This entry is part 25 of 30 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#25



As I pointed out in an earlier piece, my introduction to Sydney’s Motor Show, which has nearly always featured a long list of motorcycles as well as passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, was on Day One in 1954, the event a very popular one which thoroughly established its place in history. Sadly it is no longer as successful as it was, but there will always be a place for it. It may well continue as long as motor vehicles abound. As it happens, I attended the Matchless stand at the 1954 Show for just one day, but that was more than enough!

As I noted, I was working for A. P. North at the time, the NSW importers and distributors of Matchless and Francis-Barnett motorcycles and – thankfully for a very short period – the frightful three-wheeled Messerschmitt ( which I nick-named the Mess-o-schitt) cabin-scooter.

Their stand gloried in the range of 350 and 500cc Matchless singles, the 500cc ohv vertical twin, which enjoyed one of the most beautiful-looking engines ever fitted to an English motorcycle, and a couple of Competition 500 singles, with their tiny petrol tanks and huge alloy heads and barrels. All these models employed swing-arm rear suspension to augment the telescopic forks on the front, that type of rear suspension by no means a standard fitment in those days, although it was becoming much more so.

Prominently on display were two of the rare – and today rarer still – G45 racing versions of the 500cc ohv twins, beautiful-looking all-black machines with fat alloy heads and barrels and even fatter fuel and oil tanks. The bikes were imported to be ridden by Keith Stewart and Keith Conley, both of whom were later to enjoy some success with these machines.

The showpiece was a 500cc G80S single mounted upon a large packing crate, which featured a pair of big wooden `cams’ which were driven by an electric motor via belts and pulleys. The wooden cams were intended to push the bike’s wheels up and down at odd times to happily demonstrate the unquestioned superiority of the Matchless suspension system.

Of that, more anon!

After the disaster of Day One with that awful AJS, and which I felt at the time might have seen my instant dismissal from the company, I was very surprised to have been asked to be on the stand on the Second Day, a chore I shared with no less a personage than Perce North himself, which, I was assured by those who should know better, was something of a signal honour.

On Day Two my mount was a far more acceptable machine than that dangerous AJS, for it was a near-new 500cc Matchless G80S single, the machine which had just finished second – behind a 500cc Matchless twin, it should be noted – in the inaugural 1954‘Round Australia’ Redex Trial for motorcycles.

The bike I rode was still well-muddied and shod with thick, knobbly tyres; great for loose or muddy surfaces but hopeless on sealed roads, and even worse on Sydney’s slick tramlines. Why this bike was not featured as part of the AP North display only Perce himself could answer, and for some reason I didn’t think to ask him. As it happens we were very busy with other things!


had never ridden a bike fitted with these heavily-studded, off-road tyres before but I jumped on the bike and rode it very briskly up Campbell Street to the very busy Taylor Square intersection with little drama, except for the odd twitch or two over the tramlines which were there at the time. The bike was very well sprung, comfortable in the extreme, and handled outstandingly well, in spite of the chunky off-road tyres.

It was a very different story at the busy Taylor Square intersection!

In those days, the tramlines in that area which led to the Showground curved gently to the right at the top of the hill, which made it difficult to cross them at anything like the ideal ninety-degrees, and this was the direction in which I was headed. They also crossed several other sets of tramlines which went straight on or curved in the opposite direction – a bit like the old St. Kilda intersection in Melbourne although, thankfully, not quite as bad.

Knobby tyres were never meant to cross highly polished steel tramlines at all, much less at a nigh-parallel angle, a fact demonstrated to me (and a small army of casual bystanders), when the rear-end of the bike suddenly swung into a full-lock broadside when the bike was stupidly cranked over almost onto the right footrest.

Instinctively, I dabbed the sole of a highly-polished wall-toed brogue to the ground in an attempt to correct the errant machine, to be rewarded for my pains by a tearing sound, which could have been a newly-popped hernia but which was, thankfully, merely the centre seam of my newly-acquired suit trousers opening obscenely and displaying my brand-new knickers for the world to sneer at. I was, after all, representing the company at the Show, so was very smartly dressed in a fetching dark grey suit of clothes I had recently purchased and I hadn’t bothered wearing specialised protective clothing; besides which, I didn’t have any to speak of in the first place!

In those far-off days you could buy matching nylon knickers, socks, tie and suit-pocket hankie in the most bizarre fluorescent colours, from lime green, through canary yellow, sky blue and nipple pink to a more subdued burgundy.

Mine were, of course, glow-in-the dark lime green, which the whole world could have seen had I bent over on the moon, trouser-less, and grinning over my shoulder, the wide split which gaped in my new strides going all the way from the base of the trouser flies to the rear waistband. Had that happened, it may well have been the first example of ‘mooning’ to be witnessed anywhere, while the sudden, unexpected cold draught which was suddenly manifest was worth a fortnight of cold showers.

The bike corrected itself, as many had before, and some have done since, so we continued to the Sydney Showground without further incident, me throbbing with embarrassment the bike throbbing along as all 500 singles were wont to do.

I fl ashed my pass – pass! – at the guy on the gate and tried desperately to find a quiet place to dismount, but when I did so some fool laughed out loud and a few others were seen giggling into their hands and pointing the finger of scorn at the gleaming, lime-green crescent which was seen to suddenly adorn the crotch of my new suit’s trousers.

Holding my too-short coat down at the back, I sidled, crab-like and almost on the tips of my toes, to the AP North stand and borrowed a Sellotape dispenser which I took to the toilet to make some repairs. It wasn’t too successful, but it was better than nothing!

Perce was talking to someone when I returned to the stand and I was horrified to see that the display’s showpiece was not working nearly as well as it should have been. In fact, it was a bloody disaster.

Far from demonstrating the Matchless’ smooth-running – and very comfortable – front suspension, the wooden cams were moaning loudly as they turned, the whole bike shuddering and rocking about violently on its centre-stand.

The rear suspension was working perfectly, the front forks were not!

“Hey, look at this!” I shouted to Perce and the world at large as I found the power-point and turned the device off.

The wooden lumps sighed with relief and ground silently to a halt, a wisp of smoke curling up from the small electric motor which by now was glowing in a soft pink and from which the subtle whiff of burning rubber made its presence known.

“What the hell’s wrong with this thing?” Perce demanded of me.

“I dunno,” I said. “I’ve only just arrived.

Let’s have a look at it!”

The bike on display was a brand-new 500 single, and I felt that the fork legs might not have been correctly oiled, so I scrounged around to the BSA stand, borrowed a small screwdriver and removed the small drain plug at the base of the lower fork tube.

Nothing happened! Not a drop of oil emerged, which seemed to confirm my suspicion that there was no oil in the fork leg. Let’s not mention that I forgot the air-lock which existed because the top filler-plug was still in place!

“Turn the motor on again,” I commanded, “We’ll see if that has made any difference.”

Perce was nothing if not obedient, so he flicked the switch on again and the `cams’ swung into action with renewed vigour, allowing the front forks to sigh as they reached the bottom of their stroke.

As the forks were forced upwards again they emitted a deep, asthmatic groan, then an horrific flatulent sound, which was immediately accompanied by the gastric emission of a cupful of oil, which squirted with great enthusiasm onto the front of my brand-new suit coat. This was followed a second later by a giant belch as the forks readied themselves to repeat the performance on the downward stroke.

I swung aside and ducked under the next onslaught, noting, in that fraction of a second, that the forks were by now performing almost perfectly, and that the cold draught had suddenly re-asserted itself.

“Turn it off, turn it off!” I demanded.

Perce quickly obliged as another shot of lubricant pelted itself with great enthusiasm over the suede-covered single race-seat of the Stewart G45.

“I’ll pay the dry cleaning bill,” Perce said, almost matter-of-factly, “and – er – the repairs.”

“Repairs?” He nodded, looking down at the remains of my suit trousers. In those days, the flies in men’s trousers were still buttoned, and the clutch lever on the G45 Matchless had neatly flipped the flies open as it dug in when I ducked away from the spray of oil. This meant that the hastily-repaired tear in the seam of the pants appeared to be gaping even more obscenely than before, accompanied by the equally-obscene gaping at the front as well.

For some reason, the small crowd which had quickly gathered – amazing how that happens, isn’t it? – was highly amused by the proceedings and rent the air with loud guffaws, spontaneous applause and a short series of ironic cheers.

We searched the single drawer in a small desk on the stand and found a couple of paper clips, a large ball of fluff, a chunk of an unknown brown substance which was pliable and extremely heavy and – of all things – a pair of long, white shoelaces. We used everything but the pliable, brown substance and the fluff to attempt a repair, but I was not terribly happy about the stark white bow which was now to be clearly seen hanging obscenely from the front of my wrecked trousers.

Naturally, I had to remove my badly stained, oil-soaked coat because I couldn’t wear it on the stand, which meant that the large bow I then had on lewd display couldn’t effectively be disguised.

I was also not happy to subsequently learn that the problem with the forks was that some fool had filled the right leg with oil twice, while there was none at all in the left leg!

Naturally, I had to ride the Matchless home after the event, my brand-new trousers rent again as I flung my leg over the dual-seat and kicked the engine into life. I wore my suit coat home as well, of course, not only in a forlorn attempt to cover the gaping tear in my strides, but because that was the easiest way to carry it. In the end I was forced to pelt the whole lot out, including my lime green knickers, matching socks, tie and breast pocket handkerchief.

To his eternal credit old Perce North happily paid for a new suit, which I might add cost quite a bit more than the ruined one I hastily – if sadly – consigned to our household garbage bin.

Yes, my first experience at a great Motor Show was very daunting, attended by almost total disaster, some of it by my own making, I must say, but most of it entirely accidental and by no means through any fault of mine. I left A. P. North several months thereafter for greener (not lime) pastures, but it had nothing at all to do with the shenanigans at that 1954 Sydney Motor Show. I was to re-appear in the motorcycle trade a couple of years later at the suburban dealership, Ryde Motorcycles, and therein lie a series of similarly odd experiences!

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