Section History - Part Seven

Coventry Section Part VII - Have Vincent Will Travel.

In 1955 when Phillip Vincent announced at the Club’s annual Dinner that Vincent were to stop making motor cycles the Club Chairman, Bill Hindes, responded by saying that it made Vincents vintage now. As we moved into the Eighties that became an established fact. Although there had long been an affinity between the Vintage club and Vincent owners, many of us also having vintage bikes, the Vintage club had by now decided that owners of anything over 25 years old was eligible. Therefore in the eyes of the VMCC in 1980 even the last Series D to leave the factory was vintage and eligible to run in the Coventry Brighton run. A sign of the times was that by the middle of the decade there was a trophy for the best Vincent, won in 1989 by Chris and Barbara Fagg.

The Brighton Run was first held in 1962, in the early days the start had been from the Sportsman’s Arms on the A45 at Allesley, now the Quality Hotel and no longer directly accessible from the A45. Possibly for that reason by the beginning of the Eighties the start was from the Triumph factory at Meriden which was further along the road towards Birmingham. Even so the first rider away, normally on the oldest machine, was still sent on his way by the Lord Mayor of Coventry with greetings to the Mayor of Brighton. This venue survived closure of the Meriden plant and its reopening as a co-operative but when that too failed a new home was required and in 1984 it moved to the National Motorcycle Museum at Solihull. Protocol was duly observed by the Lord Mayor of Coventry and the Mayor of Solihull sharing the honours. There was however a feeling that it was wrong to start from anywhere other than Coventry and solely through the efforts of Don Alexander from 1985 on it became a Warwickshire VMCC event starting from the Transport Museum in the centre of Coventry.

Coventry Brighton Run 1982 Chris Chandler looks on as daughter Nicola prepares to leave the Triumph works at the start of the run, on Don Alexander’s Fox.

Another geographic change at this time of course was that the Coventry Section had moved to the very outskirts of Coventry. From August 1979 we’d been meeting at the Barkers Butts Rugby Club at Eastern Green, barely a stone’s throw from the Triumph factory at Meriden and with Warwickshire literally the other side of the boundary hedge. The idea of the move came from one of our committee members, Mick Pegg, who was also a Barkers Butts member. It was a pretty smart move. At the invitation of their committee fifteen of us joined as non-playing members, at £2 a head out of club funds. A pretty cheap way to rent a room for a year. There being that number of us meant that there was always someone available on a Friday night to sign in other VOC members and any others who were non-paying, non-playing members. It worked pretty well, there were never that many in the bar and we always managed to get one end to ourselves. Also when we had a speaker or a film show it was no problem, we just rearranged the benches in the home changing room.

The other attraction was that being out in the sticks security was not a problem and there was no one around likely to mess with the bikes. Although only five members other than the committee turned up for the AGM in July all those present agreed that it had been a good move and attendances were generally an improvement. It was also suggested that in future no advance notice be given of the AGM. There is no doubt that whilst the Section gained enormously from the later move to the Reading Rooms the decade during which we enjoyed a stable base at Barkers Butts also did much to build the Section’s strength.

At that same AGM in 1980 when it came to election of officers it was the Organiser’s turn to stand for the next two years. Paul Ennis was quite happy to do another stint but would then stand aside. At least that’s what he said but in fact the first to escape was Bob Smart, the longest standing committee member, who took the drastic step of emigrating to South Africa. And at the 1981 AGM young Ian Alexander was invited to join the committee in his place. Little did he know what he was letting himself in for. In ’82 it was steady as you go, Paul presumably having forgotten he was standing down but in ’83 Tony Roberts decided that seven years of collecting the subs was enough and young Ian Alexander became Treasurer. That put him nicely in line for the 1984 AGM when Paul did get his wish and Ian became organiser for the next twenty five years.

As we go through the eighties we will find a lot of familiar faces appearing for the first time. Those of us who’d gone to the Twisty Sprint at Curborough during the International Rally in 1979 had seen this chopperised Rapide in the car park. Those of us who had actually stopped and looked at it had noted that except for the forks it was a pretty standard unmutilated bike with not a lot wrong with it. So when it came on the market and as it was a fairly local bike we suggested to aspiring Vincent Owner Loz Powers that he go and have a look at it. A very nice job he made of turning it back into an honest bike and he was on the road by the middle of 1980. Beating him on to the road by a few months was Ian Alexander with his Shadow. Ian of course was no new face having been a member since his first birthday but his newly built V reg Shadow was.

It was not Ian’s first shot at building a Vincent for himself, with a little help from his dad. The first involved a rolling Norvin chassis and a chopped engine, target date for completion his sixteenth birthday. However when Don managed to get a timing side crankcase half to go with the drive side half he’d already got and found that with a little skilful machining he could make a pair out of them Ian decided that he would rather have a Shadow. That is what they built and for the second time the Norvin chassis had become surplus to requirements. Its first incarnation was as the business part of Chris Chants racing outfit. When Chris Chant had replaced it with a proper Vincent outfit, The Old Girl, which he was campaigning to such good effect that he won the club’s Avon Trophy for 1980 it became less engine surplus to requirements. The citation for the trophy has changed over the years but it always goes to the best performance on a Vincent. There’s a good photo of Chris negotiating Charlie’s Bend on the front cover of MPH 382 with his passenger Bryan Sutton giving a cheery Churchillian wave to Ian Buckden, the photographer. Over the winter the sidecar was put on a slimming diet, the aim being to trim 70lbs off it. Obviously it had some effect because the following year Chris emerged as the 1981 VMCC Champion.

With two new bikes on the road and successes on the track the Vincents were certainly being used. The Coventry Section won the award for the furthest travelled at the Dutch Rally in May when our representatives were Tony Roberts, Alan Jennings and Bob Smart whilst later on in August the same trio plus Paul Ennis penetrated further into Europe for the German Rally. As had become the custom the stay at homes were also well catered for. Besides the staples like the Annual Rally and the Winter Pennine, our own Navigation Trial and local rallies like the New Forest, the Section organised a number of its own Sunday runs to places of interest.

1981 continued in the same vein. We were happy at our new home, even when the Rugby club doubled the membership fees for non playing members, it being minuted that the Section funds were well able to stand it. In the wider scheme of things the big news for 1981 was the chartering of Concorde by the Vincent Owners Club. It is a source of personal regret that I never went on that flight. I thought that even if I’d got a window seat there wouldn’t be much to see at 50,000 feet over the sea and no sensation of speed. In fact in the initial design there were no windows for that very reason but public pressure had them put in. What I had totally ignored was that the pilot was a Vincent Owner. Put a motorcyclist at the controls and even if he is BA’s senior Concorde pilot he will still be certainly out to show his mates just what his plane could do. That is why I regret it. The idea had started three years previously and was the joint work of John Bradshaw, our British Airways pilot and Jack Barker our Social Secretary with a major input from Bryan Phillips, who was then Chairman and Marie Webber, wife of our long serving editor who looked after the logistics. For many the day started as a coach trip from a rendezvous at Alan Lancaster’s pub, the Emperor of India, Farnham Royal. Alan was West London Section Organiser and I suspect that like many other bright ideas this one started in his pub on a Tuesday night.

By all accounts it took off from Heathrow like a jet fighter. Within ten minutes it was over the Bristol Channel climbing to 57,000ft and reaching Mach 2.03 over the Atlantic. It flew in a wide circle returning over the Bay of Biscay where it started its descent into Heathrow after a flight lasting seventy minutes from take off to touch down. The full story is given in MPH 393 with some illuminating stats like the fuel used, 21.5 tonnes (= 5,943gallons) and that it reached its take off speed of 242mph in 19seconds.

On the front cover of that MPH is a photo of the happy smiling passengers about to embark on that epic trip. Inside there is a photo of another happy smiling group at an event I did go to, the Riders Rally at Rousham House, Oxfordshire. It was almost exactly ten years since the first one had been held in the car park of Rootes Hall, Warwick University and although the surroundings had changed the format has not. In an earlier chapter I told the tale of how the Annual Rally had grown out of a simple gathering before the annual dinner into a full blown weekend event. At the 1970 AGM because of certain complaints expressed about its format it was agreed to try an addition to the calendar, just a simple afternoon noggin and natter meet. It turned out to be another winner and is now known as the Bill Hancock Rally in memory of a popular officer of the club who died in tragic circumstances and is still an annual event. I remember the first one at Warwick University because it was the first time I’d had the chance to try a D when Don turned up on his latest acquisition. My happy smiling face in the MPH photo of the 1981 event reminds me that it was the first club meet I’d been to on my present Shadow. Observant readers will now work out how long it had taken me to build it. It was the young family time and money equation, when you’ve got the time you haven’t got the money and vice versa and frequently not a lot of either commodity. Also in the meantime I’d totally stripped and rebuilt the HRD after my tumble at Packington, had Val Blower minister to the Meteor’s engine and tarted the rest of it up a bit and then got the poor thing to lug a Steib sidecar which I’d conserved.

And so to 1982 and a new departure for the Section. The Lancs and Cheshire Section had been supporting the Belle Vue Show in Manchester since its inception and in fact continued to do so right up to its rebirth as the Stafford Show. When some new promoters decided to organise a Classic Bike show at the Bingley Hall in Birmingham we thought it was time for our section to get in on the act and so sent off our entry. We put on a pretty good display for our first effort, the star attraction being Don Meredith’s Lightning. Don was an enthusiastic owner but we didn’t see much of him because he ran the Fish and Chip shop in Southam. It was a pity that so few people saw our stand. The organisation was pathetic, there had been zero publicity and no one turned up. However it whetted our appetite, greater things came from it, and we were just more careful in future and did our due diligence before entering a show.

We were on more familiar ground at Packington Golf Club that spring with the Godiva Banquet which we now branded as a Dinner Dance. It was a more formal affair than the earlier ones with their post meal fun and games. Possibly by now we were actually into the DJ era although at times we used in house-talent or brought our own record player. In those days as secretary it was my chore to invite the guest of honour. It was at one of the Packington Dinners that I’d been having quite a job persuading one of the more modest stars of the Vincent firmament to come. He was worried by having to respond to the toast but eventually he said he would come now that he’d got his speech sorted out. On the occasion he got up, said ”Thank you for inviting me, its been an excellent meal” and sat down, job done.

The Godiva seems to have floated around the calendar, any date between October and March seems to have fitted the bill, but always a winter event. Another movable feast was Les’ garden party. The date of the first one was of course fixed by it being a celebration of our 1000th meeting but the aim was always to try and find the driest month in the summer. Eight years on Les felt unable to host them any more so in 1982 Tony Roberts played host. Although the following year it was Mick Pegg’s turn to have it at his place the default venue has always seemed to revert to Hartshill.

Still on the social scene having a settled home again meant that we were able to put on more events on our home turf and it was around this time that the Christmas party started to become a regular on the calendar. Reading the alibi for the length of time it took to build my basket case Shadow and also the fact that I now had a sidecar reminds me that we had been a family club for some time and that besides fun and games for the members it was also party time for the children with Father Christmas putting in a welcome appearance. Film shows were also back on the agenda with suppliers like Castrol providing a full library of film for free hire. In May 1983 we all watched their film of the 1982 TT. A sign of how technology has moved on is that it is most likely still remembered by those there as the first time they had been round the Island via the lens of a camera fixed to a racing bike at racing speeds. They most likely also remember how the whole room leant from left to right and back again in perfect unison as bend followed bend.

In his Section Survey for June 83 Paul Ennis, forever the technological trend setter, remarks on another innovation which was to change the face and comfort of motorcycling forever, the Rukka suit. As Paul said “there are few things more pleasant than riding in heavy rain when you are warm, dry and comfortable – and nothing more miserable than getting soaked.” Although both Barbour and Belstaff provided garments that ticked the first two boxes comfort was a trifle questionable and the Rukka was the only one which ticked the fourth box, comfort off the bike. If you add a fifth, comfortable in most weathers, then it is easy to see just what an improvement the advent of the Rukka was. There have been improvements, notably in the area of protection but the Rukka started it.

In his next paragraph, with perhaps just a little bias, Paul is nominating Ian as the most improved rider at the VOC Cadwell meeting, citing his performance on the Alexander family Grey Flash where he got two thirds and a fourth after lowly starts in all races.On the matter of section surveys a trick question in a quiz would be when did Ian start writing section surveys himself? Not as you might think the following year when he took over from Paul but November the previous year. Having volunteered to re-start the Racing Section and being given the green light at the AGM that is when he wrote his first section survey as Racing Section organiser in November 82.

He didn’t confine his efforts to the race track, he won the Navigation Trial that year as well which meant of course that he organised the 1984 event. In those days, although mileage has always been the decisive element, they had a certain treasure hunt flavour with much use of cryptic clues. One of his worst Christmas cracker type puns was the one to which the correct answer was Spook Erections, a firm of scaffolders in Moreton in Marsh. I leave you to guess the nature of the question. Recent new member John Lycett was one of the few who got it right to emerge as the winner that year. Perhaps if you asked John why he’d joined the club he’d say because it seemed a sensible thing to do at the time. In the early days when we had a recruiting drive our catchment areas were the existing Vincent riders and people buying their first Vincent. Now that we were a firmly entrenched as part of the classic scene that was changing. Without being too conceited about it we were part of the reason for classic enthusiasts to buy a Vincent. They seemed to like the events on our calendar and the way we were using our machines. Another recruit that that springs to mind is BSA enthusiast Geoff Parr.

Somewhere in England 1983 Lunch stop in the 1983 Navigation Trial and the winner and Dave Davies try to work out where to go next.

In 1984 we tried to widen the calendar even more. The innovation of an Old Bike Night was poorly supported and sunk without trace. It seemed a good idea at the time because most of us had got interesting old bikes of one sort or another but it failed to catch on and was not tried again. At least not until the end of the century when it was revived as On Your Vincent Night as an antidote to all those of us turning up on modern bikes. The other new item on the calendar perhaps sprung out of a whinge in one of Paul’s surveys, about the lack of inter section meets. One Friday evening we rode over to Twycross to meet the East Midlands section at the Curzon Arms. This has become a fixture on the calendar ever since. It was in 1985 that another couple of seeds were planted which grew into pretty healthy plants.

In August of that year the Annual Rally was at Arbury Hall near Nuneaton. At least that was the address given in MPH but in fact it was at Astley, in the grounds of Astley Castle to be exact. As it was on the section’s patch Jack Barker asked us to help in the running of it. Just the usual chores like sticking up the signs, manning the gate and laying on bread and milk for Sunday morning. We also organised the run out to the Motor Cycle Museum on the Saturday afternoon and the Concours ride on Sunday morning, which was to Arbury Hall itself. Now Jack was a very popular Social Secretary and during his term of office we had many successful events. Unfortunately he had not seen the field in which the estate had put us, a field which in the vernacular of the Caravan Club would be described as “part sloping”. The rally goers did not see that as a problem, neither did they notice the various geographic and other problems which we were coping with. Which meant when, at the end of the rally after all the prizes had been given out Jack called for a show of hands and the vote was to come back again next year.

When we were formally asked in the autumn if we would help run the rally again we said yes, on one condition – that we organised it. The 1986 Annual Rally was held over the weekend of 6th September on a nice flat site in the grounds of Arbury Hall and within sight of the house. The sun shone all the time, we had a marquee in case it rained and in which we showed Tom and Jerry films in the evenings for kids big and small, there were static displays of both Rarities and Racers and the barbecue did a roaring trade at mealtimes. For those interested in industrial archaeology Roy Bourne had written an account of the Arbury canal system, six miles of canals on the Arbury estate. Arbury and neighbouring village of Astley has been in the hands of the Newdegate family since the 16th century. When coal was discovered on their land canals were built to carry coal and timber around the estate and between the Griff colliery and the Coventry Canal. Roy, a lecturer at South London Polytech who commuted by cycling each day from Frankton to Rugby and then cycling across London to the Poly from Euston was a man of many interests. He is commemorated by a plaque at the Reading Rooms and the Roy Bourne Run which aims to go to the sort of places which interested him.

Thankfully the rally turned out to have been a success. The Lancs and Cheshire Section organised the next one, at Lyme Park and Coventry having led the way it has now become established club policy that the rally is held wherever there is a local section willing to run it, Norfolk section ably upholding the tradition in 2012. The other innovation which was started in 1985 grew to fruition in 1986 and really started something. It came from a chance remark by Barry Bassett at a soggy wet out of town meet in June 1985. “I’d rather like to do an End to End he said, but I’ve never had the chance.” Despite the usual ribaldry the idea took hold and at the AGM in July it became an official entry onto the next years programme.

Barkers Butts RFC A few of the 29 Vincents that turned up for our 1500th meeting.

That was still in the future. 1985 was an eventful year in its own right with landmarks of its own. On the 14th June we held our 1500th Meeting, just an ordinary night at the rugger club, but we’d taken the precaution of making sure everyone knew it was on and also contacted as many past members as we could. We also invited the Coventry Evening Telegraph who came and took a photo of us all lined up with our bikes. They also took one of another photo opportunity, Section Organiser Ian Alexander presenting John Lycett with the Shield for winning the previous year’s Navigation Trial. John was one of our newer recruits from the vintage movement, even newer was Barry Bassett. The attendance book for that evening is interesting as it includes Registration numbers as well as names so we know Barry was there but no Reg. No. presumably means he was on the Scott, or even the Cotton. We kept an open house and a number of our friends from other clubs would join us, arch Rudge enthusiast Dave McMahon was one our frequent visitors, in fact at one stage with our blessing the Rudge club would join us once a month. There were four of them. Of the others Barry was perhaps the most frequent and he’d been a member since the start of the year. If I remember rightly his membership had been a Christmas present, the Vincent came after.

Photo Opportunity John Lycett receives the shield for winning Ian’s riddles and so winning the 1984 Navigation Trial. Taken for the benefit of the Coventry Evening Telegraph readers.

A fortnight before eleven of us had taken part in a centenary ride round the streets of Coventry, three laps on closed roads at a moderately pedestrian pace. The industry had decided that the motorcar was invented in 1885 so celebrations were in order and Coventry with its long motoring history decided to do it in style by putting on a pageant of motoring down the ages. The AA sent a number of vehicles from their museum including a 50’s BSA and box sidecar. Unfortunately their scout had never ridden a sidecar before and on the first lap the box went one side of a bollard in Corporation St and he went the other. A repeat the next year was called Streets Ahead and was all about supercars and racing cars. It was temporarily halted when the mechanic let loose as a treat by the owner in his hill climb championship winning car lost it. It was restarted with a couple of cops on their BMW’s at the front to calm things down. However those of us who have had the pleasure of being escorted thus know it’s a little difficult to keep up with a copper riding normally but it was good to watch. The other event spun off the 1985 event that year was the Shakespeare Run which has been going ever since.

In many ways that End to End started a new era for the Section so it perhaps fitting to end this chapter by recording in September 1985 fifteen members met at Don and Marion’s home to confirm that it was definitely on and start planning it for the next June. On that due date 6 twins set off for Lands End accompanied by two Comets and a Scott, the latter machines conserving their energies for the ride up the map. A fitting note on which to end this chapter and a good start for the next one.

It is worth recording that Ian celebrated our 1500 meetings in the pages of MPH with “1,500 Nights of Hot Gossip” in the February ‘86 edition.

100 Years of the Motor Car. The cavalcade rounds Broadgate.  Mike Wilson (Worried Of Rugby in MPH) and Froggie Bird on my right, John Attwood on my left, Kathy on the pillion and her friend Liz in the sidecar.

George Spence, January 2013