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SNAPSHOT 18: Norton Combination 1949

When given this slightly fuzzy photo around 55 years ago the assumption was made that it had been taken at the 180º corner on the Nürburgring called Karussell. Having done one paid-for lap of that circuit in the baking hot summer of 1959 in what was probably the slowest ever time – the heat caused our tired Ford 8 family car to suffer from regular fuel-starvation – a fairly intimate knowledge of the circuit was thought to have been gained due to the frequent halts. The ribbed concrete surface seemed to provide confirmation of the location – but it turned out to be completely wrong! At least the identifying of the motorcycle as a Manx Norton was a correct assessment.

Only many years later did it transpire that what we are actually seeing here is a bend at a hill-climb venue in the south of France, the well-known 21½-kilometres course up Mont Ventoux, and the tight ‘hairpin’ corner is the Virage de St-Estève. What really makes the picture worth looking at, whatever its deficiencies, are the two performers involved. The bike-rider is Eric Oliver whilst the acrobatic passenger is none other than Denis Jenkinson, soon to become the renowned ‘Continental Correspondent’ of Motor Sport magazine.

On the occasion of the competition on the last day of July 1949 the pair made two competitive climbs, the first in the up-to 600cc class. After rapidly getting back to the start at the village of Bédoin via the much longer return route they immediately set off again, on the same machine, in the over 600cc class. In both cases they climbed in less than 16 minutes, ironically being faster on the second occasion, and comfortably won both the sidecar classes by margins of over 2 minutes.

There were also a number of circuit successes for the duo during the year that resulted in them becoming World Champion Motorcycle Sidecar victors for 1949.

In the next few years if a motorcycle combination rider was seen on the ordinary roads driving in an over-enthusiastic manner, people were likely to remark to one another: “Who does he think he is – Eric Oliver.”

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