Family Tradition


My father was born in 1921 and died just four years ago. It was he who fostered my lifelong love of cars and motorcycles. Pre-War, he’d been apprenticed to The Caterham Motor Company in Oxted Surrey and had been heavily involved in pre-war motorcycle grass track racing at places like Brands Hatch and Layhams Farm. He was a keen supporter of New Cross Speedway too and I believe had a ‘try out’ just as WW2 intervened and put paid to such nonsense. He’d already become a sort of ‘sponsored’ ‘tracker for a colleague named Reg Marsh who supplied a dope burning 350 JAP engined New Imperial…Reg emigrated to NZ after the war and set up a motorcycle business there.

The arrival of the second world war saw him signed up as a mechanic for the RAF in North Africa,  working on whatever needed fixing, from Spitfires and Hurricanes to transport planes. In order to give the men some constructive R’ n’ R the armed services had initiated an inter-services speedway league which followed the allies through Sicily and into mainland Italy. Machinery was very much of the home-brewed variety. There was no shortage of engineering know-how and equipment in the REME, RAF and RN workshops, and as you can see from the shots, rough approximations were made as to the look of the speedway machines back in blighty…the old man specialised in the tiny petrol tank variety! The speedway irons started life as trashed dispatch riders bikes. All parts were scrounged and they were generally run on ‘liberated’ aviation spirit.  The ultimate tool required an ohv engine of course, but with so many sidevalve hacks knocking about this called for much creativity. Accounts of Wermacht ohv BMW heads being grafted onto Brit crankcases via the expedient of a barrel turned from the bronze of a salvaged ship’s propellor were recorded. Both wheels often carried brake drums but with no internals. Competition was fierce and it wasn’t unknown for teams to recruit ‘ringers’ like speedway professional, Split Waterman to boost their chances of success.
As you can see, the machines had the ‘Oily Rag’ look built -in.Dad never lost the touch either; when I was a young teenager and a group of us rode field bikes at a friend’s farm, the old man turned up one day and put us all to shame by grabbing an old 350 Velo and put it into a continuous slide with consummate ease. My mother discouraged such activities,  but when he finally retired from aviation in 1980 he built himself a very quick Vincent Rapide from the proverbial ‘box of bits’, assuring her that it was just an old machine and very slow!

- Jon Dudley

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Family Tradition, Hand Made, Motorcycles Leave a comment


Here’s a spin on the Oily Rag theme; purchase a rusto-wagon (preferably from SoCal, where the oxidation is merely cosmetic), remove the body in your high-tech shop (in this case, Icon), have your laser system digitize the chassis, and create an entirely new undercarriage and power system to hide beneath your ‘oily rag’ 1950s car.  Not preservation, certainly, especially when the engine is a new Chrysler V10 and the interior is based on an Hermés crocodile dye briefcase made for JFK…

The Derelicts a short film by eGarage from eGarage on Vimeo.

Love to hear your thoughts on this one.

- Paul d’Orléans

Posted on by Paul d'Orléans in Cars, Hand Made Leave a comment


Jeff Epps and his ca. 1956 Ford F350 flatbed truck…

We’d been looking for a suitable Desert Racer, planning on some fun in the Southwest in two weeks.  I already have my original-paint ’73 Triumph TR5T ‘Adventurer’ purchased at the Bonhams Las Vegas auction last January, part of the du Pont family estate motorcycle liquidation.  Conrad wanted something similar, as he’s planning to spend a little time in Cali next year.  Whole container loads of Britbikes have been poached from California garages since the 1980s, and we don’t see many pre-unit Triumphs or much from the 50s and earlier, but ‘overlooked’ machinery is still to be found, in abundance, and fairly cheap.  BSA A65s, B50Ts, Triumphs post 1970, etc…derided in their day, but with modern eyes, well designed and fun machines.  Since we’re not seeking high performance or drag-racing with Kawasakis at every stoplight,  such motorcycles provide spirited riding indefinitely, and are easy to maintain, with parts readily available.

Conrad Leach seals the deal with Jeff Epps on the '71 Triumph TR6R

A scan of Craigslist revealed a likely candidate; a ’71 Triumph TR6R ‘Trophy’ with high pipes, looking complete and in decent shape, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, in Sonora, CA.  I have family in Sonora, the 2.5 hour drive isn’t daunting, and I had a feeling it would be worth the trip, as the area is full of ‘mountain men’ and eccentrics.  An empty van, a full tank, a few tie-straps, and a wad of cash; we were en route.

A neighbor's 1963 Willys Wagon, which has been sitting a long time, but is rust-free. We are inquiring!

Jeff, the vendor, was shocked that Tom Tom brought us right to his door, on the dirt road with no signs, in the hamlet of Soulsbyville.  His compound, one /fifth acre of dry dirt, a few trees, two wooden shacks, and a couple of old trucks, was clean-swept, with neatly stacked cordwood, a pile of which formed a tall curved wall keeping his home from view of the world.  Clearly, the man is organized and tidy, even if the grounds are humble dirt and wood.  Sonora is dry, with Scrub Pines and Manzanita dominating the foliage, and little grass; I knew the Triumph would be rust-free, at least.

The single male is prone to keeping a motorcycle in the kitchen…

Jeff’s home is entirely hand-built of plywood and studs, and he keeps a BSA Victor in his kitchen – it’s his pride and joy, shiny as a new apple.  A stack of Classic Motorcycle magazines decorated his den table…clearly he’s an old biker, and a real enthusiast.  The Triumph looked good, we did the deal, and shot some Wet Plates (our official ‘oily rag’ photo technique) of the man and his world.

Wet Plate photo of Jeff Epps, with BSA flat-cap, and his 'new', 1960s, Ford truck…

He’s thinking of selling up the whole place – yours for $55,000 – and moving higher up the mountain, so he can ski daily in winter. Sonora is slowly changing, with miles of anonymous strip malls and chain stores, looking like every other boring suburb on the planet.  We’ll have to drive a little farther to find the likes of Jeff in the future…

Wet Plate image of Jeff and his Ford F350; he's built a wooden pent-roof house on the flatbed, for toting snowmobiles and cordwood…

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