IF I’D ONLY STOP READING THE DAMN CLASSIFIED ADS . . .
So, once again I couldn’t leave well enough alone and a Sunday afternoon in the late seventies found me poring over a current Hemmings. It must have been a dreary day as I was perusing most all of the classified ads in almost every category,
I was in the “Motorcycles-For Sale” section when I read an ad for a “Triumph 65o TT”. The seller had presented the Triumph in a most appealing way. Not drowning the reader in “words”, as this writer is wont to do, but certainly catching my attention. The asking price of $700 was impossible to pass by. The bike was located in rural Ohio.
I called the gentleman and he painted the motorcycle in glowing terms. Yes, he would send me good sized color photos.
So, while we’re waiting for those photographs let’s take a few moments to hear a couple of Kirk’s motorcycle experiences in the then not so distant past.
A DIABOLICAL VINCENT BLACK PANTHER & CANTERBURY SIDECAR
At our very first Antique & Classic Car auction, I had accepted a remarkable Vincent motorcycle into the Auction. Literally the night before the sale it appeared at the auction site.
The fabled British Vincent Black Shadow/Prince was the motorcycle equivalent of the racing D Jaguars and a Bentley R Continental. They were powerful 1000 cc V-twins and the Vincent Black Shadows were the top of the line.
They were instant classics. Finished almost entirely in black they were a British masterpiece, wrought by the hand of the great engineer Phil Vincent.
When I was a teenager, I had seen one at a local Motorcycle club in Glenside, Pennsylvania. It was ridden by one of the “unapproachables” of the day. Long graying beard, rangy, his leathers were heavily worn. He generally had a couple of drinks at the bar and emptied the building when he chose to move on. Everyone wanted to hear the Vincent and they all watched as it disappeared into darkness.
I never even considered speaking to him . . .
The Vincent you see below is one of Vincent’s final iterations with the enclosed “shrouding.” It was not a terribly great success. But, beneath the shrouding it remained a full blown Black Shadow.
Now, if you will, cast your eyes on the image of the thoroughly British sidecar by Canterbury! (. . .I can’t believe I found an image of this marvelously British conveyance! . . .)
It featured tandem seating with a proper hinged door, a black Webasto type sliding roof and seating for two in tandem!
I didn’t check to see if it had a small decanter and glasses in the door pocket!
Okay, lots of talk about what it was. . .
The owner Consigned the rig to the auction with, what I thought, was a very modest reserve.
Viewing our example on offer you could scarcely take it all in. The owner had executed a stunning and correct restoration.
Gleaming Black lacquer, that marvelous “leather” material that the British call “Everlast” in the proper spots, the gold stripes, and brilliant chrome plating. To cap it all, that imposing six inch D type 150 MPH speedometer!
In spite of all the apparent complication with the rig, it started easily.
It came on the auction block, simply didn’t catch anyone’s interest, and was “No Sale.” I couldn’t believe it. Was I the only one captivated by that Vincent?
The day following the sale, while we were tidying up, I was approached by the owner of the Vincent. He was very much the older proper gentleman:
“Look, I very much appreciate your efforts yesterday, but frankly I’ve lost my storage and I’m getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’ to be riding such a motorcycle. Do you suppose you might be able to simply buy the Vincent for $1,000?”
(. . .Holy Toledo, did he just say a grand . . . ??)
I made him repeat the sum, and paid him instantly in cash.
We both thanked each other profusely and I arranged to have the gleaming jewel delivered to the house.
“BEAUTY TURNED BEAST!”
I simply admired the Black Prince in the garage for a month or so . . .
Then on a brilliant Saturday morning, I decided to give the Vincent a good airing. The bike started easily, and I rolled the rig out of the garage and into to position to ease down the driveway.
It was like pushing a Mini Cooper around!
Finally, I was all set, drove down the driveway and off I went into the summer morning. It was quickly apparent that this was a BIG rig and, due to the sidecar, it was extremely difficult for me to adapt to “steering” the motorcycle as opposed to leaning this way and that.
I’d gone less than four miles and was approaching St. Martin’s church, the site of the auction, when it happened!
The roadway was smooth and dead straight when suddenly the steering set off a substantial “tank slapper . . .”
Yes, well a tank slapper, for those who aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, is an action where inexplicably the steering handlebars begin to oscillate violently vibrating side to side and you are unable to stop the action. Some say you can accelerate your way out of it . . .
(. . . Not this kid . . .)
Talk about scared. I’d never even heard of a “speed wobble”, also known as a “Death Wobble”, let alone experience anything like it!
Fortunately the traffic was light.
But then . . .
Once the wobble was fully underway, the big Vincent decided to turn to the roadside, and though braking hard, the rig veered off the road. Just short of a substantial fence, I was able to bring it to a halt, fuming, shaken, and realizing I was fortunate to be walking away from such an experience.
St. Martin’s church was within sight and Pat Ryan’s shop was right across the street from the church.
I left the rig and walked to Ryan’s shop. Luckily Pat was there.
In a shaky voice I told him what had happened.
Ryan was a stoic sort. He listened and acted as if six people a day came through his door with the same complaint.
Barely registering a reaction he said:
“It’s the alignment. Those sidecar set-ups have to be properly aligned. I’ll pick it up and get it set-up for you.”
Pat drove me home and said he’d call when it was ready.
No one in the house even knew I had left . . .
The following Wednesday Pat called late in the day and said the Vincent was all set. He would leave it out in front of his place for me to pick up.
Immediately after dinner I was driven to Ryan’s. The whole family piled in the station wagon, both boys and a very young daughter, Elizabeth.
I was ‘no man’s fool.’ I knew that neighborhood, and I had schemed a route home that was all back “neighborhood” streets.
With literally no traffic to hinder the effort, I proceeded home at a stately 10-12 miles per hour. I wound my way through the streets of a very upscale neighborhood. All was going well albeit at a walking pace.
As I was taking a slight turn to the right around a particularly elegant property, the Devil’s wobble came back!
Again the motorcycle from Hell veered off to the right and straight on to someone’s yard. The motorcycle was bounding over possibly the finest lawn I had ever seen. I was desperately trying to rein it in, but the Vincent knew exactly where it was going.
There was a single tree, barely past being a sapling, trunk maybe six inches in diameter. The Vincent had chosen that tree to hit. As my braking was tearing up the magnificent lawn the Vincent whomped into the tree trunk at a speed no greater than 2-3 miles per hour.
In spite of the slight speed, the impact knocked the Vincent backward violently!
At that point I went completely off the scale . . .
I loudly gathered up every foul expression I had ever heard and unloaded them all over the Vincent! The bike was truly the work of the Devil!
When I’d exhausted my entire satchel of foul hatred, I took a breath and noticed a slight movement to my left.
There were the property owners and their two young children!
They’d come out of their home simply to enjoy the beauty of their property.
Can anyone imagine what went through their minds as this incredibly foul mouthed motorcycle thug roared onto their property, seemingly completely out of control, and tried to wipe out their beautiful young Maple tree!!
(. . . I seemed to have had far too many moments in my life where everything fell into a vat of molasses and I was left to issue my sincerest regrets for what had just transpired in a long painfully drawn out manner . . .)
Following one of the most impassioned apologies of my life, the unfortunate “family,” who had been irreparably scorched by my outburst, were incredibly understanding and sympathetic!
The motorcycle had “bounced” back far enough that I was able to turn the rig and proceed at zero miles per hour off their property, still pouring out “So sorry’s . . .” as I made my way.
Looking to the street, there was the family station wagon, and all I can remember was my very young daughter Elizabeth’s innocent face at the back window with a look of astonishment mixed equally with horror!
That disgraceful image has stayed with me to this day.
The Black Prince and its amazing Canterbury sidecar were relegated to a back corner of the garage.
At a point down the road, I literally gave the monster to a friend.
He, of course had no problems with the rig whatsoever!!
ONE LAST MOTORCYCLE GLIMPSE FROM THE EARLY 1970’S
My very first trip to the AACA antique automobile meet was in early October of 1973. Even in ’73 it was the world’s largest gathering of old car buffs, many selling antique autos and related items over the course of three days. I had chosen to go on the Saturday which was always the final day of the meet.
That Saturday was cool and overcast.
BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR . . .
If nothing else, this is truly a story matching that title!
From the day Algar Enterprises Ferrari agency had opened, Al Garthwaite placed a brand new untitled 1967 MV Agusta 600 cc motorcycle in the northern corner showroom window. It carried a four cylinder transverse engine, double overhead cams coupled to a four speed gearbox and an enclosed shaft drive. The castings throughout the bike were exquisite.
After our split in 1968, where Algar and the “new” Kirk F. White Motorcars became separate entities and bitter enemies, that MV was a little pick in my head . . .
(. . .Betcha’ can’t get it, Whitey. Al will never let that motorcycle end up in your garage . . .)
But it did! And memory won’t serve me sufficiently to remember exactly how I pulled it off, but the point of it all had been to simply get the damn bike!
I had the MV serviced and the oil changed. And then it sat in my garage unused for several months.
Then, as it was “mine”, and time passed, my observations became a bit more objective.
The fenders and the gas tank were a bit heavy handed, more along the lines of one of Moto Guzzi’s big Autostrada touring motorcycles.
The large rectangular headlamp was thoroughly unappealing! But once on the bike, one couldn’t see it, could they?!
As I write this, it seems my lust was boiling down to the gorgeous engine castings!
But on that Saturday in early October in ’73, I thought that the 90 mile trip to Hershey, and the 90 miles back,would be an excellent opportunity to finally exercise the MV.
The bike had a strong electric starter and after several start and stall efforts, the engine warmed and I was underway.
The MV was a heavy sucker, and although I had spent probably countless hours looking at, and studying that marvelous engine, it wasn’t revealing much to me in the way of power.
It was also immediately evident that the center 0f gravity was awkwardly high on the motorcycle.
The MV 600 was not going be a bike that you could take corners with at any real speed or with any degree of grace. And, the brakes were on the low side of adequate!
Once underway, I picked up the Pennsylvania Turnpike west toward Hershey. As I merged into the flow of traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the lack of power became abundantly clear.
I had already counted the brakes to be “not up to any rapid response” task.
When you encounter a disappointing vehicle from a performance standpoint, one can easily adopt an attitude of:
( . . .“This will get better, it’s not the motorcycle Kirk, it’s you . . .”)
By the time I’d gone sixty miles west on the PA pike though, things really hadn’t changed. It was the bike. It was heavy going.
Getting off the Turnpike, where I’d been struggling to stay with the flow of traffic, and on to the two lane road into Hershey, I was able to notch the anxiety level back somewhat.
Once I arrived at the Hershey swap meet, the weather had clouded over more and the air was damp and chilly.
It was a huge meet and I had no idea what I was looking for, or where “it” might be if I had been seeking something! But, I could totally see that Hershey was something that I needed to do. It was really terrific. The next year I’d get there at the opening gun.
I was able to walk the event for only a short while as it would be a cold and cumbersome ride home.
And, that’s exactly what it was.
My “lust machine” had failed me!
After a period of time someone else with stars in their eyes simply had to have the bike, and off it went with a new owner.
THE “TRIUMPH TT” PHOTOGRAPHS ARRIVE!
Well, a single photo arrived.
To get into the town of Wayne, where Marilyn and I lived, my route would often take me through a neighborhood of marvelous, huge old homes, some dating back to the nineteenth century. They were known affectionately as “Wayne Dogs.”
Just before you ducked under the railroad bridge and into the town of Wayne there were a few very large “Dogs” that had been turned into multi unit apartments.
In front of one particular old pile of a building was a giant old tree by the road. Each time I drove by I’d glance to see what was currently parked there, including the various motorcycles that were literally chained to a massive old tree! Generally an elderly Dodge pick-up truck accompanied the group. The chained gathering numbered three or four. All appeared to be European, mostly British.
The “Tied to the tree menu” shifted continually.
I asked around Wayne and someone said:
“Oh yeah, that’s where Dick Miles lives. He’s quite the character. Yeah, I have his phone number . . .”
So, now I had Mr. Miles telephone number. I really wanted to meet the guy or have him tell me to buzz off . . .
I wandered around for a week or so trying to put together a reasonable approach. Finally I simply called and said I lived in the neighborhood and I was an antique car and motorcycle buff.
And, I’d admired his shifting stable of vehicles and wondered if we could meet.
And in fact we did get together. Dick lived in an apartment on the fourth floor of his building. We spent a pleasant late afternoon discussing our various interests.
Dick said he’d be willing to work with me and help educate me with the motorcycles and he’d help me square up my Triumph.
THEN, HEMMINGS MOTOR NEWS GOT ME AGAIN . . .
Some few months later I was once again going through the “Motorcycles For Sale” classified pages of Hemmings . . .
. . . I came across a small non-descript ad, no more than three lines.
Essentially it stated that the gentleman was selling a number of British Rickman motorcycles, all types, plus frames, fairings etc.
The ad ended abruptly by simply stating: “Manfred”, followed by a Brooklyn telephone number.
So, what the hell did I know about Rickman motorcycles, frames or fairings? Just enough to know that everything that came from the Rickman Brothers was superbly designed and executed.
The Rickman’s had tried for years to get any known quality British motorcycle manufacturer to sell them engines. None would even entertain the thought.
So, in 1966 the brothers began to design their superb motorcycle frames for all manner of engines. In addition, to complete motorcycles, they offered their frames in kit form. They were superb designs, and they built frames for all types of use, from road racers to Moto-Cross to Café Racers.
And, where applicable, they executed amazingly beautiful and effective fairings, handlebars, lamps, etc.
All of their superb frames were nickel plated.
“We wanted to build a machine that was not only engineered well, but looked good.”
Their workmanship was such that in 1974 the Rickman’s received the “Queens Award to Industry”.
Though it was a Sunday, I rang the number.
Immediately the phone was answered by a serious, “but make it brief . . .” voice.
“I’m calling about the Rickman’s that you advertised in Hemmings . . .
“What are you looking for? I’ve got a room full of them."
(. . .Oh boy, Kirk. Now what? You don’t have the foggiest idea of what you’re looking for . . .)
“A streetable road racer, and possibly a scrambles or trials bike, I said praying there wouldn’t be questions fired at me that required my knowing what the hell I was talking about . . .
Without waiting for a response, I asked if it was possible to come and see the selection.
“Sure . . .” said the voice, and he proceed to tell me exactly where he was. He was located in Brooklyn, just at the base of the Williamsburg bridge, in fact, literally under the bridge!
He gave me the exact address and said when I got to his building, I was to park right at the door and ring the bell. After I rang the bell, I was to back up 20 yards, turn, and position myself in front of a small single garage door!!
Strange set of instructions but I didn’t question them . . .
Thursday the following week I traipsed across Manhattan and over the Williamsburg bridge and into the western edge of Brooklyn.
Now today, the Williamsburg area is all the rage, and everyone who possesses an ounce of cool is living in, or at least dining in, the Williamsburg portion of Brooklyn, New York.
Not so 35 years ago. Other than Peter Luger’s steak house, the neighborhood was dicey, and often simply dangerous. Whatever you had to do in that neighborhood, you’d best get it done in broad daylight.
I found what should have been the correct address, but it was a huge industrial building, nearly taking up the entire block, with no windows. I drove around the block checking it out.
On the east end of this dingy imposing structure, there were two deck chairs and a picnic table! Just like everyone had on their patio in Indiana.
The whole deal would be getting a little dicey for anyone with common sense, but we all know there won’t be much of that with Kirk.
I parked the car, looked around carefully, got out of the car and walked to the front door. I rang the doorbell, noting that the door was protected by steel plating. I returned to my car backed up and parked in front of the single garage door.
I’m screwed, there isn’t anyone in that building. In fact, the damn building looked like nobody had been in it for years!
Just as I was about to start the car and leave, the garage door opened up and a serious guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, wiping his hands motioned me to drive in with some degree of urgency. Once in the building the door went down with a slam.
I introduced myself. Manfred Hecht was German, more than serious, just under six feet, weighing no more than one hundred sixty pounds.
I couldn’t get even a glimpse of how this visit might go, and frankly remained very apprehensive about the whole idea of having come there in the first place!
Leaving the dingy garage through a small door at the back, reality left the building. We had entered a huge, immaculate open space all in a stark white or very light grey.
Brilliant, expensive lighting, with several neat ante rooms.
In scanning the room, I was looking at every piece of very high quality machine tool: Metal lathes, two top of the line milling machines, metal shaping tools, everything you can imagine.
In touring the shop, Manfred took me into another immaculate, well lit room. I quietly expressed admiration for the “flow bench” that Manfred had. It was the best bench money could buy in that era.
That seemed to soften him somewhat, in that I knew what a flow bench looked like, and what purpose it served.
Manfred elaborated, saying he was currently doing some work for John Wittner who was racing Moto-Guzzi’s at the pro level.
I was able to add, that John Wittner was a friend of mine and had, for a number of years been my dentist!
That knocked the last of the ice out of the room, and Manfred allowed a brief smile. It signaled that maybe he wasn’t dealing with a total fop . . .
We headed to another section of the building and as I walked through the doorway, I was in a very long narrow room with motorcycles all the way down one long wall and more motorcycles all the way down the length of the other wall.
They were all Rickman’s!
A few fully built out, many rolling frames, seats, fairings, headlamps ad infinitum.
I knew I wasn’t the only guy that knew about this place, but in Manfred, I saw an incredible opportunity to hopefully form a working alliance with him if I was going to pursue European high performance motorcycles.
I wanted to buy just about every Rickman bike he had. They were that special. I did purchase a jewel of a Rickman Trials bike powered by a 350cc BSA engine.
It was getting late and as we walked back into the brightly lit room, I happened to look around to my right, and sitting there side by side were a BSA Gold Star and a highly modified Triumph TT based “Street Fighter.”
That Triumph was the wickedest bike I’d ever seen.
“Tell me about this” I said, standing next to the Triumph.
Again a slight smile crossed his face. “I used to make money with that ride, very late at night, when I was young. Right here in Brooklyn, down by the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), The Harley thugs would see this scrawny little guy ride up and offer to run ‘em for money. They’d snicker and maybe someone would say:
“Sure, come on kid, for twenty I’ll run ya’ on the BQE from here to the next exit north . . .”
Manfred would always win.
He said he had to go further and further afield to catch bikers that didn’t know that Triumph.
Finally, everyone knew him, including the cops who he was always able to elude.
He retired from street racing, well mostly, and moved on.
THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLICATED OMELETTE . . .
Bill Kontes had bought a Vincent Black Shadow from me years back when I was on 63rd street. He always had great motorcycles.
He called one morning as he knew of my interest in European motorcycles. He told me about a gentleman by the name of John Melniczuk in Millville, New Jersey who had a remarkable collection of vintage Triumphs.
It was always good to see Bill. His cars were always superb. He never failed to surprise me with his finds.
I was late getting away from Philadelphia. It was close to three in the afternoon when I rounded a traffic circle in Mullica Hill where there was quintessential American Diner in the middle, so I thought, you’ve got to eat something, duck in there.
I was in the midst of a very strict diet at the time, so I knew exactly what I would have and then roll on to Millville.
I parked and entered the diner. As it was mid afternoon, not many patrons were in the place.
I took a seat at the counter and very quickly a young cheerful gal asked me what I’d like.
“A tall glass of water, black coffee and a plain omelette . . . I said.
Shortly she returned with a nice smile and put the omelette in front of me and said:
I cut away the first bite and there was cheese oozing out . . .
I hailed her and told her the difficulty. She was happy to replace it with a plain omelette . . .
A few minutes later, she returned with apologies. Again, I cut into my fresh omelette and cheese oozed out again!!
( . . .so Kirk, why didn’t you just eat the damn thing and be quiet? Oh no, once I got “laser locked” on a weight loss program, nothing would move me off center . . .”)
I got her attention again explained the situation and she apologized profusely!
“So, so sorry! Just wait a moment and I’ll get it right! She said . . .
Some time passed and I was looking at my watch. I was going to arrive in Millville after dark at the rate I was going . . .
More time went by . . .
At that point the diner was completely empty. I turned and three wait staff and the cashier were huddled together at the register. All seemed to be casting shrouded glances my way.
At that point I was very, very hungry!
I hailed my waitress. She came over to me, eyes cast downward. It was plain to see she was in some distress.
“What happened?” I said.
“He won’t do another one . . . she uttered almost in a whisper.
An awkward silence ensued . . . Finally I said:
“Should I leave??” I said half joking.
Her head still downcast, she merely said”
“I think so . . .”
It remains one of the more remarkable culinary experiences of my life!
Yeah, I finally got to see everyone, albeit with a nagging hunger!
In the next chapter we’ll dig more deeply into these new adventures! The motorcycle deal gets pretty big, the antique toy business become even bigger and the European high line cars start to regain some real footing.
IF YOU HAVE A FEW MORE MOMENTS YOU MIGHT ENJOY THE ENCLOSED YOU TUBE CLIP OF EUROPEAN MOTORCYCLE ROAD RACING ON THE ISLE OF MAN .
THE NEXT CHAPTER WILL BE ALONG SOON !
1967 MV Agusta 600, Engine Detail
While I was working at Algar, I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully looking over all the exquisite details of that bike. I was completely smitten with it.
Canterbury Two Seat Sidecar
Vincent Black Prince II
Triumph TT ( Yeah , I know it's not a real TT . . .)
It was a good sized print, but no, it wasn’t a TT as you can plainly see .
Still it had a “street fighter” look and with the price at hundreds of dollars, it could make money if you broke it for parts.
I questioned the owner as thoroughly as my limited knowledge would allow, gave him a small push on the price, and we had a deal!
Marilyn and I had been married a very short while and we were living in her home in Wayne with her children Amanda and Trip.
I had somewhat made this motorcycle move without really involving Marilyn!
I was still adjusting to a wonderful marriage that was completely free of land mines and periodic firestorms. I suppose it would be called in today’s world, experiencing a recovery from PTSD!
I didn’t want a motorcycle to create any uneasiness or stress.
It didn’t. If that was something I wanted to do, it was fine. Marilyn did add that she personally would not be touring with me even to the extent of several hundred yards!
To wind it up, the Triumph came in and looking at it today the best you can say is: “yeah it was a street fighter” . . . of sorts. Well, a small town Ohio “street fighter”!
RICHARD MILES . . .
The Incomparable Dick Miles!
Polished Alloy Rickman
Rickman Honda 750
1972 Rickman Triumph Cafe Racer
Steve McQueen Rickman
It was time to go, but I wanted to ask one question before I hightailed it out of that neighborhood before dark. Not that there were any windows to determine whether it was day or night!
“Would you do outside work on proper motorcycles?”
“Since you know John Wittner, I’d do work for you . . .
I told him I’d make arrangements to collect the Rickman Trials bike. We shook hands and I was in my way. All the way home I tried to absorb everything I’d seen that day.
And, to think I almost drove away from the big daunting building . . .
Dick Miles racing one of his potent Norton's
Dick Miles great old Dodge pick-up truck
Manfred Hecht"s Triumph "streetfighter" after I had obtained it. (Yeah, that's a genuine Fontana front brake!)