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As kids I am sure we had some sort of Model kit to try and assemble, be it in the UK with the good old Airfix kit, ir in the states with ERTL , Revell, Monogram etc, and if you did, you would know the hours of preparation, sanding, glueing, cutting etc that it took.
The final part fitted and you stood back to admire your work of art, mine didn’t have the finesse as I wanted it done as fast as I could but some of my mates were just astounding model builders and that brings me on to this guy.
Glen English lives down In Cornwall, not too far from my brother, Glen is a Phenomenal Classic Motorcycle racer clocking up up many wins you would think he was making it up, racing at Snetterton where I used to go and watch Clubman racing, then he went onto the TT and the Irish races.
So not just a Model maker, a racer and also working under his pops who made suits of armor for the film industry, giving Glen many skills that is hard to come anywhere near.
His passions shows in his hand made Motorcycles and cars and the scale is so perfect too just works of art.
I dont need to say much else, just have a look at what he creates, Just stunning.
In the back garden sits a Norton Roadster with a full Mick Hemmings hot-rod motor. Slotted between the fridge and kitchen table is a Yamaha TZ350, fresh from Goodwood, stripped to fix a leaky water pump. Enter the front room and there’s an original TZ250A that’s earmarked for a rebuild. Underneath the window sits a dinky Itom 50 – fitted with a race kit, it’s used to hound the local sports bike crew on roundabouts.
Welcome to the home of Glen English, one of the world’s leading classic bike racers, who’s also equally at home on a Manx Norton or a screaming two-stroke. He’s equally well known for his art: sculptures and quarter-scale motorcycle models he creates from scratch, using crafts learned since working as a teenager with his dad Terry, one of the world’s leading armourers in the film and theatrical industry.
Glen’s debut outing on the TZ350 (which his dad bought him last year for his 50th birthday) at this year’s 75th Goodwood Members Meeting was stymied by what he thought was oil from the gearbox leaking onto the footpeg; he later discovered it was coolant due to the previous builder having forgotten to fit a gasket on the water pump. The TZ250A is a recent acquisition: “I bought it a year ago from a guy who had kept in untouched in a shed for 25 years. I got it home, bumped it up and it started. Imagine my surprise. It just needs a good going-over, but I’m not sure what to do with it. You don’t see completely original bike like this any more – it’s even got the original shocks and steering damper.”
The Itom is Glen’s town bike. “I bought it from Murray’s Museum on the Isle of Man about 25 years ago,” he says. “Itom made race bikes as well as little road bikes like this – and this came with a race kit fitted. I was riding on the TT course one day when some guy on a sports bike pulls up and says: ‘What is that thing? I’ve just clocked you at 85mph?’ It was 76mph actually – I had a bicycle speedo fitted which was obviously way more accurate than his bike’s,” he laughs. “I still ride this in summer. There’s a couple more of these over at my dad’s which we ride.”
Glen also has a 1966 Gilera Giubileo 175cc four-stroke with a story behind it. “We were in Italy and my uncle Jim – who had a hand in the design of the Rocket III ‘ray gun’ exhausts, as well as the Raleigh Chopper and Reliant Scimitar – got talking to these guys about bikes; they said he could take the bike because it was broken. We pushed it through the town to our hotel, but we got arrested for stealing the bike.
We got that sorted and took it home in the back of a car. That was 1983. Two years ago, I finally dragged it out and got it going. All it needed was a condenser. I rode it around town – in a pall of smoke. It needs a top-end rebuild!”
Glen’s first ‘job’ came at the age of 10 when he worked on the set of Jabberwocky (a 1977 film directed by Terry Gilliam) with his dad. “I was the kid in one of dad’s suits of armour, fighting the dragon!” He left school and started working for his dad in the film industry by dressing Sean Connery in armour on the set of Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984, directed by Stephen Weeks).
Motorcycles have always been a part of Glen’s life: “Dad had a bike, but it was uncle Jim who was really into it – he had a Rocket Gold Star and a Triumph. My dad had a Speed Twin. They went from Romford, where we lived, to the Isle of Man one time and came back raving about Ago. Jim put an Ago poster up on my bedroom wall. That’s what inspired me. I always wanted to race at the TT – despite the fact I’d never been. I’ve still got that poster! At that point I was happy being a lunatic on a bicycle, but I always wanted to be a motorcycle racer.
With the money from his first job, he bought a 350LC – purely to race. “I never had a road licence then, in fact I’d only just learned to ride a bike – a Kawasaki 50. I finished something like eighth in the wet at Snetterton in my first race and then became really good at crashing! Problem was, I wasn’t scared. When I look back, I was nuts.”
Back then production racing was the usual apprenticeship. Glen raced LCS and by 1986 was a regular winner on a Suzuki Gamma, but money was always an issue. “Dad had moved to Cornwall with his business so I was working as a despatch rider in London – not really my thing. I bought a TZ350 and won races throughout 1987, but then dislocated my shoulder in a road bike crash and missed most of the next season.”
In ’89 Colin Aldridge, one of the sport’s top sponsors at the time, let Glen race his number one rider’s FZR600 – but penniless Glen had to run the bike himself and could only afford to ride on second-hand tyres. “I was too shy to ask for more,” he admits. The following year he raced at the TT on the FZR. “I had no idea where I was going,” he admits. “There was no special tuition for newcomers like there is now. I turned up on the day and did a 100mph lap, but the bike handled terribly. But the big thing was, they gave me start money and I could afford to buy new tyres. Then I did the Irish road races and Southern 100 and got help to get there.”
But a despatch rider’s wages didn’t go far, so he moved down to Cornwall to work for his dad again on The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (directed by Luc Besson). In 1996 friends chipped in for Glen to ride a race-kitted Honda in the 125 TT. “It was so sweet. For the first time I had a brand new bike. I only got two laps of practice on it, then Padgetts fitted the race kit – but didn’t change the gearing, so I was hopelessly under-geared. Joey Dunlop won the race by 12s. If only my gearing had been spot-on.”
Racing is full of ‘if onlys’ and Glen never really fulfilled his potential to become a top class pro racer. “My career never really happened,” he says without a tinge of regret. “I never had the money. And I never had the confidence to approach people. I’d see the top riders on the grid and think: ‘I can have him,’ but didn’t realise at the time the massive gulf between our equipment.”
Most young racers quietly walk away from the sport once the cash runs out, but Glen dug his heels in and found a new way to get his kicks. “In 1991 a guy called Vic Cross – an ex-speedway rider and a mate of my dad’s – had let me ride his classic Aermacchi. I won most of the races I entered. Then Colin Aldridge teamed up with Norman Miles to build a Rocket III. I won at the Southern and Ulster on that.
“I enjoyed racing the old bikes, so I wrote to George Beale. I’d seen the Matchless G50s he was building in magazines and asked him to bear me in mind if he ever needed a rider. He rang me and said he’d build me one for the Manx. A condenser went down there, but I got on the podium with Nick Jefferies and John Cronshaw at the Ulster.”
Glen quickly earned an enviable record as one of the men to beat in classic racing. He’s won the Senior Classic Manx GP, the FIM Classic Bike championship, the British National Classics Championship and the Landsdowne Cup.
“I rode for two years for Fred Walmsley on his Seeley G50 in 2003/04. His bikes are so good. We did 60 races in two years – we won all bar three, and finished second in one and third in two others. I never crashed once. His bike ran like a watch.”
After Joan of Arc, though, the film business went quiet for Glen. “I started on my own, doing sculptures. I’d done one of Mike Hailwood – in bronze, the size of an Action Man. I sold a lot of those. Other sculptures he’s done include Joey Dunlop in action, a TT replica trophy, George Formby on the Shuttleworth Snap and, more recently, a small but delightfully-detailed, hand-painted resin casing of Bob Mcintyre in action to celebrate his 1957 100mph lap on the dustbin-faired Gilera.
“Doing the Hailwood sculpture, I met Javan Smith, who made scale-model racing cars. I looked at what he was doing and said: ‘I’ll have a go at bikes’. He was really helpful with advice, but I remember his son saying: ‘It’s not as easy as you think,’ which gave me the encouragement to make it work. I’d always made bike models as a kid. I used to buy those plastic Protar motorcycle model kits, but the things used to annoy me because they weren’t accurate enough and I’d end up modifying them. “In 2004 I made a Manx Norton and sold it for two grand. Last year it went for six grand plus commission at auction. I’ve done 50 of them since and made models ever since.” Glen’s since done over 30 AJS 7Rs and G50s and now is on with an MV Agusta
‘THE DETAIL IN EACH OF HIS QUARTER-SCALE MODELS IS INCREDIBLY INTRICATE’
based on the 500-3 raced by Giacomo Agostini. “I’ve got 19 to do,” he says. “I was hoping to get Ago to endorse it and give him one, but it’s all gone quiet on that front.”
The detail in each quarter-scale model is incredibly intricate – right down to individual clutch plates and tiny fasteners. Glen makes the frames from metal tube and builds the engines up from resin blocks he casts himself, with copper plate used to build up the sump and barrels. He gets the wheel hubs and rims machined by his racing sponsor Ed Fenwick, and laces the wheels himself using special spokes the thickness of pins that he’s had specially made. “I’ve got a box of 8000 of them – should keep me going for a while.” He even moulds his own tyres then hand-cuts the tread with a scalpel. The MVS sell for £8750 – Glen’s managed to do two so far and has been working on the project for two years now. He says: “I don’t go to the pub or watch telly. I spend two to three hours an evening out here instead. When you don’t pay attention at school you have to do something to earn money. But I never get bored with making things.”
He’s never lost his desire to race bikes, either. Going back to modern racing on a supermono, he won the British title in 2007, riding a Yamaha owned by Joe Mcburnie, but then returned to classics, first with Fred Walmsley, then with Patrick Walker’s Works Racing in 2010. He still rides the latter’s bikes, run by Ed Fenwick. “I race in the Landsdowne; it’s more period-correct than other classic racing that run disc brakes, for example. I don’t get that. I really like period racing. Ed’s bike will be good this year. Last year we ran a lightweight frame, but we’ve gone back to a more traditional frame now, which I think handles better.”
Glen also plans to race his TZ this year; his other commitment is the Donington Endurance round on the Guzzi he took to second place last year in the same event.
“It’s a big beast and very different to the TZ. Imagine trying to do the International Classic Grand Prix race on my Yamaha and riding the big Guzzi in the four-hour endurance event at the same Donington meeting.”
On the model-making front, he’s got enough projects to keep him busy for some years to come, with the next one planned being a Vincent Black Lightning. “I was taking pictures of Thommo Thompson’s outfit at the track and he asks me why I’m taking so many pics. Then he recognises me as the ‘bloke who builds models’ and says: ‘don’t mess about with pictures, I’ll lend you an engine.’ He let me borrow it for two years, so I have really accurate measurements and images of the Vinnie. I’d also like to do a model of Bob Mcintyre’s Gilera 500-4 and a Brough Superior. I’d love to get some kind of official tie-up with Brough owner Mark Upham to do a Bert Le Vack record-breaker but maybe just do ten of them. I like to keep busy.”