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22nd September 2014

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Sammy Miller Museum, Part One

There's so many interesting classic motorcycles at the Miller Museum in Hampshire that we couldn't cram them all into one article. So here's the first half of Richard Jones' recent tour...

Over the last couple of years Mrs J and I have, on two occasions, popped into the Sammy Miller Museum at New Milton on the way from here to there to have a look at what's on display and partake in some refreshments at the adjoining Bashley Manor Tea Rooms - all very pleasant. I didn't bother writing about it or putting the photos on Flickr as I rather assumed RealClassic readers would have already been there and wouldn't want me wittering on about it. However it struck me recently that there may be some readers in the outer edges of the RealClassic empire - Nova Scotia, Kalgoorlie or Ulan Bator perhaps - who may not have had an opportunity to visit this most excellent of museums. So it is with you in mind that I've produced this particular piece - the rest of you can look away now.

Sammy Miller Museum Sammy Miller stuff on Now...

If you're lucky you will get to see the great man himself riding one of the bikes around the courtyard. Shortly after we had arrived this year Mr Miller took this Vincent Rapide out for a brief run and this was even before we paid the entry fee for the museum - talk about value for money. There is a video of this on my Flickr site but if you think my photography is questionable - I did get rather carried away so some of the shots are a bit grainy - my cinematography is a whole lot worse.

Sammy Miller Museum

Verdel must have been on of the more unlucky of motorcycle manufacturers - all their paperwork was lost during a bombardment in WWI and then any subsequent records were destroyed in WWII. You will struggle to find anything about these machines in the reference books and, as such, I am indebted to Roy Ponting who has produced two books about the machines at the museum. The primary business of Verdel was to act as a Peugeot agency in Northern France and they apparently also produced some motorcycles although, for reasons already given, records no longer of exist as to how many, what and when.

This particular machine is said to be a 1912 750cc OHV with a rather startling five cylinder radial engine but which, with no gearbox and no suspension, may well be an 'interesting challenge' to ride. It appeared from obscurity at the Millennium Montlhéry Coupes Moto Legende and was purchased and restored by the museum to coincide with the opening of an extension to the complex.

Sammy Miller Museum

Another motorcycle you're unlikely to see at your local classic show and, once again, it does not make an appearance in the reference books to be found in the library at Jones Towers. However Mr Ponting tells us that John Haythorn BSc AMIAE was a Scottish engineer born in 1904 who, whilst in his twenties, built a twin cylinder motorcycle engine. Clearly he was a clever chap as he then went on to produce a car-like 269cc OHC in-line four cylinder machine where the oil cooled and lubricated the fully enclosed valve gear before making its way back to a wet sump. By 1938 the enterprising Mr Haythorn had sorted out some teething problems and put a 500cc version of his engine into an OEC frame. He also used his engineering talents to add linked brakes, rubber mounting points for the engine and a complicated double clutch mechanism which selected two different rear chain drive ratios (a gearbox was thought to be unnecessary by Mr H who had intended to supercharge the machine). Regrettably Mr Haythorn then became distracted with other projects and his prototype disappeared until the museum found and restored it in 2004.

Sammy Miller Museum

Another man who was probably born ahead of his time was Cyril Pullin who first came to the attention of the motorcycle world when he won the 1914 Senior TT aboard a Rudge; thereafter he became the first person to lap Brooklands at over 100 mph on a 500cc machine. His talents were not limited to riding but also design and in 1920 he had devised a pressed steel frame motorcycle for which he retained the manufacturing rights. And so it came to pass that when the Ascot Motor & Manufacturing Company of Letchworth had some spare capacity on their pressed steel car production line, they asked him to design an appropriate motorcycle to take up the slack.

Mr Pullin pulled out all the stops (sorry - couldn't resist) and came up with a 500cc machine featuring fully enclosed bodywork, coupled hydraulic brakes and a handlebar mounted instrument panel with more dials than you could shake a stick at. The 'New Wonder Motor Cycle' was launched at the 1928 London Show where it was claimed 3000 orders were placed by enthusiasts. Given the conservative nature of motorcyclists at the time - 'I say, old chap!' - this may be a tad on the high side. Regrettably the machine had not been properly developed, suffered problems and even threw leading journalist Torrens of the Motor Cycle off - not perhaps the best publicity for your new machine.

You won't be surprised that the receiver was called in and by 1930 the remaining stock of machines was beings old off at Rennos, a London dealer from Islington, for £45 a go. However consider this: £45 in 1930 is worth about £2,350 in today's terms applying the Retail Price Index; last year Bonhams sold a machine for £29,900, including premium, and this year one reached £27,600 at Stafford. Not a bad return.

Sammy Miller Museum

When you think of Scott you think of water-cooled, two-stroke twins; you do not think of water-cooled, two-stroke, three-cylinder in-line behemoths of 1,000cc but, nevertheless, there is one at the museum. In 1934 William Cull at Scott began work on a 747cc triple that weighed in at a rather chunky 448lb; it was liked by Albert Reynolds, a major investor in Scott, but was apparently less well received by factory test rider, Allan Jefferies.

The prototype was never developed into a production model but, lo and behold, Scott staff rolled out a 986cc triple, developed from the smaller machine, at the 1935 London Show at Olympia. However few were built and after three years it was no longer in the Scott catalogue. Sammy Miller purchased this one - together with works drawings, moulds and spares - in the late 1980s and treated it to a full restoration. Believed to be unique, it could perhaps be described as one of the world's first superbikes.

Next time: more unusual classic and vintage bikes from around the world, all housed at the Sammy Miller Museum.

To see more of Richard's reports and photos, visit:

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