Ask any motorcycle racing fan what was the best race of the last century and most will tell you that the 1979 British Grand Prix was the greatest of all. The fact the BBC included it as the only motorcycling clip in a series of Great Sporting Moments at the end of the old millennium speaks volumes. It was simply breathtaking.
At the time the championship was between Kenny Roberts and Virgino Ferrari; but the British Grand Prix was all about Roberts and Barry Sheene. After what had been a so-so season, now was the time for Sheene to get his campaign back on track, and Silverstone offered the perfect opportunity.
The pace of Roberts and Sheene was largely unmatched on that warm and sunny afternoon. They took it in turns to play cat and mouse, they even had time to exchange insults – the raising of the middle finger, or ‘a little light relief in a titanic battle’ as Sheene insisted afterwards.
Their head-to-head battle reached a thrilling climax when, on lap 28, Sheene pulled out a heroic come-back lap. His Suzuki right up with Roberts’ Yamaha and, for the briefest of moments, it looked like he had made it.
Alas, Sheene crossed the line just 0.03 of a second behind Roberts. Second place was a small reward for one of the greatest rides of his career.
And with that, the 1979 British Grand Prix was consigned to the history books as being one of the most exciting motorcycle races of all time. Never to be forgotten about.
Or is it?
Also competing that same afternoon was none other than Seventies pin-up David Essex. Yes, that David Essex.
Okay, so that’s not strictly true. But it was the setting for the finale to Silver Dream Racer, a low-budget flick from the early 1980s that starred Essex as Nick Freeman, a down on his luck motorcycle racer who inherits a prototype bike that his deceased brother happened to be working on.
Silver Dream Racer has more clichés than you could shake a stick at. Our protagonist overcomes great hurdles on his way to the top, the appearance of an all too familiar rival character who, would you believe it, is drawn to the same love interest as our hero, and, just for good measure, there’s the inclusion of a not-so-serious sidekick for comedic value.
To the film’s credit though, some of the racing sequences aren’t all that bad. Yes, the rear projection shots are laughable, but if you can (somehow) cast those aside, you’ll see former British Champion Roger Marshall peddling the silver Barton Suzuki around some of Britain’s classic circuits and doing his best to avoid Roberts and Sheen during their epic battle.
So, sit back and enjoy the thrilling conclusion to Silver Dream Machine. Will Freeman/Essex/Marshall take a bike made in a shed to glory and (absurdly) win the 500cc world championship in just a single race?
What do you think?
Strangely, the American version of the film doesn’t feature the original grimmer ending where our hero is on the receiving end of a fatal tankslapper upon crossing the finishing line. They’re dealt a more fist-pumping conclusion instead. More’s the pity.
Oh, and if you feel inclined to watch the movie in its entirety you can do so by pointing your internet browsers here.