Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Toad of Toad Hall would understand. And a few faded geriatrics with oil pumping through varicose veins. But nobody else. It's an affliction. Maybe an illness. And it's incurable. It's called classic car and bike-itis. Once you're hooked, that's it. You've had it. There's no way out.

The malady first hit me way back in the late '40s as a wee bairn watching my father ride in a motorcycle trial. Apparently a lump of mud landed on my ice cream cone which caused a few brief tears but did nothing to put me off my new found (and lifelong) fascination with the sounds and smells of two-wheeled, predominantly British, machinery. Then, just as soon as I could walk, while other kids were mucking around with Dinky toys and Meccano sets, I'd be spannering away in Dad's garage, secretly dismantling his prized Rudge motorcycle into thousands of component parts. Needless to say, Pater was not be amused.

The four-wheeled bug hit a bit later, out in Gibraltar (I was an army kid). Used to panic Mum by disappearing for hours on end. Eventually I'd be found sitting in the front seat of 'Uncle' Jock's Humber estate car (looked a bit like a Tudor cottage on wheels), going "brum, brum", totally immersed in the wonderful aroma of Axminster with leather and all the fascinating clocks and dials on the beautiful wooden dashboard. Somehow Dad's more contemporary Morris Oxford wasn't quite the same. Seemed boring in comparison. And it's been the same ever since. Modern stuff just doesn't do it for me. Old stuff does.

Being hooked on classics is illogical. They're unreliable, spares are like gold dust and they're utter rust buckets. Total rubbish, in other words. I know that. But, like all true classic buffs, I don't give a monkey's. Give me an open road, a sunny day and a choice between the latest Japanese rocket bike or an old British banger and I'll choose the banger every time. Mind you, when standing in a pool of oil blowing dirt out of a main jet or trying to coax a spark from a whiskered plug miles from anywhere, I might regret the folly of this decision. But then, that's the risk you take with classics. There's a far greater sense of achievement when you eventually reach your destination. Just ask Ted Simon who famously trundled off round the world on a battered old 500 Triumph (documented in 'Jupiter's Travels' - an excellent book). And then ask that actor fella Euan MacGregor and his sidekick who, even more famously, did the same thing but on flashy BMWs with a full support crew. See who has the biggest grin.

I digress.

Anyway, yes, it's a disease. And there is no cure. I've tried cold turkey. But that didn't work. Went without my regular fix of classic car and bike mags a few years back, hoping I'd break the habit. But then I'd spot an old Austin Seven in a car park, or an oily Velo Thruxton or Beeza Goldie parked outside a pub and that'd be it. I'd immediately start drooling. Worse still, I'd often start tampering with bits and poking about, then get caught in the act by a worried owner, ending up trying to think of some garbled explanation for my compromising situation (usually horizontal underneath the machine in question) which, with luck, would only just save me from being arrested as a suspected thief.

I was rather hoping that my move to France might do the trick. Certainly stopped me buying my regular mags. I could, of course, get them sent out by subscription but my iron will scotched that idea (ahem, somewhat mysteriously, Old Bike Mart continues to land in my letter box bi-monthly - old habits die hard). Trouble is, there's an abundance of French classic bike and car mags available at the local newsagent. Don't understand a word of what's in 'em but that doesn't stop me buying the odd one or two occasionally. Then, like addicts do, I feel guilty. And stupid too as I feverishly look up weird French words in the dictionary, like 'echappement' (exhaust), 'embrayage' (clutch), 'boite de vitesses' (gearbox) and 'chaine' (chain - I guessed that one). It's a good way to learn French though. One never knows when these words just might come in handy.

However, I didn't allow for the internet. Distancing oneself from British newsagents by emigrating is one thing, but resisting the temptation to look up British classic bike and car magazine sites, not mention the dreaded eBay, is quite another. My laptop 'favourites' list is peppered with hundreds of these damned things. They constantly beckon me. Like sirens luring ships onto rocks. It's a nightmare.

Take this morning for example. There I was, quietly minding my own business, when a splendid, 25,000 mile (yes, that's all!) P4 Rover 100 lept (leapt?) - er, jumped - out at me from cyberspace. Up for grabs at eight and a bit grand. Brilliant! Then a magnificent 250 Greeves Anglian reared its ugly (ugly? - you must be joking!) head. Yours, mine or anyone's for just 3.5k. And as if this wasn't enough, a delicious 500 AJS trials plonker suddenly appeared right before my very eyes. Priced at a very reasonable 4,750 quidlettes. Aaaarrrgh! It's all too much! This really is hell.

The only solution is to storm out of this cyberspace sweet shop, disappear into the garage, get out the spanners, connect up the newly charged battery and fire the dormant Beemer (a fab '88 R100GS) into life after its winter slumber. Then set about fettling the front forks of that scrumptious ex-works Greeves (an ex Mary Driver '63 TES - woohoo! lucky moi!) that's snoozing in the lounge (indoor shed, rather). A man has to learn to be satisfied with what he has. And so does a toad. Now where's me spanners...?


  1. My better judgement told me to close down the window as soon as I saw the subject matter....but I couldn't.
    Now all the bikes and cars that the family had over the years are coming to mind...together with the question
    'And just why did they all get sold, then...?'
    'Cash flow shortages.'
    I love classic British bikes - paticularly the noise they make.

  2. Ah yes, cash flow. That's when it flows out without flowing in. Know all about that. I once totted up all the classic bikes and cars I've sold over the years in order to keep the bank manager happy. Came to about 87. One never learns.

  3. I use to own a Humber Sceptre up until 2000. It was an amazing car with wooden dash and leather purple seats and I adore it. Then some scally stole it and I never saw it again, It still annoys me to think about it. Although it was at times a tiresome rust bucket that broke down more times than your average celebrity with a an Okay deal, it was without doubt the best fun in a car I have ever had. I even lived in it for 6months, in fact I was given it by a guy I knew who knew I was homeless.
    Such happy days and you always meet wonderful people with an old car.

    I totally understand your love of old cars and bikes, they do have more about them.
    Much love

  4. My first car was a 67 fiat spider. And since it was 1994, I was way cooler than all the other 17 year olds. Sad to say, I haven't been cool since

  5. Lia, how very wonderful that some kind person gave you a fine Humber to live in when you were homeless. And how absolutely terrible that some scumbag bastard nicked it. Yes, as you say, classic cars (and bikes) have far more character than modern ones. And it's the same with their drivers.

    Sara, whatever car you currently own, sell it and get a good classic. There are some really good ones out here in France. How about a top-notch Citroen Traction (Light 15)??? Pricey but worth it. One of my faves.

  6. Many years ago we went to a classic bike show indoors in Sheffield and all the British bikes had rusty baking tins under them to catch the drips - the Japanese ones had mirrors so you could admire the shiny underneath of the bikes.

    When Nick had rebuilt our 1950 Sunbeam S8, he rode it to a show and every time he went over a bump the lights went out. With every next bump they came back on. Luckily I was following behind in the car with spares and a toolbox.

    Classic bikes are so much fun !!

  7. First car was 57 t-bird. But first Bike was a 45 flat head Harley and yes Harleys are the favorite h ere. But me and my ex had an Indian but they are alittle to fast and so got rid of it. Now I wish I had kept it. Know when you are getting old when you go to a car show and you either had the cars showing or know someone else who had one. Sobering thought LOL