Rod Gould

David E. Langford continues his series on Oxfordshire motorsport heroes who have inspiredhis work.

Rod Gould
My illustration shows Rodney in 1970, during his world championship year.

During the latter half of 1979, Rod Gould, from Banbury was in a business partnership with Mike Hailwood. Hailwood & Gould was a Honda dealership situated in Tyburn Road, Erdington, within a stone's throw of Birmingham's famous Spaghetti Junction.

The first chapter of this series recalled the occasion when I delivered a painting I had produced, depicting Mike Hailwood at the pinnacle of his career riding the 297 six-cylinder Honda. He had agreed to hang the picture in their showroom, and on the day of delivering it, both business partners were in the shop. On seeing the painting for the first time, Rod said: 'Who's that old b*****, then?' Mike replied: 'Oh. I don't know, it looks like some idiot on a bike.' Such was the informal and amusingly modest introduction to a pair of the greatest Grand Pnx racing stars of the modern era.

It was at Mallory Park in the late 1960s where my first memory of Rodney Gould was of him flying through the air after his 250 Yamaha had seized (as they had a habit of doing). It happened on the exit to Gerard's Bend, on the 140mph Stebbe Straight. The crowd were deathly silent until the commentator reassured us that Rodney was OK, suffering no more than a bruised ego.

Like many riders of the time, Rod Gould had progressed from racing mainly British four-stroke machinery, for example, the highly competitive Manx Norton, racing on mainland circuits such as Oliver's Mount at Scarborough, Brands Hatch and Mallory Park where, in later years, he would famously beat the great Giacomo Agostini, smashing the lap record in the process. Surely one of his greatest rides.

In the 1960s. his obvious talent was spotted by the Japanese Yamaha factory and he was recruited by them to race in the Grand Prix world championships in the hotly-contested 250 and 350cc classes. Britain's round of the world championship was held on the Isle of Man, during the TT races, and in those days Rodney's great rival was the brilliant Australian rider Kel Carruthers, who won the 1970 250 TT with Rod Gould in second place.

Gould however went on to win the 250 world championship that year, with a tally of six Grand Prix wins, giving him a total of 102 points. Carruthers was second in the championship with four wins and 84 points. The Swedish rider Kent Andersson took third with 67 points.

The 350 world championship of 1970 was a predictable win for the dashing Italian superstar, Giacomo Agostini, on his fabulous M. V. Agusta. 'Ago', as he was known, had a 90 point victory over Carruthers in second place, riding for the Italian Benelli factory. Rod Gould was sixth, with 28 points.

In 1971, some friends and I sailed over to the Isle of Man for the first time to see what all the fuss was about. We had 'missed the boat', so to speak, as far as the quality of the racing machinery was concerned. The standard of racing however was, and remains, as high as ever.

Mike Hailwood was in semi-retirement after the Honda factory had pulled out of the grand prix series due to the rule changes on engine technology and, apart from the Italian M V Agusta and Benelli teams, there was a distinct lack of 'exotic' racing machinery Gone were the four and five-cylinder 125 machines and the four and six-cylinder 250s.

For the 350cc race that year, Rod Gould was one of the front runners. So from Ramsey (where we stayed in a flat situated right next to the course) we walked the few miles to Ballaugh where we could film the bikes leaping the bridge as they entered the village.

We were not disappointed. The only let-down was the weather and Rod Gould's accident, which, although not serious, was enough to put him out of the leaderboard. In the 250 event he did manage a fourth place. The following year, he was second to the multi-world champion Phil Read in the 250 TT.

Rodney had more luck in the remaining championship of 1971, winning the Swedish TT and the Finnish Grand Prix at the Imatra circuit. At the end of the same season, he was second in the world championship with 68 points and two wins. During the 1971 TT, the flat we had hired in Ramsey was situated near School Corner where the memory of early morning practice is constantly recalled.

The banshee howl of the M V Agusta racing past our bedroom window beats an alarm dock any day of the week. There was no choice but to get up and join the early morning spectators.

2007 is the 100th anniversary of racing on the island and it has been a great privilege to have witnessed just a small part of its long history and to ride around the circuit on so many occasions. Only by doing this can one fully appreciate the skill it takes just to take part let alone win at record speeds.

Rodney Gould's results on the island are not to be underrated: two second places and one fourth against the finest riders in the world are truly fantastic achievements in view of the added pressure of world championship points being at stake.

My illustration shows Rodney in 1970, during his world championship year. Banbury has much to be proud of.


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April 2007 Oxfordshire Limited Edition