About
John Brown Cars
Established since 1944
Our History
There exists here a long and distinguished family connection with motor-cycle sport of various types. Not long after WW2 John‘s father, James N, or "Da" Brown — the founder of the business - developed a business and social relationship with the Herron family of Leitrim, Co. Down. The sports connection evolved from here when Jimmy and Wilfred Herron began to take an interest in competition in the form of Grass-track racing. JN began to put his considerable engineering skills w good use in preparing the machinery for the brothers.
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The grass-tracking phase was fairly short lived and the boys turned their attention to road racing with Jimmy consistently obtaining good results, although being somewhat outshone by Wilfred, who, over his first season in 1954, developed at a spectacular pace from novice into a force to be reckoned with. The swiftness of his rise through the ranks is illustrated by the result from the 1955 North-West 200, where, riding a 350 Gold Star BSA, he finished third behind very distinguished international company in the shape of current Manx GP Clerk of Course Jackie Wood, and Bob Brown, the Australian who later rode "works" Matchless, Gilera, and Honda machinery. Later that same season a 500 Norton "Featherbed" was acquired just after the TT and, some six weeks later Wilfie was in a stunning 5th place in the World Championship UGP when a split petrol tank forced race officials to black flag him with only one (or two) laps left! Wilfie finished that season tied on points with Louis Carter for the Walter Rusk trophy; which was, in effect, the Irish Road-race championship — not a bad second season then! Jimmy backed this effort up by finishing 4th (the championship covered all classes).
The following year Wilfie confirmed this form was no fluke by winning the Irish championship (‘including a fifth place finish at the Ulster to score 2 World Championship points. These, I think, represent the only World Championship points ever scored by a Ballynahinch-based bike: certainly in Road-Racing) He repeated the feat in 1957, scoring consistently all over Ireland; and Jimmy was always a top contender in the 250 class throughout this period — they were certainly the top "brothers act" on the scene in these seasons. The speed and reliability of the brothers’ machinery during this spell was clear proof of "Da’s" meticulous approach to preparation, and outstanding ability in the tuning stakes; establishing a reputation which was to be enhanced over the following years.
From ‘58 business pressures enforced a break from competition for the Herron brothers, but "Da’s" enthusiasm was undiminished and he turned his attention to the grass-track & scrambles (now Moto X) scene; and, during this phase he became more and more involved with engine development — as compared to just preparation. He began this era with a youngster by the name of Mervyn McConkey, who would progress to legendary status in grass-track/scrambles history. Mervyn went on to become Irish champion in every capacity class available — a feat no-one has ever matched.
The machine chosen for this venture was the Triumph Tiger Cub, the 200cc class being very popular in Ireland for all types of racing (Joey Dunlop later started his illustrious career on a Cub). McConkey showed great potential right from the word go and, within weeks of his first race, was starting to win on a regular basis. Indeed, before long he was a top contender in every capacity class (200, 250, 350, & 500, all on the 200cc Cub); certainly, there were occasions when he won every race he entered at a given meeting. A season‘s tally would often reach nearly 100 wins. All this was, of course, greatly helped by "Da’s" engine tuning and modification programme. (These were hungry Tiger (‘abs — consuming a steady diet of big-ends.) The development aspect of "Da’s" activities really accelerated with the acquisition of a 250 BSA C-15 (in essence a stretched version of the Cub power unit.)
So successful was the Brown/McConkey alliance that results came to the notice of the BSA factory (the,, the world’s largest motor-cycle manufacturers), in the person of Competitions Department manager Brian Martin, with whom James N established a successful and long-lived development partnership. The factory C-15’s were being successfully campaigned by future World Champion Jeff Smith and Saturday afternoon scrambles were regularly televised on BBC’s "Grandstand" programme. "Da" would send to the factory details of modifications which had proved successful in Ireland; and, of course, if something was tried and failed (in Ireland) then the factory avoided any adverse publicity. Over the following number of seasons BSA quietly supplied free machinery each season for use as a development "test bed".
One Brown Special Adaption was the conversion of a push-rod C15 to overhead cam valve operation.
In, addition, James N also began a series of specials by increasing engine capacities, using the time honoured "bitza" method of adapting separate parts of other engines to alter bore & stroke measurements and so achieve the desired capacity. Examples of this process were 340cc & 412cc specials, both of which were successfully campaigned by McConkey. (I rode all of these myself) The BSA factory was kept informed and developed the works machinery along very similar lines, ii, terms of cylinder capacities used. The high point of factory development came with Jeff Smith becoming World Champion in 1964, and again in 1965. These 2 championships were achieved using 440cc engines, which confirms the significant input from the Ballynahinch engineer. 
For the following three or four? seasons the Triumph was ridden, with varying degrees of success, by a number of top road racers including Wilfie Herron, Tom Herron (a second place at Cookstown being one memorable result), and Campbell Gorman, as well as the original jockey — McConkey. Whilst the machine was undoubtedly very quick and handled well, it proved to be a bit fragile — hardly surprising, considering the very advanced state of tune applied to what was still basically a production roadster.
In retrospect, this turned out to be the peak for factory development as BSA then turned their attention to the extensive use of titanium for engine and cycle parts; and this proved to be very expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful, direction of development. Back in Ballynahinch, the work went on as ever, with continuing success, but outside influence, originating oddly enough in the United States, were conspiring to produce another twist in the tale.
1966 and '67 saw the Triumph score successive victories in the prestigious Daytona 200 race, with first Buddy Elmore and then Gary Nixon taking wins on what were basically race kited road bikes. These wins created demand from American dealers for factory involvement in racer development; but Triumph management resisted these calls and it was left to their brilliant development engineer Doug Hele who, with his mechanics, went weekend racing, effectively in their own time. They began work on the standard T100 490cc twin and gradually made this into an extremely competitive racer.
Almost inevitably, "Da" saw a challenge looming and decided he could match, or maybe even beat, the factory's efforts. To serve this end, John bought a second hand T100 for extensive reworking into a competitive racer. The cycle parts were provided by the purchase of an ex-works Mondial (of late 50's vintage) to accommodate the Triumph engine. "Da" then went to work on the power unit and installed a host of modifications, drawing on his hard-won experience over the years. Always striving for good "breathing" from his engines (or "volumetric efficiency" as he liked to call it) the programme included even the drawing, and installation, of his own cam profiles! A fair indication of the efficiency achieved was an upper rev. limit of just over 9500 - an extreme figure for a British twin of that time. In this configuration the power output matched the factory's figure of about 52 bhp. This was an impressive figure, and one which was on par with the fully race-developed Manx Nortons of the same era; not bad at all for a production road bike based unit.
At the Tandragee 100 in 1969 Mervyn McConkey astounded the road racing fraternity with a second place in the 500cc class behind the late, great, Brian Steenson on a Seely, and ahead of Manx Norton mounted Gerry Mateer who went on to become that season's 500cc Irish Champion. One can imagine the the consternation caused by this result; after all this was a grass track/moto-cross rider mounted on a Triumph twin! Mervyn followed this up with a third in class at Skerries.

In 1970 Wilfie bought a Norton Commando for competition in the recently introduced 750cc class. He approached “Da” with a view to having the Brown magic applied to the preparation of the machine, and this was duly carried out; once again to startling effect! The combination which had proved so successful nearly 20 years before resumed in full swing. For the following couple of seasons Wilfie was once again the man to beat in his chosen class, with a record of something like 14 wins from 16 races over this outstandingly successful period.

Through the late 60’s the development of two-stroke machinery drove on and expanded into the higher capacity classes so successfully that it became a near impossibility to campaign a four stroke with any hope of consistent success. Having been a dedicated four stroke fan for so many years the two stroke dominance was almost an anathema to James N; and after a brief spell working with a Bultaco Pursang he drifted from active participation in the motor-cycling scene but did continue with some consultancy work with Cosworth regarding sports/Fl car engines.
 The UK's most active and broad-ranging racing organisation caters for solos and sidecars made from 1945 to 1972 (or 1967 for 2-strokes) and Post Classic, split into three categories. Organising race weekends across the country throughout the year.
 
 
 
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