Bilko returns from battle by Lambretta – Part 4 | FEATURE
For those of you wondering if he’d got stuck in the trenches or gone AWOL during his World War 1 Battlefields tour by Lambretta, our wanderer finally returns – bringing with him some unwanted Italian schrapnel and a familiar yellow van. Not quite the hero’s welcome he was hoping for. Better late than never though, we were getting worried about him.
Wednesday 12th July
Having made it to the boat and a quiet trip across the channel back to England it was now time to head off to Marlborough in Wiltshire. The town where I was brought up. I was to stay with family for a couple of days before heading on to the the LCGB Rally at Shipston-on-Stour.
So, Wednesday morning arrives and the ferry docks at Poole. Luck has it I missed the earlier heavy downpours, but that’s where my luck ended. It’s been a long time since I’ve been down this end of the country and the roads have changed. So it was no surprise that I didn’t recognise my route.
Marlborough was about 65 miles away. On I went, continuing along roads I knew little of, until I saw a sign for Thruxton. I’ve fond memories of the area and my time as a member of Catch 22 Scooter Club, when we used the Thruxton Race Circuit club house for our memorable club Dos!
Anyway, memories diminished quickly as the Lambretta suddenly died. I pulled in the clutch and coasted to a halt, a bit perplexed. The temperature gauges gave no sign of any rise in heat, so it wasn’t a seizure. No leaks, nothing out of the ordinary.
So, I pushed it under a nearby bridge off the road where I had space to take a closer look. I removed the plug and pushed the kick start over by hand and saw a couple of bits fly out the plug hole. Time for a closer inspection. My first thought was a dropped ring peg, When I took the exhaust off, there was a nice collection of small bits of metal that came out.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I was only about 14 miles from my sister’s in Marlborough and I had AA cover, but I was reluctant to use it. I didn’t want to miss the stopover in Marlborough with family and I didn’t want to miss the Lambretta Club of Great Britain Rally at Shipston on Stour either. Using the AA now would mean an early trip home.
Facebook – the fifth emergency service
Once I posted my plight on Facebook, friends started coming up with ideas and help. Things were looking positive and I was soon towed round the country lanes to an old friend’s place. Point to note: Whilst being towed you don’t need to hover your hand over the clutch like I did.
So, while I sat at my friend’s place catching up on the past and contemplating my next move, another friend, Den Niklen called and made arrangements to pick me and my Lambretta up and drop me at my Sister’s in Marlborough. A few chats and cups of tea and I was on the move to Marlborough by the van.
Early evening saw my arrival in Sunny Marlborough and the Lambretta was off loaded. The next couple of days were spent catching up with family I hadn’t seen for a few years and it was a much needed rest.
Thursday 13th July
I managed to get the engine apart and I was surprised to find that I was way off with the idea that it was a dropped ring peg that caused the breakdown. After a bit of tugging, I got the barrel off, the piston came off and it had a big chunk missing from the bottom. In the spigot, beside the crank was a mangled bit of metal. It was the cage from the reed block. Screws had come loose. So, the reed cage was wrecked, as was the piston. I had brought many many spares with me. Layshaft, chain, seals, piston, piston rings, carb spares, cables, hub, nearly everything…except a reed block.
Incredibly, the barrel was spotless and there wasn’t a single mark on the nikasil lining. A big relief. So, that evening I received many messages and calls offering all sorts of support and assistance. The best offer was from Paul Todd who said he would supply me with a reed block. All I had to do was get to Shipston on Stour.
Friday 14th July
Friday morning I packed up and loaded the scooter ready for my call to the AA. An hour later, the man from the AA arrived and was disappointed he wasn’t going to fix it. (He was to tell me that their mechanics get a negative mark if they can’t do a repair on a call out). So the trailer was called for and another hour later saw the second AA man arrive and set up the trailer to take the Lambretta.
After saying farewell to my sister it was time to head on to Shipston on Stour. A couple of hours drive and we arrived at the rally. I was a bit embarrassed to arrive by AA. I checked in and unloaded the scooter and pushed it to where I would camp for the weekend and hopefully have it running so I could ride home.
After setting up the tent, I needed a drink. The site has a clubhouse with a bar and for the weekend, I didn’t have to wait long for a pint. First drink was courtesy of Ant Taplin. I soon found Paul Todd who had brought along the reed block which I would fit Saturday morning. No scooter work tonight! I met up with old friend Andy Vass, who was the protagonist of a top weekend. After chatting with Andy and Toot at the LCGB Stall I took a stroll around the site and photographed the superb collection of Lambrettas. A few pints later and I was out for the count.
Saturday 15th July
I woke early to the sound of rain on the tent. This meant I needed to move the Lambretta into the big tent supplied by the LCGB to fit the reed block from Paul Todd, but I was soon to discover the reed manifold Paul gave me had been worked on and didn’t fit, but the reed cage was still ok. Martin Robinson from Robbospeed came to the rescue and supplied me with an LTH manifold. It didn’t go smoothly, I’m not keen working on the scooter with an audience and get flustered. At one time I broke the petrol tap and fuel proceeded to spill everywhere. Martin Robinson came to the rescue with a new tap.
Eventually, I had everything put back together. I took the Lambretta out of the tent and fired it up. So far so good. I took it for a quick spin around town and all seemed well. Now it was time to relax. Early afternoon and the rain had now eased off. I took a quick shower in the supplied shower cubicles and once again met up with Andy Vass. That evening after an entertaining meeting with Nick Prince it was time to head out for beer with Andy, Toot, Faggy and we headed into town for a few pints. Scootering has a strong social aspect and this I love. Meeting up with old friends from over the years, but also making new friends, new bonds, that will hopefully last a lifetime.
I met up with fellow Ulster Lambretta Club member Stephen Sproule, who was the only other member from Northern Ireland to make it, partly due to the date chosen for the 4 Nations Rally, but there was other Ulster Lambretta Club members from the mainland in attendance which was good to see. Finally the night was over and we headed back to our tents for the night.
Sunday 16th July
I woke Sunday morning and grabbed a couple of cups of tea. Then I packed up and said farewell to friends. Me & Stephen Sproule then headed back to Liverpool for the Ferry from Birkenhead. We didn’t rush as we had all day to get there and had a few stops along the way.
By late afternoon we were at the boat and so we had a few hours to hang around. The weather was good and a few bikers from Northern Ireland who ride Suzuki GT 750’s were good company until it was time to board the ferry. A few pints later we were out for the count.
Monday 17th July
Me and Stephen were off the boat on time and back in Belfast to another sunny day. Twenty minutes later and without getting lost this time, I was back home. Total mileage 1035. The Lambretta made it, albeit with a few mishaps along the way.
It wasn’t a big distance, but it was an interesting trip all the same, with my navigational skills being tested. Next year I have something planned for another run to France that will test me to my navigational limits with a couple of quick stops in Germany and Switzerland along the way…
Words and photos: Bilko
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