PART OF MY LIFE by Bill Young
Yesterday I rode behind the New Imp!
So what, says you. What's so wonderful about a middle aged, portly, greying, Grandfather chugging up the highway behind an old single cylinder bike almost as ancient as himself? Well, it wasn't always like that. Pull up a chair, fill your glass and listen to a wondrous tale so poignant and unbelievable it will bring a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye.
Picture the scene, half a lifetime ago, early one morning in the Swan Valley: the first rays of the morning sun peeping over the range, bringing wraiths of mist drifting off the barren vines.
A tall engine camshaft Norton thundering up Great Northern Highway, a blue uniformed figure crouched on the rear mudguard pad in the approved racing position of the thirties .... I was in the Air Force at the time, it was the early stages of the War and my usual thirty minutes estimate for progress Perth - to - Pearce left no time to admire the beautiful spring morning. It was my boast in the pre- R.T.A. days that nothing passed me if I didn't want it to. So it was with an astonished ear that I detected another exhaust note blending with that of the Norton.
No time to wonder! It was alongside and past in a flash, a sleek black machine, narrow tyres, wheels perfectly in line, engine so low that it almost caressed the road, twin Brooklands' fishtails, the rider tucked in so he almost appeared part of it.... a fleeting, wonderful impression heightened by the exciting aroma of Castrol R.
I spurred the Norton to greater effort. She nobly responded, dilated her nostrils, lengthened her stride and I tucked in behind until we swept into the gates of Pearce Airforce Base. A brief halt at the Guardhouse, a crescendo of sound echoing back from the brick archway and he was gone. I was left to wonder......
For once I was early for Parade but I must confess my motions on the drill square lacked the usual smart precision, my heart just wasn't in it. I still itched to learn more of the remarkable machine.
It wasn't long before the opportunity to disappear from my usual duties presented itself. I soon located the owner, a fellow Airman and the machine, a genuine 1928 TT New Imperial... close ratio gearbox... twin float carb... racing square ML... strutted duplex frame... the lot! REMEMBER this was 1939... a very desirable machine indeed.
Several times during the next few months I was privileged to follow the New Imp. Somehow it didn't seem right to lead, something like a commoner following Royalty, if you know what I MEAN. Then, with the so called Cold War hotting up, our paths parted, I was posted away and never saw my friend or the New Imp again.
October again, but this time 1976. The home phone jangles and a voice, strangely familiar, introduces itself. I'm afraid if the owner of the voice could have seen me he would have noticed a quizzically raised eyebrow.
"Don't you remember me? I was in the Air Force with you in '39."
I hastened to assure him that when it came to mathematics I was well off the leader board, but by removing my boots and counting fingers and toes I could subtract 39 from 76 and the answer was a long, long time for sure.
The voice said it was forced to agree, but then.. did I remember the New Imp?
Making a noise like a Trials Bike with its' exhaust submerged in a swamp, I gasped; "You haven't still got it?"
"In the backyard," replied the voice, "and the BSA as well". This was unbelievable news. I hastened to arrange a look which had to be postponed for several weeks because the BSA had savaged him when he tried to start it, breaking his ankle. He would ring me later when he was mobile.
Time dragged on. It only flies when you are having fun.
I was fast running out of patience and at last, could wait no longer. Knocking on his door, I was invited inside and for the next two hours we drank tea and talked about old times. Then AT LAST.
"Would you like to see the bikes?" WOULD I?
More meetings followed. He told me he would never ride them again but he didn't want to part with them."They're part of my life."
Being a little bit funny that way myself, I quite understood, but that didn't help much!
We met regularly, exchanged plants and literature and an occasional fat fish found its' way to his 'fridge, but I was beginning to feel like giving up. If a vacancy had occurred in the Diplomatic Service, I'd have qualified easily. No risk. Then with the thought that "Faint heart never won fair turkey, I rang him again.
It was Grand Final Day... I remember it well.
"Come and pick up the BSA" he said. "I can't get my car in the garage, it takes up too much room."
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO GET A HAND ON GRAND FINAL DAY? Everyone it seems is at the football. The BSA and sidecar was huge, my trailer was small, but somehow I got it on.
During the restoration period, I picked him up to inspect progress for 'way in the back of my mind I suspected that the BSA was really a sort of Trade Test.
At last, with the help of my friends, it was restored to its magnificent conclusion. I once again picked him up and waited tremulously for the verdict while he did his inspection. "Better than when I first got it 40 years ago."
I sighed with relief. Perhaps I still had a chance of getting the New Imp? Time passed.
Grand Final Day again. Another phone call. "Come and pick up the Imp." I was gone in a flash.Together we pushed it out, wobbling on flat tyres, rusty, dusty, cobwebs and all. But the most remarkable thing of all, after all the chase, the prize was MINE but I didn't feel that I'd won. I felt almost ashamed to take it. Then as I rolled down the hill and checked the rear vision mirror, I saw the New Imp lashed firmly on my trailer and an old man, back bent away from me, picking a weed - where I am sure no weeds grow
.Original Editors Note:
The TT New Imperial refered to above was ridden by Kerry Young in the TT Commemoration Run of 1979 and ran beautifully, apart from the railway crossing incident, and I feel sure that all who have seen it will agree that BYs' patience and an incredible good luck in acquiring such a rare and desirable machine was fully justified. Truly a worthy addition to our ranks of thoroughbred old Motor Cycles.
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