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16 October 2014

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Motorcycling

Jimmie Guthrie win European Grand Prix 1935

In 1933 Jimmie Guthrie won the 350 Belgian Grand Prix, the 350 Spanish Grand Prix and the 500 Spanish Grand Prix. From 1927-1935 in races on the Continent and in the UK he was almost always winner or runner-up. Indeed, in 1935 alone he won the Swiss, Dutch, German, Belgian and Spanish Grand Prix races, a series of victories that made him European Champion that year. At the Dutch race in Assen, Guthrie covered the 259 mile course in fractionally under three hours, an average of 85.9 mph.

Jimmie Guthrie

Photo courtesy of Castrol

In the mid-1930s Guthrie clocked up a number of world speed records at the concrete bowl track in Montlhery, France. In 1935 - obviously a great year for him - while riding a 490cc Norton, he displayed tremendous stamina and broke the one-hour record at a speed of 114.09 mph and in doing so broke the 50km, 50 mile, 100 km and 100 mile records. Astonishingly, this also beat the records for the more powerful 750cc and 1,000cc classes.

With such a fabulous race record it is not surprising to learn that at home and abroad Guthrie had quite a fan base. Locals would go to his garage in the evenings to talk about the motorcycling scene, and at the TT races, the Manx crowds loved his all-out style where he would have his chest and chin as close to the bike's petrol tank as possible to make him more streamlined.

We will never know just how long Jimmie Guthrie could have gone on winning motorcycle races. In 1937, at the age of 40 Guthrie was often the eldest competitor in the field, yet when he headed off to Saxony for the German Grand Prix he had again won six titles in the 350cc and 500cc categories across Europe. This, tragically, was to be his last race.

On 8 August 1937 a crowd of around 250,000 people had gathered at the newly named Sachsenring at Hohenstein-Ernstthal west of Chemnitz close to Germany's border with Czechoslovakia. Guthrie, despite racing for Norton against the German BMW riders, was a popular figure in Germany, having won the event for the previous two years. His most recent German trophy, brass with three motorcyclists on top of the plinth, had the inscription “The Grand Prix of Europe. The Leader and Chancellor of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler, 1936.”

Going into the last lap of the 8.7km circuit, Guthrie had quickly made up for a bad start and was leading the race with nearly two minutes to spare. The Union Flag had been prepared to greet the Borders motorcyclist as he crossed the line, but the huge crowd fell silent when Guthrie failed to appear and word got out that he had had a serious accident.

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