History is littered with examples of ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment jottings which have led to something much greater. Inspiration is no respecter of surroundings or preparation and inspiration doesn’t care if your notepad is elsewhere so any available scrap of paper, block of wood or back of your hand is pressed into service.
In Hagon’s case, the bit of paper would have been a napkin in the Orient Cafe opposite the shop and all sorts of ideas saw the first light of day over a mug of tea and a sarnie in there.
Even us off-roaders will know Bob Leppan was a Detroit Triumph dealer with a penchant for record breaking in Triumph-powered streamliners named ‘Gyronaut.’
“We built his frame for the initial tests,” Alf told me.
Though Alf was more than happy to make whatever people wanted, he knew there had to be a more formal side of things in order for the business to prosper. An early association with Girling Suspension units led to the core business these days being suspension for either end of a motorcycle. “We’d been Girling dealers for a while then the Girling London distributor decided it was time to retire and offered the business to Hagon.
“We took it on and soon were doing good business in suspension, then Girling called me and said they were selling up to Austrian components giant Boge.” Boge it seemed weren’t interested in the motorcycle angle, did Alf want it? “We thought about it at the time and decided to go for it, the only stipulation was we couldn’t call our units ‘Girling’ so Hagon Shocks was born.”
This gradually took over more and more of the business until the frame making, which started things off, was wound down in 1989.
Ironically, Alf’s major successes and the area in which he is most well known, were with motorcycles with little or no suspension at all – sprint or drag bikes. This purely functional sport seemed to gel with the Hagon psyche and his patiently developed v-twin JAP took record after record during the Sixties.
“The sprinting came about by pure chance,” he tells me. “I was invited along to an airfield meet and cobbled something together that went reasonably well and I was hooked.” Alf applied his thinking to the sport and often went against accepted practice if he knew his way would be better, the list of results which came his way proved he was on the right lines and his credo of lightweight with careful design rather than super tuning. As part of the careful design, Alf admitted his ideal for the JAP sprinter would have been a large diameter single top tube which he’d used for his Triumph-engined machine.
“The problem there was the height of the JAP v-twin compared to the Triumph. I wanted the profile of the bike to be as low as possible so the only solution was twin top tubes either side of the engine. That gave the right profile and lightweight too.”
Looking at the final development of the sprinter on the plinth behind Alf as we were chatting, it showed much evidence of his thinking. What couldn’t be seen by someone like me with only basic JAP knowledge is the engine is out to 1260cc from an initial 1000cc. “They changed the rules to allow the Americans to come over and race their bikes which were bigger than 1000cc, so almost to the day of the announcement I was offered an 1100cc JAP engine and the development continued in light of that. When it couldn’t go any further normally aspirated we added a supercharger and carried on.”
There was a slight pause while the assembled crowd… Alf, his son Martin, Hagon Sales chief and PR guy Tony and myself imagined blasting up a straight line on a runway on this minimalistic machine, then the silence was broken by Alf who grinned and pointed at the ‘seat’. “Somebody said to me ‘isn’t that seat a bit uncomfortable?’ But I told them I’m only generally on it for 10 seconds...” There was no doubt this conversation could have gone on much longer but Alf is a busy man so after a quick handshake he vanished almost as fast as if he’d been on his sprinter.
Motorcycling carried a feature on Alf’s sprinter, which included this superb line- drawing.