The Frank Cope Trike

The rescue of Frank Cope’s famous Three-wheeler
           The story so far—-By Peter Cook and Dave Daniel
Pictures of the great man himself appear with the permission of Phil Edge who is author of a website devoted to the history of the Isle-of-Man TT races. a link follows this.
these pictures were taken by, and are the copyright of, George Huter Stockport

pictures of Frank’s three-wheeler by Dave Daniel and John Chadwick

Peter Cook

Since its formation the Club has been fortunate to acquire various BSA related items. First the Club was able to purchase a quantity of spares from Basil Roy, the last major stockist of BSA parts. Subsequently we also purchased a quantity of spares from Ingles of Derby. Secondly, the Club acquired from the receivers all the surviving manufacturing drawings for the FWD and RWD cars when BSA went into receivership in the 1970s. We have also benefited from gifts granted in the wills of several former members.
We now find ourselves the beneficiary of another gift. In April, lan Smith, a relative of the late Frank Cope, the pre-1940 trials rider who successfully competed in a four-cylinder trike, contacted the Club via the website
« Post-war portrait of Frank Cope
Dear Sir,
I own the remains of a BSA three wheeler car, dating from 1934. Unfortunately the car has been stored outside for most of its life and all what really remains is the chassis and the engine/gearbox etc.
The remains are from the car that Frank Cope drove in the Shelsley Hillclimb in the late 1930’s. Frank Cope was my wife’s grandfather and the family would like the remains of the car to go to the BSA Front Wheel Drive Club.
The remains are located in Worcester, not far from where it was raced. Would the club be interested in the remains of this car.
Best Regards, lan Smith.

Peter Bowler passed on the e-mail to the committee and other interested members.
The background to the Cope Trike and Frank’s exploits were written up by Roy Gillett some years ago. The article, which is based on an interview Roy conducted with Frank, describes the trike and the some of Frank’s successes including gaining a MCC Triple Award. I have copies of articles describing most of the pre-war trials and Frank and the trike feature in many. Without any shadow of a doubt this trike was one of the most successful BSA threewheelers to compete before 1940.
Following receipt of the e-mail there was much activity as a small group of committee members, in the best traditions of the Club, decided what to do. The first thing we needed to do was arrange for a Club member to examine the remains and establish precisely what the family wanted to do with the car. Dave Daniels was asked to make contact with lan on behalf of the Club.
From Dave’s discussions with lan we confirmed that the car was totally dismantled, with the engine and gearbox in a shed and the chassis ‘under a hedge’, lan had registered the trike with the DVLC so there should be a valid modern registration document. No bodywork of any substance appeared to have survived apart from what lan claimed to be ‘a few unrecognisable pieces of tin’. The other missing item was the motorcycle engine used to drive the rear wheels.
There were reported to be some family records of Frank, but virtually nothing of the BSA. To quote Dave it sounds like we were being offered a ‘tea chest’ job, and only then if the chassis was not too corroded to save. Dave then arranged to visit lan in early May and inspect the remains.
Dave described the car as being scattered in bits throughout lan Smith’s cottage outbuildings and garden. Most of the rolling chassis appeared to be there although very rusted. It appeared that whilst the chassis was heavily pitted with rust on the rear suspension tube it was not beyond hope. The front end of the chassis had been modified and a battery box/ bumper mounting riveted to the chassis.
The engine, which was fitted with an aluminium head, appeared to be complete but dismantled. Dave found numerous other bits and pieces including the gearbox and front suspension bridge piece. There was also a radiator and a cut-down radiator shell complete with badge, but very battered.
Dave found that some body panels had survived but were in very poor condition. There was no sign of the second engine or even where it might have been fitted.
lan appeared happy to donate the car free to a good home but with conditions: The car must be restored, not broken for bits. The family wants the Frank Cope name associated with the restored vehicle and not forgotten.
He was reluctant to hand over the registration number and logbook until the car is restored and he has confidence that the new owner will not just take the number and sell it.
Well, these conditions did not seem too much of a problem except the last one. Certainly the Club would not be interested in breaking the car up. We would certainly be keen to have the car known as the Frank Cope Trike. If the Club was to be involved with the car then we would not want to dispose of the registration number.
Graham was able to use his contacts and check with the DVLA to establish that the number was registered at Swansea so transfer of ownership to the Club should not be a problem.
Dave did a sterling job in convincing lan that the Club would be a good home for the trike but that we would only take on the project if we had total ownership of the vehicle. Eventually lan agreed and Dave arranged to collect the remains with John Chadwick in early June. The remains are now in one of John’s lock-ups while the committee decide on how we shall go about restoration of the car.
The Club has been presented with what is clearly an interesting car and one that when restored will provide an opportunity for the Club to compete in the MCC trials.
Dave stated in one of his e-mails; “When I started this exercise I did not realise how prolific Frank Cope was or taken in the fact he’d done all three trials and cleared every hill in the BSA to win the Triple Award”.
Dave raised another question in an e-mail to committee members about the number of surviving cars that took part in pre-1940 MCC events and how many are triple award winners. I know of one pre-war threewheeler that took part in pre-war trials and that is the Raleigh owned by Club member Laurence Carter. Perhaps Graham can throw some light on the question. So there you have it. The Club now owns the remains of the Frank Cope Trike.
There is considerable interest from several Club members who know about the car and are keen to be involved in its restoration and eventual use. The remains are now safely stored in the dry and the committee need to decide on the best way forward. Dave will, I hope, give an illustrated talk on the car at the AGM and by then we will have a plan for restoration of the trike, which we will publish in the magazine.
We will be keeping members updated on progress. Once we have identified what is missing we will also be asking for parts to be donated for the restoration of a remarkable survivor of the mid-1930 period.

Dave Daniel

After the war, Frank had returned to bike racing. He competed over a number of years in the Isle of Man TT races and many other events before moving to South Africa.
One reported reason for this was that he was prohibited from competing in the U.K on grounds of his increasing age, although there may have been other factors. It was in South Africa in 1970
Action shot of Frank on a Norton in the Isle of Man »
that he went to see a bike race, and although he had not intended to compete, was offered a ride on a bike he had never ridden before. Unfortunately he crashed and suffered severe head injuries. He was 75 at this time. His family had him brought back to the U.K for treatment, but he never recovered and died shortly afterwards in hospital.
His remaining family remember him as a man of some personality and eccentricity.
His circle of friends included many notable celebrities of the time from the racing circuit, and his business – the Cope motorcycle dealership had «Frank, in his seventies
a network of branches across the Midlands and is reported to have sold more bikes nationally than any other dealer at its height – made him a very wealthy man, and certainly one you could not fail to remember, but his story seems never to have been fully recorded.
  With the Bentley »
Photos of the time show him as a small, thin individual with a sharp weathered face, sometimes standing in front of his post-war Bentley saloon – which he is reported to have driven a if he were on a racing bike even with his grandchildren on board – but more commonly on a racing bike at speed.
And as far as the BSA Front Wheel Drive Club was concerned, Frank Cope’s story was the end of the line, until an e-mail out of the blue to the BSAFWDC from his granddaughter’s husband, asking if we wanted the remains of the “Frank Cope” Trike. To that point no-one had thought that it had survived, and from Frank’s own description it seemed likely that it had slipped quietly away to rust somewhere after the war.
I was nominated to go and speak to the owner of the remains, and find out exactly what the “remains” might consist of. I must confess I left home none too hopeful!
Ian and his wife still live in Worcestershire, not far from the last reported resting place, and he had an interest in stationary engines and other old machinery. He came across the remains of the BSA some 20 years ago, mouldering away in a rotting shed along with a Series 1 Land Rover on his wife’s family farm, and rescued both before the shed collapsed. He had intended to get around to rebuilding it and so had dismantled it and stored the engine, gearbox and other removable bits in a shed, whilst the chassis and wheels went under a holly hedge.
Unfortunately he had been overwhelmed by other projects and had been “decluttering” his sheds and cottage of many of his projects. The BSA was one which was clearly the subject of some emotional attachment and was offered reluctantly.
Ian’s house is off the road down a long rough track. Fortunately he had pulled out the chassis and the sight of this lying on the drive by his gate made it clear I had arrived at the right place. The cottage sits on a steep hillside terrace with various sheds hugging the hill on each side.
Given what I knew about the car, I was not very hopeful. The chassis was complete, with not too much pitting but everything left on it was seized solid, apart from the rear wheel hub. Ian was wheeling it about like a large wheelbarrow. The front chassis extensions seem to have been riveted on from new although there is some additional welding and a non-standard sprung bumper. As we progressed through Ian’s garden and house however it became clear that a surprising amount of the car had indeed survived. The gearbox seemed fine and had never been dismantled since 1939, and was under Ian’s bench, along with a box of dismantled bits. The engine was still attached to the gearbox although the alloy head had been removed, which had saved it, along with the sump. The dynamo and starter were rusty but there and even the rotted ignition coil was there. The radiator although battered was complete along with a cut-down rad shell. On the other side of the house, under some window frames, the front hubs and wheels came to light, still with the 1930’s tyres in place and connected to the track rods, along with the spare wheel – still bolted to the remains of its support bracket, The car was fitted with two RWD wheels at the front – common mod of the time. Also lying in the undergrowth were the remains of the fuel tank, front wings and the alloy skin of the scuttle and the two doors, showing the car to have been cream over green with black wings – a common BSA colour scheme. There is a very battered rear wheel cover which shows no sign of modification, which would have been essential for a 3rd wheel drive system. There was no woodwork left to speak of, although fragments of dashboard were seen rotting away. Ian had re-registered the car with its original number, AOC 727, which is one of the series BSA seem to have used for its “works” cars. There was however no sign of the second engine or drive system, and it seemed that the car had been reconverted to a “normal” one-engined vehicle at some stage before its abandonment. Ian confirmed he’d never come across bits of the other engine, although he’d looked very hard. What did remain were some interesting modifications to a spare gearchange, front brakes mods and an extra strut welded across the chassis, possibly to give more support to the seats. John Chadwick and I returned to Ian’s house some weeks later and at a cost of some straining managed to get all of the bits into his pick-up, and back to one of his lock-ups in Warwickshire. It has been donated to the BSA Front Wheel Drive Club on condition that it is restored, if possible, Frank Cope’s name and association preserved, and the numberplate retained with the vehicle. These are of course wholly in accordance with our own aims as a club.(pic7) The vehicle is clearly restorable, although this will clearly be a very long process and the Club are already considering how this may be accomplished. As far as we know this is the only BSA to win an MCC “Triple” and the only BSA trials car from the 1930’s to survive, making it a very interesting vehicle. And what next? A full restoration of the car as trialled with that second engine seems difficult. There are no surviving pictures of how it was done, and only the briefest description by Frank himself. The engine involved was one of only two experimental Velocette engines, both acquired by Frank and no longer seemingly extant, so any “restoration” would be highly speculative. What he seems to have done is cut down an old special bike and squeeze the frame into the boot somehow. There is just one mysterious bracket which may not even be part of the remains but seems to be part of a bike front fork, and what appears to be a sidecar mudguard. In the photo (left) you can see the brake mod to get the front brake lever above the rocks. There is considerable attraction in seeing this vehicle rejoin the rather small and select band of existing vehicles which have competed in MCC trials pre-war and won a “Triple”, and no doubt the MCC itself would be very pleased to see this old survivor reappear in trials. Our resident trialler Jeff Calver went quite weak at the thought! We are not the only people interested in Frank Cope. The Isle of Man TT races have a trophy in his name for the most senior competitor, and have a standing interest in his biography, and it may well be that this discovery is a catalyst which reveals at least some of the story of a man who probably competed longer and more prolifically than any of his more famous colleagues and associates. The following pictures were taken by John Chadwick during and after the “rescue operation”

No more room here! All loaded up on John Chadwick’s pickup
Some of the parts back at John’s Lockup
More parts, including the engine—-
—-and the Chassis
Finaly, the cylinder head
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