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24th June 2004

The Gordon Lucas Show

The town gala didn't happen this year but you can't stop a good classic bike show once its momentum has been established. Will Morgan attended, and reckons that Dracula rode a 2T-powered DMW...

How many bike shows have you been to where the organisers invite you to tea at their home? Some maybe, but how many offer you the choice of butter or dripping on your beef sandwich? Followed by homemade apple pie and cream? And serve it on their private roof terrace amongst a glorious horticultural display of flowering plants?

Well it was the week of the Chelsea Flower Show and this was Gordon Lucas's Classic Motorcycle Show in Ross on Wye. I was one of the lucky ones invited to sample his wife Margaret's home cooking and their roof garden on Bank Holiday Monday while many RealClassicists were no doubt relaxing after their adventures on the other side of the country at Stanford Hall the previous day.

Now *that* is what I call a well upholstered seat. No one's bum would look big on that.

For several years Gordon has organised a small display of interesting or classic bikes on behalf of the Ross Lions charity fundraisers as part of the towns gala and carnival. This year for some reason (probably 'local politics') this was not held, but Gordon persevered and put the bike show on anyway. As usual there were absolutely no prizes or competition and that's makes it what it is, a thoroughly friendly and informal event: an intimate gathering of like-minded people who bring and show what they think might interest others, plain and simple.

This year's display of about 40 machines spanned from a Moto Guzzi 49cc Dingo (a proper motorcycle, not a moped), through to a Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic loaded with accessories.

04 to 36 in one small step.

Three generations of Gordon Lucas's family run Lucas Motorcycles (Ross on Wye 01989 563261… I make no apologies for this free advertising on the grounds that they deserve it for their endless friendly advice and helpful service). They are the local Royal Enfield dealers and displayed several models including the latest Sportsman's variant. This looks very smart painted in silver with black and gold pinstripes, reminiscent of traditional Norton paintwork with its black and red stripes. The new bum-stop single seat is fibreglass painted to match the tank and much more elegant than the upholstered item on the previous café-racer model. This latest offering was next to a 1936 Royal Enfield, a 350cc model, and a complete contrast.

The world needs more external flywheels.Sandwiched between a modern Hinckley Triumph Bonneville America and a 1975 yellow 'roundcase' Ducati 750S was a Douglas 2¾hp flat-tanker, proudly displaying a tax disc expiring on the 31st December 1924. Further along the line up was a Phillips Panda moped next to a Villiers 2T-powered police DMW (a less common alternative to the LE Velocette used by so many police forces?). I heard tales of a nearby village bobby desperately trying to catch speeding lorries on his DMW without luck, even flat out down hill with his police issue cape blowing in the wind behind him like Count Dracula in full flight!

He might have more luck catching that old belt drive Douglas with the out of date tax. One onlooker told how he had ridden a similar Douglas in the 1930s and commented that his version had used a device to dribble sand onto the belt for extra friction when it started to slip. Quite the opposite of today's Scottoilers!

Let's hope the SORN Police don't spot this.There was a superb sidecar outfit. A 1963 BMW R69S fitted with an equally voluminous and voluptuous long range fuel tank and Steib sidecar, which has been in the same local family from new. Originally it was used as a solo until the chair was taken off a Triumph Thunderbird and fitted to the BMW in about 1970. The outfit drew many comments from locals who recalled seeing it around the district over the decades. Then as now, it was a crowd stopper, its quality impressing even non-motorcyclists.

Another locally owned bike was Roger Webb's immaculate 1958 Gilera. He admitted to a personal phobia that using it might do more harm than good. No amount of cajoling will persuade him to ride it as much as it deserves. This is a great pity as it looks and sounds so good.

Bill Hall from Hereford had brought along two mudpluggers, a Cheney Triumph and a 1949 Norton 500T which, except for a replaced (but correct) BTH magneto, is totally original. The Norton is quite unusual as they only made this model for a couple of years before changing to a plunger frame. This early rigid model has a short wheelbase version of the 16H frame and dolls head gearbox. The later models had a lay down box which would not fit in this type of frame. The angle of fork rake is also different to the standard road 16H. At home Bill Hall also has a Metisse, and a Triumph Trophy at the show had once belonged to him too. Clearly a man who knows what he likes, and that's classic trials machines.

Cheney Triumph. That's 'Cheney' pronounced s-h-i-n-y.

Without doubt the star of the show was Colin Kent's eye wateringly pretty, jaw-on-the-floor gorgeous Manx Norton. He has almost finished this project. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a creation rather than a restoration, as it is an assemblage of parts rather than a single original motorcycle. But all those parts have an interesting history. The noted Norton tuner Steve Lancefield originally built the bottom end of the long stroke engine. He was one of those great 1950s engineers who, along with the likes of Francis Beart and Ray Petty, seemed to get more power from the engines than the factory's race team. The crankcase is stamped with his marks. Other components come from Andy Molnar, the man who has taken on their mantle and carried Manx development into the 21st century.

Put your ear really close to the screen and you might just hear it roar...

The frame was sourced somewhere in Wales and also has a race pedigree. It was originally used by Norton TT racer Alan Trow in the late 1950s. So what is left for Colin to complete? He wants to replace the plastic fly screen with an authentic mesh one. He is determined to use this bike on the road so a small patch of paint will need re-touching where he has had to strip it to reveal the frame number for the DVLA to inspect.

Once registered, he intends to not only use it on the road but also for the purpose for which it was designed. He will to take it back to its roots: the Manx GP. With a sparkle in his eye he talked of not just parading the bike, but classic racing and possibly the Lansdowne Cup. But before any of these ambitions, he has yet to hear the motor run, and the thought of that produced the biggest grin of all to Colin's face. Aural Nirvana!

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