The Truely Classic Royal Enfield Model G.
In the early 1980s the classic motorcycle scene was thriving, classic clubs were appearing everywhere, with it came rallies, swap meets, monthly meetings and get togethers (known as Shed Raids) to see what other like minded enthusiasts were hiding away in their workshops. It seemed that everybody wanted to own a classic motorcycle and be part of the classic motorcycling scene. British classic motorcycle magazines The Classic MotorCycle and Classic Bike were growing in strength as they went from 3 monthly to monthly publications and project motorcycles were being dragged out from the darkest of corners where they had languished for the last 10 to 20 years, to be fettled, rechromed, painted and rallied. People were becoming quite particular on what they wanted though. Mainstream motorcycles like BSA B31s, Goldstars, Norton and AMC singles and twins and Triumph twins were in abundance, with the lesser popular Ariels (and yet who would say no to an Ariel Square 4?) Scott, and such like.
Franklin Classic Motorcycle Club. One of the many clubs that started in the early 1980s.
And then of course there were Royal Enfields. Not everybodies cup of tea but there was a growing underground movement for 350 Bullets, and if you were really lucky the rarer 500 Bullet or a 500 or 700 twin. But if you were a financially challenged enthusiast or liked to be different than everybody else then the Royal Enfields 350cc OHV Model G was on offer.
Royal Enfields rigid Model Gs origins go back to 1936 when Enfield released their range of the new vertical single cylinder machines. The new G first appeared in 1936, and over the next 19 years saw many changes but in essence it remained a 1936 G. Its only major change being an upgrade from girder forks to telescopic forks in 1946, its production finally ceasing in 1955. It was never a fast machine but the G did provide thousands of owners, including the military in World War 2, with reliable and unquestionable service.
Photo – The Model G from 1935 . . . . . . . and from 1953.
Knobster thought that it would be cool to own a Model G so when the chance presented itself to buy the remains of one he was there. Mind you “being there” required a 800 km round trip to attend an auction of the deceased estate of Randal Baynes in Gisborne. The year – 1989, and probably the first of this type of event, the deceased estate auction of a true motorcycle collector. And it was big. Think of something and it was probably there. Randal had been an avid collector over a period of 40 years so one could imagine how much stuff was there. The hall that the auction was held in was that big that a car and trailer could and did drive in and turn around to load their purchases. There was a pallet in the middle of the floor heaped up with cast iron and steel crankshafts of a mass that was so heavy that the floor was noticeably sagging underneath the weight. The auction started at 9.00am and went through without stopping to 6.30 that evening.
Here is a very interesting article from Saturday February 18th 1989s edition of The Eastland Sun newspaper leading up to the auction.
So what did Knobster do?? Well as the auction moved through the various lots Knobsters eyes became more intense, sweat was appearing on his forehead and twitching was observed. Some might think that it was pressure of the pending bidding, but if the truth be known it was more likely from the alcohol that was leaching from his pores from the previous nights excessive socializing! Time had arrived and the room moved to a quiet hush, who was going to bid on this less than popular machine? Well bidding was intense but Knobster held his own and emerged the successful bidder for a princely sum of $150.00.
Perhaps the purchase of the decade was made by a young 14 year old lad who was left alone by his dad whilst he went to the toilet. Upon his return dad was met by the youngster with a beaming smile and the exclamation of “Dad, look what I bought, and it was only $10.00”. The purchase – a pile, well actually a really big pile of Triumph Tigress scooter parts. So much that the body parts formed a pyramid in the corner of the auction room reaching up to the roof. While others looked on sniggering Dad did not look happy. Later on Dad was hurriedly running around asking if anybody had any spare trailer space that was available to help get the parts back to Auckland. Always wondered what happened to that keen young bidder, he would be about 46 now. And as for Tigress parts? Well look at the prices that they are demanding now?
And I still have dreams of all the missed purchases.
The return trip home on Sunday was just as exciting, the Falcon station wagon was loaded to the gunnals as they say, with the equivalent of about 5 motorcycles in various dismantled states, plus parts, parts and more parts. The lack of ground clearance proved interesting when navigating the Waioeka Gorge a rather large rock in the middle of the road badly damaged the muffler, and with 300kms still to go the radio was drowned out by the pulsating roar of what people could believe was an old Massey Ferguson tractor coming down the road.
And moving on . . . . .
So, if you ever meet up with The Knob and ply him with enough bourbon he might just regale you with some more of his weekends experiences, I think he can still remember some of them. And of course it wasn’t all drinking.
Now, having parted with his precious gold the question was what to do with the Royal Enfield? Well not much because it was far from being complete, and what was there was in very poor condition. A frame with cracks and holes, an incomplete motor in parts, a gearbox, petrol tank, front and rear wheels, and parts of the front forks. With the parts all laid out on the lawn the project all of a sudden became quite daunting. Knob had never assembled anything from a pile of junk before and upon removing his rose tinted glasses the shock had set in. The answer, yup more alcohol, And what did we achieve, well absolutely nothing other than another ginormous headache. Then it came, a glow on the horizon, a vision of perfection and a voice from above repeating over and over again “build a classic racer”. It was said, and so it was done……………………….
It must be in the blood. A distant relation of Knobsters, his Great Uncle Worsel the 3rd, on his 1950s Model G in the UK before being deported to New Zealand for unspeakable crimes. His travelling companion behind is on a pre war girder fork Royal Enfield G.
As a race bike of sorts the G was going to be an interesting build as there were no other rigid Enfields out there to get ideas from, but at least there were other rigid racers. So what was it going to be, style over performance, or performance over style? Style is easy and varies between different motorcycle builders however performance was truly going to be a challenge as the basic design of the over weight cast iron head and barrel motor did not lend itself to high performance development. Some parts could be borrowed from the early English 350 Bullets (pre 1955) but the cylinder head design was poor and good gas flow would be difficult. One has to remember that google didn’t exist in the early 1990s so books had to be read, with guessing resulting in trail and error but we would succeed. Owners of AJS 7Rs, Manx Nortons and BSA Goldstars must have felt threatened by this wee beauty as they were very reserved in sharing any of their performance details, yes a sad but true fact that we were to over come.
And onto the engine. Armed with a factory copy of Royal Enfields performance tuning notes we were reasonably sure of what to do. Knowing and respecting the factories knowledge on their product the assurance that no modifications were required to the crankshaft, mains and big end bearing convinced us that more time could be applied to the piston and cylinder head. How wrong we were. With some head porting and a higher compression piston installed Knobster was ready for some serious racing. The engine held together for the first day, but day 2 resulted in a broken conrod and him spending the rest of the time as a spectator.
With lessons learned a new plan was drawn up. Lighter flywheels, a steel conrod, new left hand needle roller main bearing, and upgraded right hand roller would guarrantee a stronger bottom end. A new crankpin was machined up and fitted with a caged big end bearing from a Yamaha. Break now you bast@&d!!
We changed the older magneto for a Lucas SR rotating magnet unit running fixed timing for racing and used an exhaust cam in the inlet. There is no valve lifter so starting is a procedure not to be messed with.
A rev counter drive mounting was welded onto the timing cover but in all honesty would Th’ G produce enough revs to create an interest from the rider as to what revolutions those steel flywheels were rotating at? And as can be seen the blanking cover plate is still in situ.
During the build there was a whisper that there was a close ratio Albion gear cluster was for sale, not sure of the ratios but anything would be better than the standard gears, if only we could get some power out of the engine to take advantage of them. Precious cash was handed over, the cost being three times the original purchase price of the Enfield. The fitment required the blanking off of the kickstarter shaft as the very close ratios would not accommodate the kick starter lever. The push start method was going to be required, but it did make it look all very racer like..
The rest of the build was reasonably straight forward, the broken frame was repaired, new engine plates were cut out with better foot rest mounts, Morris Minor half shaft axles provided the material for the footrest supports (lovely steel to machine), the front forks and brakes were borrowed from my supply of bits, bobs, and old crap, the rear wheel was original G.
Ongoing progress. The colour was of course – black, but with all that polished alloy it would sparkle.
And so to the track we headed. While others laughed from the public viewing areas Knobster was out there having fun racing. Pukekohe, Taupo, Wanganui and even Paeroa saw action and for those who don’t understand the cornering principles of riding a rigid motorcycle there was nothing more unnerving than watching the Knob challenging the basic principles of gravity whilst clutching the handlebars as the back wheel skipped violently across the tarmac trying to maintain grip, especially with Paeroas Hacksaw corner. And upon returning to the pits he would just smile and say “hell that was good, close but still good”. There were those who talked about it, and those like ol Knobby who actually got out and did it.
Little Miss McSnippy doing some fine tuning at a classic race meeting in Pukekohe in the early 1990s.
Now 30 years on Knobster (also known as Grandpa Knobby) has a little more time on his hands with children having left home and Mrs K finding more satisfaction in crochuring woollen seat covers for His Highness’ motorcycles. So with that the Knob has been thinking of sporting Enfields and Th’ G once more. Realising that it will never be the land speed record holder from days of old there was that enjoyment that would forever bring a big smile to such a withered old face.
With the desire to tell the world that yes he owns a Royal Enfield Model G the ageing old geriatric was initially thinking that the “old girl” may be better suited for trundling down to the local cake shop for some more pies and donuts instead of being thrashed unmercilessly around race tracks however the juices were starting to flow once again and thoughts about competing just one more time in vintage racing were bouncing around on the horizon. And that horizon would be the Burt Munro Challenge, a 5 day event that has beach racing, a hill climb, circuit racing on Teretonga Race Circuit, and speedway. Some of those events that the Knob considers worthy of his efforts and his machines performance in the true Spirit of The Burt Munro.
But how ready is the motorcycle. Having not run for over 25 years a full inspection of the engine was required, an upgrade of the front suspension was on the list, some prettiness applied to various fittings and maybe a little bit of polishing. And he has assured me that he has checked the tyre pressures, something that he used to struggle with in the past. Of course a few test rides around the block just to make sure that all was in order was successful, even to the point of being followed home by the local Rozzers and being spoken to about a lack of . . . . . . well a lot of things actually. Could have been very expensive if the constable had found his crayon to write out the infringements. Of course the curtains of all the neighbours were twitching while words were being exchanged.
So with all boxes ticked off Mr and Mrs Knobster have now loaded Th’ G with all an sundry and departed for Ti Souff for what will be a very memorable time and hopefully may be repeated next year.
To some of the opinionated public this experiment could be much akin to the flogging of a dead horse, but nevertheless it will still be a lot of fun.
Th’ G in race ready trim, next stop Invercargill.
As we review the past, present, and any future successes of Th’ G we must not forget that besides the 25 years of dust gathering on the Enfield the same also applied to the sweaty, crusty old leathers that used to adorn the slender figure that Knobster once was. Any thoughts about still fitting the old cow hide were quickly dispelled and after much advice from all those in the know, with suggestions including the wetting down of the leathers and coating ones body with Castrol R (the true racers lubricant) just resulted in big gaffaws of laughter from Mrs Knobster and a new set of racing leathers soon arrived in the post.
Perhaps a worthy addition to the race kit could also be a set of starting rollers as the sight of a sweaty red faced old man puffing furiously whilst trying to bump start the Enfield down the grid could be just too much to subject even the hardiest of bystanders.
And of course if this journey is not what the Knobster hoped it would be then he could always go back to Plan D, install that wire basket on the front and use the bike for trundling down to the local shop for more pies and raspberry buns.
Sadly I will not be attending the Burt as support crew but I will be there in spirit, not sure if it will be whiskey or bourbon but I will raise a glass to the great man, he deserves it.
If you are heading south for the big occasion this coming weekend (8th to 11th February 2024) keep an eye out for the great man and say hello, he may even let you polish Th’ G or touch his Barnstormers tee shirt.
Knobster has promised a detailed report of happenings on his return.
What say you Mr Knobster??
Watch this space.
Update . . . Already.
Knobster has rattled through his old photos and come up with 2 early action shots of him hunting down the prey on Th’ G.
The first is with the bike in red oxide undercoat (perhaps the dreaded conrod stretching meeting?) and the second one looks to be the Paeroa street racing.