Cecil Charles Sandford

World-class double act

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

Cecil still owns the MOV Velocette

In the 1950s, the Italians made huge technological advances in motorsport. A stunning example of their engineering skill was the V8 cylinder 500 GP motorcycle built by Moto Guzzi, a family company founded by Carlo Guzzi in the 1920s.

Maintaining this engineering tradition, the modern helicopter company Agusta became prominent manufacturers in aviation, but in 1950 the head of the dynasty Count Domenico Agusta, was somewhat preoccupied with recruiting potential world champions for his Grand Prix motorcycle racing team.

Based at Gallarate under the banner 'Meccanica Verghera,' MV Agusta were rising stars, soon to dominate the European road race championships at a time when most GP circuits were public roads temporarily closed for racing.

One of Agusta's first recruits to international stardom was Cecil Charles Sandford, a young carpenter from Gloucestershire, who now lives in retirement a few miles north of Woodstock.

In 1952, he became MV'S first world champion, initiating a trend that would continue for the factory over the next 25 years. Following Cecil Sandford's example, MV Agusta became the number one team for all subsequent top riders.

Names like Surtees, Hailwood and Agostini – all giants of Grand Prix racing – would accumulate a total of 38 world championships and 37 manufacturers' titles during their employment with the team.

At the age of 19, Cecil showed remarkable talent from the beginning of his career after purchasing a 250cc Triumph from Arthur Taylor (his future father-in-law a motorcycle dealer from Shipston on Stour.

He rode the motorcycle to and from work, as well as competing with it in local scramble and grass track events. Road racing was not on his original agenda until Arthur supplied him with an MOV Velocette, and later KSS and KT1 Vetocettes, on which he was entered for the 350 (junior) TT.

Cecil still owns the MOV. My photograph, taken earlier this year, shows him with the 250 MOV Velocette. On the seat of the motorcycle are his two Isle of Man Tourist Trophies, and Federation Internationale Motocycliste gold medals for winning the 125 and 250 World Championships.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) races have always been the ultimate challenge for any professional rider since the event began nearly 100 years ago in 1907. To learn the TT course, Cecil took a few trips around the circuit on a tour bus, followed by more practice on a road bike.



Racing the 250 Mondial

During the race technical problems forced an early retirement. However, in the 1949 Manx Grand Prix he was fifth in the junior race. In 1950, the British AJS Grand Prix team offered him a 350 works ride in the Ulster and Italian GPs alongside the first 500cc world champion Les Graham.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) races have always been the ultimate challenge for any professional rider since the event began nearly 100 years ago in 1907. To learn the TT course, Cecil took a few trips around the circuit on a tour bus, followed by more practice on a road bike.

1952 brought Cecil Sandford his first works ride with MV on their 125cc machine, and his first TT victory followed neatly by his own, as well as MV's first championship by the end of the season.

Leo Graham, a pragmatic ex-RAF hero was umental in the management of the MV team. He had been recruited by Agusta from the AJS factory and was responsible for taking Cecil under his wing. Sales of MV Agusta road bikes doubled as a result of Cecil Sandford's Grand Prix success rate.

Tragically, Les Graham was killed in a later senior TT race. The accident happened at Bray Hill, the spectacular 140 mph drop after the start and finish line in Glencrutchery Road, Douglas. Cecil claimed that without Leo running the team everything at MV went to pieces. This sad event, along with the inevitable internal politics associated with racing, forced a rethink of possible teams to join forces with.

He raced with Moto Guzzi, along with team mate and friend Bill Lomas. Further success followed with the German DKW team, with their phenomenal three-cylinder two-stroke engines.

Eventually, he joined the Italian Mondial factory, with whom he won the 250cc crown in 1957 – his second world championship.

My illustration above shows Cecil at the pinnacle of his career, Racing the 250 Mondial through the streets in 1957 on his way to victory in the 250 lightweight TT – his second win on the Isle of Man in his second world championship year.

Soon after this win and, after ten successful years of competition, he retired when Mondial withdrew from racing.

He married Arthur Taylor's daughter Pat, and joined his father-in-law's motorcycle business, Pat and Cecil have two sons, Ian and Mark. Now a fit 78-year-old, Cecil Charles Sandford's career has turned full circle. In his workshop he makes beautiful furniture – a return to his first occupation as a carpenter.

This story is dedicated to the memory of James W Langford and Geoff Marrison.


June 2006 Oxfordshire Limited Edition 31