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Little Victories

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

(From the Travels with Guido series, Motorcycle Trader mag #357, March 2020)

SUnbeam S7 motorcycle

It took how many years?

One of the dubious joys of having a shed full of old bikes and cars is that you’re at no risk of getting bored. And the chances of your day progressing smoothly is in inverse proportion to the number of shitboxes you own. That’s a well-known law of physics, which I just made up.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that seem to trip you up and, in my experience, cause you a spectacular level of inconvenience that is wildly out of proportion to the value and importance of the object involved. Let me give you an example – fitting an air filter cover to Winston the sodding Sunbeam, a 1947 S7.

Those of you who’ve been with this mag for a while may recall this bike has eaten several times its own weight in mechanics over the years – or so it seems. It’s certainly driven several otherwise competent people round the proverbial twist, as its peculiar mechanical architecture has gradually been sorted.

The final catalyst for the big engine rebuild was the day it was running perfectly up in the goldfields region, until it went “paff” and spat a conrod into the nearest paddock, never to be seen again. Then the replacement crankcase got stolen out of a ute in Florida and, finally, we tracked down that rare beast, a team of people who both knew what they were doing and were willing to tackle the job.

It’s been a great success. I can now walk out, start it and know I have a reasonable chance of it completing an hour-long ride without having a major meltdown. And, believe me, that is a novelty after a decade or more of ownership.

Right, so back to the air filter cover. When this bike was first launched it was sporting a very nice eggshell-shaped aluminium air filter cover. It was one of those styling details that probably cost a fortune, but really finished off the bike and blended well with the unusual-for-its-time tandem alloy twin. When I bought the bike, the original had been lost to the mists of time and replaced with a later-pattern fibreglass cover.

At some stage the world’s only supplier of parts for these things – Stewart Engineering – announced it was about to produce a one-off batch of new aluminium covers, from castings taken from an original unit. The cost was substantial: a couple of hundred dollars a pop, if I recall right. Still, if you owned an early model like mine, you had to have it.

It duly arrived, looked great and was a bit of a head-scratcher to fit, but we got there. Off we went for a ride and I reckon it lasted all of 20 minutes before it fell off and shattered on the road. Yep, shattered – or at least a couple of substantial chunks broken off. Great, what now? Stewarts had sold out and wasn’t about to do another run, so it had to be a repair job.

Fortunately I tripped over a metal finisher who took pity on me and welded up the offending bit and refurbished it with a polisher. It was a lovely job. Of course by then the engine had gone to lunch and it was to be a long while before the bike was back up and running.

Finally, with the S7 otherwise sorted, I got to match up the cover with the bike. Again. This time you can bet I used enough Loctite to hold up the Sydney Harbour Bridge in an effort to ensure the little bastard doesn’t make another escape attempt. After all that flap and expense, you have to ask yourself whether it was worth the effort. Probably not…

More Travels with Guido columns

See the Our Bikes page for more on this bike

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