Real Classic - - Letters -

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

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