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.