Although the first Godiva Banquet on the 21st January 1956 has significance for the Coventry Section it also occurred in the aftermath of an Annual Dinner of an even greater significance to the club as whole. The Annual Rally had been held down at the new Fishers Green works at Stevenage on the 10th September 1955 followed by the Annual Dinner at the Dorothy Café in Cambridge. It was at this dinner that the President, Phillip Vincent made sure that the club were the first to know that Vincent’s were ceasing production. As the chairman Bill Hindes put it in his response, we were now a Vintage motorcycle club. Despite that the marque and the club had a strong presence at the Motor Cycle Show thanks to their two strong trade supporters, Avon tyres and Filtrate oil. In fact there was even a Vincent at the show, the Burns and Wright record breaker was proudly displayed on the Avon stand and both stands had a strong Owners Club presence with many new members being enrolled.
There was now a stronger incentive for existing owners to join the club. Despite assurances from the factory that spares would still be available joining the one make club seemed to be an excellent insurance policy. One of the attractions was the services of a Technical Officer to answer members queries, who in those days was known as the Mutual Aid Officer. The man in question was Bruce Main Smith but he was shortly to move on to greater things joining the staff of Motor Cycling and writing and road testing for them. His place was taken in May ‘56 by John S. Edwards of 25 The Park Paling Coventry, thus starting a long tradition of Coventry Section members serving on the Executive Committee. There was a certain inevitability about it because of the way the club was structured: there is a direct link between Executive and the Sections via the Section Organisers sitting on the General Committee. Especially in those days, when there were few local sections, keen local members are always in the direct line of fire.
The Emerging Section.
Although undoubtedly most of the new members enrolled at the Show were existing owners there was another factor coming in to play. Although the bike was no less desirable it was becoming more affordable. A really good one could be bought for less than the price of a new Triumph for example and Triumphs themselves were now within reach of more prospective owners. The week after the Godiva Banquet a twenty year old Rootes Pupil, Chris Chandler, signed the attendance book for the first time having just bought MNK 14 from Conway’s in Goldhawk Rd. Chris’ MNK was an ex-factory hack. When Chris bought it it had been chopped about to accept a Series D type Armstrong combined spring and damper unit. This gave what might charitably be described as an amusing cornering action. This was cured by drastically re engineering the RFM and supporting it by a Velocettesque rear sub frame and Girling units. Another Rootes pupil, John Macdonald, who had a Series B Rapide joined around the same time. Over the next few years a number of other young riders with similar backgrounds in the car industry and engineering generally joined the Section whose names will crop up in due time. It marked a period when, not only in Coventry but in the club as a whole, new members like Chris and John took a keen and active interest in competition. The Motor Cycling Club’s High Speed reliability trials at Silverstone, a.k.a. One Hour Blinds were the starting point but the keener types were riding in National events and sprinting was also becoming popular with classes for road machines.
All this was in addition to the normal section activities. In one of his first section surveys Allan Nash reporting on a discussion on the future programme said “if you tell me what you want in the way of runs, trials, film shows etc the committee will organise them for you. A full programme ………..for the next three months, with a slide show on the whys and wherefores of continental touring. We’re also having a run to the Birmingham Section, a mystery run, a Sunday club run and our Annual Navigation Trial.” Mention of the run to the Birmingham section is of interest because there were quite a few coming down the A45 the other way every week. One of them was Ron Hovenden. Ron had been Frazer Nash’s service manager and moved up here to work for Lucas when Frazer Nash closed bringing his B Rapide, JLT447 with him. Ron kept it immaculate and rode it hard, it was already ten years old and it had never had a spanner used in anger on it. The only work ever done was a couple of updates. The works replaced the Bramptons with Girdraulics and also when pool petrol was abolished the heads and barrels lifted and new 7:1 pistons fitted. Not bad for a ten year old bike we thought. We regarded it with some affection, almost a Section mascot. Ron took it with him to the Isle of Man when he retired, still going strong, still in absolutely original condition.
On the 15th June 1985 we held our 1500th meeting and in the attendance book is Chris Chandler, JLT447 B Rapide. Ron had sold it to someone who didn’t use it; it then passed to a collector. MNK14 was long gone and Chris was keeping his Vincenteering alive with a Comet. He convinced the then owner that a Comet was a better bet for his fleet than a twin and a swap was arranged. Only when it had done an exceedingly high mileage did Chris finally give a proper overhaul.
The Annual Rally.
As a result of the ending of Vincent production the 1955 Annual Rally was the last to be held in Stevenage. Early in the year there were rumblings in MPH about the need for a suitable venue. Coventry Section stepped into the breach and the 1956 Rally was held at Standard’s recreation ground in Broad Lane and the dinner at the Leofric Hotel thus starting a habit which was to continue for a number of years.
The driving force behind these rallies was our section Organiser, Allan Nash, who in 1960 was elected social Secretary of the VOC. The first ones followed the Stevenage format, rally in the afternoon, dinner in the evening, with the additional feature, the concourse, which previously had been held somewhere else at some other meeting. These days the emphasis is on originality, in those days it was what is now called bling. The serial winner over the years was Frank Alexander’s bright red Shadow. As Phillip Vincent said when he gave out the awards at the dinner they were all much better prepared than when they left the factory. If we were lucky during the afternoon the ladies netball team would be playing a match - almost as good as beach volleyball. One year the entertainment was provided by Roy Charlton, who had brought Rumblegutz along to show us. He used to tow it behind his car. No trailer just the bike, running on its rear wheel and connected to the car by the simple expedient of removing the front wheel and attaching it to an articulated coupling via the wheel spindle. This was long before Avon slicks and burn outs, the tyre that was good enough for sprinting was good enough for towing. We kidded him to start it. This was a push start job with him on it in his racing crouch. I forget whether the engine had actually started or not when the whole lot fell over. There is no way you can keep a bike upright when you’ve forgotten to unlock the steering. It had a positive lock for steering purposes.
Coventry rallies only stopped after 1962. That year the use of the Standard venue was lost and the rally had to be re-located to the Butts Public car park at fairly short notice and with the co-operation of the City Council. Standard had been taken over by Leyland Motors and no one up at Leyland could be found to give permission for the Broad Lane site to be used. The next year it was held at the Belfry Country Hotel, now better known for its golf course. Marvellous venue, shame about the meal, there were catering problems. There was also a call for it to move south so 1964 it was at the Skyway Hotel, with a fine view of Heathrow. Sanity prevailed in 1965 and it came back to the Belfry
This was the last time that the rally and dinner were held on the same day. Allan had arranged a VOC Sprint at Church Lawford the day after the Rally. A number of members camped there and made a weekend of it. Continental riders there were a honeymooning Mr. and Mrs. Fritz Egli on two somewhat special Vincent’s, a single and a twin. From the success of this weekend came the idea that the rally should be a two day event and so the following year the rally was at Stanford Hall in July and the annual dinner was at the Regent Hotel in Leamington in October. It was at this dinner when the guest Howard Davies who lived just up the road at Chadwick End met Phillip Vincent for the first time.
So far strictly speaking as far as the Section History is concerned we’ve only got to the end of 1956. As I bought my first Vincent in January 1957 I may perhaps be able to include some personal reminiscences in the next episode as we move fairly quickly into the swinging sixties
George Spence, April 2012