The ultimate moto icon: Sammy Miller
Peter Howarth writes about the long and storied relationship between motorcycle trial icon Sammy Miller and Belstaff.
In the Belstaff collection today there is a waxed cotton jacket named after Sammy Miller, a replica of a 1955 Trialmaster style. 'I wore Belstaff all my career,' says Miller today, now aged 81. 'In 1954, I entered the Scottish Six Days Trial - I wrote to Belstaff, who made a suit for me to wear. I won the Ben Nevis trophy wearing it in that competition. It's a good company, good waterproof clothing. On one Scottish Six Days event it rained five days of the six. I was the only dry guy out in the field.'
Sammy Miller is five-times winner of the famous Scottish Six Days Trial. He has actually won almost 1,500 motorcycle trials, and was twice European Trials Champion, and was also Irish Motocross Champion. He is, quite simply, a motorcycling legend.
An Ulsterman and an MBE, Miller began racing in 1953. He still competes - and wins - today, but when he's not in the saddle he runs the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum in New Milton, Hampshire. This is home to one of the finest collections of fully restored motorcycles in the world, with 400 exhibits, including factory racers and unusual prototypes. Miller was British Trials Champion 11 times in a row - his record has never been bettered. He also won nine gold medals in the extraordinarily tough International Six Days Trial between 1959 and 1970. This race - the ISDT, as it was known - has now been renamed the International Six Days Enduro, and is famous for being a competition in which riders have to perform their own repairs. It's a challenging annual endurance motorcycle race that requires off-road skill, which is something Miller knows all about.
'Road racing is all static; the markers and the corners are the same,' he explains. 'But in off-road everything changes instantly with the mud and dirt and stones and rivers. You have to be prepared for the unexpected. I always prefer that, because it's forever different.' Does off-road require more skill, then? 'No question,' he says. 'You’d get many all-rounders and road racers who couldn't cope at all with off-road.' It was at the ISDT in East Germany in 1964 that Miller, on the British team, found himself competing against an American squad that featured a familiar face: none other than Hollywood's king of cool, Steve McQueen. The screen legend famously loved his motorbikes and competed for his country in '64.
Sammy Miller remembers practising with McQueen. The actor was apparently 'a nice guy, good craíc, good fun'. But the gold medal eluded him. That honour was reserved for one of his teammates. 'There was a guy in the US team called Dave Ekins,' says Miller. He set off next to Miller: 'We started in pairs, so the American team told him, "Stay behind Sammy Miller for six days and you will have a gold medal." The crowds called us "Miller and his shadow"! He did, and went back with the only gold medal for the USA team!'
Miller also won gold. And he was wearing Belstaff at the time.
Peter Howarth is executive editor of Brummell.