TALES FROM THE CRYPT

Real Classic - - Ariel Nh350 - Pho­tos by Stu­art Urquhart

Most vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cles re­side in garages or sheds, although Ariel’s Red Hunter might well feel at home in a sta­ble. Stu­art Urquhart catches up with an old bike en­thu­si­ast whose col­lec­tion is safely stashed in… a crypt!

‘The Ariel 350 has quite a nippy and rev-happy en­gine,’ ex­plains Ewan the owner, as he warms up his 1934 Red Hunter. ‘It’s more suited to back roads well away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of mod­ern traffic. The Hunter is es­pe­cially nice at around 45–55mph and will plod along hap­pily all day long, in top gear, when re­quired.’ At higher speeds, life with a rigid / gird­ers sin­gle can be quite… well, ex­cit­ing. ‘Han­dling is fine un­til you pass 50mph, when deep pot­holes and rip­pled roads will have the gird­ers tied in knots. And of course the rigid rear end will de­light in launch­ing you from the sad­dle at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity!’

Bike enthusiasts in­spire me as much as their mag­nif­i­cent clas­sics and I’m sure RC read­ers share a sim­i­lar bond with their fel­lows. Club af­fil­i­a­tions in­tro­duce us to like-minded souls and I have been for­tu­nate to meet many friends through my clas­sic con­nec­tions. For sev­eral years I have also been forg­ing new al­liances on Face­book. I sus­pect this fas­ci­nat­ing ‘hub’ has now be­come a fa­mil­iar por­tal for the ma­jor­ity of mo­tor­cy­clists to­day.

Face­book has in­tro­duced me to sev­eral new con­tacts – and here’s the first of them, an RC mis­sion through the wilds of Stir­ling­shire to visit The Crypt and its colour­ful char­ac­ter called, of course, The Un­der­taker. Ewan (aka The Un­der­taker) is an en­gag­ing gent who has a stead­fast pas­sion for all things Ariel, es­pe­cially pre-war Red Hunters. One of Ewan’s ex­cep­tion­ally rare Red Hunters is a Hart­ley racer that has yet to be re­stored to the road. The other is a twin­port Red Hunter NH350 – pic­tures of which grabbed my at­ten­tion on… you’ve guessed it – Face­book!

I’ve met up with Ewan at many clas­sic events and I was look­ing for­ward to see­ing in­side The Crypt and view­ing his pri­vate col­lec­tion of clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cles. Af­ter a 20-year ca­reer in the po­lice, Ewan set up a house-clear­ing busi­ness that over time evolved into a suc­cess­ful clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle busi­ness. He op­er­ates from ex­tremely un­usual premises, The Crypt; fea­tured on lo­cal TV news fea­ture and a choice des­ti­na­tion for dis­cern­ing cus­tomers look­ing for rare and col­lectable clas­sics.

‘Some cus­tomers imag­ine I’m some sort of wannabe Adams Fam­ily char­ac­ter who is into the macabre, but this mis­con­cep­tion couldn’t be fur­ther from re­al­ity,’ said Ewan. ‘ The Crypt idea was pro­posed by friends to cover some en­thu­si­as­tic and highly creative join­ery. My friend was tasked with build­ing me a large shed, which turned out to be a truly im­pres­sive struc­ture. How­ever some­what adrift of my brief, it also fea­tured a set of gothic stained win­dows.

‘I had to ad­mit the struc­ture looked amaz­ing; but when my friend pro­posed ideas for adding a set of im­preg­nable cas­tle-styled doors com­plete with in­dus­trial chains and pad­locks, I was ex­pect­ing a draw­bridge and a sur­round­ing moat might fol­low! When the build­ing was even­tu­ally fin­ished it be­came light-heart­edly chris­tened as The Crypt, and the name just stuck. The Crypt has turned out to be a great as­set and I’m pleased with all the pos­i­tive feed­back I’ve re­ceived about the clas­sic bikes and mem­o­ra­bilia that are dis­played within its hal­lowed walls.’

As this is a busi­ness, I light-heart­edly asked Ewan if his pre­cious Ariels might there­fore be for sale.

‘I sup­pose you might call me a clas­sic

mo­tor­cy­cle col­lec­tor,’ he replied, ‘but all of my ma­chines are for sale as long as the cus­tomer and I can agree on a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able price. I have no hang-ups about mov­ing bikes on and I am al­ways on the look-out for fresh stock – as is the case with any thriv­ing busi­ness. But the Ariels are my pas­sion, and these will be stay­ing with me for the fore­see­able fu­ture.’

As we moved deeper into The Crypt, I felt as if I had just walked onto a Ham­mer Hor­ror movie set. Sud­denly I felt gripped by the de­sire for sil­ver bul­lets, a wooden stake and a pri­est on tow with a Green God­dess filled to the brim with flesh-burn­ing holy wa­ter. For­tu­nately for me the sun was still burn­ing brightly and Ewan didn’t sud­denly self­com­bust into a hiss­ing quag­mire of bub­bling flesh. Un­set­tling too were the gap­ing skulls that sat grin­ning upon rust­ing old cylin­der heads, and men­ac­ing owls that seemed to watch my ev­ery move with soul-pierc­ing LED eyes (hid­den se­cu­rity cams I guessed). It was an in­tim­i­dat­ing sight that would de­ter any in­truder. Jus­ti­fi­ably so given the trea­sures that were about to be re­vealed.

As I re­gained my self-con­trol, The Un­der­taker pro­duced a set of clank­ing keys and la­bo­ri­ously re­moved the heavy pad­locks and chains from The Crypt’s steel-stud­ded doors. Se­cu­rity lights dimmed and the owls re­turned to their slum­ber as the creak­ing doors opened to re­veal a menagerie of jaw-drop­ping clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cles. The Red Hunters were im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous of course, but then I spied an im­mac­u­late Ariel Ar­row sit­ting next to a lovely Honda 350 twin, flanked by a gor­geous Morini 350 Vee be­hind which I as­sumed, were some Ja­panese 2-stroke lightweights, yet to make their ap­pear­ance from the gloom.

As I walked past The Crypt’s im­pres­sive and prob­a­bly im­preg­nable doors, I was im­me­di­ately drawn to the lithe and min­i­mal­ist Hart­ley Red Hunter Spe­cial – it looked ut­terly stun­ning. Then my at­ten­tion fo­cused on the black and cream Red Hunter NH that I had come to see. I was look­ing for­ward to hear­ing how Ewan had come by not one, but two rare and ex­cit­ing Ariel clas­sics. I soon learned that the Hart­ley Spe­cial was a non-run­ner and re­quired a rolling road to fire her up – mainly due to the fact that she had no kick­starter. She was also en­dowed with ‘in­fant and pram suck­ing’ valves, 12:1 com­pres­sion and ran on dope. That fea­ture would need to wait for another day, and the Hart­ley’s con­ver­sion to petrol for road use. I men­tioned the pos­si­ble ad­di­tion of a kick­starter too, but this sug­ges­tion was quashed by The Un­der­taker’s Cryp­tish stare.

I also learned that the 1934 Red Hunter NH350 seen here was orig­i­nally sup­plied by a dealer in Belfast, as con­firmed by the dinky lit­tle brass plate riv­eted to the rear mud­guard. Ewan bought the ma­chine af­ter spot­ting an ad­vert on eBay.

‘I con­tacted the seller to dis­cover that his NH had been ac­quired along with a later Tri­umph twin that he had bought from a friend. The sin­gle was now be­ing of­fered as a non-run­ner be­cause the seller couldn’t start it due to a re­cent hip re­place­ment. Af­ter he wired me some pho­to­graphs we struck a deal over the phone. When the NH ar­rived I was pleased to dis­cover that it was in fairly orig­i­nal con­di­tion – apart from a new In­dian petrol tank that was miss­ing its fuel taps. I also re­ceived a box of spares, in­clud­ing the NH’s orig­i­nal petrol tank which could prove use­ful later.

‘I de­cided to give the bike a go and fit­ted new fuel taps and lines to the In­dian petrol tank. The mag­neto and points were duly cleaned and proved to be work­ing fine. I in­spected the en­gine and car­bu­ret­tor be­fore clean­ing out the sump and oil tank, to which I added new oil – sim­i­larly with the gear­box. Tap­pets and valves were fine and the points and ig­ni­tion tim­ing were checked. Tubes and new tyres re­placed old. I also cleaned out the brakes and was sur­prised to dis­cover that both lin­ings had plenty of ser­vice life.

‘Af­ter adding fresh fuel I was thrilled when she started four or five kicks later. How­ever as the en­gine warmed the tick­over be­came a lit­tle er­ratic. So I took her for a short run and by the time I re­turned the bike was run­ning well and the en­gine’s tick-over had been re­stored.

‘Un­for­tu­nately the pre­vi­ous owner’s In­dian petrol tank left much to be de­sired,’ frowned Ewan. ‘ The prob­lem was mis­aligned mount­ing brack­ets and poorly fixed tank badges. It also looked too bright and shiny com­pared to the rest of the bike, and the metal­lic red paint­work was much too mod­ern for a Red Hunter. So I de­cided to re­move it and fit the orig­i­nal tank. But then I dis­cov­ered that the orig­i­nal petrol tank’s in­te­rior was badly rust­ing and old tank sealant was peel­ing away in lumps. Ev­ery time I flushed out the orig­i­nal tank more ma­te­rial flaked away. I knew I was fac­ing a lengthy and se­ri­ous restora­tion.’

Ewan de­cided to treat the old petrol tank with di­chloro­meth­ane, which is toxic and

highly flammable. Af­ter sev­eral days of treat­ment the old sealant was re­moved and the in­side was re­turned to bare metal. Next, Ewan care­fully re­moved all the old ex­te­rior paint, and was thrilled to dis­cover that the

emerg­ing bare petrol tank was ac­tu­ally in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion – an un­ex­pected bonus. There was no ev­i­dence of plas­tic filler, solder re­pairs or dents, sug­gest­ing that the orig­i­nal petrol tank had led a very charmed life.

POR15 was then used to treat the petrol tank’s in­te­rior – a three-part treat­ment, which in­cludes a rust sta­biliser, deter­gent and a fi­nal lin­ing coat. Once the petrol tank had been suc­cess­fully sealed, Ewan de­cided he would paint it him­self rather than have it chrome plated.

Be­fore he could paint the petrol tank, he had to care­fully drill out the Ariel metal badge mount­ing screws. Ewan had just as­sumed that the screw heads had bro­ken off in­side their threads over time – that was un­til an Ariel anorak in­formed Ewan that this was a com­mon prac­tice used by the Ariel fac­tory to make the tank badges ap­pear as if they had been riv­eted to the petrol tank. Once the screw heads had been ground off by a fac­tory fit­ter, a bead of solder was then ap­plied to the re­main­ing stumps be­fore be­ing stamped with a spe­cial ‘rivet head’ tool. Ewan was now ready to prime and paint the Ariel’s petrol tank.

‘I have con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence with DIY paints, and be­fore the tank was ready for its colour coat I used five coats of high-build body primer, rub­bing down be­tween each coat,’ said Ewan. ‘I masked up the petrol tank and then used Hal­fords rat­tle tins to end up with a red and graphite grey, two-tone fin­ish. How­ever I ru­ined the fin­ish when I al­lowed the colour coat to dry be­fore ap­ply­ing the seal­ing lac­quer. Af­ter read­ing the in­struc­tions I re­alised that I should have ap­plied the lac­quer im­me­di­ately over the wet colour coat, so un­for­tu­nately the paint and lac­quer re­acted when left to cure overnight. I was gut­ted the next morn­ing when I re­alised that I would have to be­gin the whole process all over again!’

Ewan waited sev­eral days be­fore rub­bing back the tank to its base coat and then reap­ply­ing the lay­ers of paint. This time he de­cided to try a new colour scheme and used the at­trac­tive black and cream fin­ish as seen here – and suc­cess­fully com­pleted the job on his sec­ond at­tempt.

‘I think I must have spent over three weeks get­ting the paint fin­ish to a stan­dard I was happy with. I also touched-up the frame and mud­guards to match the bike’s over­all patina. In the in­ter­ests of main­tain­ing its aged look, I re­moved the new af­ter­mar­ket sad­dle and re­placed it with a worn orig­i­nal from my box of Ariel spares.

‘I ripped out all the cor­roded wires and re­move un­nec­es­sary elec­tri­cal parts that were not needed for day­light run­ning. But as re­ceipts prove that both the mag­neto and dy­namo have been re­stored, I in­tend to rewire the NH and get the lights work­ing over

the com­ing win­ter. The only other job I was con­tem­plat­ing is whether to line the wheel cen­tres and re­spoke the rims – but this is not a nec­es­sary job, and I’ll worry about it later.’

To un­der­line how well it per­forms, Ewan then walked over to the bike and in cus­tom­ary fash­ion he tick­led the carb, set the ig­ni­tion lever to full ad­vance, no choke was re­quired, and gave the Ariel a gen­tle kick. The en­gine im­me­di­ately rum­bled into life be­fore set­tling into a per­fect tick­over.

‘As you can hear the en­gine is very smooth and re­sponds in­stantly to the throt­tle,’ shouted The Un­der­taker over the din, invit­ing me to have a go; I did, and con­curred with a nod. ‘I go easy with the en­gine be­cause I re­spect the fact that she is over 80 years old. She’s re­ally a re­tired mo­tor­cy­cle that en­joys a rum­ble down the road in the pur­suit of a lit­tle good old-fash­ioned fun,’ Ewan em­pha­sised. ‘ The Bur­man gear­box is a good ’un, as long as the rider times his gearshifts and is pa­tient. Oth­er­wise if rushed, the Bur­man box will grind in protest, which is nor­mal be­hav­iour with these pre-war mo­tor­cy­cles.

‘ The clutch is par­tic­u­larly light in my ex­pe­ri­ence and never drags or slips up steep in­clines, or at any speed. This model also pulls well and cleanly in all four gears and is com­fort­able enough on long rides.

The con­trols and rid­ing po­si­tion suit me rather well, and I’m over six foot – weren’t 1930s gentle­men a lot shorter?’ Ewan queried with a raised eye­brow. I de­clined to com­ment, as I look up to the big man.

‘In truth, the brakes are pa­thetic, so you need to plan well ahead on a sprint­ing Red Hunter – if there is such a thing!’ he laughed. ‘But all said and done, she’s is a fine mo­tor­cy­cle and one that I in­tend to en­joy into my do­tage.’

I think Ewan has done a splen­did job with his DIY black and cream paint­work. It cer­tainly with­stands close scru­tiny and is pos­i­tively amaz­ing for a rat­tle tin job. The Red Hunter wears its patina as well as any old fos­sil and the ad­di­tion of au­then­tic parts, such as the old sad­dle and orig­i­nal petrol tank, have only en­hanced its time­less ap­peal.

This ma­chine is very sim­i­lar to my own 1938 Red Hunter, de­spite a four year gap. The ear­lier twin-port en­gine is vis­ually very dif­fer­ent, but all other cy­cle parts are near iden­ti­cal and shared be­tween both mod­els (and the VH500). The partly-en­closed valves, rounded petrol tank and slim pro­file mud­guards mark Ewan’s NH350 as the first model to ben­e­fit from Ed­ward Turner’s up­grades. This Red Hunter was a lucky find; it even has its orig­i­nal front en­gine plate cov­ers in­tact – truly re­mark­able, as these have be­come ex­tremely scarce. Sim­i­larly, the PA speedome­ter and the lit­tle brass in­spec­tion lamp that re­side on top of the petrol tank’s in­stru­ment panel are worth a fair few pen­nies – pos­si­bly even more than The Crypt it­self!

To mod­ern eyes, at first glance this ap­pears to be a twin. But it’s not. Twin­port heads were pop­u­lar for sev­eral years

Right at the top if the en­gine live the over­head valves, only two of them, de­spite the twin ex­haust pipes. Ariel al­most en­closed the valve springs, too. Al­most

Two views of a slightly idio­syn­cratic car­bu­ret­tor

Ariel’s sin­gle en­gine was cer­tainly long-lived: with end­less devel­op­ment it served un­til the end of 4-stroke pro­duc­tion in 1959. The Bur­man gear­box also drove the speedo via that ar­moured ca­ble

Hand­some set of girder forks con­trols the front wheel. One cen­tral spring and no sign of check springs. Bounce con­trol is pro­vided by a fric­tion damper fit­ted to the lower link

There’s a tremen­dous sim­plic­ity to bikes of this gen­er­a­tion; very lit­tle in the way of un­nec­es­sary fit­tings

Right: Much won­der­ment here. Ob­serve the creative mount­ing for the rear brake pedal, the brass float cham­ber, the dec­o­ra­tive dy­namo…

Be­low: As was com­mon back then, the Ariel’s speedo lives in the top of the fuel tank, along with the in­spec­tion lamp (!), an oil pres­sure gauge, the fuel filler and a blank­ing plate for a clock. The am­me­ter, mean­while, lives in the head­lamp shell

Bot­tom: Ewan and his Ariel. Out­side The Crypt…

Left: As ever when a Lu­cas Mag­dyno is used, slim fin­gers are handy when it’s points ad­just­ment time

Be­low: No lever­age prob­lems with this rear brake! As ever, the back end is sim­plic­ity it­self

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