How much would you pay for a fully restored classic motorcycle? Ten thousand pounds, maybe? Don’t drink anything while you read this – spluttering tea makes an awful mess of the screen…
Montgomery motorcycles, built in the 1920s, were considered to be something rather special. Montgomery made exclusive machines, well finished and well presented, although — as the bikes’ builders were keen to point out in their adverts of the time — these high-performance V-twins weren’t entirely beyond reach of a determined rider:
‘Montgomery machines are for the men who prefer a distinctive mount in appearance and performance. That extra degree of soundness – those little touches which distinguish the ‘super’ machine from the mere motor cycle, come naturally to the Montgomery and at a price that is amazingly low.’
So that is the first and the last time you’ll hear the price of this Anzani-engined Montgomery being described as ‘amazingly low’. The bike you see here has just changed hands and taken up residence in its new home at the National Motorcycle Museum… and at a cost of ‘only’ a hundred grand.
Sorry. Should we have told you to sit down, as well?
The Montgomery was sold at the Bonhams auction in April for £98,000 plus sale premium and VAT, a total of £109,300. That price is certainly ‘amazing’, although ‘low’ doesn’t really come into it any more – not unless your Lear jet is taxiing down the runway as you read this, of course. But for the bidding to have reached such a high price suggests that more than one person was willing to pay that kind of money for it, something its builders could never have anticipated at the turn of the last century…
Montgomery first made sidecars over a century ago, and soon started supplying motorcycles to make up a complete package. Like many other manufacturers of the time they would buy in components to suit their own chassis, and in turn Montgomery also supplied their frames and forks to other bike builders – George Brough used the leaf-sprung Montgomery front fork, for example. Montgomery started life in rural Suffolk but soon migrated in towards the hub of automotive activity, settling in Coventry in 1911.
For their post-WW1 big twins, Montgomery fitted motors from JAP and British Anzani, and this machine is equipped with an eight-valve 57-degree 997cc V-twin Anzani engine. Look closely and you’ll see it has two big-bore exhausts per cylinder to match the 4-valve cylinder heads and the twin carbs – if one was good then two was better, and why stop at just two…? The engine was designed by Belgian Hubert Hagens, and it was used in a variety of forms to power motorcycles, light aircraft and small cars during the 20s and 30s. In several of these guises it was a record breaker – a very similar engine took the motorcycle world speed record at over 120mph, for example, and the Montgomery-Anzani V-twin was said to be based around that record breaking machine.
Soon after this motorcycle was built in 1924, the Montgomery works suffered from a severe fire which slowed production considerably – another reason why this particular bike is so unusual. Although they continued to build interesting motorcycles through the 1930s, Montgomery were struggling to maintain standards in the teeth of the depression and, when production ceased at the outbreak of WW2, the marque faded away.
So when you find a motorcycle like this, it tends to make an impression. The recent seller had owned it for 30 or more years and he in turn bought it from a friend who’d owned it for more than a decade. Before that the Montgomery had been in regular use and had covered many miles. It was in need of some considerable maintenance, as Bonhams’ description explains:
‘Badly worn due to the high mileage it had covered, the Montgomery was stripped down over the years and gradually rebuilt. Finally completed in January 2006, most of the work was carried out by the vendor, whose Conway Motors business is a world-famous supplier of parts and services for Vincents, with help from retired engineer friends where specialist machining was required.
The frame and cycle parts were sound and in very good condition, requiring only stripping and repainting. However, upon checking it was found that the forks were bent. Their repair and restoration was entrusted to an experienced specialist who realigned the forks and rebuilt them with all new spindles. It was decided that it was impractical to remove the slight kink in the right lower tube, which is still there as testimony to the forks’ originality.
‘The wheels consist of Enfield hubs, drum brakes and wired-on rims, all of which were on the machine when purchased. It is believed that the original brakes (belt-rim at the rear) and beaded-edge rims, which would have been totally inadequate for the performance, were changed to superior drum brakes and more-modern rims as these became available from the late 1920s onwards – sensible upgrades to a fast machine kept in daily use over the course of several decades.
Random Vintage Stuff on eBay.co.uk
‘The engine was fitted with the two separate overlapping inlet manifolds for twin carburettors, as it is now. No carburettors came with the machine and no suitable matching pair of the correct type has, so far, been found. Two Amal Type 276 carburettors are currently fitted as these work well and look appropriate. The cast alloy exhaust manifolds are exact copies of the originals. The latter were unserviceable, being badly worn and brittle, but were retained for use as casting patterns. Fabricated by a specialist pipe-bender, the four 2-inch diameter exhaust pipes and Silent Ghost silencers are painstakingly executed exact copies of the original system, which is still in the vendor’s possession. Asked if they had been a challenge, the master pipe-smith replied, “Put it this way, I don’t want make another set!”
‘The petrol/oil tank is new, based closely on the original design. It has been beautifully crafted by a highly skilled tank-maker and is fitted with the original filler caps. In assembling the machine’s ancillaries, the vendor has endeavoured to use period parts wherever possible. New, original, period cables of correct type (with fabric outers) have been used throughout, while the two brake cables are heavy duty Bowdenex double-wound type as used on contemporary racing machines. The handlebar controls and steering damper are those that came with the bike, since reconditioned. It is interesting to note the reinforcing of the valve-lifter lever, no doubt necessitated by its having to open two valves rather than just one.’
So while the purchase price might seem daunting, you might argue that it was matched by the effort and expense which went into the Montgomery’s restoration. Rebuilding a motorcycle from the 1950s or 60s is hard enough, but the problems multiply almost exponentially with every decade you travel back before the Second World War. The issue with the Montgomery’s carbs serves to highlight just how hard it can be to rebuild something faithfully in line with its original specification.
Roy Richards, the owner of the National Motorcycle Museum and the man who made that brave top bid, seems to think that it was money well spent.
‘This is a fabulous machine, a true superbike of the Roaring Twenties. There was very strong bidding from overseas buyers at the sale, so I am very pleased that we have kept this outstanding British motorcycle in the country.’
If you’d like to see exactly what £100,000 worth of motorcycle really looks like, along with all the other bikes at the NMM, then you’ll find them on the M42/A45 junction. The NMM is open every day from 10am to 6pm (except 24-26 December). Admission costs Adults £6.95, Senior Citizens £4.95, Children (under 15) £4.95, Family Tickets (2 adults with 2 children) £20. See also www.nationalmotorcyclemuseum.co.uk
Alternatively, you might like to check some of the other bikes which Bonhams will be selling later this year. The Steve McQueen collection goes under the hammer in the autumn… wonder if any of his bikes will break the £100,000 barrier? See www.bonhams.com