A nip of brandy helped rider overcome illness, acid and fire in the inaugural Isle of Man TT
It may not seem like a big deal, a hip flask and its leather case that were presented to a motorcycle racer on his return home back in 1907, at least not until you know the story of what Rem Fowler experienced in that inaugural Isle of Man TT.
The engraved silver flask and its case will be up for bidding October 13-14 at Bonhams’ annual Autumn Stafford Sale in England.
‘This hip flask is arguably one of the single most important pieces of motorcycle memorabilia extant,” said Ben Walker, global head of motorcycles for the auction company. “It marks the beginning of a competition that has grown from 25 competitors speeding round an island to one of the largest and most celebrated motorcycle races in the world.”
The Isle of Man TT was first contested on May 28, 1907, with 25 races attempting 10 laps of a 15-mile course on what was considered “the suicide mission.”
“It was a cold, cloudy morning,” Tom Wadlow writes on the British Motorcyclists Federation website. The 25 single- and twin-cylinder competitors practiced in and among the bustle of regular traffic on the untarred roads of the 15-mile St. John’s Course.
Fowler was nervous about the course, about competitors telling him his 700cc Norton was too long and improperly sprung to negotiate the circuit’s tight turns, and ailing from an abscess on his neck.
“A friend of mine fetched me a glassful of neat brandy tempered with a little milk,” Wadlow quotes Fowler. “This had the desired effect and I set off full of hope and Dutch courage.”
And, fortunately, with a ‘spanner’ and four spare spark plugs in his coat pocket.
As if the course wasn’t treacherous enough, in an effort to smooth part of the surface roughed by motorcar traffic, organizers sprayed the area with an acid solution. Not only did it not work, it resulted in holes burned into the riders’ clothing.
“Corrosion, however, was probably the least of Rem’s problems during the race,” Wadlow continues. “He encountered so many issues changing tires, plugs and belts that at one stage he decided enough was enough and called it a day. It was not until a spectator informed him that he was a massive half an hour ahead of Bill Wells that he gleefully set off again with his initial gusto restored.”
But Fowler almost stopped yet again.
“I had to make up my mind whether to stop and maybe lose the race or plunge blind through a wall of fire which stretched right across the road at the Devil’s Elbow, caused by a bike which had crashed there,” Fowler later recounted.
“A boy scout with a flag tried to stop me but I decided to risk it and luckily came through OK. I shall never forget the hot blast of those flames.”
Though 13 minutes behind the single-cylinder winner Charlie Collier, Fowler won his class by 22 minutes, 6 seconds, and recorded the fastest lap of the race.
Upon his return home to Birmingham, Fowler was presented the flask and case by H. G. Parkes Esq. Bonhams estimates the bidding will exceed £20,000 ($25,627).