Once upon a time, long, long ago (September 1983, actually), I’d moved over to the fourwheeled mode of transport when I found myself parked right outside the Barley Mow pub next to an AJS, looking magnificent and gleaming in the sunshine. It inspired me to ask my assembled friends if anyone knew where there was an old British bike for sale. Richard, who dabbled in selling cars, immediately responded. ‘I’ve seen a bike for sale in St Albans.’
I asked the Better Half how much we could afford for a bike, and we agreed £300. At this stage I had no idea of what marque it might be, let alone the condition. Not to miss the opportunity, the next day I went to the address where the sign read ‘John Gordon Motors Ltd.’ As soon as I went in I saw an Ariel which had a lovely natural patina. John Gordon himself approached, and I immediately recognised the face but before then I didn’t know him by name.
Going back in time, my first exposure to bikes was buying a Bantam 175 for £5 in 1970 at the age of 16. Several months later a friend gave me £25 and a Honda C50 for it. A further few months later, I decided to strip the top end on the Honda. I put it back together and could not understand why it would not start. I asked my dad and told him that I had two little rods left over. Dad smiled and informed me that they were pushrods. Whoops.
Humming Birds, the Honda dealer in St Albans, had a Honda CD175A for sale. The mechanic went out to look at the C50 for part-exchange. He came back saying that it sounded like a cement mixer (rest assured that I now know how to correctly adjust tappets). A £25 part exchange was offered and a deal was done. I passed my motorcycle test on the CD175. It was a cracker and never let me down. I wonder if RXE 38F is still around today.
Eventually I wanted something bigger and part-exchanged the Honda for a 1965 Triumph TR6SS, a beautiful bike in maroon and silver. In 1972, on the way to the Motorcycle Show in London, I had a big accident and wrote off the bike. Amazingly I walked away with just bruises. The Triumph sat in Clarke’s motorcycles workshop in for quite some time until I purchased it back from the insurance company. When I turned up at Clarke’s, who should be there but the same mechanic who had moved from Humming Birds!
Why mention all this? Well, that mechanic was none other than John Gordon who went on to start John Gordon Motors.
I rebuilt the Triumph which, as you may be able to see from the photos, required a lot of parts. A fond memory was of me and three pals crammed into an Isetta bubble car. One of us curled up on the rear shelf over the engine. We made it to Dougie Clarkes in Friern Barnet with the Triumph’s front hub to create a new wheel, buy new forks, mudguard, etc. Following the rebuild I enjoyed the Triumph for a couple of years before selling it and buying a car.
Back to 1983. It was one of those moments of recognition as John and I realised that our paths had crossed in the past. John had used the Ariel, a 1949 VG500, regularly. When the subject of how much came up, by sheer coincidence John said £300. I couldn’t just say ‘OK’, as there is no fun in that. I went in at £280 and we then split the difference and shook hands at £290. I then owned a classic machine that I planned to restore and ride around. Do any RC readers know anything else about John Gordon? I believe he had a large collection of bikes, but is no longer with us.
What I did not appreciate was that I had purchased something more than just a motorcycle. I found out about the Ariel Owners’ Motorcycle Club after the purchase. Joining the club has added so much more over the years to owning the Ariel, with friends made and many miles travelled and events visited. The whole family has joined in when attending annual rallies, etc. You’ll see the family clan aboard the Ariel on a cavalcade 20 years ago.
Thanks to the Barley Mow and that AJS; thanks Richard, thanks John – oh and thanks especially to Eileen (she who must be obeyed) for the £290 loan. I am still paying it back — apparently! Laurence Fox, member 5330