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Bike Review - Posted 30th November 2012
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1939 Ariel NG de Luxe

In the November issue of RealClassic, Philip Tedstone recounts what it's like to restore and own an ancient Ariel. Here's the untold tale of how he came to own this classic motorcycle in the first place...

Once upon a time I had a friend called Terrance but that is too much to keep typing so I will call him Terry. As a matter of fact, that was not his real name but he was averse to having any attention drawn to himself, and disliked having his name shortened in the modern, over-familiar style, so I'll shorten it just annoy him. In appearance, he always reminded me of Don McClean - no, not the children's TV entertainer - the great American singer/songwriter best known for American Pie/Vincent. Terry lived in an old farmhouse that he had lovingly restored himself because Terry was a special person who could build and do everything well, from plastering to plumbing and wiring and welding. The farmhouse was very remote, down a cow-flapped track and nestled in the green arms of rolling Devon hills, its existence known by very few other than Terry's family, the postman, the Inland Revenue and the Council Tax office.

Terry, a lifelong hard-bitten motorcyclist, had a barn in which over the years he had accumulated a vast hoard of dead British motorcycles which one day, when time permitted, he was going to restore. Occasionally, when in a good mood, Terry would allow me into the barn which I always entered like a child going into Santa Claus' grotto. Hanging from the old oak roof trusses were frames, mudguards and petrol tanks, and exhaust pipes festooned the ancient timbers along with the cobwebs. More components hung from rusty spikes driven into the cracks between the stonework of the thick, bulging and leaning walls.

On the sagging and none-too-secure timber floor of the hay loft stood the decrepit remains of once proud British machines, some consisting only of a pile of parts identified by Terry as belonging to a particular model. Interspersed were many engines, gearboxes and piles of magnetos and dynamos and decaying cardboard boxes full of cables, looms and levers. Elsewhere, in every nook and cranny, were jammed handlebars, seats, chainguards and other bits dismembered from bikes. This cornucopia of components rested silently decomposing in their dark, dank tomb, covered in a layer of bat droppings.

Obviously, when everyone dumped their patriotism and joined the rush to buy Japanese in the Sixties and Seventies, Terry had been busy squirreling away their unwanted motorcycling detritus. Not to make money but because he loved British bikes and the preponderance of Velocettes, Ariels and Nortons demonstrated his natural good taste. The first time I was privileged to gaze upon this wondrous collection, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity, my eyes eventually came to rest on the gently decaying remains of a girder forked Ariel, illuminated only by faint daylight coming through the barn doors.

Doesn't this photo just make you want to get out there and ride?... 1939 Ariel NG de Luxe

It was love at first sight and my heart told me I must save this poor thing from its dreadful fate. It was worn out, rusted out, bent and broken and with rusted springs poking out through its rotted seat covers. The forks were buckled but this had not prevented its last owner from continuing to ride it, as evidenced by the chunks rubbed off the sides of the perished and tread-less front tyre but what had finally bought it to its knees was burned out wiring with melted rubber insulation fused to the frame. The watermarked and faded tax disk showed 1966; that was, at that time, 30 years since it had last been on the road.

It was a 1939 Ariel NG 350 and I had to have it.

I asked Terry what he wanted for it. 'It's not for sale,' he gruffly grunted.

My visits to Terry's farmyard became more frequent to his obvious annoyance, as he was basically a hermit, and despite my having to wash the cow muck off my car after each effort to part Terry from the Ariel. Terry does not suffer fools gladly and it was not long before he explained that he had not kept it all those years to let me have it when he was going to restore it for himself. In his broad Devon accent, he advised me to go away very quickly and make love…

You can almost hear the accordians...
Barn Finds on

Years passed; I restored and was riding a 1944 Norton WD 16H and a 1956 BSA B31 when I started to think I was a tad selfish spending all this time and money on old clunkers instead of my wife and child, so I resolved to be more responsible and give up classic motorcycling to, as politicians put it, 'spend more time with my family'. So I sold them, and regretted it ever since if truth be told. A few months later, when I was pining in my empty garage, Terry rolled up on his old, cow muck spattered, owned from new, Moto Guzzi Le Mans. He stood before me, shoulders hunched, head down staring at his cow crap encrusted boots and muttered with his usual verbal economy; 'You can have the Ariel,' with terrible resignation.

I guessed Terry had a building project on (he always did) and had a temporary cash flow problem. I didn't dare ask. Excited, I consulted 'er indoors; she just shook her head in despair which I took for a yes. I wrestled briefly with my conscience and rapidly decided it was the opportunity of a lifetime which could not be missed. A deal was done and cash parted with. A couple of days later Terry arrived in his cow crudded Ford Escort and dragged the sorry looking Ariel off the back of his old cow dung covered wooden trailer and dumped it on my garage floor where it lay seeping oil and depositing rust powder.

Terry also dumped various boxes and old paint cans full of bits onto the floor and handed me two (twin port) exhaust pipes, still in their paper wrappings, as delivered to him by Armours twenty years ago when he thought about starting to restore the Ariel. 'I don't know if they're still any good because they've been up in the barn roof since they arrived,' and with that he left.

My wife came to look. 'How much have you paid for this pile of scrap metal?'

My son came out of his bedroom, regarded this latest self-indulgence of his moronic father, rolled his eyes as only a teenager can and wordlessly went back to his computer.

Yes, this is an 'after' photo rather than a before... 1939 Ariel NG de Luxe

Alone again in the garage, I studied the old log book and V5, the only documentation. The log book was a continuation book and showed a Mr Elmu Tari of Weston-Super-Mare as the last owner before Terry, with no previous owner mentioned before Mr Tari. Was this gentleman the first owner and he filled up the first log book with road tax records? Bearing in mind 1939 was the year WW2 started, what happened to it during and after the war, and the intervening years until the first tax record of 30-9-60? The last tax entry is shown as 31-5-66 which corresponds to the old tax disc, but how did it get to Devon and what happened to it between 1966 and when Terry acquired it?

Lots of questions to which I will probably never get answers but somebody once told me they remembered it being used for several years by an old Devon son of the soil as his only means of transport. Apparently he lived about five miles out of town in a quiet little village and his only entertainment was to ride once a week into the nearest cattle market town on Wednesdays which, at that time, was the only day pubs were allowed to stay open all day. Allegedly, his habit was to drink steadily (the local cider probably) all day, then ride home, often falling off on the way but presumably he was so anaesthetized he never hurt himself and back then there was so little traffic, hopefully, he did not hurt anyone else!

I do not know if this story is true; I hope it is because I like it and it explains why the Ariel continued to be ridden in such a battered condition. It may also explain the gap in ownership in the log book and V5. In those days in rural Devon, the Police would perhaps not bother with an old git in a raincoat and flat cap going home once a week on an old motorcycle at a steady 25mph. Back then, Devonian farm labourers were not great at paperwork and probably not bothered about notifying change of ownership or road tax and insurance. Happy days!

This is local cafe owner Gwen. Always pays to have people like Gwen on your side...

So what of Terry you may be curious to know? Well, he sold the vast bulk of his motorcycles and parts, sold his farmhouse and barns and moved. He bought a massive luxury camper van, welded up a motorcycle rack on the back to carry his Moto Guzzi and set off for the horizon, the van gleaming in the sunset, completely free of cow flap at last!

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You can read about Phil's restoration and subsequent times with the Ariel in RC103, November 2012 issue,available here.


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