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Five Down

sunbeam s7

(Travels with Guido series #244, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, November 2020)


Ever have one of those weeks when the emergency ward in the shed is suddenly packed with problems?

Daughter Ms A Jnr flies with and works for Mike Senior, a seventy-something year-old commercial pilot who’s a recognised character in the local aviation industry. I’ve met him. Lovely bloke. Possibly mad, but he likes Ms A and you can’t fault his taste in aircraft, which includes a stunning DC-3.

One day he asked her, “How many of your father’s six bloody motorcycles actually run?”

“He has three times that,” was the reply, “and only one doesn’t.” (The SR500 at the time – I was the case…really!)

That was Sunday.

The next day, someone backed over our Ecco Engineering BMW R65, again – this time it was Spannerman’s son, which was a bit awkward. Never mind, the repair bits are on the way.

Then Don Stafford rang to say the 1980 GSX1100 project has tried to kill his mechanic by suddenly locking the steering at an unfortunate moment. They were all over 18 (including the bike) and I guessed they would work it out.

A moment later, I’m happily riding Winston the 1947 Sunbeam S7 back from the monster All British Rally in Vic (run by the good folk at the BSA club) when I hear a rattle develop. Hmmm, that sounds bad, thinks Muggins. Then, “boomph!” (I always wondered what “boomph” really sounds like and now I know…)

Something flicks my jeans, and then the world develops an oil mist as the bike slows. I gently pull up, wondering what the hell is going on, while the Sunbeam is idling as we come to a stop, albeit unevenly. I shut it down.

Someone once told me the first stage of grief is denial. So when you look down past the slightly frayed and oily jean leg to a crankcase with a gaping hole, the first thought is, “Nup, that can’t be right.” Must be the dodgy light. Look again, well, bugger me, that really is a hole that you could drive a Kingswood through. It’s thrown a rod.

Ms M Snr, who was following on Trevor the Triumph T150, normally interprets my frantic “I’ve broken down” wave as a cheery farewell but this time she suspected something really was up and stopped. She was appalled. Almost as appalled as when I first bought Winston.

“You are not,” she once intoned, “to ever buy a sodding classic bike and join those sad blokes who spend their nights arguing over left-threaded grommets.”

But she grew to like the Sunbeam, eventually declaring it to be the epitome of handsome. Now she was standing on the roadside, as dusk fell, grieving over its wound.

It was not the end of the world. I was on the web that night and tracked down a donor engine. It cost $380 from young JP, on an auction site, though the freight from Florida (why couldn’t it be Sydney?) will be ugly.

Don Juan (that’s his email signature and who are we to argue?), JP’s uncle, got in touch, to explain he gave his nephew what he describes as “garage sweepings” to help fund college. So, unintentionally, the money was going to a good cause – but really, Don, garage sweepings?

That whole exchange eventually went sideways, when the nephew “stopped to wet a line” somewhere on the way to the Fedex depot, and motor got stolen out of his pick-up. By this time I’m starting to think that, in this case, maybe college wasn’t such a hot investment…

Anyway, Winston eventually got to rise again – as its namesake did. Years after WWII, Churchill got a second bite as Britain’s Prime Minister.

There’s a little postscript. As we drove home with a dead Winston and a live Trevor on the trailer, we were flagged down in nearby Castlemaine by a Norton Commando rider who had broken his clutch lever. “Can I buy or borrow the lever from that T150?” he asked. Of course we gave it to him.

So that was a fifth bike in need of repair. Mike, call me for an update…

See more Travels with Guido here


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