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15th October 2014

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Nev Mason: 100%, an Autobiography

A lifetime in motorcycling shared; from scrambling on big Brit singles in the Sixties to wheeler-dealing behind the Iron Curtain...

This chunky paperback presents a truly unusual life story in 400-plus pages, a tale which revolves around motorcycling and motorcycles and is told in a refreshingly down-to-earth fashion. It very much follows in the footsteps of Wilf Green whose self-penned personal history of the late 1990s was just as quirky and entertaining as this wart ‘n’ all memoir. It’s no great surprise that both authors hail from Yorkshire…

As a lad born during WW2, Nev Mason rarely attended school and instead worked in the family business, repairing motorcycles to be sold at his dad’s bike shop. He recalls his first encounter with two-wheelers in 1946 at the grand old age of three, being pushed by his mum around the pits at speedway races where his dad was competing. That set the pattern for his early years: Nev learned to ride at the age of six on a James 125 and by the age of 12 he was throwing a DOT scrambler at the countryside.

He may have sidestepped a formal education but Nev learned plenty of other life lessons. There was one instance when his dad – along with several other local traders – bought a batch of brand new scooters from a bankrupt exporter. Nev’s father priced the bikes much lower than his competitors, some 30% cheaper, and rapidly shifted his stock. ‘This was a lesson to me on how you can sell large amounts of brand new bikes if the price is right.’

Nev Mason: 100%, an Autobiography

At 14 Nev took part in his first dirt-track race aboard a beefy Matchless scrambler. He needed some assistance filling out the pre-race paperwork but that didn’t stop him taking top honours the very first time he took to the track. And he won his second race at the same meeting, too, taking wildly different lines to his competitors which resulted in a stewards’ enquiry. Nev kept both victories, and the precious £15 prize money, and earned himself his scrambling nickname, ‘Mad Mason’.

It was inevitable that Nev would go into the bike business, and what follows is a detailed tale of his life as a trader, franchise holder, official agent, wheeler-dealer and all-round canny lad in a career which spans seven decades of immense social, political and industrial change. The story explains how he became business partners with Alan Voase, forming Neval Motorcycles from their names (Nev and Al, of course) and he recounts many adventures behind the Iron Curtain as the pair developed a business based around Cossack, Minsk, Voskhod and Dnieper machines.

For instance, at one point during a trade trip, Nev was approached by the mysterious Oleg who suggested Mason might like to ‘look out for our interests in England’. As soon as Nev returned home he was taken in for questioning by men in suits, who were very curious about everything he’d seen and heard while in the Soviet Union…

Minor espionage aside, this memoir offers a real insight into how the bike trade worked over the latter half of the 20th century, and how grit and determination can breed success. Mason’s personal observations are scattered throughout the text and his sheer orneriness shines through: ‘when people say it can’t be done, that should give you the motivation to prove it CAN be done’. That’s a pretty typical quote from the man.

Nev Mason: 100%, an Autobiography
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The writing is straightforward and plain-speaking; there’s no pretention towards literary genius. The book might have benefitted from a quick polish by a professional editor to tidy up the grammar and presentation – but what you have here is the definitive voice of the man, as if you’re chatting to him in the pub… be it about his family life, or the short-lived Regent Verlina with its 1250cc water-cooled motor transplanted from a Vauxhall Chevette; or catching eels – by the hundred – in the River Humber; promoting rock music in Moscow; expanding business interests into India and then China; watching the wall come down and side-stepping the arrival of the mafia; seeing his family grow and enjoying the rewards of all their efforts, and finally into retirement after an action-packed life in the bike trade.

100% certainly captures the flavour of seven decades of British social history and provides a fascinating insight into life behind the scenes in the old-style bike trade. If you enjoy the historical side of things as much as the bike bits, then Mason has also written a series of books about the life and times of a tramp in the 1950s, and another four based around a lad growing up in Yorkshire in the difficult post-war period. He’s also penned a volume about sidecar outfit road-racing, based on his own competition experiences in the 1960s, as well as a series of four books which follow the adventures of a fictional young family who take to championship scrambling. Again, ‘Dirt Kids’ is informed by Mason’s own personal experiences – the story is intended for adults but Mason reckons they’ll also appeal to the younger generation…

‘Nev Mason: 100%’ is ISBN 978 1 910314 005 and comes in two softback formats; the special edition with images which costs £11.95 while the standard edition costs £9.95. Most of the photos are small and inevitably many are mono: don’t expect a coffee-table type book! The period photos and brochures are fascinating however, so we recommend spending the extra two quid.

Both editions are available together with all the other books Nev Mason has produced from www.nevmasonbooks.com

RC Reviewer Rowena Hoseason

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