15. Fluff Brown
Like many aspiring off-road stars, Fluff Brown’s scrambles debut in the season of 1952 was a fairly modest affair. Along with many of his contempories a specialist competition machine was out of the question, so his ride to work, a 197cc Ambassador was pressed into the dual role of day-to-day ‘hack’ and weekend scrambles iron.
Getting the bike to the event was in itself quite an adventure, as there was no added luxury of a tow car, trailer or pick-up. Instead, with a knobbly tyre strapped across his shoulder, the little two-stroke was ridden to the meeting where, after being stripped of superfluous items like lights and silencer, and a change of rubber, it was ready for a day of thrills and the inevitable spills. And with racing over for the day, it was kicked back into shape and re-equipped for the homeward return, a hard introduction to the world of scrambling for the young Brown.
Badger Goss / Cotton Cougar Cross / 1960
Badger became a works rider for Cotton in 1959, they had, in an attempt to keep up with Greeves, their main competitor, taken on a project with Cross Manufacturing, to perfect a special linerless aluminium cylinder fitted with a semi slipper-type light alloy piston. It gave the Cougar both increased performance and better endurance.
Hawkstone Park / 1960
Fluff didn’t set the world on fire in that first season but it started him on the road to a long and illustrious scrambles career, little then could he have imagined that by the following decade he would be a works Cotton rider and courtesy of Saturday afternoon TV scrambles, a household name.
Not only did Fluff prove to be a top class rider, he was also a first class development engineer.
John Draper / Cotton / 1961
I started by asking Fluff how his riding and racing careers started, and how did he earn the nickname, Fluff?
“I was born in Chillington, which is a little village in Somerset, during my early days a school chum by the name of Eddie Bussell started calling me Fluff, and it’s stuck ever since – everybody including my bank manager now knows me by it. Most people wouldn’t have a clue what my real name was. My dad owned a 250cc Triumph, which he taught me to ride, before I was legally old enough, but Chillington was a quiet village and you could go up and down virtually all day without seeing another vehicle. I became interested in scrambling through a local chap called Walley ‘Manka’ Matthews, Wally was quite a good rider in the Wessex Centre and in the evenings after school he would allow me to ride his scrambler around the fields.”
“After sampling Wally’s bike I desperately wanted to go racing, but of course in those days there were no schoolboy events so I had to wait until I was sixteen”.
“I loved tearing across the fields and as soon as I was old enough bought an Ambassador to ride to work. On my apprentice wages I couldn’t afford to buy another bike so there was no other option than to scramble the road bike. I can’t remember much about the first event other than I fell off quite a few times which left me rather bruised and the bike out of shape.”
Fluff Brown / Cotton Cougar / 1962
For the next two years under Wally’s guidance Fluff continued to race and improve, until like most young men of his generation he was called up for two years national service. Scrambling was put on hold, although as he explained it didn’t curtail or hinder his motorcycling exploits.
“I was conscripted into the Royal Engineers training regiment for dispatch riders and served my time with several other keen motorcyclists including Ken Heanes, who later became such a great ISDT star.”
“Our bikes were standard issue BSA side valve M20 / M21’s which not surprisingly we got to know inside out. They also provided us with a lot of fun, as after the ‘big wigs’ had departed on a Saturday afternoon, we rode them around the parade ground, standing on the seat, with our arms crossed.”
This balancing skill obviously stood Fluff in good stead because with army service done it was back to civvy street and a return to scrambles aboard a 197cc Sun, which was soon replaced by a similar capacity DOT. In the 1950’s two-stroke tuning was still very much a dark art, and in an effort to keep up with the opposition Fluff wrote to DOT for some tips on how to make his bike go faster; the reply; however, was not what he expected.
“The factory DOT’s really flew, and in open unlimited capacity races they regularly managed to beat machines twice their engine size. I thought that I might get some tuning tips so I wrote a letter, but the reply was disappointing as the only advice I received was to buy a new set of piston rings!”
Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Tunstall / 1963
Throughout his career Fluff’s build was ideally suited to lightweight two-strokes, and his solitary outing on a big banger left him reeling.
“My cousin was racing a 500cc BSA Gold Star scrambler and asked me if I fancied trying it. It weighed in at around 350lb and felt huge after the DOT. The vibration was horrendous and by the end of the race it felt like my eyes were going around like marbles in a jam jar!”
While the Goldie might have been Fluff’s first and last race on a 500, by 1956 he’d achieved Expert status and bought his first Cotton – but it was not just his riding skills that were getting noticed. He was becoming adept and skilled with the workings of the Villiers scrambles motor, and was approached to fettle the Cotton ridden by Badger Goss. Badger’s success on the Brown-prepared bikes made Cotton’s principal duo of Pat Onions and Monty Denly sit up and take notice – “I want that man up here,” said Denly, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to Gloucester.
He was taken on in the dual role of rider and development engineer, and it heralded the start of a long, happy and successful association between Fluff and the Cotton family.
Frank Yarwood (DOT) and Jim Timms (Cotton) / Tunstall / 1963
On both the scrambles circuits and in the development shop the combination of Fluff and Cotton became a winning formula, although it was Brown the racer that became best known. At virtually any open to centre or national lightweight race in the early sixties his tenacious but smooth riding style would usually see him battling for the lead, something I first witnessed at a bitterly cold and muddy TV scramble at Naish Hill in 1962.
With the luxury afforded to the works man, Fluff had long since progressed to a tow car and trailer to transport his bikes, but after an incident returning from a wintry Beaulieu some lateral thinking was called for, as he explained.
“I think it was about 1963 and along with my friend and fellow Cotton rider Jim Timms we towed the bikes to a very snowy Beaulieu TV scramble behind my Hillman Minx.
It was extremely difficult racing on the hard packed snow and we all slipped and slithered a lot, which probably made a great spectacle for the armchair fans. On the way back home we had an accident, and although both of us, and the car were undamaged the trailer was written off. This left us with a dilemma as we were due to ride in an event at Accrington the following day, so we partially stripped the bikes and managed to squeeze both of them into the boot of the Hillman.
It wasn’t an easy drive but we eventually got back to Gloucester where we transferred the one useable bike into the back of a borrowed Landrover and set off north. It was a freezing cold night and the heater didn’t work but we eventually arrived about six o’clock the following morning. We knocked up the organiser, whose wife took pity on us and cooked up a wonderful fried breakfast. We only had the one bike which we had to share, but fortunately we didn’t both get into the same final.”
Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Tunstall / 1963
Like many small manufacturers Cotton continually walked a financial tightrope, but despite this it managed to attract some top names and was involved with some interesting development work. So what was it like to be there during these interesting times?
“A lot of well known names joined the Cotton fold including scramblers Ken Messenger, John Draper, Freddie Mayes, the Lampkin brothers, Malcolm Davis, and Bill Ivy on the Cotton Telstar. We also did a lot of development work with Cross Manufacturing in Bath, then with Peter Inchley, and later with Dr Bauer, on the prototype Starmaker engine from Villiers.”
Much of the Starmaker’s static development work was carried out on the test bed in Fluff’s galvanized workshop, although in the days prior to health and safety legislation no one considered the effects this might have.
Tests frequently involved running the open megaphone engines up to speed, and on one occasion Fluff had to be picked up off the floor after becoming dizzy and collapsing with all the noise.
Fitted with two massive Amal GP carbs, the Starmaker engine was turning out a heady 25bhp at 6,000rpm, but this quickly showed up the limitations in the lightweight Cotton frame and breakages were frequent, Fluff eventually cured this by introducing a large oval top tube to the headstock.
Alan Lampkin / Cotton Starmaker Cobra / Sussex 1964
The track tests and chassis developments took place at Hawkstone Park, although a typical day, which involved a detour to the Villiers factory in Wolverhampton, was often a long and frustrating one, especially when blighted by tests which broke the frames.
Fluff continued to successfully race in both the UK and the near Continent, but development wasn’t just limited to the use of the Villiers engine.
Given the success achieved by the Rickman brothers on their Triumph powered Metisse, the unit twin seemed to be an obvious choice of motive power.
Mk I Prototype / 1967
So Fluff and Cotton designed a similar Rickman inspired design, and sold it in kit form, but after seven years at the Gloucester factory his development and engineering skills were being sought elsewhere.
His work with Peter Inchley and Dr Bauer on the Starmaker project had also not gone unnoticed, and when Villiers came under the umbrella of the newly formed Norton Villiers in 1966, he was soon invited to move from Cotton to continue his work with the Starmaker team. Fluff takes up the story, “The Starmaker engine had proven its potential, but up to then it had appeared only in other manufacturer’s frames, so a new rolling chassis was required”.
“Initially we housed it in a Rickman Petit Metisse frame, and Freddie Mayes raced it in both the 1966 British Championship and selected GP’s, as a Villiers Metisse.”
“Andy Roberton had also moved from Cotton and couldn’t get on with the Metisse frame, he had previously raced the Cotton Cossack, so I modified one of our strengthened Cotton frames, which he took to like a duck to water”.
From this they developed the Mk I prototype, they added a version of the eccentric swinging arm and this became the basis for the production AJS Stormer, when I visited Flints Farm in 2010, Fluff Brown was using this picture, the Mark I Prototype, as his screen saver.
Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Starmaker 360cc / 1965
From 1964 to 1966, Cotton and Villiers had shown that the Starmaker engine was a very capable road-racing winner in the hands of Derek Minter, Bill Ivy and Peter Inchley, all achieving incredible results with the Telstar and Conquest, followed by Inchley’s achievements, riding the Villiers Special, the engine was ready.
Along side, Fluff Brown had developed the Cotton Starmaker Cobra, solving its frame fatigue issues by introducing a large oval top tube, as its backbone. The four-speed engine had been tested and developed, in this frame, in competition, but they had dropped the twin carburetor set-up, it was too complicated.
The industry though was going through massive change, and Norton Villiers was one of the results. The Starmaker was a major asset, but needed further development, so Fluff Brown and Andy Roberton went to join Peter Inchley, Bernard Hooper and John Favill at NV in 1966, another new member of the team would be Bob Trigg. Soon they would all have a new challenge, but at the start Peter Inchley concentrated on road racing by developing the Starmaker AJS. Along side, Fluff, with development rider Andy Roberton would continue to develop the prototype for the new Starmaker scrambler, and their team rider would be 1966 British MX Champion, and ex-Cotton rider, Freddie Mayes, who would ride a Villiers Metisse, whilst they developed the new Norton Villiers moto-cross frame.
The Rickmans though had their own ideas of what they could do with the Starmaker.