Section History - Part Eleven

Coventry Section History Part XI.  All the Main Events.

An alternative title for this chapter might have been “have Vincent, will travel”. Individual members of the section, either individually or in small groups have always been off doing their own bit of Vincenteering, whether it be Continental rallies, the Winter Pennine or to Montlhery to celebrate the Vincent record attempt. At this time though the Section seemed to reach the peak of its collective activity with at least one major event per year, marked in summer 1998 by another Scottish adventure.
Our destination this time was the Lunga estate near Ardfern on the west coast where we stayed in some of the cottages on the estate. For the second time we’d rejected the idea of a full touring holiday with all the hassle of being all present and correct, boots blacked, straight after breakfast each morning for an early start on the next leg. We preferred the more leisurely approach of having a central base for the week. We still got in some good rides but without the hassle of having to get back by a certain time. There were five Vincents, four Rapides, a Meteor, and two bicycles, Don and Marion were intent on recapturing their cycling youth and had brought their bicycles with them. Finally there was a Thundercat and a Honda 400 VFR as the still youthful Ian and Kathy rode up on their modern machines. One of the highlights of the week was being invited to dine in the castle on the last night by the laird who treated us to a traditional Scottish meal complete with piper to pipe the courses in.
The week before the single minded members of the Section had gone down to Epping for the Annual Rally. Not only was it being held out of season, June 20/21, but it was styled the Annual 500 Rally and featured the singles with the aim of getting as many there as possible. Following the lead of the Coventry Section when we organised the second Arbury Hall Rally in 1986 rallies were now organised by whichever local section put in a successful bid. This time it was the North London Section. They had gone to a lot of trouble to make it a success, inspired by their organiser Ian Lang and their hard work certainly paid off. Ninety five Comets, Meteors, Flashes et al lined up parade ground fashion on the Sunday morning including at least three from Coventry.

Coffee stop en route to Wales.  Nick Franklin, Mike Knight and Dave Davies discuss the route.

By the time the AGM came round in October we had managed to fit in another short break, to Wales this time. It was so popular that two small hotels in the hinterland somewhere near Devils Bridge were required to accommodate the twenty of us who went on a variety of bikes including seven Vincents. We went on a circuitous route via the Elan reservoir and came back on an even more devilish route with stacks of hairpins.
In his Organiser’s report to the AGM Ian commented favourably on the weekend and thanked John and Judith Lycett for organising it. It had gone down so well that it has remained a constant on the programme ever since. Amongst the new members welcomed that year was Chuck Jackson, a regular attendee now he had got a Comet to keep his Fox company, Nick and Sue Franklin, Doug Squires and Nic Houslip, also Bob and Valerie Smart were welcomed back from South Africa. It was around this time that Achim Espitte joined us, a BMW engineer posted to Longbridge with a remarkable grasp of the Black Country idiom, he was our official translator when Chuck was in full flood. Attendance at the Reading Rooms was strong and a full social programme had been enjoyed including two winter walks and a summer one. One of the main business topics of the evening was the preparations for the 1999 International Rally. Ken Broomfield had agreed that Charity Farm would be the freight terminal for overseas machines and we’d agreed to form the welcoming committee.
The year was rounded off with the Classic Bike Show at Stoneleigh. We always liked to have some sort of theme at the show, whether it was an eye catcher like the Waterman Pub or the sectioned engines or to tell a story about the marque but the public only seemed interesting in the twins so this year we gave them what they wanted, nothing but twins. Mind you even then we couldn’t resist a bit of a theme giving them the full alphabet. Tony and Pat Summers were invited to come back from Wales for the weekend and bring their A Rapide with them and with Don Alexander’s D and a selection of Rapides and Shadows we had full house. The judges thought so too, Don’s got the best post war, Tony runner up in the pre-war class and the stand itself was also the runner up club stand.
The Main Event for 1999 was of course the International Rally. Before that some of us decided to slip in a week in Northumberland. We discovered it was almost as good as Scotland for riding and a bit nearer. It was the usual suspects with five Vincents, the Chants, the Faggs, the Lycetts, the Spences and the Bassett, two bicycles, the Alexanders and a Pan European, the Parrs. As was becoming the norm for these holidays most of the bikes had been trailered up which in a complicated sort of way explained why Geoff was not on his Rapide. It involved a trailer breakdown to which the easiest solution was to abandon Plan A, do a double shuffle and get the Pan out.
The International Rally, fittingly for something centred on the Isle of Man consisted of three legs. The first coincided with practice week for the Manx GP, the second week was the Scottish stage and centred on Stirling University and the final week was the Cambridge/ Stevenage stage. For us though, as for many of the overseas entrants, the Rally started at Charity Farm. For those not in the know the main crop of the farm seems to be aeroplanes and all sorts of other mechanical devices. Ken’s operations room is a caravan set up along side his grass airstrip which became our HQ and we seemed to spend quite a bit of time out there in the three weeks preceding the rally unpacking crates and generally problem solving. The last three crates arrived on the day before we were due to sail from Heysham. One of them was Steve Hammell’s. When he’d started his newly rebuilt bike immediately prior to packing it he suspected the noises he heard were the valves kissing the pistons. So he shipped it anyway and when he got here he set to and lifted the heads and with a bit of help from Ken in the way of a rotary files and the like and a lantern he had it rebuilt in time to catch the boat.

Charity Farm. Steve Hammell’s bike about to receive some tlc.

I’m told the trip over was a fantastic experience. The club had chartered the Lady of Mann for our sole use so its cargo deck contained about 200 Vincents and nothing else. There should have been some more but trailers were too big for the ramp down to bike deck and we were trailering. Ian and I were being greedy and taking two bikes apiece. Ian was riding up on his Shadow along with Don on his Python and Kathy on her Honda, I was taking the TT Rep, my HRD and my Shadow on Don’s trailer. It created certain problems and a bit of tension at the other end because all the signing on and briefing had been done en voyage on the Lady of Mann, also we were acting as baggage car for the others, but we eventually found the others and our little difficulty was soon forgotten.
Twenty five section members had taken 20 Vincents to the island; we were the strongest section there. We filled one hotel; I think a couple of late entrants went elsewhere. The headquarters for the week was the Villa Marina where the circular flower bed had been specially planted in a floral version of the club badge and stabling for the bikes was the glass fronted veranda along the sea front. It was fabulous that week, wherever you went on the Island you never seemed to be out of sight of another Vincent. We didn’t bother about security. There was only one way on and off the Island so vehicle theft was unheard of and most of us didn’t bother to stable the bikes at the Villa. It was marvellous to open the curtains in the morning and look down on a street full of Vincents.
The purpose of taking the HRD was to do the closed lap on Thursday after practice. To qualify you had to do a tour of the Island getting your cards stamped at various hostelries en route, which we did on Monday, then on Tuesday it was the Ramsey Sprint where all the riders for the lap would have their bikes scrutineered. There was a keen sea breeze which was making life interesting for the fast boys. Brian Chapman was certainly having problems but it was Neville Higgins on the taller Jindivik who looked most spectacular as he tacked into the wind. Amongst our contingent it was Ian who created the most interest On the A he put up fastest time in the pre war competition class on his first run and then there was a load bang and the head was no longer firmly attached to the barrel. He compensated by getting as many runs in as he could on the Shadow and at the prize giving on Friday was given a special award for the maximum score, seventeen runs.

Lining up for another run at the Ramsey sprint. Note Ian looking for the cause of the big bang.

Luckily Wednesday was a free day because it was a pretty wet sort of day and it can rain in the west. The sun shone on our parade on Thursday though. We were the first club ever to be allowed to do a full lap under closed roads, except that they thought Vincent brakes were not up to stopping at the bottom of Bray Hill so the start was from Quarterbridge. 216 Vincents thundering round the circuit in line astern was a magnificent sight. I could only watch, I’d so enjoyed myself riding over the mountain back from Ramsey that the bike was covered in melted thixotropic gearbox grease. Equally splendid was the sight of them lined up in the pit area at the grandstand. It had been a splendid day all round. It had started in the morning when we’d ridden over to Peel for the Concours, which was held on the quay, I don’t think there was room for another Vincent along the whole length and then afterwards there was the rally dinner and presentation of awards in Villa Marina ballroom, where normally the TT winners get their trophies. All too soon it was time to go home. For most of us the International Rally was almost over. One of the days out on the third, Cambridge, leg was to Stoke Bruerne which was conveniently on our doorstep so 15 of us caught up with them there, a few of us went down to Stevenage and some of us went to the farewell banquet at Girton College Cambridge.
A memorable time, some of us still have a physical reminder on our bikes. A lot of the Americans had Harley prop stands and we were most impressed with the way they flung their bikes on the stands without checking if the ground was level. Chris Chant did his own Harley crib and Nick Franklin came up with the other version which goes on the nearside pillion footrest plate.

A few of the Vincents in the pits at the end of the roads closed lap.

It seemed that we could not get enough miles in because the following weekend was the Welsh one with a route which took us the pretty way, i.e sheep tracks and hairpin bends, to Betws Y Coed where we stayed at the Gwesty Bryn Parc or Park Hill Hotel if you prefer it in English. It was kept by a charming Dutch couple who did their best to introduce us to Dutch delicacies and customs. The return journey was through charming Welsh rain.
Possibly that same weekend Ken Broomfield made the local news when his Tiger Moth fell out of the sky as he was trying to land. A loose seat belt in the front cockpit had got tangled up with the controls and the Air Ambulance did a fine job getting him to hospital in time. The previous January it was reported that so far we’d donated £3,500 to CIN, but the next charity night we switched allegiance and had a collection for Air Ambulance, something we still do. Also around this time ex Coventry Section member Barry Howell, whose globe trotting adventures were dealt with in Part 5, advertised his far travelled Vincent for sale in MPH so Doug Squires who was looking for a twin nipped over to Vancouver and repatriated it.
The AGM was pretty tame affair; the only item of note was Ken Edwards winning the Clubman’s Shield for using every possible excuse to do a few more miles on his Comet during the International Rally. The season was rounded off as usual by the Stoneleigh Show, this time a tribute to Phil Heath who had died during the year. David Plant lent us Phil’s 1925 HRD and with the help of Phil’s widow Annette we were able to display a number of items showing Phil’s connection with the marque over the years, including a blow up of him aboard Gunga Din that glorious weekend in 1947 when he and Charles Markham used it as a press hack. It was in the subsequent write up in Motor Cycling that Charles christened it Gunga Din.
January 2000 is remembered not for anything to do with the numerically challenged belief that it was the start of a new millennium, 2001 should have been it, but for the fact that the Reading Rooms committee had won a millennium grant to refurbish and extend the place and the builders were already seriously knocking it about. You can still see the join but at the time it was all scaffolding and tarpaulin walls, in fact there were times when we had to rely on member’s hospitality in their own homes to get in out of the cold. Finally in March all the facilities were working again and we moved back in to the vastly improved hall. All good things have to be paid for, the grant is only a loan and to help the committee meet their commitments we voluntarily increased our rent. Also it was around this time we had sadly lost one of our members, Roy Bourne, in whose memory we hold the Roy Bourne Run each year. No only that but partly out of self interest to save carting a screen to the meeting every time we had a speaker we donated a permanent screen to the new hall in his name. A modest plaque on the wall by the stage honours his memory.
In 2000 there was no escaping the Main Event, we were organising it. A recurring topic for debate in club is what form the Annual Rally should take. It had been raging quite strongly over the previous winter and Ian had put in a bid for the privilege of showing them how it should be done. Having won it we now had to come up with the goods. The venue we chose was Moreton Morrell Agricultural College. It was good place for a rally, plenty of space to camp, and use of the student facilities whilst they were on vacation, including of course their rooms, the “brick tents” to enable the non campers to stay on site. As we were trying to make this a special event we decided to feature specials, with a special concours prize for the best special and Barry Bassett wrote special bits for MPH to make sure people knew it was on. When they arrived we sold them a rally pack which contained a few goodies and a printed programme giving local information as well as what was on. Dave Davies and Chris Chant ran the bring and buy stall, still in those days quite a treasure trove of Vincent bits, cooked breakfasts were available in the café at student prices which were very popular and there was a barbecue and a band on Saturday night. In fact the whole thing was such a success that we were asked to do it again in 2002, the only down side of the event had been that surprisingly for agricultural types the student’s beer palate was poor and it ran out too soon anyway.

2000 Annual rally, Moreton Morrell. Ann Collet on gate duty.

At the start of the year not only were we able to announce a full and varied programme for the year but also the innovation that anyone who hadn’t picked up a copy at Berkswell would get their’s in the post. Much merriment was caused in ensuing months when the inevitable changes were announced on a Friday night. One item possibly not on the official programme was another vintage End to End trip which some of us made. It may have been John Lycett’s idea, to try out his recently completed BSA three wheeler, or Geoff Parr with his recently completed long stroke Sunbeam. Barry was keen to ride the Cotton again and Ian, after driving back-up the last time, wanted to do it on their vee twin Ajay. Along for the ride on our Vincents were Chris and Barbara Fagg, Tony Roberts and me, Kathy on her Honda and Jo Parr and Jan Spence driving back up in the Parrmobile and trailer. Also as James, who was born the following December will tell you, his Mum was also carrying a passenger on the Honda.
It was a pretty incident free trip apart from the odd dose of Scotch mist and midge attack, if you discount Geoff’s broken valve spring and my puncture, picked up on Rannoch Moor, a darn great bit of shrapnel stuck in the tyre. Geoff’s had happened the day before but going through Crianlarich he’d spotted someone working on an old Land Rover who just happened have a spare spring that could be bodged to fit. An evening’s work before dinner and we were both on the road again. On the way back from John O’Groats we stopped at the Caledonian Hotel in Fort Augustus, a hostelry which over the years was to become one of our favourite posting places.

Chris Fagg, Ian Alexander and Tony Roberts advising Geoff Parr on replacing a broken valve spring.

In the autumn we had another well supported, nearly-in-Wales, Welsh weekend in the Forest of Dean. At the AGM Ian in his review of the year again thanked John and Judith Lycett for organising it. It was at this AGM that Geoff Parr stepped down as Secretary after 11 years in office and his place was taken by John Benson. John had recently put his head above the parapet by considering becoming Company Secretary for the VOC Spares Company. It’s fitting to talk about a little bit of Club history at this point. Almost from the first when the Club set up the Company in 1975 that job had been done by an American member living in the UK, Fred Rossiter. When he was recalled to the States in 1992, the then Chairman, Bryan Phillips, persuaded the then Sports Secretary, Marion Alexander, who was about to give up that job, to take it on. 1992 also saw the death of our President, Phil Irving. When the Club subsequently invited Bryan to become its new President he immediately gave up his role as Club Chairman and invited Don Alexander to become Marion’s new boss as Company Chairman.
Move on ten years and Marion had obviously become a little bored with recording the infinite details of Vincent nuts and bolts and Don was looking for a replacement. In the end John didn’t do it but coincidentally I’d just finished a fairly long stint as the Club Treasurer and was at a bit of loose end so it seemed like a good idea to keep the minutes for Don, to sort of keep my hand in. As this is neither a club nor a company history let us just say we hit some troubled waters quite soon over what others thought we should be doing, Don resigned, I was too bloody minded to do likewise and ended up as Chairman but at least the club had the grace to give Don a Thanks Award for all the good work he had done during his time at the helm.
2001 was a fairly quiet year by our standards and in fact it would be stretching things a bit far to find a main event. In fact it was the year when a vast number of events of all sizes were cancelled through the foot and mouth epidemic. Unlike the farmers we could at least try to not let it affect us too much. The ramble was rerouted to keep to the Queens Higway , the season opener, the Brighton Run duly took place in the autumn and Chris Chant having persuaded the Faggs, Achim and us to re enact the ’99 International on the IoM we went anyway despite the Manx being cancelled. Quite a few like minded riders had decided likewise and it was very pleasant week. What none of us appreciated was the boarding procedure at Liverpool. Riding through a trough of disinfectant was one thing; being sprayed with it was another.
There were however a number of firsts for this, the first true year of the new millennium. In no particular order Martin Fox became the Section scribe, The Reading Rooms invited us to nominate a member for their committee, Geoff Parr becoming our first representative, I organised an Egg Race, some of us went to the first Bomber Meet, Chris Chant joined the committee and also held his first ‘at home’ and possibly another first for a show at Stoneleigh was when Dave Davies rode in on his Rapide on Saturday morning and we copied the Vincent advert which shows one being stripped down and the front being wheeled away and then reversed the procedure and put it back together on Sunday evening so he could ride home again.

Chris Chant and Paul Ennis help Dave Davies screw his twin back together for the ride home from the Stoneleigh show.

In 2002 as far as the Coventry section was concerned the main event was the holding of the Annual Rally at Moreton Morrell again. Life could have been a bit difficult. Ian Lang had taken over that year as Social Secretary. As the North London Section Organiser he had masterminded the ’98 Epping Rally He had strong ideas about how a rally should be organised and was confronted by a team who already done a rally to show people how it should be done and were about to repeat the exercise. In the event after a brief head to head he couldn’t have been more helpful and gave us a lot of practical support. Everything went well, including the weather. We made sure that this time we had plenty of the right sort of beer, the theme was ‘sidecars’ and if you included the racers on show in the marquee we had 28 eight of them, Bob Culver brought a couple of Cooper Vincents, we invited to Hesketh Owners to join us and generally a good time was had by all.
Earlier on in the year we had suffered a beer shortage, well a shortage of everything, when the Winter Walkers turned up for a pre-booked meal to find not only was there no beer but no landlady, she’d done a midnight runner. It does seem to be a recurring problem for us. There was the time already recounted when mine host at the Saxon Mill did a runner, after we’d eaten fortunately, and left us well in pocket; there was the pub that was open on the way down to Wales and shut on the way back and another winter walk also left us hungry and thirsty. That calamity was reported in the April 2000 MPH when another keen rambler is noted as joining us, David Style. He eventually got the Comet he was looking for.
It would seem that I was a little premature in the last chapter in killing of our annual jaunt to Shelsley. In fact we were still having them and this year we rounded off the day with a barbecue at Keith Lucas’, who lives just round the corner in Eastham. However we’d been denied our run up the hill because of insurance problems and no more runs to Shelsley are mentioned in the records. Our geography still seems a bit faulty, the Welsh weekend was at Ludlow but at least they’re still going. Not so the Stoneleigh show. We’d enjoyed them and the organisers had got a proper sense of priorities regarding the welfare of the exhibitors. However the rent for the hall had gone up and it was no longer viable in its current format, pity because they were a nice way to round off the year. However we were to find an alternative "rounding off" in 2003, a fish and chip supper.  We held it to celebrate the actual date of the 50th birthday of the Section.  It was a low key event, just one of a number of events scattered throughout the year so it would seem more fitting to record these events in the next chapter.

Shelsley Walsh Don Alexander, Kathy Alexander, Dave Davies and Jan Spence discuss the Napier Bentley’s appetite for rubber with its owner, ex Coventry Section member Chris Williams.

George Spence.  April 2013.