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6th March 2015

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Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

You have to be a bit brave to ride an old bike in the middle of winter. Richard Jones is overcome by a romantic urge to join them...

The middle of February may not seem the best time for a classic motorcycle ride but the members of the Northampton VMCC are hardy folk and are clearly not discouraged by single-figure temperatures and an abundance of cold, misty air. There was a good turnout despite these conditions and one particularly young spectator counted the attendees, coming up with 16 British machines, ten from the land of the Rising Sun, three Italian and three German. The average age of the riders appeared to be well towards the retirement end of the spectrum and it is to their credit that they ventured out with their machines in such poor conditions.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run Random old bike stuff on Now...

The name of the run comes from the fact that it is held as close as possible to Valentine’s Day – presumably the entrants are the heartbreakers, putting their classic motorcycles ahead of a romantic day at home with their beloved (wife or partner that is, not the classic bike). One of the riders did mention that he thought entrants brought along what might be described as their reserve machines – those which they felt could better stand the road conditions, not least an unhealthy level of corrosive salt deposited by the local authority to combat recent icy weather. Whilst some of the bikes did seem to have a good level of patination there were many that looked like they could happily have been entered for a show so perhaps not everyone has the luxury of multiple bikes to choose from. In any event here are some of those on display at Midsummer Meadow.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

The oldest machine in attendance was this 1924 Sunbeam Model 7 outfit, the sidecar occupied by a very brave lady given the temperature, albeit she was well wrapped up. It was in 1924 that Sunbeam started giving their models numbers and the Model 7 is listed although it had started life in 1922 when the bottom half of a 491cc long stroke model was mated with a 3.5hp bore to provide a capacity of 599cc. It was to remain in production for the next decade with its leaf-spring front fork whilst the rest of the range reverted to Druids. With bore and stroke dimensions of 85 by 105.5mm, the engine has much low range torque which makes it an excellent sidecar puller when linked to the four-speed hand-change gearbox. Sunbeam quality is much in evidence with the fully enclosed chain and beautifully curved leg guards. I did ask the owner whether the weather conditions would be a problem but apparently the machine goes better in cold, damp conditions – ideal for the UK climate then.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

This 1956 AJS Model 18 stood out as being a good example of this 498cc machine which was in production between 1945 to 1966 – 21 years must mean that there was a market for it and the corresponding G80 Matchless built on the same Plumstead production line. The engine is a single cylinder ohv coupled to a four-speed gearbox; original post war machines still featuring a rigid frame although this option was dropped from the range the same year this machine came of the assembly line and a new sprung frame introduced. By the middle of 1956 machines were all built using the AMC gearbox which was based heavily on the pre-war Norton design which itself came from the Sturmey-Archer gearbox designed in the early 1930s. The front forks are Teledraulics, and although the signature AJS jampot rear suspension units weren’t replaced with Girlings until 1957 this bike seems to have been ahead of its time. The odometer showed 78,080 miles which confirms this model ‘s reputation as a good working machine with considerable longevity built in.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

This Triumph started out life as a 3TA although the previous owner had dismantled it to a point where it was reduced to its smallest individual components and stored in sacks. The current owner bought it in this condition and restored it in the 1970s, adding some parts that hadn’t made it to the sacks including the mudguards and exhaust system. It has served well since the work was done and has in fact been bored out to increase the twin cylinder’s capacity to 500cc to bring it in line with the 5TA with which it shared some engine parts. The ohv 3TA was in production from 1957 to 1968 and was Triumph’s first unit construction machine, also featuring the faired-in bathtub rear end which is one of those Marmite touches – you either like it or you don’t. The engine has twin gear-driven camshafts, plain big ends and separate rocker boxes, driving through a four-speed gearbox with the mixture supplied by an Amal carburettor. The single loop frame is supported in the front by telescopic forks whilst at the rear there is pivoted-fork suspension. The owner did say he would have cleaned the bike if he had known it was to be photographed but then recanted – he likes its condition and who can blame him.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

Norton built its 745cc ohv Atlas twin for five years from 1963 – it’s essentially a stretched Dominator 650cc engine which provides plenty of torque but is said to be plagued by vibration, although the owner of this 1964 example had not experienced any significant issues in this respect. Doug Hele, who had overseen the design had insisted it be supplied with low compression pistons and a single carburettor but the American market, at which the machine was aimed, did not appreciate such niceties and twin carburettors were soon fitted. As Norton was now part of AMC the engine was also used in the Matchless G15 and AJS 33 motorcycles as well as the Matchless-framed but often Norton badged P11, P11A and Ranger 750 scramblers which are now very popular and, consequently, very expensive.

Engine layout is conventional with a 360-degree crank, cylinders parallel, pistons moving up and down together but firing alternately; on the left hand – drive – end of the crank is a 12 volt alternator whilst on the right is the timing gear, oil pump, and tachometer drive. The power plant sits in a Featherbed frame and drives through a four-speed gearbox; Roadholder front forks and dual rear shocks manage handling with 203mm and 178mm brakes front and rear respectively providing the stopping. The Atlas has always been overshadowed by its successor – the Commando – but the owner of this bike has an Norton Interstate too and, of the two, prefers his Atlas.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

Honda’s 400-4 is a well-known and appreciated classic but this is its smaller sister, the CB350 Four which was marketed in Europe and the USA – but not to the UK – between 1972 and 1975, the latter years as the CB350F1 Four. It is similar in many ways to its more successful larger sibling – the four cylinders feature a single overhead camshaft with two valves per cylinder, each fed by Keihin carburettors. There is a five-speed gearbox, telescopic forks, dual rear shock absorbers, a single disc front brake and a drum at the rear. The engine produced 34bhp at 9500rpm compared with the 400-4’s 37bhp at 8500rpm; although the machine was the world’s first four-cylinder production bike of such small capacity, this restricted performance and its discreet styling may have been the cause of its limited market success.

This example dates from 1973 and was built by the present owner from boxes of parts that he acquired seven years ago when he decided he wanted something different from the 400-4. Spares are a problem given it was not as popular as the later 400cc model with the exhaust system being a particular issue. At the time it was restored these were retailing for between £1200 and £1500 although as luck would have it the owner was lucky to secure a secondhand set for £500. Looking at the bike it was well worth the effort to restore it – lovely looking machine and with the cachet of being a rare model.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

Italian, red and a V-twin – what’s not to like? Moto Morini’s Dianna Marchesini / Franco Lambertini designed 3½ engine went into production in 1973 and was the first motorcycle to fit the Heron combustion head, also adopted by Ford and Jaguar for their cars. The 72-degree V-twin featured in a range of machines from 125cc to 500cc although the most popular models were the 350cc Sport and Strada. As you can see this is the 500cc model which was in production in various guises, including a prototype turbo model, from 1977 to the mid-1980s. The 478cc engine featured a belt driven single cam operating pushrod with two valves per cylinder with the mixture coming from twin Dell’Orto carburettors. The gearbox had five speeds and there were Marzocchi forks and shocks with twin discs up front and a single at the rear; power output was stated as being between 43bhp and 46bhp, dependent on model, at 7500 rpm so not sluggish by any means. The present owner categorically refused to sell it – not surprising given that it is a very handsome and desirable motorcycle.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

There were three Honda CX500s at the run but this is the one I want to draw to your attention, not least because of its mileage. The clock show 13,817 miles but the patination of the machine and the date of stickers that adorn the instrument shroud and panniers belie this. In fact the Honda is on its second time around the clock so true mileage is 113,817 – no wonder the CX500 was so beloved by couriers. I did ask the owner if this was a good classic machine for a mechanical simpleton such as I; he said he couldn’t speak for the others but his was excellent although, sadly, not for sale.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

Just a couple more before I get told off for exceeding my word count. I haven’t a clue what this Velocette’s age, model or capacity is but it just looked to be the right machine for the day’s ride – purposeful, solid and with a great deal of class.

Northampton VMCC 2015 Heartbreakers Run

Finally this Matchless rider who took his bike out on the run with verve, élan and a throaty bark (you’ll have to imagine the last bit).

That’s all for now but hopefully more soon when the weather improves and more classic bikes leave their winter hibernation.


To find your local VMCC section and their next ride or run, see To browse through many more of Richard’s photos from many motorcycle / transport shows and events, see:

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