Section History - Part Five

Coventry Section Part V - The Restless Generation

Nineteen Sixty Five was barely two weeks old when the Coventry Section held a Special General Meeting to convene an immediate AGM.   They needed one to find a new Section Organiser because Tony Cawley had finally got his arrangements sorted out to emigrate to Australia.   Barrie Howell became the Organiser, Dave Morrall continued as Treasurer Barrie’s place as Secretary was taken by Chris Reeve who was new to the Committee.  Bernard Booth stayed on the committee and was joined by Martin Davenport as the other new member of the committee.  All five would feature prominently in the next few years, Bernard Booth was already building a small wheeled Vincent outfit, Martin would shortly start building his first kneeler and David contented himself in getting the maximum performance from his Velocette but when the trio formed Mellor Motors he would be using Tony Cawley’s Comet to which he fitted a Steib for family transport to get to and fro to Mellor Motors.   After resigning from the committee to go round the world with three others in a Land Rover Chris would return when the venture failed in time to take over as Organiser when Barrie went to Canada for the first time.

Committee Men at play.  Martin Davenport takes our treasurer David Morrall for a ride in a National race.

Barrie Howell’s departure for Canada was somewhat precipitate and one of the unexpected consequences affected Tony Cawley’s Comet which was only on loan to David.   In those day’s parts were shuffled around between bikes quite glibly.   The Comet’s UFM had been swapped when the head lugs bolts became loose and ended up with Barrie.   The spares he’d left behind were sold off after he’d gone and it finished up on somebody else’s bike.   When Tony Cawley did came back for a visit he was hoping to take his Comet with him but couldn’t, because it no longer had matching numbers.   I have now tracked the UFM down, it is still “temporarily” on the same bike but the owner had no idea that it came from Tony’s Comet.

Some idea of the current membership is given in Barrie Howell’s first Section Survey.   Apparently we had a “remarkable variety of bikes from a 1913 Baby Triumph to two new BMW’s”.    He goes on; “we also own, between us, at least 14 Shadows, 6 Rapides, 8 Comets, 2 Lightnings, 1 Supercharged twin, 2 HRD JAP’s and a Firefly.”  The supercharged twin was Neville Higgins’ Jindivik and just to put the record straight one of the Comets was a Meteor, which is still in the section.   Also still present and correct are at least one Rapide and both HRD JAP’s.   Mention of the two BMW’s reminds of the emerging trend for some owners to keep their Vincents whilst going modern; missing from the list are the ubiquitous BSA Bantams which many owners seemed to favour as a second machine.   Ian James even managed not only to qualify but complete the requisite number of laps in the TT on one.

One of the pleasures on the first Friday night in June was standing outside the Phoenix and watching the bikes on their way to the Island, not without the odd twinge of regret that we weren’t going too.   The M1 stopped at Crick in those days so the most direct route was into Birmingham and up the A41 Chester road to the Mersey tunnel.   Section life still centred around sprinting and club events such as Cadwell.   As already mentioned the Annual Rally in 1965 was at the Belfrey followed by a sprint the next day at Church Lawford.   Among the competitors was Bernard Booth who’d had his 16” wheeler on the road since May.   There were 170 competitors and due to slick organisation on Allan Nash’s part everyone got four runs.   Obviously there were a lot of club members but also Allan had invited some of the leading riders along, Ian Ashwell on Satan (his Vincent special) being the fastest on the day.   In the standard sidecar class Ron Vane was fastest on EBX, Malcolm Attrill was second on the Fast Lady and Brian Chapman third.   Behind Brian in fourth place and only  0.03 seconds adrift was Bernard Booth.   As the word standard was pretty loosely interpreted a pretty good effort.   As a solo in the hands of its previous owner George Breach the highly tuned EBX had been the bike to beat, Ron Vane was made an Honorary Member for his efforts at record breaking with The Thing, the Fast Lady was no idle boast and we all know about Brian’s achievements when he took up drag racing with Mighty Mouse, his supercharged Comet.

Its Bernard Booth’s turn to take Dave Morrall for a ride on his newly built 16” wheeled road outfit at the 1965 Church Lawford Sprint.

Fritz Egli came second in Standard class with his somewhat lightened Grey Shadow with a time of 13.38 seconds behind Ray Elger who managed 13.30 seconds, Fritz’ performance won him the Novices Trophy.   His fiancée, Marget Reiser, came sixth in the 500 class on her Comet.   Previously in this tale I made the error of marrying her off too soon.   It was something our Chairman had told us at the dinner but as he said apologetically in the next MPH, “she will be by the time you read this”, so no harm done.

The first time we saw Fritz Egli was at the Church Lawford Sprint where his modified Shadow created a lot of interest.  Next to it is the Comet of his future wife Margret.

In 1966 the VOC sprint was at Upper Poddington in September and Barrie Howell was having a little moan in his Survey about having to pay five bob (25p) to get in but for the riders its was a welcome move as Church Lawford was a trifle bumpy.   Another welcome change was the Annual Rally.   It was a weekend camping rally held in July and was the first of many fondly remembered Stanford Hall rallies.   It had already hosted a FNOMMC gathering the year before.   The VOC was one of the leading clubs in setting up that organisation, the Federation of National and One Make Motorcyle Clubs,  now known as the BMF.   Stanford Hall was also already known to some of us because of Founders Day.   I don’t think it merited capital letters in those days.   It was just a day in spring when Titch Allen got the bikes out of the museum and gave some of them an airing and we took our latest finds and tried them out around the park and swapped rides, all very informal.    The Annual Rally was a pretty informal affair too.   Although the records show that our President, Bryan Phillips was Social Secretary for the first one they are forever associated with his successor Dickie Cox and the one memory which encapsulates Dickie is of him charging the through the trees followed by a troop of children all bringing the biggest bits of fallen timber they could find for the campfire.   It was self catering in those days, bring your own sausages and spuds.

Picnic time at the Annual Rally. GAY 980 was a Comet until George Spence put a Shadow engine in it. Sold to a dealer it resurfaced in Exchange and Mart and Ken Atkin got it and brought it up to full Shadow spec.  Ian Worthington (seated) then turned it into a Concours contender.  Dad is in the foreground, Mum on the rug in the background.

Although it was on our doorstep Coventry Section were not formally involved in running the rallies.   In fact it was informality that was the keynote.   If you stood in the wrong place for long enough you might get a job, Dickie Cox made sure someone brought the rope for the inter-section tug of war and that one of the London sections was borrowing the Scouts marquee.   There was the concourse on the Sunday of course but there was no concourse run, that was a later invention but at this stage there were no trailer queens so no need for a run to prove that all that glitters also went.   On second thoughts I think someone local was detailed off to organise a supply of bread and milk for the campers and to contact Flowers, the Stratford on Avon brewers to bring their trailer.  

This 1971 photo of the children having their go at the tug of war epitomises the Stanford Annual Rallies.  (Sarah Spence is fourth from left.)  Note the borrowed  Scout tent in the background.

On the parochial front by the end of ‘66 Barrie Howell was well on his way to Canada and our new Organiser was Chris Reeve, now well settled in after his wanderings the previous year.   We were to see Barrie again in  the early seventies when he came back to buy a White Shadow/Jet 80 outfit to ride to Australia, reckoning that he’d find more sunshine in down under than he was seeing in Canada.   The start of the trip is recounted in MPH 278 for March 1972.   It tells of how he picked the outfit up in Spring ‘71, toured England and Scotland and then topped it off with a European tour down through France to Spain and coming the long way back with a diversion into Italy.   He was back in England by August to have the bike checked over before the big trip: this instalment finishes with them at Istanbul.   Barrie’s private life was extremely tangled, up to this point he had been accompanied by a partner.   There is no mention of her for the remainder of the trip which is covered in MPH’s 293 and 294 and which opens with an apology for the fifteen month gap in the story citing personal problems as the reason.   These had not caused many delays to the trip, just the telling of it.   His route so far had been pretty straightforward, France, Italy, ferry over to Greece then Turkey.   It now got complicated by the roads or lack of them.    At one stage it took him 5 days to do 187 miles as he rode through Persia to Afghanistan.   His planned route took him down through Pakistan to India where he’d booked his passage to Australia.   Except that on reaching the border Indian Customs thought otherwise and the boat sailed without him.   It was the usual tale of cock ups and bureaucracy and hostility between two neighbouring countries.   Finally he managed to consign the outfit to Australia and caught a plane Eventually the Vincent caught up with him in Australia by August 1972.   By the time he wrote the story he’d moved on again to New Zealand and concluded his story by saying he’d like to do the trip again, solo, to the Annual Rally.

Possibly the only post war occasion when 3 Wolverhampton HRD’s  competed in the same event, they are lined up in the paddock for a photo with 3 Series A’s at the Morgan TWC’s Packington Sprint 1968.

This is of course what he did.   Shadow Lake 77 was the forerunner of the International Rallies.    It was in Canada, Shadow Lake being a holiday complex near Toronto and it was drawing Vincent owners from all quarters of the globe.   What better rally to choose?  The full story covers six issues of MPH from 346 to 352.   After a bit of tlc for the bike which had now done 60,000 since its initial rebuild it was shipped to Panama for a ride up through Central America through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico to the States and finally into Canada, just in time for the Rally where with another 20,007 miles on the clock he got the farthest travelled award.   That the trip took six instalments of MPH to tell speaks for itself.   Some of it self inflicted like nipping back over the border into the States when no one was looking and then having a struggle to get back into Canada but being thrown into a Guatemalan jail and sharing a cell with 117 others is truly frightening especially when you don’t speak Spanish and can’t find out why you’re there.   A few years ago Barrie advertised his bike for sale in MPH just as Doug Squires was looking for a twin and it is now back in the Coventry section, so that’s another one of those listed in Barrie’s first survey accounted for.

The other connection with the Section is that it was found, fettled and supplied to Barrie by Mellor Motors.   Mellor Motors were Bernard Booth, David Morrall and Martin Davenport, the three section members who had set themselves up in a part time business doing car repairs and selling car spares sometime in 1968.   According to David, “Mellor Motors was first registered by Bernard and I on 5th July 1968 at my then home address of 12 Mellor Rd, Hillmorton - we were trying to think of a name and it was my wife Dorothy who said “why not Mellor Motors” and that was the name we used”.   By the end of the year they had taken over the workshop at the rear of Doug Beasley’s garage, their address was r/o 185 Allesley Old Road.   Initially both Bernard and Martin worked for the GPO on the engineering side and left about the same time when Bernard started working full time in the business.   Martin went to work for a slot machine firm but then also joined the business full time.   They became official Vincent parts stockists in January ‘69 and eventually moved to a shop on the corner of Eagle St and Stoney Stanton Rd where they became motorcycle dealers as main agents for Suzuki and distributors for MZ as well as Vincent specialists.   They kept the other premises on as a machine shop where David carried out a number of specialised repairs such as bushing rocker shaft tunnels and inserting brass threads into exhaust ports but still working on a part time basis.

By now Ross Motors at Hinckley had closed the Vincent side of their business and without Mellor’s we would have found it much harder to have kept our Vincents on the road.   Mellor Motors also became well known because of their sidecar racing.   Martin had started racing in 1967 with an outfit which he’d had built by Peter Russell.   Peter was the proprietor of Dolphin Motors from Barwell, Leicester a leading sidecar racer with his Vincent outfit and supplier of Vincent parts including Dolphin ignition sets.    For the first seven years Bernard was his passenger except for the period spent recovering from a breaking his pelvis at which point David took over the role of keeping the sidecar wheel mainly on the ground.   Martin had an extremely successful career in National events assisted in no small measure by his ability not only as a rider but also in extracting the full potential of the engine at the same time improving its reliability.   It is perhaps worth noting that when he did give up racing this outfit, well after the period under review, it was bought by Dave Mallows who used his outfit to great effect in Classic racing.  

David  Morrall again passengering for Martin Davenport at Snetterton- First place and fastest lap.

In 1968 the Morgan Three Wheeler Club held a twisty sprint at Packington.   Possibly the first time that three Wolverhampton HRD’s had competed in the same event for at least thirty years, Phil Heath, Don Alexander and I.   It was the last time I rode it in road legal race trim.   I’d had a major off after the finish line The engine was singing nicely in top and I kept my head down for too long and got the front wheel in a deep rut in the  long grass trying to ride out the results of a bit of panic braking locking the back wheel.   After I stripped it down to get the forks straightened and the frame checked I decided to rebuild to catalogue spec.   There is a connection with sidecar racing because the last appearance of the HRD as a racer coincided with a certain Chris Chant’s first competitive appearance on his first outfit, the Norvin.

As we come to the end of the sixties other new faces were appearing.   In 1965 Chris Worland had come to Coventry to work at the Warwick University when it opened that year.   We didn’t see much of him or his Vincent at first because he was scuttling off back to Cambridge most weekends to see Pam but by 1969 they were well settled in Coventry and Chris makes his first appearance in September that year on the crime sheet as Treasurer.   Someone who’d already done most other jobs making a brief appearance as Organiser was Bernard Booth.   He stepped in whilst Chris Reeve took a breather.   When Chris R did finally call it a day a few years later it was Chris W who took up the reins.   We’d said our second good bye to the Phoenix and since 1967 we’d been meeting at the Sky Blue and were now only one short step and a longer stride away from Berkswell.   It is said in other circles that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t there but those of us who were in section at the time do remember it.   There was a lot going on, it was good time to be a Vincent owner.   There never has been a bad time to be a Vincent owner and although the next decade was to bring its problems, as Chris Reeve said at his last AGM, other sections might have their troubles but we keep on going.    

George Spence, June 2012