The start and the finish

The start.

Well, it’s pretty well a year since I started the Ariel B project and the aim was always to try and enter her for the world famous Banbury Run. This is the largest gathering of veteran and vintage motorcycles in the world and is held (not surprisingly) near Banbury in Oxfordshire, England. It was initially started as a homage to the British manufacturers who were mainly based in Birmingham. They used to take new models out for testing by running them down to Banbury, the going up the notorious Sunrising hill. This tested the gearing to the full. After rounding Banbury Cross they then went down Sunrising to test the brakes and then back to Birmingham.

Nowadays the run is limited to 500 entries of bikes built before 1931. Nowhere else do you see such a collection of historic bikes and of such quality. To get an entry was a feat, to get round the 68 mile timed course on an untested bike could be described as optimistic.

The start of the project.

Along with my pal Gary Parkin we have been working on this bike for a year now. One of the biggest challenges was simply finding or making the parts required. The Ariel Club Slovenska were great as they hold a huge range of parts either old originals or re-manufactured replica parts. I got a few bits from Draganfly in England though their stock is nearly all 1932 and later.

Another great help was Julian Street, a real magician on the lathe who could always be called upon to make anything round! He was even able to machine out the old valve guides and other complicated jobs.

April this year, Banbury near on the horizon and although she looks a bit like a bike, there is still a long way to go.

At around this point we moved the bike up to my garage rather than Gary’s workshop as I needed to get more working hours in if I were ever going to get her finished in time.  And hours were indeed lavished ; so much so that my poor wife Jane began to feel quite the motorcycle widow as I was spending so much time in the garage.

Finally on Saturday June the 10th I first heard the engine cough into life. What a first!  After that it was more work to get all the finishing touches done. Test rides were next on the menu with the first few being only a couple of Kilometers then back to the garage to see what was loose or needed adjusting.  After only four of these short trips it was time for the off and Gary loaded his Velocette KSS onto the trailer next to the B , or Doris as she is now called by me. A drive up to Caen and we were actually on our way to Banbury on the night ferry to Portsmouth.

We stayed in nearby Bloxham and I was fully absorbed in more last minute checks. I took the following photo there and hopefully you can see the difference from the start.

Sunday dawned bright clear and hot and we set off for the event at the Gaydon British Car museum who host the event. What an atmosphere. 500 classic bikes all around and they were being called out in order six at a time. Would she start when it was my turn? I tried to tune out the hundreds of spectators and start her the same way as always. First kick, nothing, but on the second she roared into life and we were off.  Gary is a past master of the event so to be honest I just followed him around the winding Oxfordshire lanes that he knows so well. I did have a few problems like the back stand kept dropping down and scraping along the road, as well as a bolt in the girder forks that kept unwinding itself. However that trusty old 90 year old engine kept chugging along and Sunrising was no problem.

We made it right round though we saw an awful lot who had fallen by the wayside and were awaiting collection by the pickup team.

Phew, what a relief and such a sense of achievement. Gary wanted to  go to the prize giving as he has been hoping for a medal for timekeeping for some years. Sadly this was not to be, probably because the poor bugger had to keep stopping for me while I hitched up the stand yet again. (memo; take plenty of bungees next time).

To my utter amazement my name was called out and I found that I had won the Wooton Trophy for the best overseas entry!  A brilliant end to a fabulous day.

A well earned pint of Hook Norton for a tired but very happy rider!

She breathes again!

After who knows how long, on Saturday 3rd June the engine fired up for the first time. I had it running on the old Brown and Barlow bronze carburettor that I picked up in Slovakia. However it leaked badly and the slide was obviously worn. I changed it to an Amal from the 1930’s which has been rebuilt. It ran on that too although very briefly before giving a cough and stopping. It might be that the magneto points have closed, or I could have moved the advance retard too soon. Anyway, after a brief bit of running, things are bedding in and the compression is rising rapidly. So much so that it was getting to be hard work kicking her over!

A day to recuperate and I’ll rejoin the fray with fresh ideas and rested knees!

getting there-slowly

Mid May and the B is back in my home workshop where it will be easier to pop down to work on it for an hour or two on a more regular basis. Lots and lots of seemingly insignificant little jobs have been done, many of which took an inordinate amount of time.  However I am getting there.

The tanks is now in place, the pipework is finished, Cables have been made and everything bar the clutch is now connected up. The back mudguard, toolbox etc are all now in place.

Today saw Gary turn up with his selection of top quality chain and we fitted primary, secondary and timing chains. This now means that I can press on with making brackets to mount the chain guards.

Quite a few bodges have come to light with the Burman Q box so a bit of head scratching  and a lot of hours will be required. A few more parts are also needed to get the clutch action sorted out.

Other jobs in the pipeline are stripping the surface off the saddle to re-dye it with something more fitting than the bright tan it is finished in at the moment. I am also waiting for crankcase bolts and brake rod assembly from Acme stainless.

A problem arose when I unwrapped the silencer that I had bought ages ago. The mounting bracket was in completely the wrong place so I am waiting for a special one to be made by Armours who make the things. Our post office told me that the one I returned would be there last Thursday but it still hasn’t arrived. Aaaaargh!

We just booked the ferry to get to Banbury for the VMCC rally next month so it’s all go to achieve this.

Please fate,no more nasty surprises. Please…………………………………


Mega Merde!

Oh boy, what is it with me and magnetos? It was a gorgeous day here in Brittany and having ironed out a few wrinkles with the 1927 model W I thought I would take her for a quick spin round town and get a few more Km in towards running the engine in. I had just got her started and moved about 10ft when I heard a metallic clunk and she stopped. A quick inspection revealed a very sick looking magneto. After getting her on the ramp it turned out that the small chain that drives the mag had come apart and the chain had either gone round in a knot or simply flailed against the magneto smashing the end of the casting.   £330 for a rebuild and once again in need of a magneto.

magneto disaster

This is getting repetitive!


Anyway my next move is to do some research and see if there is any chance of salvaging the casing with a bit of delicate alloy welding. Otherwise it will be a case of trawling round the moto jumble at Stafford later this week in search of an old mag that I can use with the rebuilt internals of this one.








Big catch up!

To my shame I have been forgetting about keeping this blog up to date so here goes. As regards the Ariel 557 we started by stripping it down to component parts then sending the frame off to be powder coated in a nice glossy black. (It’s a ‘Black Ariel of course). Next the engine itself was completely dismantled and examined piece by piece. The bearings were OK and there was no discernible wear in the big or little ends. The bore is almost as new with virtually no wear so that was a big plus. On the other hand the head (or ‘jug’ as it is sometimes known on a side valve engine needed quite a bit of attention. The valve guides were badly worn and the exhaust valve gave away it’s origin as it had VOLVO stamped in the head!!

Something gives this away!

The sprockets that drive the magneto were missing and after a search I found these were available in Slovenia.

Good mate and lathemaster Julian came into play and machined out the old guides and inserted new ones that I got from Draganfly in England; the major source of new parts for Ariels. After 2.5 hrs of hand work with the grinding paste  the new valves were well bedded in.

During this time the hunt was on for the many parts that Draganfly can’t provide. After many hours on the net I discovered that the Ariel club in Slovenia of all places have a great supply of parts either secondhand or remade.  The carburetor that came with the bike was not correct but it later transpired that it was made for a Vincent and as such has a resale value. In fact Maryn Bratby the UK carb fettling expert is going to do a trade in for a correct and refurbished Amac carb . In the meantime I took a gamble and bought a secondhand bronze B&B carb from the club in Slovenia. It has some wear to the slide and may need attention but it is what would have been fitted originally and certainly looks the part. Once the engine is up and running I will find out just how good it is and then make the decision which one to use.

Magnetos. Ah a bit of a sore subject as the one that came with the bike again was not the correct one. However I only discovered that after it had been sent off for a rebuild. £330 mistake that one. Anyone need a Lucas NO1 cheap? I eventually found a well used KSA1 (that it should have) and I am currently waiting for it’s return after another rebuild cost. After it was nearly finished I received an email to say that although a mark on the case said it was a left hand rotation one, the internals were for a clockwise one. Worse than that he said that finding a new cam ring could be a nightmare. After a sleepless night I got another mail to say that he had found and modified something. Phew, but the pain continues. As I now have 2 bikes with KSA1’s, both with modified cam rings I have arranged to collect a new one from a specialist in Holland who will be at the huge vintage bike show in Stafford at the end of April.

The wheels have been painted and rewired and things are slowly lurching forward in fits and starts. The forks have been painted and rebuilt with new friction discs from GPmotosanciennes. (Gary Parkin THE friction expert) I have bought a repro silencer from Armours in the UK and the original exhaust pipe has been replated at an eye watering price by a firm in Rennes run by 2 old guys who know both how to do an excellent job and how to charge for one!

Paintwork. The tank and mudguards have been in the UK getting the paintwork done and I am expecting their return in the next few days. Needless to say they were NOT done by the guy who did the Triumph model W tank. More about that saga anon. If it’s a good job I will pass on his name.

The tyres were picked up at Kempton autojumble and are now on the wheels. We had intending to get the bike up to a rolling chassis stage but a trial assembly revealed that the final drive sprocket did not line up with the back wheel sprocket. A blast with Gary’s bead blaster revealed what I suspected, in that a new sprocket had been brazed onto the old part but in the wrong place. Perhaps this was deliberate as some of these plodding old engines were sometimes used to drive farm machinery and the chain taken off to drive something other than the bike. Who knows? Anyway, the Ariel club of UK came to the rescue as they have had some new sprockets made. However they are a different shape and I will have to call in Julian again to make a spacer from the old unit.

getting there; slowly.

Paperwork. In the hope that the bike would possibly be ready for the vintage run at Bains Sur Oust on the 1st of May, I needed a French registration. In a land that loves it’s paperwork this was never going to be easy. However as both Denmark and Holland are in the EU some parts of the process were a bit easier. First I needed to get an ‘attestation’ from the local tax authorities that no import tax was due on the vehicle. Then I had to send off a dossier of paperwork to an organization that scrutinises old machine records to decide whether they can be classed as a ‘Vehicule de Collection’ This is done on age, originality and rarity. If you have this then you are allowed to use period looking number plates etc. Not a lot for the 60€ they charge but it all adds to the provenance. That came back fairly quickly and for once the woman I call ‘Madame NON!’ who mans the desk at the prefecture was not able to turn me away and a new registration number was issued on the spot after the obligatory 2 hour wait in a queue,

Ancilliaries. The Ariel club of the UK came to the fore with new replica hand gear change assembly , valve caps and a rear stand. The Slovenian club came up with primary and secondary chain covers that have yet to be aligned and suitable brackets fabricated.

A trawl round the many stalls at Kempton autojumble came up with a set of handlebar and footpeg rubbers. I also found a reflector for the number plate and a fuel tap as well as a collection of brake levers in the hope that one of them would fit. It did.

After months and months of searching for the correct seat I found one on Ebay that had already been recovered in leather. A bit (Jane says ‘very’) pricey but it will be the finishing touch some day.

The control levers which are beautifully made were obtained from a specialist in these things and apart from the £450 they cost are gorgeous to behold and really add a lot to the overall look. Handlebars again came from Slovenia although I had to ream out the ends a tad to get the right size for the end levers that fit inside them.

All in all then, the bike looks much the same as it did a few months ago although there are lots of boxes waiting to be unpacked. Once certain key stages are reached then it releases the ability to progress further. For instance, once the carb is in place and the wheels are on , the I can measure up for all the operating cables and get them ordered.


some things go well, some…….

During the dismantling session on the Magnat Debon we decided to keep the lovely little badge on the front of the frame. This was held in place by four little interference fit rivets. Three of them I managed to lever out but the fourth refused to budge and I had to file the head off to get at the badge. Now, the other day one wee job was to remove the remains of the rivet. A few minutes work? Not at all. At first we tried to drill it out. That rivet made in 1930 was made of some super hard metal that would probably work as a heat shield on a space craft! It defied brand new drills and just blunted them. Then we decided to punch it through into the hollow centre of the headstock. Well after trying the shaft of a now blunt dril, hardened screws, (too small for a pin punch) and one and a half hours (yes. 1.5 hrs) I tried grinding down just the last few mm of a hardened roofing nail to the right size then using that as a punch to get it moving.


that little hole took 1.5 hrs !

After a mug of tea, several nails and a lot of bad language I finally shifted the thing.


We then moved onto a much simpler job which was dismantling the Ariel  into big lumps!

Oh dear…..

A decent day yesterday so I decided that it was time to get a few Km in to bed down the rebuilt engine on the Triumph W. So for the first time I put half a tank of petrol in , topped up the oil and off we went.

By the time I got back it was obvious that something was seriously wrong with my very expensively remade fuel tank. The beautiful paintwork was blistering and peeling off the front of the tank. A close inspection revealed that there were 2 steel sections that had not been properly joined as I can see both edges.


Fuel tank leak

As the French would say, merde! I have contacted the guy who did the job and am awaiting a response.


Another dusty day

Another dusty day cleaning off the old mudguards from the Magnat Debon. I don’t know it’s history but the dust that came off them had a strange odour of dried fish! Still, these are the little things you experience and remember when you do restoration of something this old.

Magnat Debon 350 mudguard

half cleaned mudguard

Big day today as for the first time I got to take my 1927 Triumph out for a quick trial run of about 10km. This was after I got the fuel and oil filler caps to seat properly . They had some sort of strange red rubbery gunge nearly acting as a seal. This turned out to be layers of old red rubber bands that had partially dissolved in petrol. Anyway , cleaned them up and with some new O rings inserted all was fine . WIth the carburettor working properly ( the needle valve needed to fit it’s brass seat properly to ensure a decent seal) and I thought it was time to finally get her out on the road. All went well though she is running a bit hot. Hopefully that will improve as the bore beds in. (after reboring with new piston and rings fitted. ) Quite a few items needed tightening down after the run but that is to be expected.

How satisfying it was to finally get the measure of the advance/retard lever, the choke lever and the air lever to the point that she started first kick.

It was even nicer to get a big thumbs up from some passing guys on big modern touring bikes as I trundled sedately  along a country road!



Amazing fact No1

The Maudes Trophy which was started in 1923 was awarded for feats of motorcycling endurance. In 1927 it was won by a 550 Ariel model B (like the one I have just bought) for running for 5,011 miles without stopping the engine! Who says you have to get a modern bike to enjoy reliabilty.

Coming project but not for a while

As though I didn’t have enough to do with a 1930 barge to look after and a 1930 Magnat Debon to restore, I couldn’t resist this lovely old 1927 ariel model B 550 bike that seems to have started life being exported to Sweden where it was found by a Dutch dealer and is now in France.

Ariel Model B from 1927

Ariel Model B from 1927

However it will have to wait it’s turn until the Magnat Debon has had the majority of work done to it.

A passion for restoring old motorcycles