Section History - Part Three

Readers may have noticed that I have been relying on MPH to help me get the facts straight.  I now have the added advantage that the copy I am looking at, MPH 97 for February 1957, is the first I received as a member of the club.   In his Section Survey Allan Nash is cracking the whip about attendances at the Section and telling us not to use the shortage of petrol as an excuse, we can always catch the bus.   It was post Suez so petrol rationing was a problem.   Another item of local interest is in the postbag, a letter from Chris Chandler, 3 Binley Rd Coventry, an address of some minor significance in VOC affairs.  How it came about was that three of us from Rootes, Chris, Bill Towns and I were sharing a crummy bedsit when the chance of the top floor four bedroomed flat at 3 Binley Road came up.  Sometime after we moved in Chris swapped his Model G Royal Enfield for MNK14, Bill swapped his Speed Twin for a B Rapide so I swapped my B31 for a Comet.  We had brought in three others to keep the rent down but they all had Austin Seven specials so they don’t come into the story. 

We kept a fairly open house so inevitably we became a drop in point for visiting VOC members as well as local members.  One occasion which sticks in my mind literally is when Ian James dropped in with his fish and chips which he proceeded to eat at the kitchen table.  On the table was my petrol tank which I’d just painted, a brilliant red as you did in those days.  When he finished his meal and came to throw the papers away up we found they had left yesterday’s newsprint on the tank, luckily the paper itself hadn’t stuck.  It was not unusual to find work in progress around the place.

Chris and I stayed faithful to Vincent’s, Bill graduated to four wheels and by 1959 when we collected my 1926 HRD from the station, sent by passenger train from Redruth, it was on the luggage grid of his 1926/36 Replica Rolls Twenty.  However, another section member did move in in April 1958, John Macdonald.  Easy enough to date because he’d taken over from John Edwards as Mutual Aid Officer at the start of that year so his change of address is duly noted on the inside front cover of MPH.  Although John Edwards kept his interest in Vincent’s, as demonstrated by the rather attractive souvenir for the 1958 Annual Rally he produced, another activity was taking up a lot of his time.   John worked at the GEC  and like all the  major companies  GEC had many active recreational activities, the usual sports teams, small bore rifle shooting, archery and the like but they went one better than most because not only did they have their own motoring club but they also had their own flying club with a Tiger Moth based at Baginton and a glider at Husbands Bosworth and John got his pilots licence with the Moth.  Sadly he was killed one Sunday afternoon when the Moth crashed for an unknown reason on the way back from Husbands Bosworth to Baginton.  I’ve still got that Vincent plaque, a simple thing with the image of a C Shadow on it.  It was in copper on Formica and looked remarkably like a printed circuit which is not surprising because GEC were experimented with printed circuits and it was produced in their labs.

Picture right: 1957 VOC Annual Dinner – Leofric Hotel.  John Macdonald receives the Picciotti Trophy from Mrs. P. C. Vincent for his outstanding racing achievements.

Although the move from The Phoenix to The Phantom Coach did not happen until the autumn of  ‘57 my personal memories are only of the latter.  It could have something to do with the fact that I was off the road from Easter till Whitsun with cylinder head problems.  The reason for the move was to become all too familiar, a change at the pub.  In this case an improvement in Mine Host’s bookings for food meant that we would arrive and find our space occupied.  One distinct memory of the Phantom Coach was of dropping the plot on loose gravel in car park at the start of the Navigation Trial later in the autumn.  We’ll leave the story of the trial till later but I had never been to Wales and did not realise how strictly they observed the Lords Day in the principality.  Everyone else with the knowledge ate in England.  The best I could do was lukewarm mutton in a tin shack in Rhyader.

Whilst on the subject of Trials in 1958 it was Coventry Section’s turn to organise the Stan Powell Trial.  This was a national event open to the whole club and held in memory of Stan Powell, a popular Club Treasurer.  He was killed riding home from work in 1953 on his Vincent in a simple road traffic accident and died because he wasn’t wearing a crash helmet.  This was a proper competition with set routes, average speeds and check points.  The route on this occasion was planned by Tony Cawley.  The Stan Powell trophy which the Section holds is the team award given by Sam Marsh on behalf of the Bristol Section and was given to the Section when they won the team award in the last trial to be held in 1965.  Although in some years it was difficult to generate enough interest in the event the death knell was the Rallies Act which meant that it required police permission and it was too much hassle to organise a competitive event on the road.  (The Stan Powell trophy is still awarded for our annual Coventry Section Navigation Trial. Ed.)

The write up of that event in MPH is immediately followed by a report on the Ramsgate Sprint by the Assistant Editor, a lesser known David Frost.  Chris Chandler and John Macdonald are noted as having ridden down to compete.  The report goes on “ There were old hands there on tried and trusted machines, like George Brown on Nero; lots of newcomers wandering about wondering what it was going to be like; and dozens of dear old men on dear old pre-war bikes, from way back in the Brooklands era.  These veterans were tough rugged old men and even if they did wear old fashioned leathers and body belts and left their teeth behind in the paddock they rocketed down the ¼ mile on their fore and aft Duggies and Sunbeams and JAPs at speeds that only the most potent modern machines were able to better.”  Which sums up the sporting scene pretty well and the Coventry Section was providing more than its quota of those newcomers.  Besides the two already mentioned names that spring to mind from this era include Dave Hughes, Tony Macpherson, Barrie Howell, John Daniels, Tony Hutchinson and Ian James and a bit later on and from a slightly older generation Richard Willis, a Birmingham Corporation bus driver whose wife used to sit in the corner knitting on club nights giving her advice to our young wives.  Richard rode his Prince outfit with gusto at MCC events.  Other names which spring to mind include Neville Higgins who achieved some fame as a sprinter and Martin Davenport who also achieved recognition racing on three wheels.

 Picture Left: Bouley Bay Hill Climb. John Macdonald in action.  Note 190mm BSA front brake.

Another sidecarist who joined the section around this time, April 1959 to be exact.  Don Alexander was a young lad from Nuneaton on NAE 805 and although both he and Marion were later to become deeply involved  in the competition side of the club at that time there was no question of him hazarding the family transport in this way.  Of course if you go racing you’re going to need new bits making either for repair or improvement and although Don Alexander has done a lot of that in his time in those days it was another new member, Les Ravenhill who kept the wheels turning using his skill as a toolmaker and the GEC’s facilities.  For many the main purpose of club nights seemed to be collecting the bits either from Les or the begged, borrowed or swapped bits from other club members so they could go racing at the weekend.  It wasn’t all racing, section nights were the usual mix not much different to what they are today and in his Section Survey for Jan ‘59 Allan comments on the many new members and on the need to make them welcome.  Already regular attendees were Ken and Jan Atkin whose marriage is commented on the same survey.  The last time I spoke to Ken it was about getting his bike back on the road and coming up to the section again.  Also coming over from Birmingham regularly was Richard Hardman and his fiancée Hilary.  She got her name in the 1959 AGM Minutes for proposing, seconded by Miss J Russell, nee Spence, that the minutes be closed, carried unanimously at 9.40p.m.  Obviously we’d been yacking too long.

Picture Right: Long Marston, 29th June, 1958. The Binley Boys.  Left to right, Chris Chandler, George Spence, John Macdonald, seated the future Mrs Mary Chandler, at the rear a visiting Rhodesian VOC member.  This was the first ever sprint meeting at Long Marston.  The Aston Martin belongs to Bill Hindes, the VOC Chairman who took the photo.

The first time I’d encountered Allan Nash must have been 1956, before I joined the club.  I was riding down the Brandon Road, past the Speedway when I noticed this outfit being ridden round the loose surface of the car park with gusto.  I stopped long enough to see that it was a Vincent and that the bearded rider had his right leg sticking out in a plaster cast.  When I got to know him I found that it was just his way of seeing if his improvised gear shift worked.  He broke his leg again in 1959 when the kick starter slipped at the top of the stroke and in his survey he is warning others not to kick a Vincent by jumping on it with both legs off the ground. 

As the Fifties came to a close we were on the move again, once again it was a case of only being welcome some weeks and not others.  For the record the next move was to The Fletchhampstead Hotel, a bit further up the Coventry by-pass but we were only there for three months before moving to The Aldemoor Hotel.  All the pubs with any pretensions called themselves hotels in those days.  The Aldermoor was a pub plain and simple but it did have a room which we could use.  In November ‘61 we moved on to The Red Lion at Walsgrave, a far more friendly place.  Then in ’64 it was back to our starting point, The Phoenix where we met in the clubroom across the carpark from the pub and were quite settled there until a change of policy meant another enforced move to The Nugget in Coundon in April ‘67.  Another comfortable berth kept by Wal, who had the catering concession at Coventry City.  He used to walk round the ground at half time with a tea urn on his back selling tea in cardboard mugs.

Picture Above Left: 1964 Annual Rally, Skyway Hotel London.  Social Secretary Allan Nash giving directions.  Chris Chandler and George Spence discuss the merits of putting a Shadow clock on a Comet. 

When Jimmy Hill took over at City and changed their name from the Bantams to the Sky Blue’s Wal changed the name of the pub to The Sky Blue for a bit of mutual publicity.  Everything was fine for ten years or so until the pub changed hands and we lost the use of the room.  Times had moved on, pubs didn’t have spare rooms any more, and the search became pretty frantic.  I was Hon Sec at this point and remember contacting the Licensed Victuallers Association and circulating all the pubs in the area with zero response.  We did meet at the The Grapes on the Radford road for five months in 1979 whilst we were already talking to the Barkers Butts Rugby Club through Mick Pegg and from the end of 1979 we met in their club house at Eastern Green until October 27th 1989 when we moved to the Berkswell Reading Rooms.

Like all coalitions the move to Mick’s Rugby Club worked very well at the start.  We enrolled twelve of our members as non playing members of the rugger club, met in the bar and used the visitors changing room for talks, film shows etc.  In fact we outnumbered them most evenings, then they built a new clubhouse, it became more popular there were little niggles on both sides, principally our use of the new function room.  It was Trevor Boult’s suggestion that we try the reading rooms.  Trevor is a successful artist living in Balsall Common and held his art class there during the week.  After his profitable exhibition in 1986 he had bought himself a Vincent and he and Wendy were now keen members of the section.  The continued success of the Section owes much to his finding us a stable base.

To finish this chapter it is interest to note just how the club was expanding.  In December’s MPH there are surveys from 16 local sections including the Scottish section whose organiser was bagpipe playing Glasgow corporation bus driver Rab Smith, nothing from Coventry but that is understandable because for the first time Allan’s name was on the front cover as Social Secretary.  There were now two non territorial sections, Sidecar and Series A.  The Sidecar Section was organised by another Coventry member, Sandy Mullard from Stratford.  As a footnote I just happened to notice in August Floggers Corner that a certain Ian James was selling a BSA three wheeler and wanted an Anzani vee twin engine.

George Spence, April 2012