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Tale of a Winged Wheel - No M15678

as told to Roger Caunt

I was sold in May 1955 to Albert James Franklin of Garden City, Leicester. He had me installed into a New Hudson cycle and registered from 1st June as he wanted the tax to run to December '55 (cost 10/9d for the half year). The next three years cost Albert 17/6d each for which he happily paid for the privilege of pedalling me up the Scraptoft Lane hill to his home. Still, I was giving over 180mpg so he got his money's worth despite the LPA. The partnership was not to last. Aspirations for more cc's and weather protection prompted the purchase of a bubble-car and I was sold - about £4 I recall.

So, E.E.J.Saunders bought NBC 645. Now anyone who knows Leicester realises that everyone in the suburbs has hills on the way home; Ernest was no exception - the long haul up Catherine Street. You see, Leicester is in a valley and, whilst the commercial sector is on the flat, hills radiate from the centre. Four months of pedalling, from February to June 1959, soon prompted Ernest to seek a more powerful mount. I'm pretty sure he traded me in - £3 is recorded in the account books of H.E.Caunt, Motor Engineer and on 17th June 1959 I became the proud possession of son no.2 - Roger - then aged 16. Roger had already been riding illegally for short spells, via a 1950 150cc LE Velocette GRY 423 and a 150cc Douglas Bantam (1932?) BAU 414 which he and his dad had restored.

Roger's first job was insurance clerk (his mother's idea as she insisted "You're going to have a clean job"). Charles Street was the home of the "North British and Mercantile Insurance Co Ltd", some five miles from the suburbs. I was to be the commuter transport - parked in an alcove on the pavement at the side of the building. I don't remember even being locked up - honest people about then - I had a little tool bag with plug spanners, odds & ends and a "Pac a Mac". July to December tax cost 9/3d in 1959.

1960 and 1961 went by with little trouble until Harold (Roger's dad) came up with a tuning modification which turned into a disaster. High compression was easily achieved by planing the cylinder head. My clutch shaft received a donor gear. The drive gear also was machined and welded to a donor gear. Harold says he cut the teeth by hand! With a modified ratio I set forth to do battle with the other office boy's (Gwyn Chambers) Dominator 99 - that's the 600cc Norton twin. On occasions when he gave Roger a lift it was flat out down Catherine Street - just a short burst - 60-70mph! I still recall the downhill stretch - doing 35mph - I had a proper speedo fitted, it was expensive at 17/6d. A veteran klaxon cleared the path from the odd pedestrian who could not imagine such speed of an approaching bicycle. A good two mile stretch with the de-baffled exhaust pipe/silencer gave me a distinctive "howl" such that Harold would remark at about 5:30pm "Put Roger's dinner on - I can hear him on Catherine Street".

Now, gear teeth do like to keep in correct mesh all the time, and my teeth were not really up to all the action taking place at 35mph. The inevitable happened and I spit out a fair number, which promptly jammed everything. Worse still, the aluminium casing split. With a locked rear wheel, I had to be dragged home and Roger was not pleased - his dinner was cold as well. It was autumn 1962 and I was parked up in the "dead section"; next to me was the frame of the LE Velo!

Not much later, Harold was caught sitting on the 1923 Scott, which was just an engine in a rolling chassis. Roger had given him a push and both were listening to mechanical noises, which Harold said were typical Scott. Water helps! PC Plod appeared from nowhere and produced a little black book in which he listed: no mudguards, horn, lights, tax, insurance, etc, etc. Harold's court case was a farce - the stern judge took no notice of "We just wanted to hear the engine run". "Can't have this sort of blatant disregard for the law" was his answer - fined £xx. Harold was most upset - local restorer to Leicester City Museums, member (50) of VMCC, respected businessman - he proceeded to buy a bungalow in the wilds of Lincolnshire and took 15 veteran and vintage bikes, his 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom I and me to his life of a recluse. By this time Roger had a 12-40 Lea Francis car (1930).

1970 got me worried - "auction" was the buzz-word. Almost everything was lotted up. I watched the Rolls drive away, smoking well with its high compression special piston modification - £750 seemed a bit cheap though. Roger still can't bear to look at the auctioneers list: 1906 4-cylinder FN, 1914 Scott, etc, etc. I hid in a corner and nobody spotted me! The Ducati Cucciolo was nearly new - hope the new owner looked after it. A New Hudson autocycle - pretty common - didn't fetch much; the 1939 Rover 10 went for £1.

Anyway, off I went to the new venture, a railway station - very desirable, but not with main-line trains day & night. Harold said the line would close eventually (it did, after he had sold the station for £5000). A fire in the roof meant Harold lost enthusiasm and retired to a caravan. I went and sat in a chicken shed with the 1923 Scott for company.

Our new home was the "Nene Valley Steam Railway". Harold had become part of the band of enthusiasts who, in 1974, re-opened 2 or 3 miles of track from Wansford station into Nene Park, It's now 5½ miles plus. I watched the trains for the next 14 years until Harold decided I must go and live with Roger who had a double garage.

Now Roger can be a bit of a bodger if he's not careful. An attempt to get me running was useless - Araldite does not cure all ills, or the lack of crankcase compression. Stanford Hall, Founder's Day 1988, Roger asks the VMCC chaps about spares for W-Wheels (no sign of the NACC chaps he has heard about). A tap on the shoulder and it's Alan Cox; "I heard you say Winged Wheel - what do you need?". "Crankcase? Got one in the attic". "Leicester? I live there" - 3 miles from Roger's house! So Roger does a deal with Alan - Harold had accumulated new cylinder heads, etc, and Alan was pleased to take this and that for his project in exchange. So 2917 sits on Roger's shelf - a bit early and the plate saying BSA is missing.

Roger makes contact with Alan Bond - another swap for some of Roger's Mini-Motor and Cyclemaster surplus spares gets a few more bits. Mr Cyster has new crankshafts. Slight problem: Roger paid for one and asked a friend of his brother Rex to keep it safe until Roger goes south to Dunstable. 10 months later a phone call from Roger is made to arrange collection - Paul has died a few months after collecting the crank. Could it still be in the workshop? What does it look like? It's now January 1992 and Roger's still not sure if he can go and collect the crank.

Meanwhile I sit, incomplete, but the New Hudson looks good. Come on Roger, phone Dunstable again, it's been 3 or 4 months!

First published - April 1992

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