Cotton Telstar Rebuild / 2020

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Cotton Racer / Derek Minter / 2020

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Having raced such fabulous machines as the TT winning Honda four, the first Manx Norton to lap the Isle of Man at over 100mph, a Morini, the same as Provini’s, the Nato-bound MZ, Bianchi, MV and many other exciting works specials, Derek Minter caused quite a stir when he stated he would be racing a Cotton Telstar racer this season (MCN July 1963).

Charlie Rous / MCN Test July 1963

Caused quite a stir, prehaps, is an under-statement, for with world championship rides on the Gilera in the offing, most people thought he was crazy!

Nobody doubted the suitability of this new style of racer for the novice, but for a top-flight rider to race one, that was out of the question.

Minter set out to prove them wrong.

First outing for the Villiers Starmaker engined Cotton was the opening meeting of the season at Mallory Park on March 31st.

Minter didn’t win the race, that went to Mike Hailwood on John Surtee’s Ducati, but he certainly set the pace and in doing so, returned the fastest lap at 81.81mph, to finish second.

To have expected Minter to have beaten Hailwood is ridiculous, but there is no doubt the Cotton could have gone faster. This was its first race and on that occasion it was fitted with a bottom gear ratio that was much too high for the circuit and this slowed him considerably at the hairpin.

This was rectified for the next meeting when Derek raced the Cotton at Brands Hatch on Good Friday in company with the Gilera. Unfortunately his ride on the Gloucestershire built 250 was not so successful. After leading the race by a handsome margin for three laps, the engine went sour with a spent spark plug.

Success though for Minter and his Cotton came at Brands Hatch on May 12th, the day of his crash and the last time he raced.

The 250 race was over eight laps of the full 2.65miles circuit and although, with all respect, there was nobody in the race to compare with Minter as a rider, there were several machines capable of giving the Cotton a good run for its money.

But Minter made no mistakes, he reeled off the distance at 79.24mph and set the fastest lap at 81.39. Nowhere near his own race and lap records established on the Honda, but still fast enough for the Cotton to record its first win.

What then, other than Minter, makes the Telstar tick?

This of course, is its Starmaker engine, but before I ever attempt to pull the nipple from the throttle cable, I like to take stock of the cycle parts, steering, handling and brakes. All three in the case of the Cotton are first class.

In fact I found the steering and handling quite amazing.

It was absolutely perfect and right on line all the time. This is where handling ties in with steering qualities and the feel of the Cotton as it is cranked around the turns is reassuringly firm.

Not that I was circulating the Brands Hatch short-circuit in anything like the style of the ace, but I found after very few laps that I could get quite “daring” on the corners. As long as the rider keeps control, the Cotton does most of the rest. I’ve been round Brands quite a few times in the past twelve years and I can state quite definitely that rarely have I felt so confident.

This state of affairs went up considerably after Minter let me into the secret of the “right-line.”

Taking as much advantage of this as I could, I found that not only did my lap times decrease but I found a great deal more room on the corners, especially at Minter’s speciality, the Paddock Hill.

Derek Minter winning the 250cc class on the Cotton Conquest in the 500 mile at Castle Combe 1965

After that I found the brakes didn’t need quite so much work. However, these too stand little criticism and although not up to the high power of specialised racing units, were perfectly adequate for the job.

Weight, of course, has a big effect on braking and shows itself too in general handling. Although the Cotton is not such a lightweight as its similar class competitors, at 220 pounds, fully equipped, there is quite a lot to commend in other directions, which are equally essential in the quest to win races.

One thing that is quite definite, there is nothing special at all about Derek Minter’s Cotton. The engine is a perectly standard Villiers Starmaker and similar in specification to the full description published in MCN last year when the unit was officially announced. (Oct 1962).

With square bore and stroke dimensions of 68mm, the 247cc unit is said to develop 25bhp at 6,500rpm. But since that time modifications have been incorporated and Cotton’s feel the true power figure is now in the region of 29bhp.

However, from riding the machine, which is fitted with two Amal Monobloc carburettors, I found there was plenty of clean power from 4,000rpm onwards, and the engine would rev freely to beyond 8,000rpm.

Derek Minter at Castle Combe, his co-rider was Peter Inchley

Around the circuit I found that third gear was the cog for the Paddock Bend descent and climb to Druids Hill, second gear for the hairpin, and after another of Derek’s “right-line” lessons, I was able to negotiate this section quite cleanly with no thought of slipping the clutch and accelerate smartly up into third gear after the left-hander on to the Bottom Straight.

Minter tells me he gets into third before the corner and quite often nicks into top along the Bottom Straight! In my case I stuck to third for the bottom section and nicked back to second for the last part of Clearway, Minter does this too.

Out of Clearways in second, and into third on the final right-hander and snicked into top over the finish line.

Being a full two stone heavier than Minter, and not so fast anyway, Derek changed the rear wheel sprocket for my excursion and the revs on the clock represented just about 100mph for me.

On long-circuit gearing, as for the last meeting when he won at nearly 80mph, this rpm represented a speed of 115mph.

Peter Inchley developed the Starmaker to give it racing success, here he is with his Villiers Special 1966

Personally I was content to get around the short course in 64 seconds, just short of 70mph. In fact I was delighted, for in the days when every meeting was run on the short-circuit at Brands, such a performance wasn’t far short of the record. In fact, casting my mind back, I remember the last race I competed at Brands was October 1955 when Geoff Duke brought the 500 Gilera to Brands and was third to John Surtees and the late Alan Trow, John won that race at 72.62mph!

In those days too, on the same circuit, the 250 record was barely 65mph, such is the rate of progress, and Cotton is one of the few British firms showing the way.

Acknowledgement MCN July 1963

Derek Minter, the first man to lap the Isle of Man TT course at over 100mph on a British machine, reigning 250cc and 500cc ACU champion has been part of the racing scene for so long that few of us can remember his early days as a BSA trials rider.

Sponsored by Hallets of Canterbury, he began making headlines on Nortons in 1957. The bikes he has since raced read like a maker’s who’s who, AJS, BSA, Benelli, Blanchi, Cotton, Ducati, EMC, Gilera, Honda, Matchless, Morini, MV, MZ and Norton.

He first made news when he took his Lancefield-Norton round the TT course at 101.05mph in the Senior TT before retiring with a split tank. In 1962 on a European importer’s 250 Honda four, he beat the works aces to notch his first TT win.

A married man, who enjoys gardening in his native Kent where he operates as a haulage contractor when he’s not racing.

Which isn’t often!

Racing a works Cotton, with the Villiers Starmaker six-speed engine, Minter gave the Gloucester factory a big boost by winning the 250 ACU Star.

Height 5ft 6in. Weight 10st. Born April 1932.

Here’s a story of the Cotton Telstar rebuilt for Gloucester Folk Museum.

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Cotton Telstar MkI / Dan Vitaletti / 2020

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I was recently made aware that one of my former motorcycles has surfaced and is being put on display at the Gloucester Folk Museum, in the UK.  I always knew that this circa 1963 Cotton Telstar Mark I Road Racer was rare bike, there being only 27 were produced.  To ensure the provenance of this machine is maintained, I am providing its history  (Dan Vitaletti, Feb. 2014)

Cotton Mark I Telstar (#5) History

Being a motorcycle rider, racer, mechanic and restorer since 1968, I have always been drawn to the less known or limited production makes that most bike enthusiast have never heard of or ever seen.  In the early 1990’s , I decided to focus my motorcycle collecting and chose Greeves as the make of choice, as they were rare, successful in their day and had an interesting history.  Over several years, I was able to amass a collection consisting of most of the models produced and imported to USA from 1959 to 1972.  The Greeves Silverstone, production road racer proved to be the illusive one to find.

In February, 1995, I spotted an advertisement in a motorcycle magazine for the Cotton Telstar, which I knew was rarer than the Silverstone and was it was located not far from where I lived, in the Denver, Colorado area.  I acted quickly on this lead, contacting the seller and making an appointment to view the bike.  My vision of finding a Cotton Telstar quickly faded when the owner pulled off the tarp of a bike that was leaning on the outside of his garage.  What was presented appeared to be a cobbled up version of the Cotton Cobra scrambler, having knobby tires, small steel gas tank, aftermarket seat, and upswept expansion chamber.  The seller insisted that this bike is in fact is or was a Cotton Telstar at one time.  The tell tale parts that made me want to believe his story were the rear set footpeg frame mounts, 19 inch alloy wheels, and tachometer drive mounting boss on the primary case, if not for these details, it could have been a typical Cotton Cougar scrambler. 

One other feature that sealed the deal was the frame number which was stamped “5”, no other letters, which usually indicate a particular model.  It is the lowest frame number I have ever run across.  There wasn’t any room for negotiating on the price, which was $700, most of the price was due to sentimental value, as the seller was the original owner.

The seller, Jeff Brown, indicated that he had purchased the Cotton from a Denver area cycle dealer that he had at one time worked for, the dealership, call Rink a Dinks, Inc.  Jeff’s reason for the purchase was the price , $650, which he felt might be a good investment (it was he recouped his original cost and then some) . He raced it once at a road race in Aspen, Colorado.  About a year later, he sold it to his room mate Jerry Johnson, whose only interest was dirt riding.  The Cotton was returned to the dealer ship with orders to convert it to a dirt bike.  All of the road race kit was removed including the twin carburetors, fairing, fenders, seat, etc..  After several years of trail riding in the Rocky Mountains, it was abandoned, only to be bought back by its original owner, Jeff Brown, who had visions of restoring it, only never to be done.

Now convinced that I did have a Cotton Telstar, Mark I version , I set out to restore it to its original condition.  The elusive parts that were a challenge to locate included the complete  twin AMAL Monobloc  progressive carburetor set up,and  tachometer .  Fortunately AJS Motorcycles Ltd, at that time were offering the replica Cotton Telstar for vintage racing.

Most of the racing kit that was missing from my bike, was available for purchase from Fluff Brown, including fairing, gas tank, seat and fenders. Along the lines of all my cycle restorations, this one would undergo the complete tear down, thorough inspection, repair, replace, repaint, polish and reassemble regiment.

Once the restoration was completed (1996), Jeff Brown paid a visit, to see the finished machine, it received his approval and brought back forgotten memories, of how the bike was 30 years earlier.

I displayed the Telstar in my den for several years, but eventually it had to return to the cluttered garage, where I soon realised it could get damaged by my continuous restoration activities.

In 2003, motorcycle collector and restorer, Cody Tellis expressed an interest, a deal was struck and it was crated up and shipped out. As with many of my bikes, I always regret letting them go, but not having adequate space to display them, I’m prevented from keeping them all. Most of my satisfaction is derived from the whole restoration process, involving finding, purchasing and researching their history. Then tracking down the parts and bringing them back to their original condition.

I am glad to know that this bike has returned all the way back to its birth place and will be available to Cotton enthusiasts there.

Jeff’s memories, from his letter to Dan.

Dear Dan,

As promised, although a little late, here is some info that I can recall pertaining to your bike.

My racing experience was mostly limited to scrambles, some hill climbs, enduro’s and a little “outlaw” half miles and racing. This stretched over a period of time from about 1959 to 1965.

The Cotton you have purchased I bought brand new from Rink A Dink Inc. at West 38th Avenue and Ripley Street in 1965. I had worked for the owner, Les Richard, off an on during the early days of him setting up.

My main reason for buying the bike, was the price, Les had, had the bike for sometime, so I made him an offer, I felt it would make a good investment, and I could have some fun with it in the meantime, I don’t remember the exact price, but I think it was around $650.

I only raced the bike once myself and as far as I know that was its only outing. It was shortly after I bought it and it was a road race in Aspen. At that time Yamaha and Honda pretty much ruled the circuits. The Cotton didn’t have the power to keep up on the chute, but handled well in the corners. As I remember, I did manage to come in 3rd or 4th in a field of about 15, it was an AMA sanctioned race, but there were no point’s involved and by that time in my life I had given up on my quest for amateur status.

After I had the bike for about a year, I sold it to Jerry Johnson who was my roommate at the time, and made a few bucks on the deal. Jerry was only interested in trail riding and had Lee convert it for him, Lee got the fairing, seat, tank etc for his trouble.

I saw Lee a couple of years ago and asked him if he remembered what he did with the parts, he couldn’t recall, he could barely remember the machine at all.

I and some of my friends, including Jerry, used to do a lot of trail riding, most of it was down in Rampart Range area, and also around Buffalo Creek. I preferred Bultaco’s and Maico’s, but Jerry was determined to show us that the Cotton was the better machine, and he did pretty well, but I can remember many trailside repairs.

After Jerry and I moved in with our respective girlfriends, and marriage followed, the trail riding tailed off. I would say the Cotton hasn’t been started since then, 1968, the bike has sat on Jerry’s porch in Northglenn since then.

I bought it back from him in 1981, and he asked for $500 dollars, I intended to restore it, but just spent the time enjoying looking at it and never got the motivation to do the job.

I certainly wouldn’t have given it justice, your rebuild is brilliant, as close to original as I believe could be achieved.

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Cotton Telstar MkII / Frame No 63 1964 / 2020

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2 thoughts on “Cotton Telstar Rebuild / 2020”

  1. Having raced against D Minter on a 344 Aermacchi in the early sixties I was impressed with the article about the Cotton and Derek….Wish I was 60 years younger again !!!!!

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    1. Hi Trevor, great to hear from you, was John Favill’s 90th yesterday and I bet he would like to go back 60 years too and spend a day at the TT’s. This is the address to my Facebook group, join, its about Stormers but will be able to put you in touch with a few guy’s and would be great to hear your story, we could even put together something about the awesome Aermacchi, Cliff..https://www.facebook.com/groups/329027254430129

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