The idea of owning something extraordinary in the field of two-wheeled transport had long been nagging. From the deeper and dustier recesses of my brain, memories a strange device haunted me. As a small boy, one of my favourite excursions was to the intriguing motorcycle collection ofMr Spearman, toy shop proprietor and sometime garagiste in Bishop’s Stortford. Amongst the many treasures within said garage lurked a Ner-A-Car. In its heyday, the Ner-A-Car was one of several strange two-wheelers produced commercially as an answer to the believed desire for a ‘civilised motorcycle’, and it must rank as one of the strangest.
Specifications are remarkably futuristic – no frame, merely a pressed steel chassis, bulbous front mudguard, hub-centre steering and friction drive, oh, and two individually operated drum brakes on the rear wheel only. It worked! - provided you weren’t a speed demon or didn’t mind young lads laughing as they whizzed past on their pushbikes.
Whilst being wheeled around, it feels like a jelly with a hinge in the middle, but once ridden it all comes together as one of the most stable and beautifully handling machines I’ve ever ridden. Carl Neracher designed and built these motorcycles in Syracuse, New York, and licensed Messrs. Sheffield Simplex of Kingston-on-Thames to manufacture them in the U.K. Mine is one of the latter and of 1922 vintage. I was tipped off as to its whereabouts (an old fish packing shed in Essex) by a fellow enthusiast.
When I bought it the owner generously gave me the rare square format handbook too – full of useful hints and tips – quite necessary when a good decoke, amongst other vital maintenance, was recommended every 300 miles or so. Advertised widely, Ner-A-Cars found favour with district nurses and the clergy, probably due not only to the cassock-protection they offered from road filth, but also to their parsimonious running costs. One unlikely but satisfied owner was the celebrated crime-writer Dorothy L. Sayers. My machine, when purchased, had somewhere lost its friction drive and two-stroke engine to a side-valve motor and conventional gearbox; for me it also lost much of its individuality.
The Ner-A-Car in its purest form is what I now have – dual acetylene and electric lighting, underpowered and friction-driven, the thing is a hoot! I have no desire to restore or even clean it. It faithfully passes an MOT examination every year and runs at breathtaking speeds of some 30mph on its beaded edge tyres.
- Jon Dudley