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Hot Rodding, Roy Richter & Bell helmets

To understand the heritage of Bell Helmets, you first need to travel back in time (hold on tight there folks) to Bell, California circa 1923, where Bell Auto Parts was first established. Fast-forward a few years to 1933, and we'd find that a young auto-racer called Roy Richter had just joined the firm as a pattern maker. A keen participant in the still underground Hot Rod and Speed Racing movement, Roy piloted his Bell junkyard midget racer "Betsy" whenever he got a chance; one in a series of Richter-built race machines in what would turn out to be a short-lived race career. Despite a lack of longevity, Roy still amassed numerous championships and countless track records across several racing divisions, and it was this success, plus every cent of his savings, that allowed the Californian native to purchase Bell Auto Parts on July 2, 1945.


Roy prototyping ideas on the left. In the middle, the insanely popular pro Jens Voight is a card-carrying Bell helmet wearer


Unfortunately tragedy struck in 1946 when Roy's good friend 'Swede' Lindskog was killed in a racing accident. Lindskog's death was doubly hard for Richter, as this was his second friend to fall victim to the total lack of safety precautions that characterised early race car events. With a vow to devote himself to driver safety in memory of his fallen fellow racers, Roy changed course, committing to building safety and protective products in a move that would come to be recognised as the birth of Bell Helmets.



http://youtu.be/VYxYSLY820A


The first fruits of Roy's new focus came in 1954, with the commencement of manufacture of the '500' helmet in a garage located behind Bell Auto Parts. With sales above their original projections, the Bell helmet Company was officially established as a division of Bell Auto Parts in 1956. Initially with a sole auto-car focus, Bell later expanded to service the motorbike community, and in 1975, established bicycle helmet production with the first hard-shell helmet, two years after Roy was inducted into the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) Hall of Fame, and three years before his retirement in 1978.


The US UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team are a Bell sponsored outfit, seen here wearing their Bell Gage lids with pride at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California


Roy Richter passed away on July 28, 1983, leaving behind a company with a true life-saving legacy. Yet, despite the fact that Bell now manufacture their car racing and bicycle helmet lines in Illinois instead of California, with some models manufactured either in Bell's French hub or in China, Bell's philosophy has stayed the same - help make insane things possible using state of the art equipment and technologies.



Resources


Lost Speed Shops: Bell, Chapel, Orr

Hot Rod Online, Roy Richter book review

Bell Helmets Facts

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