25th May 2011
Richard Jones discovers a treasure trove of old motorcycles and curious classics in North Wales...
Llangollen is a wonderful place, a jewel in the Dee Valley. Apart from being situated in the country of the gods - North Wales - and home to the International Eisteddfod there is so much more for the casual visitor to enjoy. You can take a canal boat trip of Telford and Jessop's Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; it was built between 1796 and 1801 and at 70 feet high it is not for those with a touch of vertigo.
For those of you who are not fans of the inland waterways there is also a steam train that runs the 7½ miles from Llangollen to Carrog, Owain Glyndwr's old stamping ground; for all those of you unfamiliar with Owain he was the last true prince of Wales (controversial or what?). Although the main line was closed to passenger traffic in 1965 a group of enthusiasts started the Llangollen Railway in 1975, completing the relaying of the track to Carrog in 1996.
But what, I hear you ask, is there to entice that most discerning of people, the RealClassic reader, to this earthly paradise? Well if you had asked me this until about a month ago I would have been suggesting a trip up to the Horseshoe Pass and the Ponderosa café. Apart from having spectacular views and being a place where you can get something to eat with your coffee, it is a haven for bikers. Even if the weather is bad - unusual in North Wales, I know - there will usually be one or two bikes and on high days or holidays there will be several hundred. Amongst all the modern machinery you will occasionally see something that is rather special.
Then Mrs Jones and I took a walk down the canal to visit the Llangollen Motor Museum and found a jewel within the jewel that is Llangollen. Although I've lived half my life within 20 miles of Llangollen and the other half visiting regularly I had never been to this wonderful museum nestling on the banks of the Dee.
Although the exterior is not on a par with the National Motorcycle Museum you only have to step through the doors to be taken back to a time when the world was a simpler and more pleasant place. The museum is run by Gwilym ('Gwil') and Ann Owen who welcome you as you enter and take what is an extraordinarily reasonable entrance fee for what you are about to see. Pass through the area of memorabilia and all things related to the internal combustion engine into the main museum where you are greeted by a plethora or even a cornucopia of classic motorcycles (thank goodness for spell check!)
The place is simply packed with them, cheek by jowl or cylinder head by kick-start, so that taking photos of individual machines is an almost impossible task, not least as there are lots of pieces of memorabilia scattered between them. I will not spoil the experience of going and seeing the museum yourself but here are a few of the highlights.
Little is known of the history of this 1928 250cc Gnome et Rhone until it was acquired by a Concorde engineer who did a great deal of the restoration work ,including the hand painting. It was found on the side of a road near Llangollen sporting a 'For Sale' sign and Gwil, who is responsible for much of the fettling of the machinery in the museum, now has the job of getting it running. This will not be as straightforward as might first seem as all the instruction books are in French. I know Welsh is similar to Breton but I don't envy him the task.
A 1957 Norton 500cc Domiracer similar to the one ridden by Ray Amm for the Norton works team. This example was used for clubman racing in the early 1960s and was ridden by 'Nigel' - his name is painted on the tank but who Nigel is yet to be discovered; any ideas? Gwil and his son, Geoff, who have ridden the bike, confirm that it is a very fast machine
The first of - literally - three in a row:
The rider of this US forces 1942 WLA Harley was believed to have been killed whilst on active service in Italy. The handlebar sports a front brake control on the left hand side, the rear brake on the right hand side and a left mounted clutch - how did they ride these things?
Next to the Harley is this 1938 Royal Enfield Model CO purchased by Gwil because of its similarity to the first motorcycle he ever purchased from Pride & Clarke in the 1950s for the princely sum of £75. This example was dug up from Southport beach still in its military colours and was restored by its previous owner - it has yet to be run in.
Completing the trio is this 1935 250 cc single cylinder ohv New Imperial which, when new, retailed for £35.75 in new money. This example was rebuilt by Gwil, has won many concours awards and was one of a number of vehicles that took part in the Mersey Tunnel 60th anniversary celebrations. It also has the honour of being the only British motorcycle to grace the Millennium Dome where it stood in the Journey Zone sponsored by Ford.
A magnificent 1932 350cc ohc KSS Velocette would take pride of place in any collection and was prepared for track and sprint events by its previous owner. It is street legal and has a number of interesting modifications including KTT racing forks, much improved brakes and a modified oiling system to reduce crankcase pressure. Apparently it sounds wonderful!
If I could have sneaked this one out of the museum without Mr & Mrs Owen noticing I would have done - I am an honest person but this 1929 1000cc M1 AJS would tempt a saint. At 385lbs this is lighter than many modern day machines of similar capacity. Much of the restoration work was undertake by the late Dilwyn Jones and Gwil would like to get it finished to the standard he would like to have seen it.
Meet Old Harry, named after Mrs Owen's father and owned by Gwil for 25 years. One of over 30,000 Trusty Triumphs built for the armed forces in WW1 this 1916 Model H 550cc saw service in France before being rebuilt at the Triumph works and offered for sale in 1923. It has also seen action in many VMCC events and has been on the Banbury Run more than 10 times.
And finally a 1951 500cc Sunbeam S7 twin loaned to the museum by its owner, Steve Kelly. It looks rather cumbersome for my taste and green is a very unlucky colour, at least for me - two crashes in green cars have made me superstitious. However the Erling Poppe-designed Gentlemen's Motorcycle offers a superb ride with excellent springing, a comfortable saddle and a rubber mounted engine. Do they come in blue?
There are also some cars including the only Welsh production car to have been built in Wales - the Gilbern GT of which Gwil's is the first of only about 1000 that were produced during the 1960s. However the star car is Humphrey - a 1962 Triumph TR4 which has won a number of concours awards. And if you are into caravans the museum also has the oldest motor drawn caravan in the UK
So there we are - something to attract even the most sated RealClassic reader to Llangollen and, in the event that any further excuse is needed, the Llangollen Motorcycle Show takes place on the weekend of the 6th & 7th August at the Royal International Pavilion so you get two attractions on one weekend. If you are looking for somewhere to stay Jane and Mike will offer you a warm welcome and breakfast at Bryn Merion which is located between the show and the museum. However book soon as Mrs Jones and I have already bagged the Blue Room (www.users.globalnet.co.uk/ ~jhurle/index.html)
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