Chapter 18: Coming of age


- Tony

Weekends during the spring and summer months were spent just cruising around. Sometimes we would go fishing in the Thames or early morning rabbit shooting on the golf course but first and foremost came our bikes.

A typical weekend would start with that 'Friday night and I've just got paid' feeling. Literally a pay packet with seventeen pound notes and a ten shilling note was given to me at work every Friday. Five pounds ten shillings went to my mother for keep and the rest was mine. My Dad and his generation were always moaning about the overpaid youth of today and especially the iniquitous 'Never never' or hire purchase that allowed you to buy without first saving the money. Apart from my new AJS I had no need for hire purchase as I was comparatively rich. As well as my job I still got up every morning to do my marking up newspapers which gave me another two pounds cash.

We were tiring of the café scene. Kids seemed younger and we didn't recognise half of the bikes. They buzzed instead of roaring, headlamps were square even horse shoe shaped!

Bill and I started attending race meetings, sprints and hill climbs, marvelling at the highly tuned creations. Norvins, Tribsas, a Volkswagen engine in a motorbike frame. Two Tiger 100 engines shoe horned between two wheels plus a myriad more innovations that graced the scene.

We were fans of George Brown and his Vincents Nero and Super Nero. We followed his sprint attempts up and down the country.

The vintage twisty hill climbs with Scott Flying Squirrels and Jap engined three wheeled Morgans gave us pleasure as did the more American rails at Santa-pod raceway.

Norman, the man who advised us on our repairs and did the difficult bits, rented a garage in Hemel Hempstead. We loved going round and just talking to him as he was obsessed with motorbike engines. He did repairs but only enough to support his passion which took the form of a sprinter he was building.

Norman had grafted two Ariel square four engines together and slung them into a lightweight frame of his own design. With its shining aluminium and eight stubby pipes sticking up with a miniscule racing seat surmounting a wide slick tyre it looked every bit a racing thoroughbred.

We watched Norman on the starting grid at the Curborough half mile sprint course. He revved the engines mercilessly and the eight straight through pipes howled to a crescendo in anticipation of the starting signal. There was then an explosion of heat and vapour as a piston smashed upwards smashing through a much lightened cylinder head.

We visited Norman in the first aid tent. He sat in a bed nursing a badly bruised face and split nose which had been struck by a flying petrol tank. He seemed preoccupied. We left Norman mentally rebuilding his engine, perhaps with a little less lightening of the con-rods!

End of an Era

Events moved very quickly after that. All our plans of building a Triumph/Norton and racing it were dashed when Bill's girlfriend became pregnant and they decided to get married.

Those were the days when fathers asked their prospective sons in law what their prospects were. Could their daughters be supported in the way to which they were accustomed? Bill had no real prospects other than one day hoping to own a Manx Norton! He survived very well with casual domestic decorating topped up with a little snow clearing in the winter!

Such is love that Bill got a proper white collar job with a little help from his father in law pulling a few strings. As bump starting a Triton in the firm's car park did not quite create the right impression, Bill changed his mount for one of the new Ariel Leader two strokes with a top box for his sandwiches.

Bill was unable to endure the humdrum, day to day monotony of married life under the watchful eyes of the in-laws. One memorable evening he came round to my house to say goodbye. He had decided to take his new wife and daughter to start a new life in Australia. Ceremoniously he handed me his Webley air pistol as guns were not permitted to be taken. We shook hands and I never saw him again. I liked to think he built his dream racer on the other side of the world, it was unfinished business.

I left home and moved to the Midlands chasing new horizons. I bought a number of bikes one of which was a BSA Gold star 500cc on which I did a little clubman's racing.

After a life time of marriage and raising a family which involved nursing old cars along, I finally discovered the joys of big Japanese super bikes. Even though I am old enough to know better, motor bikes are still deeply ingrained and never far from my thoughts.

Whenever a bunch of tearaways rip past me in my car and disappear over the horizon with a whiff of Castrol 'R', part of me rides with them.

- Tony Sheppard