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Restoration and Coincidence
This is a story whose theme could well be described as a series of coincidences around a motorcycle.
In 1982 we moved to Picton and as usual made new friends. We discovered that one of our new friends, Norm Gourdie, was a second cousin of Claire, my wife, whose maiden name was Gourdie. Norm had two old motorcycles partially disassembled and one of them was a 1954 Matchless G3LS. It had been off the road because of a problem with oil supply which caused repeated failure of the big end.
After leaving school my first motorcycle was a 1952 Triumph Tiger 100, a 500 cc twin, with a sprung hub suspension. I was delighted recently to see one in the Nelson Motorcycle museum whose collection has since moved to the Richardson Museum in Invercargill. My bike had been fitted with high compression pistons and I soon became expert at dealing with blown head gaskets. I think my parents were relieved that it spent more time off road than on as this was the era before compulsory motorcycle helmets. (I’m showing my age now!). The oil supply to the valves was via a line that I foolishly replaced with a piece of plastic tubing and while heading for Ashburton with my girlfriend (now wife number one) on the back, the warm plastic sagged onto the head and melted. The valves seized in the guides and we came to a halt right outside the store which used to be outside the entrance to Burnham Military Camp. The bike was parked up out the back of the shop and we ignominiously hitch hiked to Ashburton. At the time Claire had a Honda 125 which was totally reliable and this perhaps illustrates the demise of the British motorcycle industry. As an aside, when my Triumph was going well I could only just manage to burn off a friend riding a new Honda 175. I sold the Triumph for $120 as is and have regretted it ever since.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand. I bought the basket case off Norm and soon realised that my basic engineering skills were not up to an actual restoration and I was also handicapped by having a “bitzer” that I had never seen complete. Along the way I joined the Register and met Wilson Hawke who kindly came over from Nelson and showed me how to disassemble the forks. There was an interesting connection because Wilson had been teaching at Waimea College with my late father and I was very moved when he told me that he thought very highly of my father because he had been very supportive of Wilson during a family illness. Wilson subsequently sent me a history of the school which had a few references to Dad as well as some photos.
The next development was I discovered an ally in Dave Hawkins, a well-known Matchless and AJS guru in Springfield. He took on the task of restoring the bike and over the next few years a steady trail of invoices attested to some progress. Dave sadly passed away prematurely following a motorcycle accident and his widow contacted me to pick up my partially restored motorcycle. I believe Murray McLean acquired a lot of Dave’s spare parts collection.
Next, I made the acquaintance of Malcolm MacDonald who agreed to complete the restoration for me. Malcolm picked up everything and eventually I got the call to go over to Nelson and pick up the restored machine. To me it looked fabulous and epitomised what I like about British bikes - lots of chrome, classic lines and a lovely sound.
About the same time I was serving in the RNZAF and was posted to Auckland so took the bike up there and enjoyed some great riding around Helensville, Albany and local areas. One day my battery compartment vibrated undone and the battery fell out onto the road and despite retracing my steps I never found it. My worst mistake was not checking the oil often enough and the engine lost all compression.
This mistake coincided with my final posting back to RNZAF Woodbourne and the engine was rebuilt this time by Murray McLean. Murray has since attended to a number of repairs and on one occasion I stayed with him and Lou and he showed me how to do quite a few things for myself. I was reminded of how annoyed I was at school when I was forced to do woodwork which I hated, instead of metalwork which would have been so helpful now that I am interested in old motorcycles.
A few years ago I bought a G80S from a former member in Christchurch and soon found that I was not really using the G3LS as much so I reluctantly decided to sell it. The new owner came over from Nelson to collect it and was suitably delighted so I’m glad it’s gone to a good home. This raises a good point made by Peter Simpson that we need some method of tracing what happens to bikes when they are sold. I certainly made every effort to encourage the new owner to join the Register.
At the beginning I alluded to a series of coincidences. I had some leave recently and travelled south to meet up with Eve, my daughter, at Porter Heights ski field. We took our grand-daughter for her first play in the snow and afterwards they all headed home to Christchurch and I elected to stay the night in Springfield with the intention of going back to the ski field the next day. I had a drive around Springfield and tried to remember where Dave Hawkins had lived. It all looked unfamiliar but at the end of a street there was a nice looking motel complex so I called in to see if I could stay the night. One of the owners introduced herself as Louise and as we walked to the unit I casually remarked that I used to travel here from time to time to visit Dave Hawkins. Louise was astonished and informed me that Dave was her father! Talk about gobsmacked!! I remembered seeing her in the workshop with her Dad. Louise is now married with children and runs the motel with her partner. Louise pointed out a house across the paddock where her mother still lives.
John Welch #1405
Area Rep Marlborough