Pissed as a Parrot Rally

Rallying 35 years ago - How things have changed...

It was a cold week in November, misty and damp. We were due to go to a rally that was less than 60 miles away and we had a choice of transport. In those days we had a foreign-engined sidecar outfit and two British solos. One of these bikes was a 750cc parallel twin, a sporty and temperamental bike. The other, a side-valve vee twin, was ages old but slow and sure. Both were as reliable as could be expected.


- Heather

We decided to take the outfit as the weather was really gloomy and we were heading up onto the Peak District, between Buxton and Ashbourne. It was packed on the Thursday night, ready for departure on Friday.

He came home from work on Friday dinnertime and had changed his mind - the weather forecast was for good weather on Saturday so let's take the solos! Fine by me, we did a quick shuffle round with the packing, got out the soft luggage and black bags and strapped it all on. We were ready to go before 1pm.

The 750 wasn't. He kicked and kicked but the thing was dead. He loosened the manifold to free the jammed carburettor slide but it made no difference. He changed its proper plugs for another pair he had lying around and .... It started first kick! The vee twin, which had been ticking over patiently for a while, was restarted and we were off, the healthy note of the 750's exhaust shaking the estate, heading South. We had already wasted too much time.

No motorway then and we passed noisily through one, two and three towns in the gathering mist before we headed up onto the moors. The 750 raced on in the lead and the vee twin followed, her Joseph Lucas 6v lights poking feebly through the gloom. I then realised that the 750 had no lights at all and was only a dark shape in the fog. No way could I have caught him up as I was struggling a bit myself.

We got together at a road junction and he fiddled with the switch but there was only the light of a dead match in the headlight - no more. Oh the joys of British motorcycle electrics!

We reached the rally safely and put our big canvas tent up in a muddy field. It was a small traditional rally and after we cooked our evening meal we joined the small band of rallymen in the warm and welcoming pub. I remember playing I-spy with one group - things were different then!

True to the weather forecast the mist and fog lifted on Saturday. It was a lovely area and we took the bikes for a ride to Buxton for a bit of sightseeing and the weather was nice enough for an ice cream. There was no point trying to sort the lights out, they could wait until we got home.

Unfortunately the weather closed in again on Sunday and once again we were shrouded in fog. Both bikes started well and the old vee twin led the way home. When we came off the hills I let the faster 750 take the lead as the weather cleared a bit, even showing a bit of blue sky.

The 750 now ran out of petrol but luckily he was coasting into a garage forecourt at the time. The bike had a two gallon tank and a duff speedo so there was no way of telling how much, or how little petrol there was in the tank without opening it and peering in. No problem you may think but with the heavy tent and throwovers on the back every time he let go of the handlebars the bike wobbled so much it was unmanageable. He was lucky this time and didn't have to push it.

We were now on the last 30 miles and the 750 was once again in front. The fog thickened as we started climbing again and I took the lead, noting that he had lost the glass out of the mirror. The mirror was not much more than an ornament on it anyway as it rarely pointed back in the right direction and if it did the vibration was such that any image was too distorted to be of much use.

The previous night we had discussed taking up a less stressful and altogether easier sort of weekend hobby but neither of us could think of one. Now we were up on the highest pass of the trip with only one set of feeble lights showing, the 750 tucked in behind me as we crawled through the fog. Coming the other way was a band of cyclists with no lights, no waterproof clothing, no engines and no protective gear. Our motorbikes seemed the very very best then! We smiled smugly as we continued.

The fog was with us all the way now, we were both relatively warm and dry but it was good to reach the estate and home. Even better was when the 750 pulled up beside me I remember him looking to me and smiling and saying 'Do you know, I really enjoyed that!' because I had enjoyed it too. In their day those bikes were no better or worse than anyone else's and until the modern generations of super reliable and comfortable machines came along we just had to do the best we could.

- Heather MacGregor

No, I guess you all realised it wasn't in the 70s... it was the Parrot rally . Ted was on the Matchless G15 and I was on Florence, my SS80 Brough. Double-click the photos.

Start of quotation Great story, beautifully written. Pray don't be insulted but I thought your Brough SS was a BSA or a Matchless until I looked carefully at the tank and primary chain case. What a beautiful motorcycle. Sculptured and engineered in England with an exhaust note that sounded like a demented 30' Organ stop.

Just one question - How do you stop the beastie?

- Anon

Very good idea, setting your report 35 years in the past, not least because that's the world where most of us who attend the P.a.a.P. live...

At first, I thought- "Hey-up. The P.a.a.P.'s only been going since 1986." (I was there.) Then I saw the photos of the Matchy and Brough, which I recognised from the 2011 event (and the 2010 rally as well), and I worked out what the punchline was going to be.

Incidentally, Heather, when you and Ted went to the Ides of March Rally in 2011 (which was held in Calderdale) I occupied a parking space in Hebden Bridge just as you vacated it. Strangely enough, the locals didn't show as much interest in my Kawasaki as they did in your bikes ...

Good to put a name to the face, as it were, and don't worry about your hairstyle so much...

- Mike