Imag­ine you’ve repa­tri­ated an old Bri­tish bike or brought a barn find back to life. Be­fore it can re­turn to the road you have one last hur­dle to over­come: the all-im­por­tant pa­per­work. With­out ver­i­fi­ca­tion from a mar­que club or en­thu­si­asts’ or­gan­i­sa­tion yo

Real Classic - - Con­tents - Pho­tos by Matt Swindle­hurst, VMCC

Imag­ine you’ve repa­tri­ated an old Bri­tish bike or brought a barn find back to life. Be­fore it can re­turn to the road you have one last hur­dle to over­come: the all-im­por­tant pa­per­work. With­out ver­i­fi­ca­tion from a mar­que club or en­thu­si­asts’ or­gan­i­sa­tion your old bike ain’t go­ing nowhere. Matt Swindle­hurst gives us a glimpse of what goes on be­hind the scenes at the Vintage Mo­tor Cy­cle Club’s li­brary…

The head­quar­ters of the VMCC were opened in 1991 by the club’s founder, Titch Allen. Based in Bur­ton on Trent, they house the ad­min func­tions to this in­ter­na­tional club of around 15,000 mem­bers, as well as a busy re­tail shop and ref­er­ence li­brary. The li­brary, which cov­ers all of the first floor, has ex­ten­sive shelv­ing with large col­lec­tions of ref­er­ence books, as­so­ci­ated lit­er­a­ture and copies of mo­tor­cy­cle mag­a­zines dat­ing back to be­fore 1903. There are also in­di­vid­ual archives in­her­ited from peo­ple like Dave Min­ton – fa­mil­iar to many long-time RC read­ers.

This means the VMCC li­brary acts as a spe­cial­ist re­source and hosts jour­nal­ists, au­thors and in­di­vid­u­als who are un­der­tak­ing private re­search rang­ing from model iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to his­tor­i­cal race re­sults. One of the first ac­tiv­i­ties I un­der­took was to go back through the early club mag­a­zines to find my fa­ther’s rac­ing re­sults. On any day there might be a lead­ing au­thor re­search­ing their lat­est book, an ed­i­tor from the USA fact-checking an ar­ti­cle, or an in­di­vid­ual mem­ber checking the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of a newly ac­quired ma­chine.

At the heart of this unique col­lec­tion are sets of orig­i­nal blue­prints and fac­tory records from ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers in­clud­ing BSA, Triumph, Nor­ton and Ariel as well as smaller firms such as Scott and Dou­glas. As the fac­to­ries closed, many of th­ese doc­u­ments went first to the Metropoli­tan Po­lice stolen ve­hi­cle de­part­ment, and from there to the Sci­ence Mu­seum. In some cases th­ese were then copied onto to mi­cro­fiche and given to own­ers’ clubs be­fore the originals came to us.

This al­lows very de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion to take place when it comes to au­then­ti­ca­tion. The VMCC is an ap­proved DVLA ve­hi­cle club and works closely with de­part­men­tal of­fi­cials. Since start­ing this work in the 1980s, well over 20,000 ve­hi­cles have been pro­cessed, and ap­pli­ca­tions for age-re­lated num­bers and orig­i­nal num­ber al­lo­ca­tion presently run at about fifty a month. A flow chart for this process can be found on the club’s web­site at vmcc.net.

After mov­ing to the area, my re­quest to un­der­take vol­un­teer work was given the nod by Michelle and Vicky, the club’s li­brar­i­ans, and I spent the first cou­ple of weeks just find­ing my bear­ings. The es­tab­lished vol­un­teers were very pa­tient and after a cou­ple of weeks I was let loose on a re­quest to con­firm the age of a tri­als Ariel. The fac­tory record was quickly found, thanks to the work of one of my pre­de­ces­sors who had in­dexed over 150 books of Ariel

records, stretch­ing back to be­fore the war. This in­for­ma­tion was then tri­an­gu­lated us­ing a fur­ther two pieces of ev­i­dence.

The term ‘tri­an­gu­la­tion’ in this con­text refers to a method­ol­ogy in so­cial re­search that ties in ev­i­dence from dif­fer­ent sources to a core piece of data; in this case the fac­tory record. Ev­i­dence is cat­e­gorised in three ways.

Pri­mary source ma­te­rial might be a dis­patch or build record, or di­rect ev­i­dence such as a con­tem­po­rary road test on a fac­tory supplied ve­hi­cle or con­tem­po­rary dealer de­tails.

Sec­ondary sources de­scribe, dis­cuss, in­ter­pret, or gen­er­ally com­ment on the pri­mary source. Ex­am­ples might in­clude a tech­ni­cal ar­ti­cle in an own­ers’ club mag­a­zine, con­tem­po­rary pho­to­graphs or a fac­tory spon­sored road test.

‘Grey lit­er­a­ture’ in­cludes com­pi­la­tion and ‘cof­fee table’ books, mod­ern mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles, etc. It is un­likely that this type of ev­i­dence would be ac­cepted.

For the Ariel, a fur­ther search of the li­brary files dis­closed an il­lus­trated orig­i­nal sales brochure from the same year as the ma­chine in ques­tion. A back copy of The Mo­tor Cy­cle threw up a dealer’s ad­vert for the same model. Num­ber suc­cess­fully re­trieved!

Some of the VMCC records con­tain de­tails of man­u­fac­tur­ing runs of mod­els and in­clude in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing engine, frame and gear­box num­bers along with an­cil­lar­ies fit­ted, date of des­patch and the re­ceiv­ing dealer. For Nor­tons we even have the de­tails of the first owner. The se­quen­tial col­umn in th­ese cases usu­ally (but not al­ways) refers to the engine num­ber; which was the most ex­pen­sive item should a war­ranty claim be made.

With the ma­jor makes it’s usu­ally a fairly straight­for­ward job. but for rare and early ma­chines more painstak­ing re­search is usu­ally the or­der of the day. Of course this can re­sult in some very dis­ap­pointed cus­tomers. In the past we have had to break the bad news with re­gards to frame num­bers that never ex­isted, ma­chines sold as ‘orig­i­nal’ that have had re­place­ment en­gines, and of course the in­evitable faked Rocket Gold Stars, etc.

Visi­tors at the larger auto-jum­bles nowa­days are usu­ally met with at least one stall con­sist­ing of rows of light­weight con­ti­nen­tal ma­chines of (usu­ally) un­known make. This builds on the es­tab­lished prac­tice of im­port­ing ear­lier Ja­panese bikes from the USA. We are now get­ting an in­creas­ing de­mand for help with get­ting th­ese reg­is­tered. If it’s a make or model that was not orig­i­nally im­ported into the UK it’s very doubt­ful that any pri­mary ev­i­dence ex­ists in this coun­try. With re­gards to Ja­panese im­ports, the UK im­porters are in­creas­ingly re­luc­tant to help, and in some cases may flatly refuse.

In con­se­quence we are fast de­vel­op­ing a data­base of in­ter­na­tional ref­er­ence sources, a re­cent ex­am­ple be­ing a Honda model that was never im­ported into ei­ther the UK or the USA. We seemed doomed to fail­ure un­til one of our bril­liant li­brar­i­ans tracked down a Ja­panese en­thu­si­ast’s web­site and then used Google to trans­late. An­other sat­is­fied cus­tomer!

Sep­a­rate from the DVLA work is orig­i­nal re­search car­ried out on be­half of own­ers from around the globe. Re­cent pro­jects have in­cluded search­ing for ev­i­dence of pro­duc­tion rac­ing his­tory for an AJS, pro­vid­ing blue­prints of JAP JTOR engine com­po­nents and track­ing down de­tails of an Ariel Square Four that was pre­sented to Tor­rens, a lead­ing jour­nal­ist and road tester of the 1950s. My per­sonal project at the time of writ­ing is the dig­i­tal copy­ing of the orig­i­nal Ariel fac­tory records, in­clud­ing wartime records of Ariel WNGs com­ing back to the fac­tory for re­fur­bish­ment.

We are con­stantly re­fin­ing our pro­cesses for gain­ing ap­proval, in­clud­ing the dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion of many of the fac­tory records in or­der to speed up searches and, as im­por­tantly, min­imise the han­dling of unique, and in many cases, frag­ile doc­u­ments. We tackle al­most any mo­tor­cy­cle-re­lated query; we can’t guar­an­tee to find an an­swer but we try very hard to help and can of­ten sug­gest other sources if needs be.

The Mo­tor Cy­cle, back at the sta art of the 1920s Left: BSA, Triumph, Nor­ton and Ariel fac­tory record books Be­low in­set: One of the Nor­ton record books Be­low: In­side Nor­ton world: masses of info, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal own­ers in some cases

Files galore, ex­pertly in­dexed

Above: The Triumph ar­chive is vast In­set: A glimpse into the world of Triumph in 1952; so many of th­ese ma­chines head­ing off to the USA. And Neas­den…

His­tor­i­cal stuff abounds, from bound-up mag­a­zine runs to me­chan­i­cal hard­ware

Justin and Peter, get­ting down to re­search…

Above: As well as con­ven­tional lit­er­a­ture, the li­brary con­tains draw­ings and blue­prints, this from a JAP engine

Be­low: Pho­tos galore, too. This a mil­i­tary Scott out­fit

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