Artie Bell

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The 1950 Belgian Grand Prix 500cc field leant into a second-lap corner - but then came tragedy. Leading the group on his works Gilera four, Carlo Bandirola changed line unexpectedly. Right behind him, Les Graham on the AJS Porcupine twin just touched the Gilera's rear wheel and went sprawling, dropping his machine right in the path of the works Norton pair, Geoff Duke and Artie Bell. An accident was unavoidable. There was nowhere for Artie Bell to go, and he and the Norton finished up tangled with the supporting pillars underneath a radio commentator's box.


Bellsurvived his horrific crash; but it left him with a permanently useless left arm, and his all-too-brief career as a works road racer was at an abrupt and sad end. Brief, indeed, because Artie was already 32 years old when fellow-Ulsterman Joe Craig, supreme of Norton's Bracebridge Street racing department, invited him to join the official squad for 1947. But in the next three seasons Artie hit the heights. Riding in both 350 and 500cc classes, he scored two Isle of Man TT victories, two seconds, two thirds and a fourth. Yet he had never even seen the tricky Isle of Man course before 1947, the year in which he confounded the pundits by leading the Senior Tr on three of the seven laps. It was a remarkable performance.


Artie's motor cycling had begun in his teenage years, and against strong opposition from his haulage-contractor father, who forced him to dispose of the Model 9 Sunbeam he had bought. Of course, that didn't stop Bell, who continued to ride in minor events on an AJW-Python which, ostensibly, was owned by a friend. Unfortunately that subterfuge was shown up when the police stopped young Artie for riding with an ineffective silencer. Again there was a row, but in time Artie's persistence won through, and his Father accepted his son's love of bikes.

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By 1938 he had progressed sufficiently to finish in second place behind the great Bob Foster in the North-West 200 held in Northern Ireland. With the resumption of Irish road racing in 1945, Artie Bell began to clean up with his 1939 Norton, his wins including Carrowdore, Cookstown, and the 500cc class of the Ulster Grand Prix. In addition, he had teamed up with the McCandless brothers in an agricultural and industrial machinery importing business, and it was the McCandless connection with Nortons (they designed and developed the Featherbed frame) which led eventually to a place in the works team. In those days of course, riding for Norton was a major honour.