Coventry Section Part VI - It seems like Yesterday
Chris Reeve’s first Section Review of the new decade was in the January 1970 MPH and was a report of the Section’s 700th Meeting which had been held at the tail end of the previous year, 21st November 1969 to be precise. Once again to disprove what is said about the Sixties I was there that night and I do remember it so I can safely endorse Chris’ opening remarks that the event “went down very well, due in part to the marvellous cake Pat and Neville Arber donated”. It was not the first time which we had enjoyed the fruits of Pat’s cooking at our parties. Chris’ review also reminds me that we took the opportunity to present Martin Davenport’s mother with an engraved stainless steel tea service for the equally marvellous help she gave at the Annual Dinners. Reading the committee minutes it was frequently noted that Mrs Davenport was to be asked to do this or had agreed to do that. It is fair to say that without our wives and girlfriends over the years Section life would have been a lot poorer and is still richer for their influence.
Looking at the attendance book for that night is most interesting. It was sixteen years since the Section started. Those of us still in the section now forty years on outnumber the early members there that night. Not all the signatures are legible but the ones I can make out includes Ian James, Chris Worland, Neville Higgins (still Coventry based then), John Benson and Jenny Bloor. Someone else there that night was a fairly new member, Dave Gilbert who is mentioned in the survey as having just bought a Comet. I owe him a great debt of gratitude. I had been happily plodding around on my Meteor for about ten years when, in 1970, I managed to scrounge the use of a Trident for a week. Having real performance in my right hand reminded me of my Shadow years so much that I decided I wanted one. Dave, as a loyal Triumph employee, persuaded me that anything a new Triumph could do an old Vincent could do better, so I went out and bought another Shadow whilst they were still affordable. Just to complete the tale someone else there that night was my old friend from the Binley Road days, Chris Chandler, who must of course take most of the blame for my getting my a Vincent in the first place.
Also there was Nev’s brother and his wife, Kris and Joyce Arber, from the Cambridge Section. The smattering of members from other sections reminds me that there was still a lot more inter section activity that there is now. A look at the provisional programme for the year shows that we already had a couple of meets planned with the Oxford Section at the George Hotel at Shipston, not the Black Boy, our usual venue, and a meet at Bassetts Pole which was traditionally with the Birmingham Section but at this period you could never be sure whether they were dying or being resurrected so we carried on meeting there just the same. Not mentioned are the East Midlands but I am sure we would have met with them at some time during the year, the Skittles Match was already an annual event.
A search further through the year reveals that there was in fact a South Birmingham Section because a one of their members is noted as having won the Navigation Trial on a Norton Commando, someone of whom we will hear a little more as our story progresses, Paul Ennis. The trial had already settled into a semi-social Sunday event, the rules of which have developed over the years. In this particular year the places to visit must have been given out prior to the event because he rode round in company with Mick and Jo Fisher as they followed Mick’s carefully plotted route. Paul won only because his Norton odometer recorded 73 miles against the 75 of Mick’s Egli. This success obviously gave Paul a taste for the event because he then made a habit of winning it. Far from following anyone else around Paul has this disconcerting ability to look at the route once and then, carefully folding it up and putting it his pocket, setting sail and blithely letting some mental sat nav take him to the next control or clue without faltering. In fact after it seemed to be getting too much of a habit Paul himself it was who instituted the custom and practice of the winner having to organize the next one.
One notable event earlier that year, back in April 1970, had been the Godiva Banquet where the Guest of Honour was none other than Howard R Davies himself. Howard was local man, and was beginning to emerge on the Vintage scene. In fact the previous year the club had pulled off something of a coup when they invited him to the 21st Anniversary Dinner at the Regent Hotel in Leamington. Sat next to our President, PCV himself, it might be said that we really did have a Vincent-HRD top table. What did surprise a lot of people was this occasion has also gone down in history as the first time the two of them had ever met. There had been no reason them to meet, the company had passed out of HRD’s hands. It had been was bought from under his feet by Ernie Humphreys, Black Ernie, the owner of OK Supreme. He eventually put the name back on the market. That is when PCV stepped in and bought the name and a few spares.
Some years earlier Chris Chandler and I had contrived to meet HRD in Kenilworth. He lived at Chadwick End and since leaving the Swallow Sidecar side of SS Jaguar during the war was working as a manufacturer’s agent. He was in the habit of dropping in to the Queen and Castle at Kenilworth for a couple of G&T’s and a chat with his motorcycle and trade chums on Sunday mornings. One sunny morning we nipped over, found him on his own and had a very pleasant chat. I’m pretty sure that we had invited him to some club event. In recent years I’d thought it was one of the dinners but the dates don’t fit, it was much earlier, in fact it could have been whilst Chris was still studying at the Technical College because we found out about it from John Pugh, who Chris had met at the Tech. Everybody seemed to know everybody in Coventry in those days and it was only natural that John Pugh, who just happened to have an uncle also called John Pugh, who had founded and ran Rudge-Whitworth, should know where Howard Davies spent his Sunday mornings.
In October 1971 Don Alexander and I met HRD again, this time by invitation. At the Annual Rally we were talking to Roy Harper who was then MPH editor. When he said he thought it would be a good idea if someone interviewed HRD. I wrote to him and got an invite to his house one evening. We soon discovered that Roy Harper’s good idea was that Roy Harper was writing a book, the Vincent HRD Story, which when it came out had the first three chapters devoted to HRD. That not withstanding we had a very interesting evening and I did write a piece for MPH about how we sat in this charming cottage with its ingle nook fireplace. The room seemed full of trophies. Wherever you looked there seemed to be a TT replica mixed in with all the others including an enormous rose bowl from the Birmingham dealer PJ Evans for a fastest lap somewhere. We saw the famous slightly previous obituary which he still carried in his wallet from the time he was shot down over enemy lines in France in 1917. We also learnt that he had been sent to Tadcaster on a night flying course. Intrigued I asked him what sort of blind flying aids they had then. We didn’t he said, you took off and if you could find the aerodrome again you’d passed.
A souvenir of a pleasant evening, complete with HRD’s signature
Moving on to 1971 an announcement from Peter Russell of Dolphin Motors in MPH told us that he had sold the Vincent side of his business to Mellor Motors. This was one of a number of ways in which the Vincent world was changing. Ross Motors at Hinckley had already closed and although having Mellors in Coventry insulated us a little the parts situation was looking a trifle precarious. It became even more precarious in 1975. Harpers, whose main line of business was contract engineering, had acquired the Vincent business in Stevenage in 1960 when PCV left to start a garage business. By 1969 they were a small part of Cope Allman International who in 1974 decided that the production of motor cycle spares did not fit their business model and put Vincents on the market. The VOC were already raising money and talking to Cope Allman with a view to buying the business when it was announced on the 17th May 1975 that the business had been sold to Matt Holder of Aerco Jig and Tools Ltd.
Matt Holder was a Scott enthusiast from way back who first became prominent when in 1950 he bought Scotts and transferred production to his Birmingham premises and introduced the machine we dubbed the Birmingham Scott. His enthusiasm was undoubted but his track record regarding the provision of Scott spares was not good, added to which he seemed intent on acquiring the rump of the British motorcycle industry having already added Velocette and Royal Enfield to his business. In view of this lack of confidence the Club changed its objective and set up the VOC Spares Company Limited which came into being by the end of the year. Club members Dave and Jane Greaves were already listed as Vincent spares stockists at The Jolly Thresher Garage in Lymm which they then closed and became the first employees and ran the business from a listed 18th century warehouse on the banks of the Bridgewater canal at The Wharf in Lymm, Cheshire. Jane had the business head and looked after that side of the business whilst Dave looked after the machine shop side of things.
Dave and Jane Greaves at The Wharf, Lymm.
The Club’s reason for getting into the spares business was simply to ensure that they could continue to use their Vincents. It was a self fulfilling dream. The easier spares were to obtain the more people used their bikes. The more they used them the more spares they needed. The easiest way to wear out a Vincent quicker is go racing and the Coventry Section was playing its part in this respect. Leading the way at National level was Martin Davenport with the Mellor Motors outfit. With the VOC Cadwell meeting on the calendar we got invites to other club events and everyone seemed to be having a go at some time or another. If you weren’t having a go you were in grave danger of being given a flag to wave on some far flung corner of the circuit. You did of course get a bag of sandwiches for your troubles. The June 1971 Section Survey reported that John Bloor had enjoyed every minute of his first Cadwell meeting. What he was riding is not recalled but I think that most who knew him would associate him with his very fine Mini wheeled outfit. John working in the Birmingham metal bashing industry and had the physique to suit. Built like the traditional village blacksmith he was the anchor man for the Section’s tug of war team at the Annual Rally, we won four on the trot and only lost when he missed a rally.
John Bloor’s outfit. Dodington Annual Rally 1976
A regular competitor by now was Chris Chant, at this time still on a conventional outfit, if you can call his Norvin with a racing chair conventional, and giving a good account of himself. One of his chief rivals was John Kinley, sometime Club Secretary and latterly known to the Section as the owner of the first Lightning which he discovered in Argentina and repatriated and totally rebuilt, the result being much admired on our stand at the NEC in recent years. In those days he was riding Der Kink, so christened by its first owner, Rab Cook. Rab was editor of MPH during the club’s formative years. To him must go much of the credit for building such a strong club. His literary skills were recognized by Temple Press when they invited him to join Motor Cycling where he eventually took over the pen of their anonymous columnist Carbon before moving to their sister journal Motor where he created a new column under the nom de plume of Ralph Thoresby. Someone else who was getting a few track miles in who from around ’73 gets the occasional mention is Paul Ennis aboard Don Alexander’s A. A new contender for that ride was rapidly growing up and by 1977 young Ian of that ilk made his debut at Curborough on a Bantam followed by the first of his many outings at Cadwell later that year.
It was not all racing. The section was well represented at the camping rallies including the continental ones and the winter Pennine was very popular, in 1975 Jenny Bloor had taken on the role of Section Scribe so we get better name checks, whereas Chris Worland only tells us that 10 went from the section in 1973 Jenny tells us that in 1975 the twelve who went were Chris Worland, Chris Reeve, Don and Ian Alexander, Tony Roberts, Paul Ennis, Les Ravenhill, Mick and Jo Fisher, Pat Templeton and John and Jenny Bloor. Toughing it out in Derbyshire that week end were five section organizers. First there was Chris Reeve who had called it a day in 1972 and handed over to the current incumbent Chris Worland after six years of much appreciated effort. Then came Don Alexander who had a history of doing jobs no one else wanted and was left standing when everyone took one step back and found himself in the post when Chris Worland retired. In 1977 after a year he had already found his other commitments were too much and when he stood down there was an unscheduled palace revolution. Talking to the next incumbent, Paul Ennis recently, neither of us can remember how he ended up as organizer and I became secretary that night. The other new members of the committee were Mick Pegg and Tony Roberts and the only member of the old guard was Bob Smart, who’d already done a couple of years. It would be 1981 before Ian Alexander joined the committee and mid 84 when he became organizer. As a footnote, writing the New Zealand Section Survey in that 1973 MPH was Chris Reeves’ predecessor Barrie Howell.
When we were not racing or rallying or generally wearing out our Vincents we continued to meet every Friday night at the Sky Blue. The exception was on Saturday September 6th 1975 when we met on the lawn at Les Ravenhill’s bungalow at Haseley Knob for our 1000th meeting. This was the big one. Chris Reeve had been busy chasing up all the past members, I note past member John Timms was amongst those present and we’d even got some advance publicity in the Coventry Evening Telegraph with a photo of four happy owners with their “collectors pieces”, Don Alexander with his Model P, Chris Worland and Bob Smart with their D’s and John Bloor with his Rap. Don gets a special mention as the owner of seven Vincents and all “old club members are invited to the celebration which is being held at the home of club stalwart Les Ravenhill.” It has already been noted how Les used his skill and the facilities of the GEC toolroom to keep us running. It is sometimes said of characters like Les that they broke the mould when they made him but the truth is he didn’t fit any mould ever made. A Yorkshire grammar school boy widely read with strongly held and often original opinions it was never clear what brought him to Coventry in the first place. He was always well dressed, a member of the Vintage Sports Car Club with an impeccable taste in cars. When we first knew him he was running a Porsche 356B, or maybe that was after his Lagonda Rapier. Then there was the Aston Martin DBII. Motorcycles? Well there was his Rapide of course, that is what brought him into our circle and there was a Scott and of course his Velocette(s). The Velocette was his ride to work bike. Every body knew Les’ Velocette, not everyone knew that typical of his original thinking it was one of a pair, completely identical, there was the winter oily rag Velocette and the summer clean, but not bulled, version. Every thing about Les was top drawer including his friendship and support for the club in general and the section in particular and the same could be said for Jane the local girl he married.
It is perhaps significant that the 1000th meeting, which we repeated annually for a number of years under the title of Les’ Party, should have occurred in the middle of the Seventies because that is the decade in which we moved into the modern era. It was only at the very end of the sixties that Vincent’s claim to be the world’s fastest standard production motorcycle could be seriously challenged. At the start of the seventies the Honda, Trident/Rocket 3 and the Norton Commando were the portent of things to come, by the
end of the seventies the superbike reigned supreme. In many other areas a similar quantum leap had occurred. That is why looking back there is a lot about that era which still seems familiar to us to day.
Marty Dickerson says his piece for the film of the International Rally 1979, my HRD as prop
Another local event in the Nineteen Seventies, July 1979 to be precise, which set the pattern for future years was held in the Charlecote deer park. As it was club’s first officially organized International Rally so I suppose it is presumptuous to call it a local event but it was a local to us and the Coventry Section were called upon to help run it. The story started in 1977 when the Canadians organized their Shadow Lake Rally which was attended by Vincent Owners from all over the globe. By popular demand the club organized an international rally which started with a camping weekend in the paddock to the left hand side of the main drive to the house. Full facilities were available on the Friday night with visitors expected from Australia, Canada, USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. Guest of Honour for the weekend was Phil Irving with his wife Edith. The programme was a short ride out on the Saturday morning preceding the concourse. As the whole event was being filmed for the clubs archives it finished with a short, sedate ride down the Wellesbourne runway where we were filmed from an open car, Hollywood style. Some misunderstood the script and did have a little difficulty stopping at the end of the runway when they got to tangled up with the permanent stalls for the Sunday market. The concourse bikes were then lined up in the afternoon in front of the house itself and in the evening we had the usual barbecue and bar facilities. A coach trip with a difference was laid on for Sunday afternoon – to the Curborough sprint where all the usual VOC suspects were performing. On Monday morning the last of our guests left to go their separate ways and before meeting again a fortnight later for the Farewell Banquet at Kempton Park.
PEI (left) and Ginger Wood (right) discussing the actual bike on which Ginger broke the Donnington lap record in 1938- Charlecote 1979
It seems that we couldn’t get enough of Rallies in those days. In May Mick Pegg, Alan Jennings, Ian Alexander and Tony Roberts went over to the French Rally and were amazed when going through to London to see an excited French lorry driver waving an MPH at them from his cab. Although they did not know it at the time it would almost certainly have been someone now better known for building Egli’s, a certain Patrick Godet. Even the stay-at- homes were catered for by a club organized Camping Weekend at Belton House in September for those who thought that the International Rally had deprived them of an Annual Rally. For in the Coventry Section one of the pleasures of that event was to see Don Alexander out and about on a Vincent again after his accident on Tuttle Hill the previous year.
Back in saddle. Don Alexander. Belton House Camping Weekend 1979.
At the end of the last chapter I said that the Seventies were to bring their problems. They did, the Eighties were going to bring their fair share too but in the Vincent world we’d got through the worst of it and the best was yet to come. George Spence, October 2012.