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Whatever happened to the Silver Dream Racer?

Published: 29 July 2016

Released in 1980 and starring David Essex as struggling privateer bike racer Nick Freeman, Silver Dream Racer was the Rocky of motorcycle racing movies. The plot revolved around a prototype bike – the Silver Dream Racer – that Freeman inherits from his engineering brother after he dies in a motocross accident.

Freeman enters the British Grand Prix and wins the race but is killed when he crashes into the pit wall after crossing the line. The bike was real and British racer Roger Marshall actually rode it in the 1979 British GP, but what became of this piece of motorcycling movie history?

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What was the actual bike?
It was a two-stoke, custom-built by now defunct British firm Barton Motors. Former managing director Graham Dyson (who sadly passed away in 2012) explained in a 2009 interview how the surprise build came about: “Out of the blue we got a call from the movie people asking if we could build bikes for a film. We went down to Pinewood Studios and eventually got a contract to build three bikes, although we only actually ever built two, using our engines in a chassis which we designed ourselves.”

How good was the bike?
Its silver bodywork looked stunningly futuristic but sadly the bike looked better than it went. “The producer lived in a bit of a dream world,” Roger Marshall says. “He thought I could actually beat Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts and win the British GP on the thing! He was distraught when I told him I’d be lucky to even qualify. In the end we slipped a 750cc engine into the bike (which had housed a 500cc engine to get through scrutineering) which helped me qualify about 16th.”

In the movie, the bike wins the race. Where did it really finish?
“I was in the points in the race until the bike developed a fuel leak,” says Marshall. “So I pulled over and explained to the marshals that we really needed to get a shot of me crossing the finish line pretending I’d won the race. They waited for the last lap then flagged me out on track in between groups of riders and we got the shot we needed!”

Was the bike destroyed in the final scene of the film when it crashes into the pit wall and explodes?
No. That was in fact a 250 Yamaha dressed up in Silver Dream bodywork.

Is it true that the engine from the Silver Dream Racer went on to finish fourth in the 1983 Sidecar TT?
This has become part of TT folklore but sadly it’s not true. Although Nigel Rollason did use a Barton-Phoenix engine to finish fourth in the second Sidecar TT of 1983, it wasn’t the actual one from the Dream Racer. “We made 20 Barton-Phoenix engines in all between 1978 and 1981,” Dyson explained. “Of the first 10, one was used by Nigel Rollason in the Sidecar TT. Most of the engines went into Sidecars, but one went into a solo which was eventually lost in the fire at the National Motorcycle Museum.”

What happened to Barton Motors – the firm that built the bike?
“At the end of filming we still retained ownership of the bikes so we converted them to be a bit more practical and raced them for a bit,” Dyson explained. “Then the recession hit and we sold Barton Motors to Armstrong. Armstrong then later sold the whole project to Erik Buell who carted the whole lot off to the States. He eventually said the bikes were a load of rubbish and decided to go his own way.”

So what actually became of the Silver Dream Racer?
“The Silver Dream Racer doesn’t exist any longer,” Dyson explained. “There’s a mock-up one made from a third chassis. It was bought by a guy called Trevor Radcliffe who then later sold it to a collector in Germany. But it’s not a real Silver Dream Racer – it’s not even a runner.”