John Surtees tribute: The two wheel titles

Factory machinery and Count Agusta not withstanding, Surtees had the world for the taking. As long as he could put up with the slow progress of the Italian’s development regime…

BBC Sports Personality of the Year, John is flanked by his parents and sister Dorothy.

Words: Alan Cathcart Pictures: Mortons Archive

He won again at Assen on his Dutch TT debut, and made it a hat-trick of victories the following week at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, to establish an unassailable lead in the 1956 500cc World Championship. Surtees won his first of seven world crowns aged just 22, despite suffering a broken arm in a German GP crash.

He’d effectively been banned from defending his title by a six-month FIM suspension in return for supporting the privateer riders’ strike for reasonable start expenses at the 1955 Dutch TT.

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In 1957 John Surtees overcame any after-effects from the broken arm to win the season-opening Spanish GP in Barcelona. But that year’s MV Agustas were no match for
the Gileras, and Surtees battled to finish
third behind these in the 500cc championship, winning just once at Assen, and fifth in the 350cc series behind the all-conquering Moto Guzzi singles, and the pair of DKW two-stroke triples. This led him to urge Count Agusta to improve engine reliability and the four-cylinder bikes’ handling – especially with the full ‘dustbin’ streamlining that was by then universal.

Read more in Issue 185 of CR – on sale now!


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