It was a very snowy February in 1962. We had been married for about two years, money was short and I had sold my last bike, a Douglas Dragonfly, to cover wedding costs.
I was desperate for another bike but they were all far out of my financial reach. A local character (who remembers Percy Webb of Maidstone?) did bike repairs in his old garage, one of a block and I was fossicking around behind it. There, almost covered in the snow from the roof, was an old motorcycle. No wheels or headlamp, but otherwise looking complete. I scraped away the snow and saw the magic ‘Sunbeam’ on the black tank – a 1937 350cc model.
I went back when Percy was in residence (he worked when he felt like it and had not gone fishing!) and enquired if he might sell it. He sucked on the ever present pipe, said the bike worked before he had ‘stored’ it, thought he had the wheels ‘somewhere’ and suggested £5. I was earning about £7 a week and we had a young child, too. It was out of my reach but he said I could pay him for it at 10 shillings (50p) a week, if I liked. That clinched it.
A week later I went back – he had found the wheels and refitted them. The first 10 shilling note changed hands and I pushed that old bike the two miles home through the snow-bound streets of Maidstone, almost sick with joy at having a bike again.
Once home (down the back alley and into the shed of our terraced cottage) I stripped it down and repainted it with a brush and Japlac enamel. It was my first ‘restoration’ of many since, but the most memorable. Nothing mechanical was done to it – it worked and I could not afford any outlay. But it went okay, although I seem to remember some play in the girder fork area.
That little old Sunbeam gave me immense pleasure over about two years, when I sold it on to a young lad for his commute from Kent to London, for a whole £10 (£5 profit – those were the days!). It never let him down.
Now, 48 bikes later, arthritis has led me to exchange my BMW R100 for a new, lighter Royal Enfield Bullet EFI (nostalgia for the three Bullets I had in the 1960s), but it is always that old Sunbeam that sticks in the memory!
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