Around 1962 my current bikes were both 350cc Velocettes, a Mac and a Viper. I originally started with a Mac but after the accident with a dog (See ‘The Chase’), the Mac was written off by the insurance company. Back in those days you could make an offer for the scrap, which I did and the bent Mac became mine again.
In the meantime, I had visited E W Burnett & Sons (Southsea, Portsmouth) and availed myself of a rather nice Velocette Viper SP. Now the SP meant it was a Special in as much that the aluminium engine parts were left unpolished and covered up with fibreglass panels. Well those panels were soon removed and copious amount of Solvol Autosol was applied to the map of Africa to create a good shine (Velo fellows will know what I am referring to)
On the subject of panels, I remember a salesman at Gray & Rowsell’s (Bury, West Sussex) trying to offload on us chaps a very cheap motorcycle which came with not only fibreglass panels but horror of horrors a windscreen and a dashboard!. How un-cool was that ? A similar Vincent Black Prince was sold for over £100,000 last year….
Compared to the MAC, the Viper was much quicker and soon I was writing to Veloce for advice to make it quicker still. I have lost the letters I received from Veloce and can't remember if they were signed my a Mr P E Irving but I did read his book Tuning for Speed (10s 6d from all good stationers). However, I did fit a Nimonic 80 exhaust valve which was recommended. The barrel was rebored and the oversize piston was lapped into the cylinder was copious applications of Brasso using a dummy conrod fabricated from the side of an old fish-box. (We got them free free from the local fishmonger in Petworth and used them for kindling)
One of the main reasons for making it faster was to catch a certain Mick Bridger of Sidlesham who had just taken delivery of an ex-works 350cc BSA Gold Star DBD32. I did eventually catch him just once on an up hill left hander coming out of Worthing when we were returning from a trip to Brands.
So, I had a quick Viper and my daily ride from Petworth to Chichester on the A285 became faster and faster as I quickly learned the best line and gear for each corner. I’m not saying that the bike had a great top speed but you learnt to keep the momentum going and not slow down for bends. This was testified my a Mr Scutt who had a farm on a fast downhill right hander at the Dog Kennels, Upwaltham. I later heard that he used to turn his back on me when he heard me approaching as he feared one day I would end up in the side of his cow shed. I loved that bend and looked forward to taking it every morning which I did until that fateful day.
On the 29th June 1964, I was on my morning ride to Sparshatts & Sons in Chichester where I was an apprentice diesel mechanic working on large trucks. If you were a few minutes late clocking on, you were in danger of being docked an hours pay which meant a lot when you were probably only getting about ten Pounds a week. So, as usual I was probably making progress…
After the Duncton straight I approached the right hander outside the Cricketers Pub when I spotted the Austin 10 approaching from the other direction. Without warning he turned across my path into the pub car park. Only he didn't get to the car park as I tee-boned him right into his passenger door. It transpired later he was dropping his daughter off at the bus stop which was outside the pub.
My immediate thoughts as I lay on tarmac was for my bike, so realising it lay behind me I looked over my right shoulder and my mind went immediately into cash register mode. Bent front wheel ‘kerching’ bent forks ‘kerching’ headlamp hanging off ‘kerching’ Thats a write off then…
While I was looking over my right shoulder, it came to my attention that my left foot was also occupying a similar viewpoint - Bugger, now that not right and indeed it wasn’t. Someone removed my crash hat but a someone else said ‘Lets move him onto the grass otherwise the bus will not be able to get through’. My response in my best Anglo Saxon put them off that idea. I later learnt that when the ambulance people scooped me up onto a stretcher, part of my broken femur made a bid for freedom and pierced a major vein. Swift action was required to stem the flow ! It turned out that the ambulance driver was also the local bus conductor so the village grapevine did its bit and my family obviously found out my predicament pretty quickly.
On arrival at St Richards Hospital in Chichester, some bright spark said that I had indeed broken my leg doh! and I would need an operation. So without undue delay I was whisked off to theatre and woke up in a four poster bed with lots of cables and weights attached not only to me but also the end of the bed. They had drilled a hole in my shin, inserted a rod which was attached via a cord to a lump of iron hanging over the foot of the bed - I was on traction and thats where I stayed for the next few weeks.
I recall that learning to pee uphill into a bottle was the most challenging part of my incarceration.
Once the mashed up bits of my femur had grown together, I was taken down to the theatre again to have the two broken halves joined together by a Intramedullary nail (Kutchener). This is a stainless steel rod inserted down through the marrow space and driven in with a club hammer - what fun.
On the 14th July I was discharged from The Royal West Sussex Hospital and issued with a pair of NHS wooden crutches.
Up until this part of my life, I only had two major past-times , photography and bikes but now something else came to my attention dressed in starched white uniforms and black stockings.