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30th June 2003

Buyer's Eye

Are you looking to buy a classic bike this summer? Frank Westworth is always looking for the perfect motorcycle and at Cheltenham and Kempton Park autojumbles he found several likely candidates...

Triumph T100C

This was exactly as repatriated Brit classics are supposed to be. The bike sat on a trailer, making it hard to kick over and bounce on, but if you'd been there with a big wad of the folding then the vendor would have been delighted to unload it!

Look at those exhaust guards. Fantastic.

And it would have been well worth a look. Few bits missing, but nothing visible which should be hard to find, either NOS or repro. I was struck by the apparent honesty of the bike. The sort of untouched scruffiness which makes me more interested. No-one's poor restoration; even the engine bolts were largely untouched, the telltale witness marks of Bob The Demon Bodger being almost entirely absent.

There was compression; there was gear selection. There was no clutch lever, confusingly… And there was a Californian licence plate to show you where it came from.

The price? £1250. Which seems reasonable for a 1970 Tiger 100C - certainly a good starting point for a negotiation.

Ariel VB

Oh, was I tempted by this one! However, pressures from the distaff side, which leans towards an earlier Ariel, an Ariel with a rigid frame and charming fishtail silencer, saved me from spending. Which may be a good thing. Maybe not, of course…

Note seat upholstered with inside out banana skins.

The VeeB was a swinging arm model, from 1954/55 or so, and its happily patinated (ie. faded and worn) odometer numbered up to 85,000 miles, which looked about right. This was a worn motorcycle, maybe a project, maybe a potential runner and rolling restoration, but worn all the same.

The price was £1250, which seemed slightly steep, but was no doubt negotiable - as autojumble prices usually are. Chatting with Ariel Delboy brought the opinion that as the VB had the wrong wheels, different shocks and a missing rear numberplate assembly it was too expensive and not worth buying. But I liked it. The engine boasted excellent compression (even if it did lack a dynamo and sundry gubbins), the clutch worked well (as Ariel dry clutches usually do), so I was optimistic. However, sidecar lugs were in evidence, so it's possible that the frame was not as straight as it might have been.

But I really liked it. Had I had a trailer handy, I seriously would have considered making an offer. After all, it had an original number, with a V5, and it hadn't run since 1987. A challenge!

Triumph Tiger Cub

I have to say straightaway that Cubs are not my sort of bike. To be more honest; I am not a Cub's sort of rider, either! Cub riders are more … ah … less than I am. But Rowena thought this trialised Cub was just the job; spindly, light. The perfect thing for that off-road moment.

Never trust a purple bike.

Nothing plugging the inlet tract. I'd worry.And OK, it was well built, or it appeared to be, You had to ignore features like the swinging arm resting on the rear footrest extensions, which must have been amusing on full rebound! It ran well, too, apparently, boasted a decent T&T, and its price was heading in a sensible direction: £850 one week; down to £795 the next. And you could get a spare engine for £400, making £1195 in total, which would probably have come down to A Certain Round Figure.

Pleasant bike, if you're into the lighter side, but my wallet was safe.

Calthorpe 250

'I think it's a 500,' whispered a total stranger; 'so getting it for £1700 isn't a bad price.'

'How much?' demanded another chap, gazing at the cheery spectacle of several grown men purpling themselves trying valiantly to start the handsome Calthorpe. 'How much did you say?'

Reduces grown men to their knees.

The original conversationalist repeated the price. I kept quiet; my knowledge of Calthorpes is limited, and it is too easy to appear a total berk in expert company.

The second bloke, slim of build and handsomely bearded, leaned to me and asked; 'Didn't you do The Jampot, years ago?'

This was a novel way of changing the subject, but yes, indeed I did, in a long-ago and simpler place.

'The Calthorpe's a 250 twin port,' he confirmed. I had been thinking that the barrel looked a tad on the tiny side for a 500.

'And this one was in Old Bike Mart for a grand…'

We nodded, sagely, and strolled quietly away, while strong men strove to make this particular bargain burst into life.

BSA B44 Victor Special

How much? Despite our long-term experiences with B25SS and T25SS, both Rowena and I are fans of unit Beezer singles, particularly those with a little Go as well as the cobby styling. For if ever a motorcycle could honestly be described as 'cobby', then these off-road styled singles are they.

What do you mean 'slightly tasteless'? It's lovely.

£1500. That's what it says. Scratch head. Gaze nonchalantly about, send MsH off to surreptitiously bang off a few snaps. I really liked the look of this. It's so stock! Almost entirely original. In fact, I couldn't find anything which wasn't original Even the paint, that handsome and only slightly tasteless yellow, was stock. But I bet it doesn't go…

Vendor came over, smiling as vendors do, scenting interest. Well, Rowena had actually asked him to move another bike so she could take a better shot, which isn't entirely subtle.

'Runs really well; rode it in a road-run last weekend. Vibrates quite a bit' said the vendor, with refreshing honestly. And he was dead pally and cheerful, too, which always makes you feel more inclined to flash the cash.

Turned out that the bike had enjoyed just one owner from new, and he'd recently died. The bike had just been brought back from USA, was UK-registered and fully legal…

And would make a very good late single for anyone wanting a reliable, almost startable and very handsome motorcycle. And yes, these B44s do start well, steer well and stop reasonably well. Very tempting … but I reminded myself that I really want a rigid Ariel, not a BSA street scrambler. But it could have been close…

The One To Have!

Well, I thought so.

Opportunities to buy bikes like this most glorious BSA are very rare nowadays. No, really, they are. Maybe a couple of dozen appear at auctions throughout the year, and most bikes this original get sold through owners' clubs within the 'friends' network. Which is probably as it should be, however tedious it is for those like me who are not particularly clubby!

Now that's patinated...

What is it? Well, this pile of rusty scrap, or splendidly preserved and very original piece of genuine heritage (depending on your viewpoint), is a BSA. It's a pretty rare BSA, too, being a 1949 Star Twin in remarkably stock condition. OK, so it needs utter, total and complete nut'n'bolt restoration, but what a project! Apart from the front mudguard, which looks somehow wrong (although I'd be pushed to say why, exactly; it may be a repro item cleverly left outside to age…) just about everything is present and correct. If non-functional, most like. The Star Twins had twin carbs, and they're here too.

But the best bit? It was a one owner bike, with all tax discs, and was last used in 1956, when it plainly carried a sidecar too, because the tax disc says so.

Price? Lost my notes, I'm afraid. Which just goes to show how intrigued I was by the bike itself. If it had been an AJS, or an Ariel, maybe even a Norton … well then, I would have entered negotiations, damn skippy I would!

Triumph Bonneville T120V

Not a million miles from the most excellent BSA Star Twin was this 1975 Bonnie, one of the last of the Meriden sit-in right foot shift with front disc brake 650s. And these are good bikes, you know. This particular US spec example had lived with just one lady owner since 1985, was allegedly a good runner, had just been MoT'd, and was hardly bank-breaking stuff at £2400. When you take into account that it had recently been blessed with new carbs and a rebuilt gearbox, and given the traditional haggle factor, this is one appealing T120 indeed. Indeed, there are those who would claim that this was a better bike than the T140V which replaced it, and which would have been sold alongside it in Triumph showrooms back in 1975.


This is historic stuff, don't you think? This bike, being a right-foot shifter, would have been built at Meriden before Denis Poore dropped his bombshell. Right before the entire factory locked out their management, before the sit-in and all that followed. Without the frame numbers, I don't know whether this was one of the a batch of 650s which the sitting-in workers released to raise a little cash, or whether it was finished and sold after the deal had been done, the Co-op formed, and the final decline of our old industry set in motion.

And all that aside, these 650 twins are good riding machines. They're capable of taking loads of punishment and of providing excellent service for many many years. And spares, sir, are not a problem! Steering is good, power is certainly adequate in that inimitable Triumph twin way, and even the braking (disc front, drum rear) is well up to it.

Things to look out for with these 1975 sit-in machines? Lots of them were stored outside, and their finish tended to be dodgy. The paint on this example looked pretty good though, so presumably it had been re-done at some time in the last 28 years. Come to think of it, I'd be surprised if it hadn't been rebuilt at least once!

Handy tackle, these 650s. Well worth considering.

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