14th December 2015
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Motorcycle Live 2015
Richard Jones takes a break from manning a stand at this year's NEC bike show to explore some of the classic - and not so classic - bikes on display...
Mr Robin Hughes did well in locating the VFRNZ stand this year – not only were we within a few yards of the National Motorcycle Museum display but were next door to the AJS & Matchless Owners’ Club stand so someone to talk to.
There seemed to be fewer classics as such this year although many of the major manufacturers are jumping on the 1950s and 1960s classic revival with café racers being the thing. Triumph, of course, arguably invented the bandwagon and were busy launching their 2016 classic-look range – the 900cc Street Twin and the 1200cc T120 and Thruxton R’s. Much activity on their stand as you can see and I have a feeling that the Thruxton R may be a big seller for them – it looks good, should be really rather quick, features bits with the name Öhlins, Brembo and Showa on them and, of course, has the all-important café racer look.
Back, now, to the aforementioned National Motorcycle Museum display and this 1902 piece of exotica produced by the Century Engineering & Motor Car Company of Willesden Junction who were around between about 1899-1905. They were also responsible for a limited production of motorcycles and although this was described by the Museum as a forecar it may have been sold as a tandem in the day. Power trains employed by Century included the 5hp Aster motor seen here as well as Minerva and MMC towards the end of the marque’s life. Not only did the driver (pilot?) have to use levers to steer but also to manage the throttle and fuel mixture; fortunately they were excused a bulb horn – a large bell was operated by a foot control. The machine had two speeds provided by two inverted tooth chains on different sized sprockets, two band brakes on the rear wheel hub for hand and foot brakes whilst suspension was provided by “C” leaf springs to the two seats. I have to say I think the Museum were very brave to encourage people to sit on this exhibit – some of the would-be drivers were rather “enthusiastic” with the levers.
Think of Brough and the mind pictures a V-twin engine, chain final drive, black paintwork and a nickel plated tank – think again. Appearing at the Earls Court Show in 1938, the Golden Dream was George Brough’s concept of a Rolls Royce on two wheels, brought to life by designer H J “Ike” Hatch with Freddie Dixon managing the development. The engine is essentially a pair of flat twins mounted one atop of the other and their cranks geared together; this provided a capacity of 998cc. There was a four-speed gearbox, shaft drive, modified Castle front girder forks and perhaps, most surprisingly, plunger-type rear suspension. Besides being hugely expensive to manufacture, the Dream was something of a nightmare when it came to be tested with reports of tappets jumping out and hitting rockers, big-end and bearing seizures as well as pistons hitting valves. Apparently only five were manufactured before WWII came along and Broughs, of course, failed to make it through into the post war period. Although there is supposed to be a Golden Dream in running order, the one pictured here is for display only and has no engine internals; however, for me, it was one of the most striking machines at the show.
The AJS and Matchless Owners’ Club stand were displaying several machines including their most recent raffle prize which is this 1960 AJS Model 31 CS Special – apparently the frame is one of the rarer CS types but the engine is a standard 650cc twin. Restored about 10 years ago this is certainly an excellent prize for whoever has won the raffle – quite a Christmas present for some lucky punter.
I think that the bike that I enjoyed the most was this 1939 Levis ohv, four-stroke, twin-port single with a capacity of 592cc and a four-speed gearbox. Never mind all that technical stuff – it looked gorgeous with that all that black and red paintwork surrounded by chrome that makes your eyes blink. Regrettably it was almost impossible to photograph properly - space at the NEC is not cheap and you can’t blame the Museum for packing them in. Levis had started life in 1911 building 211cc two-strokes, perhaps the most well-known being the Levis Popular although machines of larger capacity were introduced into the range. Then, in 1927, a four-stroke 346cc ohv machine joined the band which was then further expanded with 247cc, 498cc versions and then, finally, the 592cc machine we see here which came along in 1937.
These days the Ariel Motor Company are perhaps best known for their 4-wheel speed machine, the Atom, or their sports bike, the Ace. However they did bring along some of the machines that form the marque’s heritage, including this 1919 example whose 497cc was sufficient to produce 3½hp (the Ace produces 173bhp from its 1,237cc V4 so things have moved on a bit). This type had been supplied to the War Office after 1916 and went on to be Ariel’s post-war production machine along with a twin that produced 6-7hp; it would be six more years before Val Page came along and revolutionised the marque’s range.
And now for something completely different – a Suzuki GS1000S, a model which apparently was only manufactured over the period 1979 – 1980, a tribute to Wes Cooley who, along with Yoshimura, won the AMA Superbike Championship for Suzuki in 1978. The “S” seems to have referred to the addition of a 5kg bikini fairing which was added to the air-cooled 987cc 4 cylinder DOHC engine, 5 speed gearbox, double cradle frame and twin front discs to weigh in at 238kg or 525lbs if you prefer it. Top speed was said to be 138mph and as Frank Melling said “A good GS is still the mile cruncher it ever was, and still a big thrill in terms of sports bikes.”
Allen Millyard is perhaps best known for motorcycles of, shall we say, the larger variety such as his 5 litre Flying Millyard or the 8 litre Viper V10. However the machine above proves he can also do small and that size isn’t everything. This is his SS250 which appears to be the bones from Honda’s 1974 sports moped on to which he has grafted a Kawasaki KXF250 single cylinder engine, a five-speed transmission and, to arrest progress, a front disc brake. So what will it do mate? Well with 45bhp on tap and a weight of only 80kg it would seem 60mph in first gear is achievable as is a top speed of 100mph; even better was entry to the 2015 Salon Privé.
“It’s a Norton Dominator, Jim, but not as we know it” as Mr Spock also might not have said. It is Norton’s 961cc parallel twin engined, featherbed framed, Öhlins suspended, Brembo braked Dominator SS #1 which was featured in the latest James Bond film, Spectre. In fact this one still features twin PLR-16 machine guns, now decommissioned, straight from Q’s workshop; are these now located at Donington – I think we should be told.
This the Herald Motor Company’s Mastif 250 which, unsurprisingly, is one of their entries in the quarter litre end of the market, assuming there still is one? I wasn’t sure what it was meant to be or to whom it would appeal but a visit to HMC’s web site informed me that it is “A Classic Hooligan” and is “is loosely styled upon the gentleman's 'cafebrat’”. It also is also HMC’s “version of a lightweight drop handlebar hooligan bike; perfect for blasting through the city and getting noticed.” Presumably by the boys in blue.
I would have loved to have known what this gentleman was thinking during his visit to the Triumph stand and the Thruxton R. Perhaps an opportunity for a festive caption competition.
Anyway thanks for reading my stuff this year. Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and don’t forget – more photos at www.flickr.com/ ... /cerrig_photography/
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