From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 July 2005
Has there ever been a better time for touring on a motorcycle? I’m very impressed by recent sports tourers such as Triumph’s Sprint ST and the BMW R1200RT. But the most famous out-and-out tourer must be Honda’s Gold Wing, now in its 30th year, and I was lucky (or rather, unlucky) to be involved in its 1975 UK launch.
Although now huge, with all the bells and whistles, back then it was far simpler, unfaired and considered quite sporty. The term ‘sports tourer’ could have been applied to that first Gold Wing and we at Honda UK decided to plan a high-speed route through France on which to send journalists for the launch. It could have been a magnificent showcase for this most wonderful machine. Sadly, the event never made it past the reconnaissance trip, which I’m afraid descended into a humiliating farce.
A team on three pre-launch Gold Wings were to plot the route and find suitable hotels. The embarrassingly-named Ooh La La Tours were charged with the task and I, as UK sales executive, went along to oversee proceedings. And as we were keen to test how she handled two-up, my wife Teresa also came along. Ooh La La’s owners, Australian brothers Craig and Stewart Jenkins, took a bike each as they flatly refused to share one. How ironic that turned out to be.
The first day’s brisk ride down to Cramouille, just south of Limoges, went smoothly, leaving us very impressed with the Gold Wing. I was glad to see Teresa getting on well with Craig and Stewart as I was keen she wouldn’t feel out of place. I’d married Teresa only a year previously (after my first wife absconded with a mechanic, and I’ve heard all the ‘bigger tool’ jokes, thank you). Many of my friends were openly jealous that I’d married a woman who, at only 28, was ten years my junior. She certainly was an ‘athletic’ and rather demanding girl and I very much enjoyed losing more than a stone in weight in our first year together.
That evening, what with the day’s ride and a large dinner, I was exhausted. By 11 o’clock my eyes were so sandy I left the others ordering brandies and chatting about Mott the Hoople or whatever. Despite Teresa’s raucous laugh breaching two floors, I fell asleep quickly, images of the French countryside playing on the inside of my eyelids as I drifted off. (Which reminds me, I had a similar experience many years later when overseeing the Yamaha YZF-R1 launch. Flashing white lines and rushing tarmac played across my closed eyelids as I gently fell asleep. Unfortunately, I was still riding and very lucky that the picnicking family were so understanding).
The next day we began scouting locations for the press photographers. I was keen to get started but neither the Jenkins brothers nor Teresa surfaced before 10am. By the time we left I was rather wound up, which probably contributed to the following ‘incident’. In my defence, controlling a 1000cc motorcycle on a tightening, gravel-strewn mountain bend is hardly enhanced by a woman screeching, ‘I need a f***ing p**s you b*****d’. Although I finally lost control when, clutching my helmet, she shook my head from side to side like a bladder on a stick.
It was hardly an accident at all. I’d almost brought the Wing to a halt when we toppled over, but it was the noise the goat made as the Dunlop Gold Seal thumped its midriff that upset Teresa. I can only liken it to the honk I imagine would be made if one were to jump off a five-foot wall onto a fully-inflated bagpipe. Teresa refused to ride with me from that point, foisting herself instead on Craig.
Later, we split up to explore separate areas and I enjoyed several hours’ peaceful cruising. If I’d noticed that the prang had cracked the crankcase I wouldn’t have ended up stranded with a seized engine in the middle of nowhere. Mobile phone? Ha! This was 1975. It took me six hours to walk and hitch back to the hotel, by which time it was gone midnight.
There was no sign of the others so, clutching a sandwich kindly made by the porter, I went up to my room. Teresa wasn’t there either. Then, from Craig and Stewart’s room next door, where I assumed they’d been chatting, came the distinctive gasping of Teresa in the throes of one of her asthma attacks. These could be life-threatening, but I knew the procedure well and speed was of the essence. I knocked on the door but all fell silent. Fearing the worst I put my Lewis Leather boots to the test and kicked open the flimsy lock.
This is not the place to describe the carnal act that confronted me, suffice to say it was not invented by Premiership footballers. It was a regrettable (and prior to witnessing it for myself I'd have argued physically unfeasible) incident that not only scuppered plans for the launch but also our brief marriage. I’m glad to say that Teresa received nothing in the split, so she was certainly left with egg on her face! And to think that those boys said they’d never share a bike. You live and learn.
It's 1965. Rumours of Honda’s impending 750 Four see Cyril sent to Japan for high-level talks in a bid to save the British bike industry
From Cyril's memoirs dated 15 June 2005
Kawasaki and Suzuki, once bitter rivals, now co-operate closely to produce very similar models such as the Mean Streak and Marauder, a situation that benefits them both. This is nothing new of course, and I recall the BSA/Triumph Group extending the hand of friendship to the Honda Motor Company in the mid 1960s. It could have marked a period of greatness for both firms, but I’m afraid the venture descended into a humiliating farce, the details of which I’ve kept hidden until now.
In the summer of 1965 the BSA/Triumph board heard rumours of a big-bore multi-cylinder bike being developed by Honda. So as not to panic the Small Heath workforce, the Honda project was always referred to by the codename ‘Steak and Kidney Pie’. As early as 1963 Bert Hopwood and Doug Hele had drawn up the three-cylinder engine for what would become the 1969 Triumph Trident. Our parallel twins were being pushed beyond their limits resulting in extreme vibration which, while helping lady pillions to a heightened state of readiness, left nerve-shattered riders unable to unfasten their own gloves, let alone complex female undergarments. Everyone was frustrated! However, despite problems with our overstretched engines the Japanese industry was seen by many of those in charge as nothing more than funny little men making quirky little bikes and of no threat whatsoever to the British industry, so for many years in the mid-Sixties the triple was shelved.
The Honda rumour changed all that and we Brits creaked into action, but certain board members saw ‘Steak and Kidney Pie’ as an insurmountable obstacle and that our best chance lay in co-operation with the enemy. It was decided that in my capacity as Global Sales Director I would be flown in secret to Tokyo to meet with the great Soichiro Honda, when I would bring up ‘Steak and Kidney Pie’ and the future of our companies.
In later years, such as during the development of Suzuki’s GSX-R1100 and then Yamaha’s YZF-R1, I travelled extensively throughout Japan and even picked up a little of the lingo. But in September 1965 this was my first long-haul flight and I was a naive 29-year-old from the Midlands. I hold that up as meagre defence for what was to follow.
I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but in those days there was little else to do on a long-haul flight and I’m afraid I began sipping the complimentary spirits as soon as London receded beneath a sheet of grey cloud. I was seated next to a chap who at the time would have been termed a beatnik. I found his slender sunglasses a little disconcerting, but we got along well, taking it in turns to choose the next tipple from the drinks trolley. Several hours in, Bernie, as he insisted I call him, produced a small brown dropper bottle and popped a couple of drips of clear liquid into our Johnnie Walkers. LSD was still perfectly legal, and although I hadn't the slightest idea what it was I decided (helped in my decision by Mr J Walker) that ‘turning on’, as Bernie put it, could do no harm. (Incidentally, ever wondered if habitual use of strong hallucinogens has a lasting effect on the brain? Bernie went on to be a freelance designer in the motorcycle industry and had a hand in such models as the BMW K1, Morbidelli V8 and Honda X-11. I rest my case.)
Thirty minutes after finishing my 'enlivened' whisky, things became a bit chaotic. Perhaps it was because Tokyo had hosted the 1964 Olympics that I seemed fixated by the Greco-Roman wrestling gold medallist Imre Polyak, for apparently it was his name I chanted while climbing over the seat backs in my underpants, smeared in the olive oil supplied with our meal. Air rage is now a common term, but back then I was lucky that grappling with whoever came to hand was seen merely as drunken high spirits. It appears I was pacified for a short while only to return to the fray. Apparently, I spread crushed peanuts up and down the aisle then skidded back and forth on what I clearly considered to be a speedway track. It’s claimed I was doing a passable impression of a methanol-fuelled single and bellowing, in a poor Kiwi accent, ‘I am Barry Briggs, eat my shale!’ Regrettably, I was again stripped to my underpants.
If only it had ended there. I have no recall of the incident for which I was detained by airport police, but I am eternally grateful to the lovely Japanese stewardess for not pressing charges. Neither my socks nor underpants were ever found and apparently upwards of 50 passengers were prepared to testify to the fact that I have a birthmark in the shape of Wales on the underside of my ‘percy’.
The meeting with Soichiro Honda? I’m ashamed to say that it never took place as I was deported after a gruelling five hours' interrogation. In any case, it turned out that the BSA/Triumph management had had a change of heart, having decided to fight the Japanese head on with new designs of our own, and had sent a telegram to my hotel telling me to abort the meeting. So really, it all worked out for the best. Except for the ensuing and catastrophic collapse of our motorcycle industry with the loss of thousands of jobs and many historic marques. But apart from that...