If you hanker after the kind of bike shop that’s an endangered species – eclectic parts and paraphernalia arranged in organised chaos by a sage in a blue warehouse coat – here it is
A ruddy good poke around Brian Exton Motorcycles. They don’t make shops like this any more
You could describe Brian Exton as a dealer turned hoarder. In the bike trade for six decades, he has seen business steadily falling off at his shop in a Nottingham suburb. Yet it is packed with stock and he takes a philosophical view.
“I don’t know where all the motorbikes went,” he says. “At one time I was selling up to seven a week and now I might have a whole day when I don’t sell a thing. But I don’t mind keeping a lot of the stuff I have here. I’m turning 80 now and it’s just a hobby, really.”
There is a lot of stuff. Classics on offer when CB called at the shop included a restored 1967 500cc Triumph T100, a 1950 350cc Matchless, a part-restored 650cc BSA Golden Flash and a barn-find Enfield India.
None are dead-on original, but Brian firmly believes bikes are for riding rather than simply collecting. He fondly remembers doing 100-mile Sunday morning runs on British bikes in his younger days. Not out of touch with current prices, he is looking for £6900 from a non-standard but tidy pre-unit 650cc Triumph.
There are rows of shelves packed with parts, much of it ‘new old stock’. Some dates from the time of BSA factory clear-outs, like Starfire crankshafts, headlamp nacelles, Bantam cylinder heads, A7 conrods, C12 forks and a box of steering damper knobs. There are more than 1000 valves for various British classics, loads of pistons and rings, Burman gearbox spares, Miller headlamps and switches, miscellaneous Lucas and Wipac parts, Alpha big-ends (many for Velocettes) and even unused acetylene lamps. It’s the kind of slowmoving stock that someone, somewhere may be just looking for.
“I used to do autojumbles,” Brian says. “Now I find them too much trouble; there’s all the loading and unloading and if the weather’s poor you may not even cover your stall money. Stuff gets pinched from under your nose and there’s nothing you can do about it because there’s no proper security.
“Ebay harms shops like this. People are buying stuff cheaper than I can get it. Sometimes they will come in and say: ‘I bought this on ebay but there’s a bit missing, have you got it?’ I am more of a convenience store these days.” Typically, customers pop in for spark plugs, bulbs or odd bits needed for projects.
If you think Brian sounds grumpy and miserable, you’d be wrong. It’s a friendly and quirky shop with an eclectic mix of bike and car parts alongside antiques, collectibles and general salvage that lend it special character. Things like vintage prams, film projectors, reel-to-reel tape recorders, a garden statue and even an evening gown in a glass case from a stately home.
Brian buys miscellaneous objects that take his fancy and trades collectables with individuals and dealers. But he’s not parting with his collection of vintage footpumps, including one in its original wooden box. He
also treasures an ancient vehicle lamp with a candle inside and a veteran-period Mosaire aftermarket coldstarting device for attachment to an inlet tract. In pride of place by the door is a rare Wooller flat-four engine, dating from the 1950s. Seeing it advertised several years ago, Brian bought it purely because he is intrigued by the enigmatic Wooller marque and likes having this curiosity on display.
“It came with a gearbox that looks as though it takes a propeller,” he says. “I read that Wooller were going to supply engines to the Air Ministry for target aircraft, which could explain that.” It also came with a long, tapered fuel tank of the type fitted to the very few ohv flat-four shaft-drive motorcycles Wooller produced.
Brian’s love of motorcycles began when he was 11 and he acquired a side-valve Raleigh non-runner that had stood unused during World War II. “I tinkered about to get it going and have been fascinated by motorbikes ever since,” he says. On leaving school he worked for local James dealer Horace Rogers, but opted to set up his own repair business and earned money to establish it by working at the coalface in local pits. “After I finished my shift I’d be repairing people’s bikes on a mud floor by the light of a Tilley lamp – there was no electricity,” he says. As he was a keen biker, his workmates made jokes about Geoff Duke, then a national hero, and Brian’s nickname has been Duke ever since.
He saved enough to set up Exton Motor Cycles in Coventry Road, Bulwell, Nottinghamshire. It became a mecca for bikers, who arrived in force at weekends. “We’d get droves of them in and on a Saturday I often would not get time to eat or drink until four o’clock. There would be gangs in from Leicester or Grantham and they’d roar up and down outside, trying out different [carburettor] jets. There was such a noise that the neighbours used to complain.
“In those days we had coffee bar cowboys – in fact, I was one myself. We used to hang out at cafés like the Penguin in Bulwell or the White Post (on the A614), although we got barred from there as they seemed to feel threatened by motorcyclists. We’d go on runs to Skeggy [Skegness] where the police would be chasing round after Mods and Rockers.”
Brian remembers trips to the Isle of Man TT, particularly the discomfort of overnight sea crossings and the notorious tank-draining rigmarole. “But I’ve never been much into racing because I don’t like to see bikes being thrashed,” he laughs.
When his old shop was demolished as part of late1960s slum clearances, Brian built the present premises at a corner location not far away. It’s easy to miss and he explains that more prominent signage once in place was wrecked by stone-throwing kids.
“I took on a Yamaha dealership for several years but in the end I just couldn’t compete with the bigger dealers, who were discounting heavily. A lot of my customers stuck with British bikes and that’s really where my heart is.”
That is reflected by his spares stock being mostly for British bikes. Brian also carries parts such as brake linings for obsolete cars and a range of the usual workshop sprays and remedies. His wife Rita died ten years ago, but he has support from his daughter Jane, who looks after the office work.
Bikes Brian has owned himself include the 650cc Triumph outfit he used as the shop hack in the 1950s, a 350cc BSA Gold Star café racer, an Ariel Square Four and a Vincent Black Shadow bought from another Nottingham dealer in 1967. A carefully preserved receipt shows that it cost him £35.
‘IT’S A FRIENDLY, QUIRKY SHOP WITH AN ECLECTIC MIX OF PARTS AND GENERAL SALVAGE’
Brian serving one of the ‘coffee bar cowboys’ that used to frequent his old shop
The shop was a mecca for motorcyclists – from as far away as New Zealand!
ABOVE: Brian Exton, happy amidst his impressive hoard
ABOVE: Brian’s Gold Star at the old shop, guarded by Shane
Below: Sets of piston rings? Yeah, Brian has a few boxes in stock...