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What's It All About - Part 2


I hope the previous enlightenment didn’t bore you too much, but if it did, I’m sorry. But, here’s some more.

I was rattling on about my view on the continuing production being likely to be brought about by the item being produced being successful. As I’ve said before I was smitten by Indian, and therefore I tried with the engineering knowledge I was now being taught to justify my selection of motor cycles. I don’t think it impressed my mates on their Triumphs, B.S.A’s, and XWD Matchless’, but I still think the engineering excellence of, for instance, a triple or quadruple primary chain over their single row one and robust clutch with Raybestos instead of cork is obvious. Other things that appealed to me over the British offerings, which everyone else seemed to be clamouring for, were the well-made handlebars which had all the controls concealed and away from the harmful effects of the elements. None of the cheap and nasty clip-on afterthoughts which constantly work loose and have all the wiring and cables flailing about in the wind. The footboards which tilt upwards if you corner too enthusiastically and get to the point where, if it was a British bike, the footrest would dig in. Then there is the oil tank out in the front of the tank in the cooling wind instead of being stuck behind the engine, as in a large number of others. All these points I feel are the result of years of satisfactory manufacture and engineering thought and consideration.

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Rod, 20 years old with his Henderson

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Rod, 741, 1957


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Chief, 1956



Anyway, besides all my waffle, what one must understand is that in my early days money was very short and anything which kept me on the road was done.

If your editor manages to get the head-on photo of my Henderson you will see that in order to be legal and ride at night I resorted to a bicycle oil-lamp on the front, which of course didn’t show much light, but did in those days make it possible to ride in town where the street lights enabled you to see where you were going. One modification which I never managed to fit on the Henderson, but which I wish I still had, was a most beautiful copper exhaust manifold which I persuaded a copper-smith apprentice to make for me. I always thought that the Henderson exhaust looked crude and inefficient although I don’t suppose it was judging by all the success and reliability they had and so decided to have one made that was straight out and curved to the rear, with the three rear-most cylinder exhaust pipes joining the main one with a beautiful small saddle-like flange. It really was a thing to behold, but for some reason I never fitted it, and where it went I know not.

It was of course more of a problem should I ever need a spare owing to the rarity of Henderson, and therefore in my interest to follow-up any leads I could. I had heard talk of a man in Salisbury who had Hendersons, and to that end set off to find him. He had a motor-cycle shop in a back street, but was not in when I called, but the salesman said "You’re lucky to have come today as he only comes in 

one day in the week to collect the money, and today’s the day". Then a loud burbling noise filled the air, and an open Bentley of about 1928 appeared, and out stepped an immaculately dressed man in tweeds. This was none other than Noel Mavrogordatto. He was quite a famous man who at the time I knew nothing about. The salesman told me that Mavro had just paid £6,000 to have the Bentley restored, and it soon became obvious that I was not in the same financial bracket, and that anything he owned would be beyond me. I saw an article written about him later, I think in the Motorcycle News, and it turned out that he was the son of a Greek merchant banker and had his own personal fighter aircraft before World War 2. Besides many other famous vehicles I did once see an advert by him to sell 12 Hendersons in bits for £40. Can you imagine that today? Mind you, it might just as well have been £40,000 as it was out of my reach.

I kept this Henderson for about 18 months, although I don’t remember who or when somebody convinced me to sell it, so it was back on the Indians. I think it was about this time that I felt that I had to pluck up the courage and make an attempt to ride the largest Indian, the 1200 Chief. Of course, the thought of obtaining a civilian Chief was but a dream, although military ones could be had. They were not as plentiful as the 741, out nevertheless they were about. As with the 741s I attempted to get anything and everything I could, and one acquisition was quite memorable owing to the way that I came by it. With the Henderson came a spare engine, which the seller had told me was a racing engine. It may well have been for all I knew about it at the time. As far as I was concerned it wasn’t the same as my engine, and therefore surplus to requirements. I had noticed somebody advertising for any American 4-cylinder bikes or parts, and here I was with a disposable engine. I set out to find this man and owing to the remoteness of his address it took me 2 attempts to find it. But find it I did, and the gentleman concerned was a chap who no doubt some may have heard of, and some may have bikes that have passed through his hands, Mr. George Lance, of Winterslow. He had a collection of 80 bikes and at the time was concentrating on American 4-cylinder

machines. We struck a deal and he got the engine in exchange for a military Chief with sidecar. The only problem was that the bike was in a London back street, in a suburb which escapes me at the moment, but I know it wasn’t far from Nine Elms. Another apprentice and I went "up the smoke" as London was called then, and when we viewed the combination it was clear that all we could do was leave the chair in the road and push the bike to the nearest station to get it sent home by train. It was a long push to the station, and when we got there it was one of the overhead type, and presented the problem of how to get the monster up the steps. The station-master closed the ticket office and found some planks, which with the assistance of several customers from the platform, we managed to get it inch by inch up the steep steps. I was so grateful to that railway man. This was the most original Chief I ever got, and it even had its screen on it. I wonder if we have an Indian Club member who has an original Chief chair that he found in the road? If so..."could I have it back please" and I won’t charge you any rent for the past 50 years!

Well I think that’s enough for this issue. I’ll continue the story next issue.

See you later

Rod Williams  

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