tragic end... "It should not have happened – I was riding the British Championship trial with the West of England club on the Saturday and there was another trial the day after. On the Sunday there was a trial on at Honiton. I said to him that I was only going to do the Saturday trial. He went to the trial with father on the Sunday and that's when it happened."

The event was the Otter Vale President's trial and Malcolm had stopped to wait for a refuel from his father and Mike Pye. A car driver hit Malcolm from behind. He was killed instantly. "The only saving grace was that he knew nothing about it. I was at home and I had a telephone call from father. He said to get down here because Malcolm has been killed. I was in the force at the time, and went in to that mode, to cope with it. My concern was for his wife Elizabeth and new child. I went to the station and they took me to where he was. The Bultaco was loaded in to the van. That was it."

As well as a brother and friend, Tony remembers a man who rode for pleasure, and rode extremely well. "He just loved to ride. He could not get off a bike."