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James SC1 Scooter
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It must be 'scooter week' or something. NVNL takes a trip down memory lane and returns to when he was learning the game with a two-stroke James scooter...

Late one 1970s night, while putting the world to rights, I somehow struck a deal to buy my first ever powered two wheeler. It cost a pound. The vehicle in question was a James SC1 scooter and I was assured that I would never, ever get it going.

There's a bumper sticker around these days which says something like 'Teenagers - leave home now while you still know everything'. Well I didn't know everything when I was 15, but I did hope everything. The figures in my age are reversed now, I'm 51, and it does seem that the more I find out the less I know. My concept of world peace has been radically modified too, but I have at least learned some tricks for travelling hopefully.

The brochure...

So there I was, two hundred and forty pennies lighter, that's RealPence small 'd' as in denarii, in my Dad's garage surrounded by enthusiastic teenaged ignorance, parental resentment, and a bicycle repair kit. Friends rallied round, much instant black coffee (two sugars) was drunk, many Players Number Six were smoked, advice and derision offered in unequal measure. I bought Whitworth box spanners, then some sockets one by one and scrounged a set of open-enders from my Dad.

By way of encouragement and solidarity my Oldest Friend In Motorcycling (now RealClassic's Buenos Aires correspondent) presented me, unasked and freely with an monobloc carburettor (Amal type 375). 'It's a good one', he said. In practice this meant that he'd stripped cleaned and polished it. Young Magician though he was and still is he hadn't been able to alter the fact that it was worn out.

...and the Real Thing.

In essence that little scooter was my personal Motorcycle Early Learning Centre as far as spannering goes and initially I had it all to learn, and I really enjoyed the process. Like many a youth I just dismantled everything I laid eyes on.

I remember being specially impressed by the three pillar bolts which held the still part of the electrical thingy in place. There's something of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel about them I always think, so sturdy, so sculpted, so purposeful, so self-explanatory. To this day my pulse quickens when I take the primary cover off the Norton or one of the Triumphs. To this day I think that heel-and-toe gear change is a neat idea. First impressions last.

The scooter never did run while I owned it, but my dear old Dad did warm to the idea and we took the engine to Villiers specialists Meeten and Ward for an engineer's report. 'Beyond economic repair'. At least my eyes were opened to the notion that other people might be more knowledgeable than I. By then the factory was shut and it was too late to take advantage of the 'Money Saving James Rotary Exchange System'.

Can't beat a bif of pink when you're advertising scooters...

Having begun to learn to ride on a borrowed Lambretta, scooters retain a place in my heart and these days I sometimes think I'd like to have a ride on a James SC1 with its three gears, chain drive and two-tone colour scheme. One sold recently on eBay for 305 so it's not an entirely impossible dream!

Random James stuff on

The 149cc engine was an AMC 15H (62mm x 55mm), though I'd swear it was a Villiers. James were bought by AMC in 1951 after half a century of building motorcycles and were far better known for the their trials, sporting and utility two-strokes. The James scooter arrived in the 1960s and was intended to take advantage of the booming market for these kind of bikes. There was an SC4 as well as an SC1 (the SC4 had four gears but the SC1 had three - go figure). Overall, it wasn't a successful venture and James machines went out of production in 1966.

The scooter's electrics were six volt (or should that be Volt?) and there was a parking lamp with a 6v - 1.8w bulb. The parking lamp had its own dry cell battery - Ever Ready No. 1289. Back in olden days vehicles parked on the road in the darkness had to display a light, I seem to recall people used road menders' paraffin lamps sometimes.

The forks were leading-link type using spring in tension with a damper fitted. The wheels had 3.50" x 12" pressed steel rims which were bolted to the hubs. The SC1 had a tubular frame with bodywork pressings and weighed in at 270lbs, was six feet long overall, had a platform width of twenty inches and a seat height of thirty inches.

A Joy to Ride and a Pleasure to Own...

James described their SC1 as 'superbly styled for comfort and convenience' and said that it offered 'de luxe, economy travel for town and country. The 149cc horizontally-mounted 3-speed power unit provides smooth yet vigorous acceleration and a high cruising speed coupled with an exceptionally low fuel consumption.

'The imaginative design of frame and engine provides eve distribution of weight and low centre of gravity thus ensuring maximum stability and hair line steering characteristics unparalleled in the scooter sphere.

'The luxurious deep section foam rubber twin seat provides hinged access to a spacious centre compartment suitable for the storage of safety helmets or parcels. Attractively finished, the James scooter offers a unique experience in contemporary 2-wheeled motoring.' Sounds great: we'll take two!

...With a Galaxy of Shinig Features

In remembering and writing this I am deeply indebted to the James Motorcycles Information Website at which has been invaluable in matters of detail and from which I quote the following:-

'When Suzukis were first imported into England space was rented at the James factory. The address was given as Golden Hillock Road, which is just around the corner from Gough Road - the regular James address. An entrance in Golden Hillock Road gave access to the rear of the James premises. Suzukis were supplied from here to dealers until about 1965. Does anyone have a very early Suzuki? I'd like to put an illustration on the website for all to see.

I wonder what the James employees made of them?'

And so do I, and so do I.

Who could resist?


More Jameses on


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