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Just what I have always wanted

by Gordon Hindley

In the late 1950s when, as a young teenager, I spent many enjoyable hours riding around the garden of an older friend on his new Puch moped, I knew that a similar machine would be fantastic fun to own and ride on the roads.  During my fifteenth year, I spent hours looking at the various machines on offer at the many small motor cycle shops that were so numerous on most High Streets during the 1950s.  A beautiful green Excelsior Consort with 98cc Villiers engine in the window of one local shop was one that I would have loved to own, but the price, of about £67 from memory, was way out of reach for an enthusiastic schoolboy.

As luck would have it, one afternoon in December 1959 I was at the local shops on Bury Old Road, Whitefield on an errand when, on a small detour on the way home to look at the bikes at the local cycle & motor cycle shop, my eye was immediately drawn to a shining grey Raleigh Moped displayed on the pavement outside the shop.  With the lights reflecting in the bright chrome of the wheels and handlebars I presumed that the machine must be brand new and my hand reached for the white price tag tied to the handlebars.  £25 it read.  I could hardly believe my eyes as it didn't have a scratch on the grey paint work.  As the shopkeeper came over he confirmed that it had had very little use and had just come in as a trade-in on a Lambretta scooter.  My heart was obviously beating at twice its usual speed with excitement as I hurried home to tell my mother what it was that I wanted for Christmas.  But, at £25, that was a lot of money to spend on a present and would certainly be a lot costlier a present to expect than the latest Dinky Toy model of a Standard Vanguard or Morris Oxford that, not many years earlier, was the normal sort of Christmas present that filled my stocking, along with the inevitable apple and orange and bar of Cadburys chocolate.  Also, didn't I have to wait about two or three years when I wanted a Hornby Dublo 'Duchess of Montrose' steam locomotive complete with two British Railways coaches and circular track?  Convincing my mother that the Raleigh Moped was just what I have always wanted was relatively easy, but the "We will have to wait and see what your father says when he gets home from work" sounded as if it could present a bit more of a problem.  My father wouldn't be home for another hour and the Raleigh would most probably be sold by then I thought, as any of the workers walking past the shops on their way home could easily see that it was an unrepeatable bargain.

My father arrived home at the usual time, just after 5:30 and, with my mother firmly on my side, by twenty to six we were off in the Vauxhall Victor to see the Raleigh Moped, with my father saying things like "Wouldn't you rather wait and get something with a bit more power when you are a bit older?"  Waiting any longer was just what I didn't want to hear.  I hoped that the bike would still be for sale.

When finally my parents saw the smart grey Raleigh they had to agree that it was a perfect example and, by ten to six, the shop owner was demonstrating the moped's capabilities to us by riding it up and down the road at the side of his shop, the engine running like a dream and the headlight shining brightly as the revs increased.  By six o'clock my father had cannily negotiated a £1 off the price for cash and I was proudly wheeling my Raleigh Moped, 285 GTF, home along the dark pavement.  The Raleigh was wheeled into a space in the lean-to garage and positioned next to the Hoover washer and the days dragged by until April when my provisional licence would plop through the letterbox.  Until then, I could only clean and polish the moped and occasionally start the engine.  In the garage with the bike on its centre stand and the back wheel spinning round and round the clutch-less engine ran without ever missing a beat.

Well, the day finally arrived when I could take to the road and the summer of 1960 was one to me of glorious days when the sun seemed to shine continually and I spent virtually every evening during the week riding around the local streets, into Heaton Park and the countryside around Radcliffe and Bury, or to watch Manchester's Belle Vue speedway team.  After the racing I could get some funny looks from the other enthusiasts, dressed in their black leather jackets with chrome studs, as they strolled over to their Norton, Matchless, AJS or what have you, with a cute young chick by their side ready to jump on the pillion seat, whilst I strode up to my Raleigh, donned my red and white pudding basin style crash helmet just like Gary Hocking or Geoff Duke and pedalled of waiting for the engine to fire up only to have to repeat the performance in a few yards whilst the hundreds of bikes made their way onto the roads.

At weekends, more distant trips over towards Oldham and my favourite regular runs into the Cheshire countryside, or even more enthusiastic journeys over the Pennines into Derbyshire and around Buxton, needed plenty of pedal assistance to negotiate the steep gradients that are around every corner.  Even longer rides - about 100 mile round trips - with my saddle bag packed full with sandwiches and orange juice and an early start off to the seaside at Southport with its sands packed full with cars parked side by side on the beach, filling the miles of golden sand between Southport and Ainsdale in the days before two weeks in the sweltering sun of Torremolinos or Benidorm somehow put an end to those enjoyable day trips to the coast that were so much a part of the motoring scene at that time.  Even the inevitable miles of queues on the journey home with near-stationary Morris 8s, Ford Pops, etc, with their radiators boiling over, in the days before motorways turned motoring into the tedious chore it is now, were an expected part of an enjoyable day out.  The Raleigh Moped could make good time on the road in those conditions.

During that first year of ownership, the Raleigh proved most reliable with hundreds of miles covered and I can only remember having to spend about nine old pence on a failed rear light bulb and about one pound three shillings at a repair shop to restore the lost spark following a burnt out stator, I think.  I remember with regret, after having put an advert in the Manchester Evening News just before my seventeenth birthday, how a young university student rode off on my Raleigh having paid me the asking price of £18.  This would pay for the insurance on my first car, a 1937 Austin Seven Special, but that's another story.

And now, about thirty two years later, I am glad to have joined an enthusiastic club that caters for mopeds and wonder if any fellow member might have a circa-1959 grey Raleigh Moped for sale, preferably in excellent, original condition, so that, once more, I could take to the road on the organised runs on a machine that still holds so fond a memory for me.  After all, it's just what I have always wanted - honestly it is.

Added to archive - 30 April 1999

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