ADJUSTABLE SPANNER and other tales By JOHN LEE
Last month the Register thundered on to my doormat, and on casually flipping through it I noticed something that slightly confused me. However, instead of just doing the obvious thing and picking up the telephone I thought I would have a goat relating the following.
Now, this may seem irrelevant, but read on. My late father was a sign writer and the business was run from workshops at the bottom of the garden. One of unsteady little earners' was to write coffin plates for two of the local undertakers, and in consequence there was a regular flow of frock coated gentlemen up and downthe garden path.
One day, way way back around 1950, my sister and 1 were in the open garage behind the workshop where I was fixing her bike when this, to us, tall, thin,bespectacled, black clad apparition appeared before us. His first words were(please read in broad Yorkshire) something like, "Now what thee need ther lad istadjoostable spunner". We had never heard anyone speak like that before and we just rolled up. We never forgot the incident and we still refer to him adjustable Spanner'.
We now move on to around 1956/7. I was visiting a motorcycling mate of mine who lived out in the Laindon 'plot lands', in an area now covered by Ford Dunton Research Plant. In his garden was this BSA V-twin trike which he said I could have for £20. It looked pretty sound, ali paneled in grey primer, complete with tattered pram hood. I said I would give him twenty five if he could get it started and drive it over to my house in Grays. Two days later he drove it up the back yard I parted with my hard earned. It in fact ran quite well and seemed very sound and it soon became obvious that the body had been fabric covered originally. Decided I would do it up a bit. I don't remember how many months of late nights and weekends it took, but many tins of Brushing Beico cellulose and regular sore and bleeding fingers meant that it was a real eye catcher. When it came to that sort of job I knew what I was doing, having been well taught by my father who was also a master coach painter. When it came to upholstering and hood making however, I knew nothing.
I went down to Benson's, then at Hadleigh, and they were great. Told me how to do the fluting and piping etc., and sold me all the ingredients. I went home and-set about the job on Mum's ancient Singer, and very slowly produced a narrow fluted and padded red vinyl seat and backrest, a double duck hood and all the trim.The Singer never recovered and mother never forgave me. In the end it looked great, the bodywork in Beico Ming Blue, the wings and hood in black with the wheels and upholstery in dark red.
Forty years on and the memory is weak, but I don't think I had to do much to it mechanically to get it on the road except sort out the exhaust. In a local side street there was a shop that sold cheap batteries and silencers. The silencers all had multi-diameter inlets and outlets that you cut back to the size you needed - agreat idea. I fitted a long straight through version and a copper tailpipe, it sounded great and I have been a V-twin enthusiast ever since.
I have omitted to mention that it was a 1931 model, registration number VL 3509,and I think it must have been the basic model as it had no speedo and not eventhe lugs for shock absorbers. I think it may have had a speedo head in the dash but no cable or drive unit. I paid a visit to that wonderful emporium, the Pride & Clark secondhand spares counter in, was it, Stockwell Road. I came away with a'new' cap for the front of the gearbox, complete with speedo drive and cable. That little spares counter at Pride and Clark never let me down, you just told them what you wanted and they went and got you one.
By this time I was using the BSA regularly along with whichever motorcycle I hadat the time. The carburettor however was clapped out, lousy tickover and massiveflat spots. No amount of bushing, shimming and bodging would effect a cure. Atthis time I was an apprentice at Rotary Hoes, and they used 600cc JAP enginesand two or three versions of their own vertical twin engines on the excellentHoward Gem Rotovator. I borrowed I think three different carbs at differenttimes, including the petrol/TVO one, and they all worked up to a point but theyall went back. Finally I did the obvious, I looked up Solex's address in London, goton the bike and eventually walked into their showroom and plonked down my oldcarb in part exchange for a new one straight off the shelf. If only I could do thattoday. With the new carb it was transformed and I used it for quite long trips,never doubting its reliability. At one point I used to take a nurse girlfriend backto her West London hospital on a Sunday night, a seventy mile round trip.
It was all a long time ago, but I can only at the moment think of two other thingsthat concerned me, one of which I cured and the other I started on but which Iknow now I had incorrectly diagnosed in the first place. The first concernedover-exuberant cornering. We all know what happens once the inside front wheelloses contact with the ground, it can take an awful lot of the wrong side of theroad to get things sorted out again, if you are lucky, that is. As I wrote earlier,mine had no friction dampers on the front, nor any lugs to fit them to. At thispoint I will backtrack a few years.
In the late Forties my father had bought a 1935 Jowett Kestrel, a long narrow 7hpcar which carted the seven of us all over the south east of England for many years.Naturally the dampers were shot and replacements unobtainable initially, butsomething had to be done. All sorts of bodges were tried, including fitting a pairof telescopic dampers vertically on the front. We had removed these from theback of an early Volkswagen Beetle in a scrap yard near Gallows Corner,Romford. Eventually the correct Armstrongs became available again and thetelescopic dampers went on the shelf in the garage, until, that is, I decided to fitthem to the trike.
Easy really; fit the bottom end to an extended through bolt on the lower outerfront spring and fit the top end to a plate adjacent to the inner end of the upperspring. The dampers must have been lying at about 20 degrees to the horizontalbut worked very well. They improved comfort, producing just a little dampingeffect but almost totally removing body roll and greatly improving cornering. Theywere still on when I sold it.
The other problem I had was that every couple of weeks or so the exhaust tappetshad to be readjusted. I could never make out why I did not run out of adjustment.Anyway, I in my ignorance decided that the rocker gear needed lubrication andthat I would feed some oil up there. Just how I was going to achieve this I cannotremember, but it probably involved taking a feed from the vicinity of the pressurerelief valve. The first thing I did was take a another trip to the Pride and Clark secondhandspares department and buy two inlet rocker boxes and fit them in place of thecutaway exhaust ones. I had no idea why the exhaust boxes were cut away, I justassumed it was so that they cleared the bonnet. In 1959 this was not a problem(now close your eyes before you read this next bit), I cut a hole in each side of thebonnet. The job never got done. I had had six years of deferment from NationalService and the Queen refused point blank to give me the extra couple of years Ineeded. To me it was the end of the world. Around August 1959 I sold the trikelocally, together with my Avon fared Dommie 88 and a 1939 Ford Prefect TickfordDrophead Coupe (except that if you did drop the head both doors flew open everytime the brakes were applied). That was that, an end to an episode of life.
A year later the Queen decided I was the world's worst Air Wireless Fitter, so shesent me to the West Country and gave me a boat without a radio; close to the bestthing that ever happened to me. It was seven years before I returned to Grayswhere my brother, a friend and I started a small business. Many moons later,'probably in the early seventies, the shop door bell dinged and in walked theinstantly recognisable and never to be forgotten 'Adjustable Spanner'. I forget nowwhat he had come to hire, probably a Kango or a hub puller, but it was not untilI wrote out the hire contract that I found out his real name. It was of course theirrepressible Geoff High. Subsequently of course I found out he was (sorry, is)restoring a Scout and that he was a member of the Club. I had always regrettedselling my trike and naturally asked Geoff if there was any trace of it within theClub. The answer was negative, as had been earlier enquiries I had made throughfriends with access to the DVLC records. All I knew of its subsequent history wasthat whilst I was enjoying my sojourn in the west it had at some point belonged toa chap called George in Chadwell St Mary, a boyfriend of one of my sisters.
As I said before, I've always loved V-twins, and although I had been riding aV-twin motorcycle since 1970 I still fancied another BSA trike. About five yearsago I bought the disreputable old dog that resides under my lean-to. A couple ofyears ago I had brought it in to work and on the way home stopped in a back laneto buy some fruit off a roadside stall. In no time at all, a chap who had beenleaning on the gate of the cottage next door had come over and uttered those nearimmortal words, "I used to have one like that". "So did I", says I, "Back in thefifties". It turned out that he had lived in Laindon at the time and had sold itwhen his first born came along. I told him that I had bought mine from a friendwho had lived just over the hill from Laindon and how it had once had a fabricbody which had been reskinned in ali and painted grey. "That wasn't grey paint"says he, "I used to work in the print and they were Daily Telegraph printingplates." He had owned VL 3509 before my mate Alan and I. And that, if you arestill with me, is the end of my story - well, almost.
You may remember that this rambling epistle was triggered by the arrival of theRegister last month. What caught my eye whilst casually flipping through it wasmy name at the top of page 314 as a previous owner of VL 3507, 'in 1950s' it says.So, who says, Mr Editor? Does the current owner have evidence that 3507 oncebelonged to a J Lee, or are there two J Lees who each owned a BSA trike in thefifties? I don't think so. As the enclosed photo clearly shows, mine was VL 3509,but it was almost certainly me who wrote the plate. Has Mr L Steltner got thewrong number on his car, or is it all down to a misprint in the Register? I dearlyhope that they are one and the same car, in which case I would very much like tosee it again. However, I think it more likely that they are two different carsregistered and sold by the same dealer at about the same time.
As I said at the beginning, I could probably have sorted this out in one evening bypicking up the telephone, but Mr Editor was pleading for copy. I hope he thinksit was worth it, and I will now sit back and await your comments.John Lee
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