This is the web site of Colin De La Rue, of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
It has been set up primarily so I can tell the story of what may be a very special Norton 596 outfit, how I came to purchase it in the 1960s, and what I have learnt about it since. Along the way, it will tell various stories of other machines – some inherited, some purchased, some gifts – that have crossed my path over the years – and found a home with me…
Our family has had a long-standing relationship with motorcycles, which prompted me to preserve the small collection listed here.
The affair seems to have begun in 1916 when family letters record that my uncle Albert De La Rue first bought a second-hand Fafnir-engined machine, principally to take him on his shearing forays from the family farm in western Victoria into New South Wales. That machine is long gone, but the ‘core’ of this group nevertheless comprises the machines of three generations of our family:
Colin Ralph De La Rue (My father; hereinafter referred to as ‘Dad’) – 1926 G8 500cc AJS.
Colin James De La Rue, (Me!) – 1950 50/18S 500cc AJS.
Michael Ralph De La Rue, (My son) – 1978 CX 500 Honda.
Some other machines acquired over the years have been retained as possessing an interesting history or some features of mechanical significance – some simply because I can’t bring myself to throw them out. The entries on this site provide some information on the collection.
These accounts of my motorcycles had their origin in some notes I drew up a few years ago to inform my wife (Kathy) and daughter (Stephanie) as to what was to be found in my workshop should I carelessly walk in front of a road train. That brief list has exceeded its terms of reference to become the rambling stories that I have provided here.
The information is accurate as far as my knowledge and memory goes (not as far as I would like these days). I am always learning more about the machinery, but I wish now that I had put more effort into getting the ‘biographies’ of the bikes. Setting the machines within the stories of their times and activities provides a degree of historical drama.
So there we have it! Now being beyond the traditional ‘three score years and ten’ of age, with not one of these bikes presently on the road, I may have left my run too late to achieve the glorious rehabilitation of these motorcycles that I have dreamed of for so many years.
Nevertheless, it will be fun trying!
Colin De La Rue May 2012
I will be delighted to receive any comments or feedback on any of machines written about on these pages.
At this point I owe apologies to several people who have made interesting and helpful comments on this blog/website. Please forgive my rudeness in apparently ignoring or misunderstanding your posts. This has been partly due to a recurring illness over some weeks but also to my generally abysmal ignorance of how to manage this medium.
The illness appears to have been dealt with and I have absorbed some smattering of internet expertise from an amiable young brother who understands such things, so I shall try to respond intelligently. I would however, beg some indulgence; as an old man who is still coming to terms with such major technological developments as the ball-point pen, I am likely to be fumbling with the e-world for some time yet.
Some ramblings on a Philosophy of Restoration
I am not really bent upon achieving a ‘Concours d’elegance’ restoration of my motorcycles to ‘brand new’ condition, much less, to an ultra-glossy ‘Motorcycle Show’ state. While such superb works of art are sometimes appropriate, I believe that when an old motorcycle is being rebuilt, Essentially, in most cases it should be restored to the condition it would be in if it had been used and sensitively maintained up to its present age.
If the machine’s history is known, and it bears some evidence of these activities, I believe it is appropriate to retain such marks of its use, unless they are grossly unsightly or so severe that they impair the ride-ability of the machine..
My father’s 1926 G8 AJS provides a case in point. I know the history of this machine in some detail and, as I have noted elsewhere, I intend to scrupulously preserve several modifications that were made to it in its heyday, as they present a record of the machine’s activity in both its touring and dirt-track racing rôles. Retaining these alterations rules out any claim of strict originality, but they are, to my mind, essential to the character of the machine. A ‘showroom’ restoration, removing the additions and alterations made during its life, would destroy the historical legitimacy of the motorcycle and render it a characterless facsimile, little better than a photograph or a toy model.
In this case, rebuilding the machine to mechanical soundness is the essential step and its ride-ability must be recovered. Cleaning up the dirt & rust of latter decades of careless use and neglectful storage, and treatment of some unsightly damage will be necessary. This will involve more or less repainting and re-plating, but I do not wish to go beyond presenting the machine in ‘well maintained’ condition. The question of whether to retain the original beaded-edge rim wheels or to rebuild the wheels for wired-on tyres is still under consideration, but as Dad had acquired spare rims etc. for just this conversion, It is likely that I will complete that job.
The 1914 Carbine-JAP will require a more far-reaching approach. Not only is it far less easy to determine, after very nearly a century, what its original specifications were, but I have only a quite sketchy knowledge of its history to account for some of its features. This leaves me unsure as to which features are original, which are historically significant adaptations and which are irrelevant symptoms of a life of casual brutality.
The poor machine suffered severe damage to its finish (which did not appear to be original anyway) due to spending much of half a century under bags of cement. It had been fitted with a particularly horrible pair of home-made footboards which had been axe-cut out of thick planks and roughly wired to a pair of windmill pump bolts set through the starting pedal boss and over the front engine mounting plates. This modification is so outstandingly ugly (and dangerous!) that it must be replaced as being far below any acceptable standard of maintenance. Moreover, this must be done if its pedal starting gear, which was certainly the original specification, is to be restored, or at least replaced with an adequate copy, which will vastly improve the ‘ride-ability’ of the machine.
The Carbine must have its exhaust box and tail pipe reconstructed, and the spokes in the wheels will need replacement for safety as well as cosmetic reasons, although the original narrow, beaded-edge rims may be reclaimable. The questions of equipping it with a front brake must be considered carefully as it is unclear whether a stirrup front brake was fitted originally, or whether it depended solely on its exiguous rear belt pulley brake.
As can be readily seen, presenting the Carbine ‘as if well maintained to the present’ will require a lot more restoration and replacement work (and guesswork) than the AJS and will probably result in a more glossy machine, but one that will exhibit much less historical individualism.
The challenges of my present project, my Norton 30/596, are particularly demanding, and I will be some time yet weighing up the details of restoring this more or less unique racing machine with its unique history.
In conclusion, I would like to comment on a feature of motorcycle restoration that I have observed over many years now. There is something of a surfeit of learned individuals who are prepared to name the correct configuration of the screw holding the near-side rear mudguard stay of a 1921 (autumn manufacture) 2⅝ hp. Floundering Ferret. Differences of opinion over such details have, in some cases, very nearly led to bloodshed.
However, the finer nuances of ‘original equipment’ are sometimes rather more ambiguous than seems often to be supposed. Machines appearing in Australian catalogues (and even more so Australian showrooms) were sometimes significantly different in detail to those shown in their ‘home’ advertising. There seems, particularly with early British machines, to have been a tendency to occasionally change batches of ‘bought in’ fittings and even to vary ‘works’ specifications without notice or change of model designation.
One perhaps should not jump to the conclusion that British manufacturers foisted off left-over, possibly inferior, equipment on the rude Colonials, but nevertheless it is sometimes quite uncertain just what was the ‘original’ configuration of a machine sold in Australia.
Thus, in approaching the restoration of any one of my machines I seek to weigh up the legitimacy of accurately restoring the features and qualities of its supposed original specification against maintaining the indications of its use and its participation in the life and interests of the motorcyclists who have used it. The original specification, if it can be determined with reasonable certainty, must be the base-line governing any re-building, but I believe it is important that modifications, repairs and in some cases wear or damage which illuminate episodes in the machine’s life should be retained.
Colin DLR July 2013