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F YOU’RE into speed, you’ll know that 1924 was a great year for British racing driver, motorcyclist and pilot Malcolm Campbell when he set a new land speed record in ‘Blue Bird’, his 350hp Sunbeam touching an astounding 146.16mph during the time trial on Pendine Sands in Wales. If you’re into speed with style, you may also know that the same year marked the birth of the iconic bikers’ outfitters Bellstaff Brand. The company name combined that of founder Eli Belovitch and his Staffordshire home and its logo featured, logically enough, a bell and a staff. (Though the second ‘l’ was dropped in the 30s and the company became Belstaff.) Drawing on years of experiments with fabrics and techniques while supplying British troops during the Great War, Belovitch and

VE’s sartorial expert Paul Stewart is also the marketing guru at Brooklands. He takes us inside the Museum’s archive to explore the Belstaff brand’s rich heritage and its motorsport connection

his son-in-law Harry Grosberg were pioneers in all-weather waxed Egyptian cotton ‘breathable’ garments that were a great motorcycling alternative to leathers. Photography and filming lent itself perfectly to the dynamic of the racetrack, and it’s evident from the flickering films of Pathé and Movietone newsreels and stacks of period magazine articles, posters and ephemera that, by the 1930s, the picturesque Surrey race track at Brooklands had become the place to see and be seen. In the halcyon days of motorsport, socialites donned their finest and flocked to the track to see records being broken; meanwhile the brand that had made its mark with those who raced on two, three or four wheels was the stylish racing attire provided by Belstaff. Elsewhere, too, popular fixtures like the Isle of Man TT and venues like Crystal Palace, saw extremely competitive racing. The practice of

brand sponsorship of riders became commonplace and such is the durability and appeal of the Belstaff jacket, that racers and pilots of the day were queueing up to become brand ambassadors. The Belstaff client list reads like a who’s who of track and air fame: aviatrix Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930; motorcycle racer Joe Wright who, in the same year, broke the two-wheeled world speed record at 150.7mph; and darling of the Surrey track, glamorous racing driver Doreen Evans.

RUGGED AND COOL In 1933, Belstaff cashed in on the growing loyalty of the racing elite with a specially produced ‘Senior TT’ coat, named after the Isle of Man race, as well as producing practical wear for golfers and hikers. Just before the Second World War, a Belstaff catalogue offered helmets, bags, boots, camping gear, goggles and

From Track VINTAGE COLLECTIVE MEMBER

44 / April-May 2016 / ve

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gloves as well as retail clothing. During the War itself, its range extended to military fulfilment of parachutes and aviator suits – whose rugged and protective construction were perfect for combat and survival. The company’s proud boast is that they not only saved pilots and sailors – they also dressed Gracie Fields for her battlefront concerts for the troops!

A POST-WAR CLASSIC With the war over, and Britain slow to recover, racing was not a priority and took a good few years to get back to top form. Belstaff kept at it, though, and in 1948 came up with its absolutely classic design, the Trialmaster, designed to withstand the rigorous conditions of the Scottish Six Days Trials. And it couldn’t have found a better postwar brand ambassador than Sammy Miller. A talented young Belfast motorcyclist, he approached Belstaff in 1954 and they gave him a

Opposite page: A late 1960s Trialmaster with the typical ‘drunk’ left pocket and Lightning zip. The Trialmaster was everything a biker could ever need; four bellowed pockets, a belted waist, wad cotton exterior, plaid lined interior, throat latch, reinforced shoulders, high arm holes, zipper and button front closure. You can see why it found an enthusiastic audience off the track!

to Trend

Courtesy of Brooklands Museum

suit for his upcoming appearance in the Trial. Of all the entrants in the competition battling with days of rain, he says, he was the only one to remain dry! The ‘Belfast Bombshell’ went on to gain motorcycle trials icon status, notching up some 1,200 wins over more than half a century and earning an MBE. In 1950 Belstaff launched the Black Prince jacket, aimed at road racers in a striking PVC, with a one-piece suit also available. By 1959, it had repositioned its clothing as “motorcycle and scooter weatherwear” in recognition of the growing scooter market in the UK. All the while the Trialmaster continued to go from strength to strength, becoming their most popular design and as much a part of the biking scene as bikes themselves!

SUPER-COOL FANS How super-cool does super-cool get? Movie star and speed-freak Steve McQueen became such a Belstaff fan that there is now on-going contoversy over the much-loved jackets either owned or worn by him in films such as The Great Escape. There’s even a story that he turned down a date with partner Ali McGraw in order to wax his Trialmaster! Today, the fans and the super-cool still keep coming. David Beckham admits he was buying Belstaff long before he became a brand ambassador, and the company has spread to the high street in flagship stores and high-end retailers all over the world. It’s one brand that’s always on the road, it seems, but never goes away! ve Trialmaster jacket courtesy of The Vintage Showroom (www.thevintageshowroom.com)

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Above: Record breaker Noel Pope outside the Brooklands Castrol Depot c.1935. Below: An early 1930s logo with a double ‘l’ in the brand name

Left: Trial biker Sammy Miller, the ‘Belfast Bombshell’ wearing his much appreciated utilitarian Trialmaster. Above: Steve McQueen was a huge Belstaff fan

ve / April-May 2016 / 45

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