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Cherry Brown

It all started around 15 years ago. My brother Neil and I were quite into old Volkswagens and had a growing interest in proper traditional Hot Rods. We were in London for a gig and there was a show on at Alexandra Palace called ‘Xtreme Wheels’, which had a great mix of the things we were into at the time. Walking around the show I came across a bike called ‘The Delinquent’, a 60s style pre-unit Triumph bobber built by Baron’s Speed Shop. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen, and it set a seed in my head that one day I would build one.

Time went on, hobbies and interests evolved. I sold my beetle and moved onto watercooled VWs, and got into powerboat racing after that. Neil bought himself a 1930 Model A Hot Rod from California and embarked on a full nut and bolt rebuild and restyling, and I had a pretty successful powerboat racing career while that was going on (with Neil’s help fixing the boat when I broke it!). As racing and all the maintenance and repairs involved started to be more a chore than fun I decided to put the boat up for sale and finally get on with building a bike.

I didn’t have a big budget as most of my money had been thrown into the sea racing, so a complete pre-unit or 650 unit bike was out of range. I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to start with a pile of bits, so it had to be a complete bike. Scrolling through Facebook one day a local 1957 350cc 3TA popped up for sale, at a price I could afford that would leave me some budget for parts…

The Donor

I went and have a look at the bike, and from the start I was completely honest about my intentions to take an angle grinder to it and build a custom. Luckily the chap that was selling was totally fine with that, I made an offer and a deal was done. The bike is actually a 1959, it turns out that a 1 was missing from the frame number on the logbook, which dated it as a ’57! It had been restored in the early part of the century and was being used daily. It was showing quite a few signs of wear, so I had no qualms about taking it all apart and cutting stuff off after I’d enjoyed it in stock form for a few weeks.

After a bit of research I knew I wanted a 4” stretch and a 2” drop on the rear end, so a bolt on hard tail was ordered from Cyclehaven. Lines, stance and proportions make or break any custom vehicle, and I figured that those dimensions along with an 18” rear and 21” front wheel would give the look I wanted. I kept the stock fuel tank, and found some fork shrouds on ebay that cleaned up the front end and gave me somewhere to mount a headlight. An oil tank and ribbed rear fender were ordered from Lowbrow Customs in the USA, whilst Ben Le Page at BLP built the wheels onto my freshly painted and detailed hubs with Stainless rims and mounted the Firestone tyres.

Once I had all the main parts in hand my friend Scott came and welded up all the little brackets and fixtures I’d made to mount everything, and a I made a basic wiring loom. Before any paint or finishing work was done I got it running and did a couple of test rides, just to ensure no interference with the fender & chain etc. The last thing I wanted was to find out I had clearance issues after it all had shiny paint on!

Whilst all this was going on Neil had almost finished his Hot Rod, and had received an invite to show it at the Flatlands Motorama show in Holland. They had a small bike display planned, so I sent some progress pics to the organiser and got accepted. Now we both had a deadline to work to and things were getting serious! I’d also sold the raceboat, and bought myself a 1966 Bonneville TT Special (absolutely mint and no way was I cutting that up…)

The test ride of the bobber was a success, but having ridden the TT there was no way that the wheezy 350cc engine with all of around 18 horsepower was going to be enough. I looked into converting it to a 500, as the bottom end is essentially the same. That idea went out the window when I found a complete 1966 T100SC motor for sale – a relatively hot 500cc that would have originally been in the Competition Scrambler model.

Whilst that was on the way from the UK I stripped the bike, and had the frame grit blasted. Neil piled on some epoxy primer, and after I’d spent many hours sanding, smoothing and repriming he painted it in 2k black. You’d never know it was done in his back garden in December at around 4°C, the finish is superb! I prepped and primed all of the bodywork, and handed it all over to Jon Archer for the top coats. He applied a black base, then some heavy metallic gold (on the verge of metalflake but not quite), followed by 4 coats of translucent candy brown and 5 coats of clear. After a week or two for the clear to harden up I flatted it all, starting with 2000 grit paper and ending with 3000, and machine polished it for a truly flawless mile deep mirror finish. In dull light it almost looks black, but comes alive in bright light and sunshine. I decided to name the bike ‘Cherry Brown’, as the paint has a red glint in the brown, plus it’s a homage to Dr Steve Brule’s ‘Cherry Blue Pop Rod’ (check it out on Youtube!)

I put the 350 motor back in the freshly painted frame, and built the stainless exhaust pipes off it with help from my friend Steve. I flared the ends using a form made on my brother’s lathe and a hydraulic press, to mimic the velocity stack on the carb. The T100 motor was fully stripped, inspected, vapour blasted, polished and reassembled with lots of help from Mad Dave Le Page, who has become a very good friend after offering to help in any way he could with the build. Dave’s built some seriously cool bikes over the years including a reverse head Bonneville chopper, and I’ve learnt an awful lot from him. The 350 was removed, the 500 fitted, and everything finished up and tested with a couple of days to spare before we left for Holland.

Neil loaded up his Hot Rod in one van, and my bike was loaded in another. We took the ferry to the UK, then went through the channel tunnel and drove up to Rosmalen. The reception that we got was fantastic, and we were allowed to display them together in the main hall. Neil came away with the organiser’s pick for best Hot Rod, which really made the trip worthwhile.

Since the show I’ve put a lot of miles on the bike (though I don’t know how many as it’s a proper bobber without a speedo!), picked up Best in Show at Chaos and the Peer’s Choice award at the St James indoor show. It’s great fun to ride, turns a lot of heads and scares children and horses thanks to the open pipes.

At a local Triumph Owner’s Club ride I met the first owner’s son. It has been in Guernsey for it’s entire life and still has the original registration number. A friend of my dad’s (Bill Cohu) also owned it at one point, and has given me it’s very first log book. The 1 had been omitted from the frame number from the beginning. Luckily everyone seems to like what I’ve done with it and I haven’t yet been lynched for cutting up a classic!

Cherry Brown Portrait Film

The whole point of the bike was to build a traditional looking bobber, with lots of attention paid to the lines and proportions of everything, and I’m very very proud of how it turned out. It’s a keeper! I learnt lots building it, and have since started doing my own welding and paint too. I’m a firm believer that creating things and learning new skills is good for you, an exercised mind is a healthy mind. Don’t be afraid of getting stuck in, trying things, making mistakes and learning from people that have the skills you’re trying to pick up. And building bikes is less stressful than powerboat racing!

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