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The Good Old Days

What am I doing here? A Pembleton?

I suppose my interest in vintage style hit me at the tender age of 12 or so when I was at school in York and I used to see a bright yellow Austin 7 with the name “’Arry’s Tottle” painted on the bonnet as I ran to school every morning. That and the Aero Morgan sitting in the queue for the lights (if I got my timing right) sparked a lifelong fascination. My second sight of an Aero Morgan was in the film “What’s New Pussycat” in which there was a glimpse of a powder blue Vee-twin engined model. About 5 seconds worth I think, but at that age I was more interested in the saucy shenanegins in the film than the car. I read later on that one of these classics had been Stirling Moss’s first car, how I wanted to emulate him.

A year later I had the opportunity to buy a convertible Morris 8 for £20.00 which, in 1966, was a fortune. I was a year too young to have a licence but my sister had one and I was only too keen to be mechanic to her pilot. However a parental foot was put down (not on the loud pedal though) as a new steering column was needed and might have been difficult to find.

My next attempt at motoring succeeded, a 1954,one owner from new Excelsior F4 Consort. 98cc. of raw power with two speeds on a hand operated cable control! The two speeds were :- up to 20mph in first and 30 in second. However it got me to college and to work at the petrol station where I served petrol at 5/9 (27pee) a gallon and learned to fit tyres, exhausts and get spanner rash on my knuckles.

I almost broke a leg falling over laughing at an old one. Working blind underneath a Ford of some description I complained I couldn’t find the hole for a bolt. Instant retort from the foreman “ Put hair round it and you’ll find it soon enough!”

My next pride and joy was a Sunbeam S7, which came with a BSA C10, a C11g and a pile of bits all for £1.00. It cost 30/- (£1.50 in new money) to get it delivered in the back of an Austin pick-up. Hours of fun and much education from stripping, rebuilding messing up and re-doing. However all my mates had Jap machines or café racers and so I had to have a Norton Dominator 99. I did a swap and after three years realised I’d made a mistake!

A Velocette Venom, a Panther 120, Sunbeam model 8 350 single all passed through my hands. In the early seventies I was at college in Birmingham, just behind the BSA works. You could see old British bikes being sold for almost nothing lined up along the Stratford Road by Vale-Onslow’s, and V-O had stocks of spares for them!

There were even dealers who kept bits for the Velo’, although the Veloce works in Hall Green had closed a couple of years before. All these old British bikes came on the understanding that the Barbour jacket pockets would be full of spares and tools enough to adjust clutches, primary chains and on occasion re-build the internals of a timing chest at the roadside. My pal with the Domi racer who insisted on using Castrol R, had to do this on a ride to Robin Hood’s Bay. The trip would take about 1¼ hours but had been known to take 18! Sleeping in a field till it was light enough to see to refit the camshaft sprocket having carefully caught the scarce R in a milk carton from the gutter. Naturally we all carried spare Woodruff keys, chain links, nuts, bolts and a length of stout wire!

Fast forward to the early eighties and I found and rebuilt a rigid frame Norton 16H, 60mph flat out but would pull up the side of a house. I also recently found a Sunbeam S7 and a couple of Velocette LE s which indulged my passion for shaft drive and flat twins.

My most recent acquisition is a Velo-Solex. As a true Francophile I have to have one of these quintessentially French motorised cycles, to go with the 2CV.It’s amazing what you can find on t’interweb. If I can manage it I want to register the Solex to play with legally, in the meantime I am buying bits of “bling” for it.

Eventually in 2000 I caught the male menopause and I was in a position to be able to afford to build a car, with a three wheeler as my goal. The Aero Morgan was still calling though impossibly expensive, but I had been given a 2CV by a friend and I fell in love with the things. I heard of Pembleton, called Phil to be told one was in progress in Baildon, only 30 miles away. A ride out with some pals and I had the pleasure of meeting Ian ”Crackleport” Hainsworth who was building “Old No.2”. I was sold! Several trips on the old BMW r65 to monitor progress and then a ride in it when he called in one Sunday morning convinced me. A perfect crisp Sunday morning which I still remember well. Save up, get ready to order and then discover a four wheeler with BMW engine is now available, drool,slaver. Two and a half years later here I am, broken nailed and grubby, hoping I am on the verge of booking my SVA. I must be mad, but I’ve met some fascinating people, seen some lovely work and now, the anticipation of that first test drive!

Lea Thermallet

See Duncan's car pictures for big pictures of an almost completed Silver Surfer

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