The George Robins Story

DRIVING BSAs IN THE 1930s BY Peter Cook
“Front-wheels”, March 1987

 

Introduction

One of the pleasures of researching the history of the BSA company is the people I have met or corresponded with over the past 3 to 4 years. I have received many dozens of letters from both former employees of the BSA company, and people who owned and drove BSA FWD and RWD cars during the 1930s and 40s. You never know from day to day just what will come through the post. During early 1986 I was contacted by a Mr. George Robins in response to a letter published in a Birmingham paper. Mr. Robins stated that he had taken part in a 1939 ACU rally in a 4 cylinder trike with the result that he won a medal. Mr. Robins was interested to learn about the Club’s National Rally and promised to turn up, and offered to donate his 1939 ACU winners medal to the BSA FWD club. Well, Mr. Robins did turn up and was most pleased to see so many BSAs for the first time in many years. In conversation it turned out that the car Mr. Robins used in the 1939 rally is in fact still around being owned at present by Mr. Rumany in Sussex after being rebuilt by Bob Lanaway. A surprise to all concerned and Mr. Robins now looks forward to seeing his old car once again after a break of 40 years. The following is an account, prepared by Mr Robins, based on his experiences of owning and driving two BSA tnkes during the late 1930s and 1940s.

 

A TALE OF TWO TRIKES BY GEORGE ROBINS

I commence this narrative concerning two BSA three wheelers in the year 1935. Up to that date I had been riding motor cycles for eleven years, so from an early beginning, through a succession of motorcycles, I come to the year 1935 when I was riding a BSA 500 cc as was the fashion of that period. The machine had upswept exhaust pipes, this was a menace to pillion passengers who often burnt their legs.
In a local trial I had an accident, I was damaged, not the bike after recovering the girl friend gave me an ultimatum, either the bike goes or I go, the bike lost.So to a BSA three wheeler dealer in Tooting London, where the motorcycle was exchanged for my first three-wheeler, AKX 306, I think of early 1934 vintage. The trike gave me many trouble-free miles for work and pleasure including trips from my home in Maidenhead to Brands Hatch, Donington Park, and Brooklands– happy days. In early 1936 the girl friend and I decided on a holiday in Cornwall a journey of about two hundred miles, leaving Maidenhead at 8:00 am and arriving at St Just ten hours later, it must be remembered no motorways then, and all roads went through towns After an enjoyable week we left for home, but after around three hours on the way I had a peculiar feeling on the steering. I stopped and made a check on tyres/steering- all seemed to be in order. Continuing our journey the steering became alarmingly worse so another stop, all seemed in order until I removed the rear wheel cover, the rear wheel bearing had failed, So, with little chance of obtaining a new bearing and a very small amount of money left and with about one hundred miles to go I decided to press on and hope for the best, I made it after the most horrific drive ever. The girlfriend became ill and I’m sorry to say ‘the end of a fine romance’.
With a new bearing fitted AKX was back in full health but after a few weeks I decided to return to motor cycling.
So back to the Tooting dealer and I exchanged the Trike for a 950cc Triumph. I soon realised how much pleasure I had enjoyed with the Trike AKX. So into 1937 I had saved enough cash to go back to Tooting for another exchange, the motorcycle for my second BSA Trike ABY, This vehicle gave me more pleasure than any I have ever owned.
As it’s of interest to record, I attended one of the great pre-war Grand Prix. the 1938 Donington GP with the dominant teams of Mercedes Benz and Auto Union with the great racing driver Nuvolari in his Auto Union winning over Dick Seaman in the Mercedes, All this was made possible by my trike ABY and this was only one of the many visits to pre-war racing venue So I now come to 1939.
I decided to enter the ACU rally in June, the only rule – go wherever you wish not travelling more than 25 miles between check control and not checking at any control more than once, the final being Donington Park. So to get down to planning our route. Leaving Reading at 9.00 a.m. Saturday morning and checking in at Donington before 10.00 am. Sunday morning. Start Reading, Newbury, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath, Warminster, Salisbury, Andover, Basingstoke, Camberley, Maidenhead, Slough, Watford, Luton, Bedford, Northampton, Rugby, Coventry, Birmingham, Dudley, Ashby de la Zouch, Donington, You will see the route we planned brought us back to our home town of Maidenhead where we stopped off for a good meal, a short rest and on to the night section of our route, In a few cases we had to take to minor roads to keep within the 25 miles between controls. In two cases what were shown as roads on the map turned out to be little more than cart tracks.
The interesting part was during the daylight hours, mostly motorcycles, being overtaken or, in most cases, travelling in the opposite direction then a blowing of horns and a wave. At controls the odd time we had to wait while others had their card stamped and we were able to exchange a few remarks, I did all the driving, my companion being responsible for card checking and direction and map reading. We eventually arrived at our final control at Donington just before 10:00 a.m. To the best of my knowledge we were the only BSA trike in the rally. I remember several Morgans and several BSA motorcycles with sidecars, but of course, with a few hundred vehicles milling around it was a battle to get our card stamped. We eventually left for home around 12.00 noon Having made many visits to Donington we knew the restaurants and having enjoyed a good meal we were on our way with ninety miles to go. Suddenly a sharp noise, the rear end dropped and the rear wheel came in contact with the cover, the cause of the trouble being the rear spring had broken inside the tube. We fixed the cover to the spare wheel and continued on our way with a solid rear end but despite that we made it home tired but happy, having covered about five hundred miles. During the next few months with the war clouds gathering ABY was used only for work. Then on September 3rd war became a fact and with the rationing of petrol there was no more pleasure motoring. The war department requested the editor of Motor Cycling, through the magazine, to have a recruiting drive for competent motor cyclists to join the army as dispatch riders. I fell for it and by mid October had taken the Kings shilling in the RASC. I had taken a fond farewell to ABY after draining the water, never thinking it would be four and a half years before she moved again. Within six weeks I was in France and four months later returning to England via Dunkerque. The strange thing was I eventually arrived at a reception centre at Donington park, I walked around the old racing circuit reliving happy days spent there. A little over a year later I was on a ship bound for we knew not where, after nine weeks at sea arrived in Egypt, and after two and a half. years of rushing up and down the western desert with the 8th Army. once again on a ship bound for home. On arrival we were given three weeks leave and also offered a temporary road fund licence and petrol coupons. Needless to say I took up the offer. On arrival home as soon as possible I went to see ABY, in the garage. I’m sure she was glad to see me because as soon as I got the battery charged, filled the radiator with water, two turns on the handle and she started. 1 put to good use the petrol allowance but towards the end of my leave the engine was beginning to feel a bit rough.
It was not until the end of the war and I became a civilian again that I realized the mistake in not giving more care to the engine before using it for those three weeks so. I had a complete overhaul and rebore of cylinders. That treatment put her in good heart again. In 1949 the first Isle of Man TT after the war was to be held in June My companion in the 1939 rally and myself decided we would go to the Isle of Man for a holiday on raceweek, Unfortunately we couldn’t get a booking for ALY on the boat from Liverpool so we accepted one for a motorcycle. My friend rode his Ariel Square four and I carried all our gear to Liverpool and found a garage in which to leave ABY, taking the Ariel only. I’m afraid this was the end of my three wheel BSA partnership as in the same year I decided to emigrate to Canada. I sold ABY to a Mr. Arthur Day, Marlow, Bucks. It wasn’t until the rally at Ragley Hall in 1986 that I was to hear that ABY 977 was still in existence. I hope to get to see the old lady this year.As an addendum to the above, I discovered a picture in the August 1989 editionof “Front Wheels” showing George reunited with ABY977 (now re-registered as MN9200at the 60th anniversary of the BSA FWD Car at The Patrick collection in Kings Norton, Birmingham. Where more than sixty BSA cars and three-wheelers assembled for a historic gathering


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