Old Hat


Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - JIM SCAYS­BROOK

Enzo Fer­rari once fa­mously re­ferred to what amounted to the Bri­tish For­mula One in­dus­try as a bunch of ‘garag­istes’; in this sense, a deroga­tory term in­fer­ring that the cars of the pe­riod – Lo­tus, Cooper, Lola etc – were sim­ply sketched out in chalk on the garage floor and as­sem­bled by a bunch of black­smiths in grubby over­alls with han­kies on their heads. While Enzo prided him­self on the en­tire in-house con­cep­tion and con­struc­tion of his cars, he chided the Poms for sim­ply buy­ing in items such as Coven­try Cli­max en­gines, Hew­land gear­boxes and a stack of chrome-moly tub­ing, and hey presto – in­stant F1 car (and team).

Co­in­ci­den­tally, in the bike world, it wasn’t all that dif­fer­ent. The Rick­man broth­ers, garag­istes in the ex­treme, dared to cast as­per­sions at the time-hon­oured tackle, par­tic­u­larly the BSA Gold Star, and chose to build their own spe­cials, cutely thumb­ing their nose at the es­tab­lish­ment by brand­ing their cre­ation Metisse, which is French for mon­grel. It was sim­ply a bet­ter prod­uct (or per­haps, com­bi­na­tion of prod­ucts), and they weren’t alone. Around them, sim­i­lar garage-based op­er­a­tions sprang up, among them Dun­stall, Wasp, Cheney, Mead, Dresda, and many oth­ers.

The trend wasn’t just con­fined to UK. Here in the An­tipodes, garag­istes were hard at work, starved as we were of ma­te­ri­als and in the Kiwi sense, thwarted by law with dra­co­nian im­port re­stric­tions. I re­call one such ef­fort, con­structed by Rob McKendrick, na­tive of Napier, New Zealand but res­i­dent in Oz for a pe­riod in the late ‘six­ties. Rob took the ubiq­ui­tous al­loy Tri­umph Tiger 100 en­gine and fab­ri­cated a chas­sis com­pletely from sheet steel, re­sult­ing in a 500-class scram­bler with a con­sid­er­able power-to-weight ad­van­tage over con­ven­tional tackle. In Rob’s own hands, and also rid­den by John Slatyer and Dennis Alder­ton, what came to be known as the Coven­try Ea­gle (due to its sim­i­lar­ity to the pressed-steel chas­sis ma­chines of the ‘thir­ties) was quite a weapon. I won­der what hap­pened to it?

The point of the story is that next Easter, the seventh run­ning of the Broad­ford Bo­nanza will pay homage to cre­ations of the ga­rigistes – the afore­men­tioned Bri­tish jobs and any­thing else that sprang from an idea to do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. It is hoped and ex­pected that more than a few of these ma­chines will be given the op­por­tu­nity to be pub­licly pre­sented, ei­ther on dis­play or fired up and rid­den – on the scram­bles track, the dirt track or the road race cir­cuit, or per­haps even the tri­als course. From the in­ter­est so far, there’s go­ing to be some in­ter­est­ing stuff at Broad­ford next Easter.

Rob McKendrick with his home-built scram­bler.

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