Remembering The Good Old Days Of Doing The Right Thing In Motorcycle Shops

Time has a way of melting away bad memories

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Technical Editor Kevin Cameron shares his wealth of motorcycle knowledge, experiences, insights, history, and much more.Cycle World

Our dealership opened April Fool's Day, 1969, with two brands, Kawasaki and Triumph. Triumph was still referred-to by its location as "Meriden," not having been yet reborn as today's entirely different company, "Hinckley." And it was still offering the less-than-universally admired BSA 250 single under the Triumph brand. The bikes arrived in crates with service bulletins attached; we were to remove the engines from their frames and dismantle them in order to correct certain problems. It seemed a cost of doing business was to be called upon to re-engineer the product. A small financial consideration was provided to cover the work.

Removing the engines from their frames was difficult, for it appeared that the engine bolts had been driven into place by repeated hammer blows, as if they were long spikes. Of course, this had mashed some of the threads: Each bolt had to have a die run over it to clean them up. We came up with theories to explain all this.

One was that the chassis production line was supplied with engine mounting bolt locations that were later changed by just enough to make the bolts almost impossible to install. Another was that engines were each hand-fitted to specific frames by skilled foreman fitters, but that a previous round of service bulletins, executed just before shipping, had scrambled the parts so that all that old-world precision was lost as engines and chassis played musical chairs.

Perhaps most plausible was the notion that the frame jigs were so worn out that mounting holes could end up anywhere.

In any case, there we were, feeling like bad mechanics as we pounded the mounting bolts back into place once the engines had received their “updates” (which included a different compression ratio), knowing that the resulting extra stress would surely accelerate the cracking of engine mounts. It was a bad deal all around. Bad for us because the warranty allowance didn’t come close to covering the work required. Bad for the customer because, well, it’s obvious! And bad for Triumph because we knew these 250s could only damage its (and our) reputation.

What would have been the right thing to do? Presumably to put on our old-world craftsmen outfits and precisely line-ream each engine to its frame mounts, then fit oversized bolts that would slide smoothly into place with zero stress. Where would we get such bolts? We would manufacture them, of course!

I wasn’t much surprised years later when I learned from the late Don Brown (formerly with Triumph and later BSA importers) that during 1966 several thousand BSA twins arrived in such compromised condition that they had to be returned to England for remanufacture.

All these decades later, I chuckle every time I hear someone wax nostalgic for “the good old days.” If only they knew what we went through!