Part X. Surveying the Nineties
Writing the sixty year history of a club, of which you have been a member for fifty four years, from a mixture of primary sources and personal recollection only serves to prove how fallible human memory is. It is remarkable how many times you find that events did not occur as you thought they did, or if they did occur they didn’t happen when you thought they happened. Fortunately John Benson still has a complete set of minutes, which are some help because they tell us what was supposed to happen and sometimes why it didn’t happen. Then there are the Section reviews in MPH, which, when they do appear, can provide some confirmation. By a stroke of good fortune as this part of the story starts a new scribe appears who seems to have the ability to get something written every month. Her name was Kathy Spence and she first appears in the March 1993 edition. All is explained by the time we get to the April number when it emerges that she has agreed that at some stage in the future she will become Mrs Ian Alexander.
In fact that particular survey is still of historic interest. It records that 46 of us sat down to an excellent New Year’s Dinner at the Bear at Berkswell. Although Kathy was too polite to say so it was the last time we held the event there. The food was good and everything went well but we had completely swamped what was then still a village pub and they just could not cope with us all wanting to eat at the same time. The following year we had moved the dinner to the Manor Hotel at Meriden. At that last Bear dinner Tania Wilson was there with her parents, dad Mike Wilson being better known as Worried of Rugby. This gave me, in my role as the VOC Hon Treasurer, the opportunity to officially present her with a Thanks Award on behalf of the VOC for her work as Section Surveys Editor for MPH. MPH was pretty well served by the Coventry Section at this time. Jenny Bloor who was still living at Water Orton was Advertisements Manager, a job she’d been doing since 1978 and would continue to do until 2003, Roy Bourne was Sports Correspondent for a similarly long period and Mike of course was doing his monthly "Worried" column.
An addition to our ranks reported at this time was BMW riding Maurice Taylor, another recruit from the Vintage club who became had acquired the late John Atwood’s Comet. All in all it was turning out to be a pretty busy year. In May we organised a stand at the NEC on behalf of the club at the Top Gear Show. It was a lot of effort, the theme was competition bikes so we had the likes of Brian Chapman’s Mighty Mouse and Ian Hamilton’s racer as well as our home brewed efforts, the sectioned engines and all the club paraphernalia. At that time the club had large box trailer to house all its show gear, which was kept in Tony Roberts yard. For some reason Ian Alexander towed it to the event behind his sister Jane’s Sirocco and it arrived a bit like the Flying Scot with steam issuing from every gap. That show was one experiment we did not repeat, for a number of reasons not least the fact that motorcycles were very much second class citizens and security was non existent.
Far more successful was a trip ten of us made from Lands End to John O’Groats. It should have been twelve but after John and Judith Lycett had done all the hard work as usual organising the route and all the splendid hotels Judith was poorly and they could not come. It doesn’t really qualify as a Vincent do, Tony Roberts was on his 1933 Sunbeam Model 90, Geoff Parr on his ’38 BSA Empire Star and Barry Bassett on his Cotton Rudge, the engine being a factory prepared 1932 Python, one of two factory made specials for the1933 junior TT. This one never made it to the island apparently due to a rider dispute. Only the fact that Chris and Barbara Fagg were riding shotgun on their Rapide and I was my ’26 HRD lent some credibility to the event. Completing the crew were Kathy and Ian masquerading as white van men in Tony’s Renault Traffic hauling Don’s two bike trailer. Our 920 mile route from End to End avoided motorways and trunk roads wherever possible. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to avoid crossing the rivers Avon, Mersey and Clyde at pinch points. We left Lands End on a Thursday in June and were at John O‘Groats the following Wednesday. The logistics of getting people and bikes to either end of the run were a little complicated. For instance Mary Chandler had volunteered to run Geoff and me down to Cornwall which led to a Scottish coincidence. At this time Geoff and I were involved in helping her sell all of Chris’ Vincent stuff. While we were sitting in a lay by somewhere to the west of John O’Groats getting ready to ride to the finish in formation this farmer roared up in a 4x4 pick up. He’d been working near by and heard a Vincent so had come to investigate. His name was Donald McCarthy, it turned out he looked after the Queen Mother’s pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus, and the surprise was mutual when he turned out to be the prospective buyer for Chris’ Vincent whom we’d be talking to on the ‘phone.
The survivors line up at John O’Groats. It sometimes rains in Scotland.
The highs and the lows of the trip included staying at a genuine Scottish Castle at Tulloch where we were treated handsomely. Interestingly enough if you check Wikipedia we were there three years before it opened as a hotel. It did seem a bit disorganised! We only had four mechanical lows. In chronological order my clutch nut came undone on the first morning. Just an oversight on my part easily remedied. The next was Tony’s Sunbeam which suddenly stopped around the Scottish borders with a lack of compression. Despite a long struggle to fit a new valve in the hotel yard in Moffat it was later discovered that it was to no avail, the big end had failed allowing the piston to kiss and bend the first valve when it opened. When we were well into the Highlands it was Geoff’s turn to come to grinding halt, literally, when a vital bolt fell out of the BSA’s rear torque arm requiring more skilled bodging. Finally not to be outdone Chris contrived to get a puncture on the last leg of the trip.
There was only one day’s riding left after we got to John O Groats. We would rendezvous at some convenient lay-by near Inverness, send someone off for the hire car we’d ordered and then make our way the Aberdour Hotel near Dunfermline before loading the bikes up for the long slog home the next day. On the way up after Ian had a pretty heavy day of white van driving to cheer him up I told him that if the HRD made it to End he could ride that final leg down. It did, he did, thoroughly enjoyed it and in doing so provided yet another memorable Ian holiday story. He’d just arrived at the rendezvous, had taken his helmet off and put it down by the bikes and was chatting away when this dog came up, had a good sniff and cocked his leg up at it. Luckily he’d finished riding for the day. The holiday really finished in that Inverness lay by. It was then merely a matter of getting down to our overnight stop at the hotel for our last taste of Scottish hospitality.
Still in July there was a good turn out for a Wrinklies run to Calke Abbey. It must have gone down well because in the autumn at the AGM there was a call for them to become the regular feature which they have since become. Mention was also made on that occasion on the number members owning modern bikes, specifically two BMW bricks, two boxers and a Norton Rotary. The diversity of members machines has always been the section’s strength. Although there are notable exceptions the new member who is only interested in Vincents is the most likely to drop out when he finds a new interest often unconnected with motorcycles. The year continued with its usual runs and social events. The Classic Bike Show at Stoneleigh was becoming firmly embedded in the programme, the Club also dipped its toe in the modern world with a stand at NEC Bike Show which we helped man.
Roy Bourne and Don Alexander stand by as Ian declares Tony Roberts winner of the 1993 Navigation Trial.
In a number of ways 1993 was a year of firsts and lasts. We had a first time winner for the Navigation Trial. Despite being able to successfully find his way to the continental rallies and to venture behind the Iron Curtain Tony Roberts seemed to finally overcome his strange tendency for getting lost in Warwickshire. It was to be our last Christmas party; we seemed to have run out of children who believed in Santa Claus any more. As previously noted Marion Alexander had handed over the Sports Secretaryship to Bob Plant of the Lancs. and Cheshire Section who made a good job of his first Cadwell meeting. Unfortunately the next one in September 1994 was to be the last Vincent Owners meeting. It was the end of an era, a victim of the commercialisation of motorsport. What had started in 1934 as a circuit for the private amusement for the three motorcycling sons of Mansfield Wilkinson and run during our era by his son Chas Wilkinson was now part of Motor Circuit Developments (MCD)
MCD, the company which owned Brands Hatch, originally a grass track venue run by the Sidcup Club, had been busy acquiring a number of the smaller circuits such as Cadwell and Mallory Park, pre war an old pony trotting circuit, on which post war Leicester Query M.C held grass track meetings. When MCD’s owner, computer tycoon and amateur driver John Foulston was killed testing a Can Am McLaren at Brands his 23 year old daughter Nicola took over and aggressively marketed motor racing. She put the rents up by an enormous factor and then castigated the clubs for failing to see the business opportunities of their meetings. The VOC felt disinclined to run their meeting as a business and so in 1994 pulled out of the race promotion business. Nicola’s business acumen is now well proven, she is on America’s Rich list.
Ian Alexander Grey Flash at the last ever VOC Cadwell September 1994.
1994 seems to have been a pretty quiet year, no really big events or earth shattering innovations to report. On the social side as far as we were concerned the society wedding of the year was that between Mr Ian Alexander and Miss Katherine A Spence at St James Church, Styvechale, on Saturday 4th June. The bride and groom left the church sedately in a Model T Ford but after the reception took off smartly for Scotland in the Porsche with Ian’s Shadow on tow for a motorcycling honeymoon. In her next survey Kathy reported on their exhilarating bike trip across to Applecross but omits to mention that on the way back to England such an eye catching car and trailer combination caught the eye of the local constabulary who issued the obligatory speeding ticket. The other two social events of note were a surprise 60th birthday party for Don at the Reading Rooms a week before the Wedding and the Fortieth birthday party of the Section a month later in July. One of the reasons for giving Don his own party was that Ian and Kathy had decided to get wed on his Dad’s birthday which rather overshadowed his big day so we decided to give him his own party.
Strictly speaking we were a little late with the 40th party, the section having had its first meeting back in 1953 but July seemed to be a good time to have it. It was a rather low key event; the big one was the 2000th coming up in ’95 so we just all assembled a good number of Vincents in the Phoenix car park, to commemorate our first meeting and then rode a forty mile route to the Readings Rooms, one mile per year as it were. By a coincidence I can count forty people on the group photo taken before we sampled the buffet. What is pleasant and a tribute to the section is that nearly all of the new faces on the photo are still in club, there’s something about Vincents.
Don cuts the cake at his 60th birthday party.
A fortnight before we’d paid our annual visit to the vintage Shelsley meeting, as enjoyable as ever except that we didn’t get our run up the hill this time. Renault got in the act and used the lunch interval as a chance to show off their new car. They really pushed the boat out with a big hospitality marquee on the only flat bit in the car park. The next year it was someone else’s lower key promo opportunity and we lost our slot. I won’t say that we took our ball away but missing that part of the trip made us feel less involved and it lost a bit of its lustre and it eventually dropped from the calendar. On the other hand Wrinklies Runs were now firmly on the agenda to places like Blenheim Palace and the Waterways Museum at Worcester. Also I note that a number of us had marshalled on the Banbury Run again, which became a habit. A recent unpopular decision by the Vintage Club of moving the run to Towcester had resulted in it being moved back to Banbury the next year, and the running of the event being handed over to the Warwickshire section. All in all a pretty good year, we’d had another successful Stoneleigh show, even if at the AGM there was some minor unrest which started off a debate which would last well into the next century. Just how should the winner of the Stan Powell trophy in the Navigation Trial be decided?
There can be no debate about the success of a couple of innovations which virtually topped and tailed the following year, 1995. The first in March sprung from Marion Alexander’s notion that we spent too long in the garage during the winter months. For our own good she had us all marching round the Bosworth battlefield site for five miles before allowing us to have a well deserved lunch at a nearby pub. We so enjoyed the experience that the Winter Walks became a fixture on the section calendar and have only fallen into abeyance in the last couple of years. Food also figured in the next innovation, the provision of a buffet after the AGM. Not only did this have the desired effect of increasing the attendance but also the promise of food afterwards seemed to concentrate the minds to the extent that all debate was concise and kept to the point and the meeting finished in record time. The buffet is now an intrinsic part of the AGM.
We also had a summer ramble. Despite all this walking and eating we managed to get a fair bit of riding too. Don Alexander even managing to ride two bikes in the Coventry to Brighton. When he got to the coffee stop at Sturdy’s Castle, just before Oxford, his Rapide had started running on one so he went home, got his Comet and went straight down to Brighton in time to greet the other riders when they got there. Although the run is a VMCC event it has always been a firm fixture on the Section calendar since Don took over the organisation. This was in fact the last one he organised, Ian and Kathy took over the job the next year and so it stayed on our calendar. It was only in the more recent years that I became a fairly regular entrant and one of my favourite memories relates to 2006, of chasing three generations of Alexanders down a dual carriageway stretch of the A23. Ian was on his Shadow with James in the Steib, Don was on his D and we were late on parade to meet the mayor at the seaside. Had I not been on my twin I couldn’t have kept up.
The cutting from The Coventry Evening Telegraph. They got their numbers wrong There were 120 of us there. For a clearer photo see the Sid Broughton Gallery.
The Section Survey in April’s MPH is typical of the year in general. Three couples, the Spences, the Parrs and the Grangers are holidaying in France on their Vincents, we’ve had a most entertaining musical evening provided by Colin Wood and his friends, there’s a Wrinklies run coming up plus a Sunday Run to the Bass museum and advance warning of the Sunday ramble is given. There is an open invitation to anyone in the club with any contact however tenuous to come to our 2000th Meeting on July 22nd. We had already contacted all those we knew and in the event a hundred and twenty members and ex members turned up. It was a Saturday event at the Reading Rooms, during the afternoon those on bikes took part in short tour round the Warwickshire lanes partly to remind ex members what it was all about. Amongst the guests were Ben and Audrey Benson, founder members who’d come up from Wales for the event also of course current member John Timms who’d also been there at the beginning and down from Scotland another early member, life member John Clark, ex Rugby. He recounted buying his new Vincent from Brandishes in Coventry at a time when they were in short supply. When it arrived Brandishes put in pride of place in their window and all he could do was come over to Coventry in the evenings and look at it until they got another one. Brandishes, now known as Vauxhall dealers, were started in the 1920’s by Walter Brandish a leading BSA rider and captain of Coventry’s motorcycle football team and still in the 40’s motorcycle dealers. Also present was Baz Arnold, a prominent member of the East Mids section in the early years and now living in Kenilworth who had turned up at our 40th birthday bash the year before. He was another Life Member but due an admin error he had not
been getting MPH so he thought his life membership had lapsed. He was pleased to discover that he was still a club member and had been coming to our meetings ever since.
The following weekend saw East Mids celebrating their own anniversary, the twenty-fifth running of the Curborough twisty sprint which was well supported by the section. Of those competing Ian Alexander was fastest 500 Vincent on the series A with a time of 42.06 seconds and Chris Chant was fastest Vincent three wheeler with his new outfit in 40.11 seconds. It had its debut the month before at the Velocette Owners Club Cadwell where it scored a convincing win in its second race beating Bill and Maggie Tuer in their Morgan. All things considered when we sat down to our New Year Dinner at the manor Hotel Meriden in January 1996 we could look back on a pretty good year.
1996 did not start so well for Maurice Taylor who had to give up riding his Comet on doctor’s orders. One man’s loss etc, its sale gained us another new member in the shape of Ken Edwards who immediately set about getting the miles in on Section events. Strangely enough a lot of the events seemed to involve food, both the Parr’s and the Lycetts held ‘at homes’, there was a section barbecue at Tony and Glynis Roberts and we all went down Malvern way for a strawberry tea at a friend of the Lycetts. And that’s just the events which got reported. Also it may be remembered that we celebrated our 1000th meeting with a barbecue at Les Ravenhill’s which became the prototype for the annual Les’ party. As Les was 80 this year it gave us the excuse for another surprise party at the Reading Rooms.
Les Ravenhill’s 80th with son Lance and wife Jane. (In front of Judith Lycett.)
The section have never been great supporters of the club’s Annual Rally, at least not since the early day’s of the Stanford Hall rallies but this year’s was at Hartpury College near Gloucester, the Mid Glos Section were putting a real effort into it so we decided to support what was almost a local event for us and had our own little camping enclave there. It was a good weekend and especially so for Dave Davies who came away with the Ray Smith Rose Bowl for the best Comet.
Sunday morning at the Annual Rally and Colin Wood emerges.
It was around this time that the section acquired a new trophy, the Tony Summers award. He’d been a member of the section for quite a while and a keen supporter of the section in fact he’d been on the committee for four years. Now that he’d retired he wanted to return to the land of his fathers and was looking for somewhere in Wales. As a thank you to the section he decided to donate a shield, to be awarded to whatever or who ever we thought fit each year. He was a perfectionist in everything he did, not only did his bikes have to go properly they also had to look right and be right For this reason the Tony Summers Shield is awarded to the most deserving Vincent project undertaken in the section.
To round off the year we were back at Stoneleigh for the Classic Bike Show. We’d started to theme the stand, this year we literally went big. The Waterman pub at Hatton had become a cause celebre within motorcycling because of its Wednesday evening gathering of bikers and the resulting police crackdown. With John Lycett in the role of scene painter we produced a most convincing back drop of a traditional English pub which we named the Waterman and had the bikes parked in front of it and very effective it was too.
Kathy Alexander masquerading as the local bobby at the Waterman pub. Stoneleigh Classic Show 1996.
It would be easy to dismiss 1997 by saying that it was the mixture as before. Certainly by the middle of the year we were all thinking ahead to 1999 and the International Rally or perhaps for some of us 1998 and another Scottish holiday. In the case of the latter I did say at the start of this chapter how faulty human memory can be; I am surprised at this point to discover how long it was since we had last visited Scotland as a section. In the context of section activities I am also aware, because I have tried to concentrate on what the section has done en masse I have missed out a lot of individual activity which certainly added to the general jollity. To try and complete the picture for 1997 let’s just start by mentioning a few names. At the New Year’s meal at the Manor we were joined by Bob and Valerie Smart over on holiday from South Africa. It would not be too long before they were back in the UK for good. A new member making an appearance the next month was Achim Espitte, a BMW engineer based at Longbridge where he’d met Mike Morris and hence found his way to Berkswell. Finally, at the risk of being accused of nepotism, I must just mention that this was the year that Kathy won the Navigation Trial riding Ian’s Kawasaki 600, having made her post test debut at the Hartpury Annual Rally on her own 250 GPZ.
The one event of the year which does stand out for all those who took part in it was out weekend trip down to Sammy Millers. Not so much for the visit to his Museum, nor our visit to Brooklands the next day but to the Lithuanian club where we stayed overnight. It was like stepping into another world. They were taking guests like us and treating us well presumably to make it pay its way but primarily it was somewhere for its members to meet and remember a country they would never see again. Meanwhile seventeen of us had paid our deposits for the IoM leg of the ’99 International Rally and we had a section meeting to discuss hosting the depot for Vincents freighted in to the UK. There was much to look forward to.
Wrinklies Run to Cross Manufacturing’s Museum at Bath to see the Cross engined Vincent and the history of the rotary valve September 1996.