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6th May 2016

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Famous Last Words 37: One Careful Owner

We all know the jokes about classic motorcycles that have had 'one careful owner'. Frank Westworth has been gazing into mirrors again...

Every time I see these little three words in an advert, I crack up a tiny bit inside: ‘One careful owner’. Add your own favourite traditional joke at this point. It usually runs along the lines of ‘...and 427 careless ones’ or something like that. I think I made that joke for the first time in 1965 while desperately scouring the ads in the Co-op window for a Mamod steam engine. A classic joke.

Confession time. I am that careful owner. Why is there only one of me? I would have thought that anyone expending megadosh on a motorcycle would treat it as though it was … well … their very own motorcycle. Why would they not? What do you do with your motorcycle? Do you not pamper it, polish it, change its oils and ride it smoothly and well within its limits only on dry sunny days when the pollen count is low and the Sahara is keeping its dust to itself? You don’t? I knew it! I have bought bikes from you. Ghastly, horrid worn-out ruins. How can you treat a fine motorcycle so badly? What do you mean, it’s only a Matchless? Matchless built great bikes. Some great bikes. At least … well, one or two.

Famous Last Words 36: 85BHP

I have a theory. It concerns that apparently rare phenomenon, pride of ownership. A mercifully non-transmittable affliction which involves an inexplicable emotional attachment to machinery. I suffer badly from this. If I buy a bike and I like the bike and I decide that I’d like to keep the bike, then I pamper it. If I don’t like it, I do my level best to make it look long-loved and then flog it quick. My theory is that anyone suffering from pride of ownership automatically becomes that One Careful Owner. The opposite results in the DPO; internet shorthand for Dumb Previous Owner. I’ve met lots of those; bet you have too.

Despite the allegedly humorous snipes, I try to buy bikes with just that one careful owner in their history. It is not easy. Try it. It is particularly not easy when buying bikes which are, say, forty years old, but I do try. It’s also worth remembering that the fabled one careful owner need not be the first owner nor the only owner. With any luck at all, the OCO will be the owner currently owning the bike; the owner who is weeping genuine tears at being forced by desperate circumstance to part with the machine of his very dreams, which he has ridden with kindness, over-serviced using only genuine parts and has continually upgraded while keeping all the invaluable original bits in sealed containers for the delight of excellent future owners. That would be me, then. The original excellent future owner.

Excellent future owners should automatically receive a discount, and should probably benefit from state subsidies in our relentless quest to preserve the very best bikes. Everyone else should pay for this subsidy. There could be a special tax. We could call it Frank’s Added Tax, FAT for the acronym spotters. Or maybe there could be a lottery fund. I should be able to answer an ad, announcing my identity as the excellent future owner. The OCO would instantly reduce the asking price by 90%, delighting in the knowledge that his or her bike (or car, boat, fridge or vacuum cleaner) is bound for a prolonged pampered life in the hands of me. And I would promise sincerely that I would not simply flog it on eBay for 10x the price I just paid.

Famous Last Words 36: 85BHP
One Careful Owner, on ...

The oint in the flyment is that in fact this already happens. Has it not happened to you? Oh. Dear me. (Insincere) sympathy. Because it has happened to me several times. More than once (he writes, carefully) an OCO has approached me and suggested that I should buy his bike, because he would like me to own it. I have no idea why this should happen, but cannot complain. Otherwise sane individuals have even told me that they are leaving me their bikes in their wills. In once case I suggested to the generous soul that I hoped he would live forever. He went away smiling. He returned a few minutes later and said, ‘That was an insult, wasn’t it? You think my bike’s a heap of…’. I simply smiled, as a chap should.

The reverse transaction also applies. I rarely sell bikes, but when I do there can only be two reasons. Firstly that it’s a vile heap of junk and I’d rather have the money; as much as possible thank you very much. The second reason is that I need to money-up so I can acquire some delicious bolide in that once-in-a-lifetime purchase opportunity moment. The third reason – of course there are three – is that a friend, an excellent future owner, talks me into it. This is rare, but it does happen. And of course I am always, but always delighted to see the bike which I, that one careful owner, have just sold to my friend, the excellent future owner, for sale on eBay for 10x what he paid me for it. Tony Blair once remarked, ‘Education, education, education.’ I know what he meant.

Famous Last Words 36: 85BHP

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