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Dearly Beloved: Remembering Cecil Sandford, MV Agusta’s First World Title Winner

Cecil Sandford aboard a Velocette machine. Media provided by MV
Cecil Sandford aboard a Velocette machine. Media provided by MV

It is with heavy – but full – hearts that we make space on this platform for a gent who carried a wealth of racing history to the ripe old age of 95. 

Cecil Sandford was, as Mat Oxley (Motorsport Magazine) puts it, “the last surviving champion from the first decade of motorcycling’s world championships.”

Sandford was one of those fine individuals who contributed to MV Agusta’s golden era of racing; Oxley records the man’s first big landmark in 1952 when he snatched MV’s first world title at the iconic, wickedly dangerous Ultra-Light category in Isle of Man TT (thanks in great part to the work of MV Agusta’s technical maestro, Arturo Magni). 

A vintage photograph showing three men around a winning motorcycle.
From left to right: Cecil Sandford, sponsor Arthur Taylor and technician Arturo Magni. Media provided by Motorsport Magazine.

Sandford would go on to play a strong part in multiple MV memories until 1953 when his mentor – Les Graham – passed in an accident involving jammed forks. 

As of 1955, Cecil’s career took a turn into the racing gypsy community and the Continental Circus; there, the machines of choice were 250cc and 350cc Moto Guzzi machines, which propelled Sandford to third and fifth place, respectively (Wikipedia).

Cecil Sandford aboard a Moto Guzzi machine. Media provided by iMuseum.
Cecil Sandford aboard a Moto Guzzi machine. Media provided by iMuseum.

Perhaps one of the more interesting corners of Sandford’s career was his time on a 350cc DKW two-stroke – a time that apparently cultivated Cecil’s dislike for the things due to their propensity to seize:

What you did was use the kill button on long straights to kill the engine for a fraction of a second, which let some neat petrol into the cylinder to cool it down. I never had one seize on me – you had to have a real feel for the engine and really listen to it.”

“At the TT, the DKW mechanics never let me do a flying lap in practice – they always stopped me halfway down the Sulby straight to check the spark plugs.”

– Cecil Sandford, “Remembering Cecil Sandford, MV Agusta’s history man.” Interviewed by Mat Oxley, Motorsport Magazine.

The remainder of Cecil’s time racing was taken up by Mondial, a brand owned by Count Giuseppe Boselli, who Cecil imparted to Oxley as “a lovely chap.”

A single-year contract was soon followed up by three-year paperwork, both of experiences we’re told paid Sandford well (this in contrast to Sandford’s time with Velocette and AJS, who expected racers to “ride for the love of the sport”).

A profile picture of Cecil Sandford.
Cecil Sandford in his earlier racing days. Media provided by iMuseum.

Cecil’s retirement was taken up with work at Arthur Taylor’s bike dealership in Shipston-on-Stour. Oxley imparts that the man passed at the age of 95 and is survived by wife and life companion, Pat. 

We leave behind this touching, insightful quote from Cecil’s obituary: 

Beyond the accolades and championship titles, Cecil Sandford was known for his sportsmanship, humility, and genuine passion for the sport. His dedication to the craft of motorcycle racing inspired countless riders and fans alike.”

“Cecil was not just a racer; he was a symbol of the spirit of competition, the pursuit of excellence, and the thrill of the open road.”

– “Cecil Sandford Obituary, A Legacy Of Championship,” written by James Lucas (FuneralObitsMemorial)

Our best to Cecil’s friends and loved ones during this time. 

*Media provided by MotorsportMagazine, as well as and iMuseum*